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.
Table of Contents
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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