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What Avoidant Attachment Can Do to Your Relationships

What Avoidant Attachment Can Do to Your Relationships

Most of us want to have great relationships.

Relationships are such a huge part of our lives. There’s the relationship with our spouse or our long term partners. Or it could be a romantic relationship that’s just starting out. We have the interaction of a relationship with our parents and maybe our kids. We have work relationships and friend relationships. The list goes on and on unless you happen to be a hermit.

Relationships are not always easy and the best ones take a lot of work, just ask anyone who’s been married longer than 10 years.

There’s so many dynamics between us humans that sometimes it’s a wonder we get along at all. Then there’re different traits we learn as children that can sometimes help us in our adult relationship and other times hinder us.

Having an avoidant attachment style is one of those things we develop when we are young that can have a negative impact on our relationships in life.

We will take a look at what avoidant attachment is,how it impacts our relationships and how do deal with having an avoidant attachment style in those relationships that are a big part of our adult lives.

What is an attachment style?

To be able to get the most from this article, it’s probably best to first talk about what avoidant attachment is. The type of attachment behavior everyone develops is really formed when we are very young.

As babies, we need things because we can’t do much of anything for ourselves. We need to be fed when we are hungry, comforted when we are scared, attended to when we are hurt, etc. The relationship between the primary caretaker, usually the parent or parents, and the baby creates one of 4 different attachment styles: secure, anxious, disorganized and avoidant.

When a parent or caregiver is naturally “tuned in” and attentive to a baby’s needs, a secure attachment type is typically formed. When the baby and later child feels secure that his or her parent/caregiver will be there when they need something like food or comfort, it makes sense that they feel comfortable relying on the parent. Therefore they feel more comfortable exploring their environment and many other positive benefits that will last them a lifetime in their other relationships.

On the other hand, if the parent is not as attentive or are more distant with the baby’s needs and wants, this will create greater stress on the baby and later as a child. The way children adapt to this environment of less attentiveness and support is by building defense mechanisms (attachment styles) that help them feel safer and to alleviate some of the stress they feel from not having someone there that looks after them as much.

With this situation of the parent being less attentive and more distant, normally an insecure attachment styles is formed – avoidant, ambivalent/anxious, and disorganized. For purposes of this article, we are focusing on avoidant attachment.

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How avoidant attachment is developed

It is estimated that approximately 30% of the general population has characteristics of avoidant attachment. The parents of kids with avoidant attachment are less available to their children.

For whatever reason, they are less responsive, emotionally and sometimes physically unavailable to their kid. They don’t pay much attention to their child’s needs and many times promote early independence, even when the kid is clearly not ready. Many times, they heavily discourage a baby’s or kid’s crying and tend to be even less available when the child is sick or hurting.

As a result of their parent’s unavailability to help them in times of need, the child will learn to not seek help when needed. They will push down or suppress the innate desire to seek out a caregiver or parent in a time of need.

Many times, the kids learn to ignore their bodily needs or at least block it out. They become those kids that everyone thinks are very independent and can basically take care of themselves from a very young age.

Because the avoidant attachment kid gets taught to not rely on their parent for comfort, they learn to not seek it from anyone. They have been taught that when they reach out for support from their caregiver, it’s not there.

Many times, they are straight up told not to cry or to go take care of it themselves. As such the kid becomes a self-contained unit that learns to rely on themselves almost exclusively.

They are taught early in life a key defense mechanism for dealing with others. Never show to the outside world that you need or want things like closeness, affection, or intimacy. They are taught that when they show any of these types of  emotions or needs that people close to them won’t provide it. The people closest won’t even just not provide it, they will actively turn away in many instances.

They learn to not show a need to be close to anyone because it doesn’t produce any benefits to them. They don’t get comforted or have their needs taken care of by others.

In short, this provides a blue print that lasts into their adult lives. They don’t need or want closeness or warmth from others.

Avoidant attachment translating into adulthood

When someone has formed an avoidant attachment to their parents when they are growing up, this translates into what is called a dismissive attachment as an adult. Technically, there are two dismissive attachment styles, fearful-avoidant and dismissive-avoidant. They both operate fairly similarly.

People with the dismissive attachment style have been taught that people are unreliable so they act accordingly as adults. They tend to shy away from intimate relationships and feel they don’t really need anyone to rely on.

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They cope with their relationships as adults by being cold and not clingy or getting too attached or close to anyone. They can come across as loners and in many respects they are. They feel they can can take care of things by themselves because they’ve been shown growing up they have to.

They can and do enjoy being with a partner but get uncomfortable when the relationship gets too close. Many times, they perceive their partner as too clingy or wanting too much, especially when the partner wants to feel closer. Avoidant attachment types tend to be more focused on themselves and don’t pay a lot of attention to the needs and feelings of others.

When arguing with an avoidant, many times they wall themselves off and become cold and aloof. It can be extremely frustrating for their partners because they don’t seem willing to engage in conversations regarding feelings.

Many times the avoidant attachment person has a high opinion of themselves. On the flip side, they can tend to see others in a cynical and/or negative light.

In a lot of instances, this high level of self-regard is actually covering up and protecting a fragile self-ego. In reality, they can have a critical inner voice and don’t think very highly of themselves, they simply appear that way externally to others.

Negative effects of avoidant attachment in relationships

As you might imagine, people with avoidant attachments struggle to achieve close, meaningful relationships. This isn’t a big issue for the avoidant type, it can be a much bigger deal for their partner. Some of the negative effects in these relationships include:

Keeping a distance

Since they have learned to fear rejection, their built-in defense mechanism to not be rejected is to keep people at a distance. They don’t open up a lot about how they feel and keep feelings close to the vest so to speak. Trying to have a conversation about how they feel can prove frustrating.

Repressing and negativity

Avoidants repress many, if not most, of their feelings. They do this to hide their vulnerability and tend to deal with their feelings on their own.

Since they become accustomed to this, they don’t develop the skill to express what they need. Their feelings will come out in the form of complaints, stony silence or negativity. They simply can’t express positive feelings and can only show their feelings in a negative way.

Sabotage

As getting close in a relationship becomes uncomfortable, what tends to happen is avoidants find ways to mess up relationships. They do this so things don’t get too close.

They may invent problems that don’t exist or come up with reasons why the relationship shouldn’t continue. Does “I just don’t think I’m ready for a long term relationship” sound familiar? This could be an avoidant attachment type.

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Mixed signals

Avoidants are prone to sending mixed signals to their partners. Since they don’t want things to get too close, they are good at sending you alternately “things are going great” signals along with “things aren’t going well” type signals. This can make their partners head spin and make them feel like they don’t really know what’s going on.

Fault finding

When in a relationship with an avoidant, be ready for them to find fault after fault with you. It could be the way you eat, the way you fold laundry, how you load the dishwasher, etc.

It really doesn’t matter, they are masters at finding fault in everything you do. Unless you are great at not taking anything personally, this can wear you down.

How to deal with avoidant attachment in relationships

If you find yourself in a relationship with an avoidant attachment type, there are some ways you can deal with it.

Probably the most important trait someone can have in a relationship with an avoidant is to be self-confident in themselves. Having a good sense of self will allow you to keep things in perspective. Some other ways to deal with avoidant attachments in an adult relationship are:

1. Don’t take it personally

This is good advice for life in general and especially important here.

Know that the way the avoidant deals with your relationship has nothing to do with you. It is based upon their childhood experiences. This will help keep things in a manageable light.

2. Be reliable

Since the avoidant had an unreliable parent or caregiver growing up, showing them that you are dependable can go a long way in developing trust in the relationship.

Being that steady presence gives them something they aren’t used to – in a good way.

3. Don’t push too hard

Bear in mind they aren’t used to nor do they like sharing their feelings. When you push to have them share feelings, all that’s going to happen is the door is going to stay shut.

As you stay steady and reliable, the trust will build and when the time is right, they will share how they feel.

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4. Give them space

As you would think avoidants are used to and typically enjoy being on their own. In any healthy relationships, a couple should enjoy doing things together but also on their own.

Respect his or her need for “me time” and allow them to have it. Don’t try to do everything together, it won’t work.

5. Stand your ground

Having a solid sense of who you are and what’s important to you is always a good thing. In a relationship with an avoidant clearly, communicate what’s important to you.

If they never want to go out on a date but that’s important to you, let them know. And stick to it.

Things might not work out if you are too far apart on what’s important to you but that’s true of any relationship. Don’t lose yourself and stay true to you.

The bottom line

Most people I know want to have great relationships, it’s a huge part of a well-rounded and happy life. We are all different in our own ways and have had a variety of different upbringings that affect us later in life.

As we’ve discussed, the attachment style we develop when we are young get carried over into our adult lives. This is true of everyone. We’ve looked at what avoidant attachment can do to your relationships and how to deal with it.

Close to 1/3 of the population has tendencies to one degree or another of an avoidant attachment style as an adult. If you have this attachment style, the best thing you can do is be aware of it, and be mindful when in a relationship. If you have a partner who shows signs of avoidant attachment style, there are ways to deal with it but you should also remember to stand your ground all the time.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Mat Apodaca

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Last Updated on November 11, 2019

Can a Dysfunctional Family Become Functional?

Can a Dysfunctional Family Become Functional?

A dysfunctional family is more than disagreement or constant arguments. Anything from plain neglect, to abuse and even verbal and physical violence is the everyday experience of those who are part of a dysfunctional family.

You know how this looks:

  • Parents constantly comparing children.
  • Siblings in conflict because of tolerated bullying.
  • Domestic violence.
  • Adultery…
  • And many others.

For all the members, this will mean emotional pain and even trauma; which, in case it doesn’t get resolved, will have a detrimental effect on the individual’s personality and development.

Needless to say, the younger members are the most vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean the parents are out of danger, as most commonly the parents play the roles of abuser-codependent, and in some cases, both parts inflicting pain on one another.

Most like to think these problems stem from deep-seated issues, and that therefore it’s pretty much impossible to deal with them.

This is only true for families not willing to do what it takes, for if only a single member is determined and knows how to do it, the whole family can do a lot of progress.

In this article, I’ll break down for you the basic steps of fixing a dysfunctional family. Although it may seem hopeless, it is possible to turn things around.

If you have ever felt in this position, or if you know somebody who is, this article is for you.

How to fix a dysfunctional family

In a few words the solution for a dysfunctional family lies in dropping the ego, focusing on the solution, switching blame for responsibility and doing the work as a unity, for the good of the whole family.

And this will accomplish things you once only saw as a dream.

Dropping the ego? Switching blame for responsibility? Doing the work? What does all this mean?

It’s simple. In a nutshell, it’s that which will allow you to turn a dysfunctional family into a functional one.

Let’s take a look at how exactly this can be done. And near the end we will also talk about what you can do in a dysfunctional family with cynical traits.

Dysfunctional families where not only problems are well-known, but also nobody seems to want a fix or openly decide to perpetuate the harmful behaviors. Such as the case of abuse and physical violence.

There is also a solution for these, it’s just not what you are expecting…

Dysfunctional… Or just average?

Most families are dysfunctional, though at varying degrees of dysfunctionality.

The milder cases, are just marked by “typical” comically-shrouded bullying or lack of interest in other members’ development or wellbeing.

You can know a family is dysfunctional if their interactions are anything different than cooperation, solidarity, care and support. But let’s get more specific…

A dysfunctional family is one in which members directly or indirectly suffer emotional and/or physical harm inflicted by other members of their family. Most commonly, perpetrated by the parents.

Even harmful actions as “passive” as neglect, which is inflicted by inaction rather than action, signifies a dysfunction within the family.

Dysfunctional families have conflicts such as:

  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Lack of interest and time spent together
  • Sexism
  • Utilitarianism
  • Lack of empathy
  • Unequal or unfair treatment
  • Disrespect towards boundaries
  • Control Issues
  • Jealousy
  • Verbal and physical abuse
  • Violence and even sexual misconduct or abuse

You may think a dysfunctional family has very little or nothing to do with personal productivity, but you would be wrong in thinking this way…

If a person is not emotionally well, she will not be able to perform as desired, as the emotional harm that has been inflicted will hinder everyday performance in the way of inability to concentrate, lack of mental clarity and low levels of inspiration, motivation and discipline.

Having a functional family does exactly the opposite: It creates productive members with no emotional baggage.

How to turn it around

When you’re part of a dysfunctional family you know it. You can quickly identify in other members the behaviors and conflicts that create the dysfunction.

But just in case you’re having trouble telling functional from dysfunctional I will tell you the following:

One of the easiest ways you can recognize if you are in a dysfunctional family is to survey your won feelings.

We often overlook this, but have you stopped to ask yourself how you feel?

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As cheesy as it may sound it really sheds a lot of light on the subject.

What behaviors, actions and attitudes in your family you wish were better?

Do you think certain behaviors and actions from your family marked you in the past?

Sadly, we cannot go back to the past to correct it. But we can do a lot in the present…

Correction is possible

In order to fix a dysfunctional family, you must start by putting an end to the behaviors and actions that are affecting you.

Verbalize it.

All members of the dysfunctional family have one issue in common: They don’t put a stop to the harm.

Whenever you feel your boundaries being overstepped there is just one single word you have to remember: STOP.

This is the door to a better, more functional family, because after this, comes the fix.

But first you have to identify and make others know where exactly lies the problem.

So go ahead and fearlessly start with “Stop”, followed by your expression of dissatisfaction.

Putting it to work in real life

In real life it would be something like this:

“OK, stop! Every time you belittle me I feel you don’t care. I need attention and respect, and it is your responsibility as my family to provide them to me”

Or:

“Stop. When you compare me with my cousin it hurts, I feel like I don’t matter and that’s not ok. I ask you to stop doing it.

Or:

“Please stop. When you start yelling all respect is lost and it turns into a battle of who can do it louder. Don’t raise your voice and let’s work this out the way humans do”.

As you can see, here you start by putting a stop to the toxic behavior when it arises. And afterwards you verbalize why it’s wrong and what needs of you need to be fulfilled.

This is what you have to remember:

1-Stop.

2-Why it’s wrong?

3-What you need.

And this will also work well in case you need to do it for another family member.

It’s a family thing

A dysfunctional family cannot be fixed by one member alone.

Yes, a single member can initiate progress and be the leader of the change. But in order to completely become functional all members must contribute to the solution.

In other words, you will need cooperation…

So don’t be afraid of asking for it!

Approach your family member and ask to be listened.

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We sometimes feel our needs are “not that important” or we simply believe they won’t listen. But thinking like this would be like being defeated at an unfought battle.

You will be amazed by how much people listen when you voice your needs, especially if it implies showing yourself open, vulnerable and in need.

It’s not a free-for-all battle

In order to get your family to cooperate, first you must fix your individual relationships with every member of the family. Remember: Relationships are always between two people, and two people only.

No matter how complex, the quality of a multi-member relationship (like a family) will always depend on the quality of the individual relationships.

Once you have straightened the relationship with every member of the dysfunctional family you will be able to better communicate with other members and help in the betterment of their individual relationship.

And this is where we will talk about the fix itself. The one I mentioned in the introduction…

The method

1. Drop the ego

Wherever there is conflict there is ego.

You cannot fix a relationship where there is ego, because the ego will want to win. Always. Yours and the other person.

Ego craves control and satisfaction, and in many cases, to establish dominance.

What does this have to do with a dysfunctional family? Everything. Ego will interfere with every plan you have to fix it.

It will make people suborn and defensive. And it will also make them drop responsibility. This is why, the first step is to drop the ego.

After you make sure you are not going to allow your ego to interfere you must work to make the other person do the same. How? By speaking from the heart…

Tell the other person how important all this is to you.

Tell the other person that it’s not a matter of arguing, but just working things out together.

Point out how it is not possible for you to do it alone.

And ask for sincere attention without any desire of opposition, because what you are doing is by no means in the hopes of harming the other person, but just to better the relationship and stop the damage being dealt to you.

You will have to point out the mistakes you need corrected, that’s for sure. And that leads me to the next point…

2. Not blame, but responsibility

When talking about others’ mistakes we often use an accusatory tone. And that’s natural, it’s what things should be like if ego was not present.

But since we are all creatures of ego, this immediately brings the shields up. And then unsheathes the swords…

When we blame others they automatically enter a defensive state, and this only leads to a failed negotiation.

What you need to do is to shift from blame to responsibility. And even that will have to be done carefully!

Instead of telling them off or demanding change or complaining, calmly point what the problem with their behavior is.

As much as this feels contradictory, also make them feel understood. You know how difficult it is to accept a mistake, so just make them feel it’s no big fuzz… which does not mean it’s ok, but it takes tension off.

You will do something like this:

“Hello dad. Can I talk with you for a minute? I really need to tell you something.

I have been feeling pretty sad lately and I know this is something you do care about.

You see, whenever I talk about my accomplishments you mention something else that makes my achievement pale in comparison.

I know you don’t do this intentionally and I know you might have not realized this until now, but I want to let you know this really brings me down.

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It would mean a lot to me if you could stop doing it, and it would help better our relationship, because this has already forced me to distance myself from you. And I don’t want that, I want a good, healthy relationship with you”

What happened here?

We started off with making it something important, something that needs both time and attention. Then we openly show ourselves vulnerable, just as we are.

We also mention why he should listen, and shove our feelings there again, because they are important.

We describe the issue with no attachment and with no hostile intention. It’s just a description.

And then we take the blame off. Just before we assign responsibility without actually saying it.

You are not blaming him directly, but you are pointing out the inevitable fact that his actions are causing a dysfunctionality. He is now responsible for changing.

This is what “switching blame for responsibility” means. What comes next? Doing the work!

3. Doing the work

What would any of this mean if, in the end, nothing changes? Exactly, nothing!

This is why you must follow up with every change that needs to be done.

Do so in a manner that is not hostile. Bring it up in a casual manner, and emphasizing how you both reached an agreement and how that is important to the family.

If the person doesn’t follow up don’t hesitate to bring it up again, and tell them you feel disappointed that your honest try at it was not listened.

It may even be a subject in itself, and therefore the need for another conversation.

“When you go back to old habits it shows that you didn’t really care about what I said. But back in real life you just reinforce how much contempt you show towards me and my feelings.

I talk with you because I care. Because although it would be easier for me to just distance myself from you I rather do my part in nurturing this relationship.

But there is just so much I can do, if you refuse to do your part I can do nothing else.”

You need very clear and positive communication in order to make this work.

Love is all you need

You must remember that in order for a dysfunctional family to become functional, all the work needs to stem from love.

That is the single one requirement for all this to work: Love.

And what happens if it simply is not there?

What happens if, nobody is willing to do what it takes?

What happens if a member of the family refuses to change and is happy with the harm he or she is dealing?

There is only one thing you can do:

To break away.

Let’s be honest, people, especially adults, are very difficult to change.

There is a Jewish proverb that I love, which sums it up like this:

“We spend the rest of our lives trying to unlearn what we learned before we were 7”

If you find it very hard to change the very traits that make your family dysfunctional or if it’s simply impossible, you still have a card up your sleeve…

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Although nobody likes to beak away from family members, we must remember we have a responsibility with ourselves as individuals, before any relationship with anyone.

You have the responsibility of making yourself happy and free. Because you matter as an individual, regardless of any relationships you have, be it family, friendship or romantic.

Putting distance

So in case you are dealing with a family member who is simply unwilling to change take both physical and emotional distance.

What do I mean?

Learn, first, to take their damage in a detached manner.

Don’t let it hurt you further. Instead take a deep breath and distance yourself emotionally.

Don’t be attached to feelings such as “Why doesn’t she love me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” or “If he wasn’t like that my life would be perfect”.

Simply refuse to keep participating in the emotional downward spiral and accept, even if it’s painful” that there is nothing you can do. Accept that even without that relationship you are whole, you are worthy of love and respect.

They are their responsibility and you are yours. So decide what is best for you.

Realize it only comes down to two possibilities:

I keep the relationship and therefore accept the abuse. Or…

I choose my peace of mind.

And don’t let your mind fool you. We often think that since we all are imperfect, we must take the good and the bad behaviors of people. And we are especially forgiving towards our family…

Well, guess what? We are also responsible adults who are aware and must own to their acts. Never excuse abuse or violence or transgression towards you or anybody else.

Choose your happiness and if possible, also distance yourself physically, as it will increase your peace of mind tenfold.

How to prevent it

There are two key concepts you must bear in mind in order to prevent the dysfunctionality of a family:

  • To be completely aware of one’s own mistakes and not allow them to impact others and…
  • To make sure our SO’s are also on the same channel before creating a family (i.e. having children)

Dysfunctional families are the product of irresponsible paternity, for the decades-long unresolved emotional conflict ends up surfacing in the family inevitably, and it will for sure harm those who least deserve it: Innocent children.

You may notice we went from talking about family, to talking about individual relationships, to talking about you. We went from “them” to “us” to “me”.

Why? Because in the end you have the power to fix a dysfunctional family. To correct the mistakes you have in yours and to prevent dysfunctionalities if you don’t have a family but plan to create one.

Priorities and clear thought

You may be part of a dysfunctional family, but that does not mean you are powerless or that you have to suffer the consequences.

You learned today how it’s all a matter of priorities and thinking clearly.

You learned that, if love exists, everything is possible. You learned that even when there is no love and no fix for your dysfunctional family, there are still things you can do. It’s a matter of choosing your peace, because you deserve it.

Everything will be better if you apply this knowledge. If you talk to that problematic family member. If you help them see the harm they are doing. If you make sure they do change and treat you the way you need to be treated…

If you choose yourself over that toxic family member. If you refuse to justify the harm that others can do to yourself. If you realize the most important relationship you have is with yourself.

And lastly, that you also have to be aware of your actions and be open to criticism. Because we might be unknowingly harming others. And that would be us creating a dysfunctionality. Don’t allow it to happen.

Dysfunctional families are not impossible to fix. It just takes love, cooperation and responsibility.

But if you tried and those elements are not present, just choose yourself instead.

Featured photo credit: Xavier Mouton Photographie via unsplash.com

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