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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 January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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