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What Is An Avoidant Attachment Style?

In this article, you’ll learn the signs of an avoidant attachment style, how it effects adult relationships, how to develop a more secure attachment style.

What is an avoidant attachment?

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Approximately 25% of us have an Avoidant Attachment Style.

In my earlier post, What’s My Attachment Style and Why Does it Matter?, I explained the three primary attachment styles (secure, anxious, and avoidant) identified by psychologist Mary Ainsworth in the 1970s. Understanding your attachment style can help you create happier, healthier adult romantic relationships.

Securely attached people tend to have satisfying, stable relationships built on trust. They feel safe to express their feelings and needs. They can also reciprocate and meet their partner’s needs and empathize with their feelings.

People with an anxious attachment style tend to feel insecure and need frequent reassurance from their partners. This can feel overly needy and clingy to those with secure or avoidant attachment styles.

In contrast, people with an avoidant attachment style see themselves as independent and feel uncomfortable sharing their inner thoughts and vulnerabilities. Too much closeness feels suffocating to someone with an avoidant attachment.

Avoidant Attachment

People with an avoidant attachment style struggle with deep intimacy and trust. They’ll unconsciously create situations and reasons to leave or sabotage close relationships.  They tend to connect and then pull away when the relationship feels too intense. Their relationships tend to be shallow, as a result.

They don’t talk about or notice their feelings very much. They keep their emotions tucked away and often lack awareness of their own feelings, especially vulnerable feelings like fear, embarrassment, or failure.

Someone with an avoidant attachment might think or feel:

  • I don’t see the point of talking about my feelings.

  • I pride myself on being independent and doing things on my own.

  • People always let me down.

  • I don’t like to depend on people or ask for help. I’d rather do things myself.

  • Relationships are a lot of work; I’m not sure they’re worth it.

  • I’m fine on my own.

  • I can seem standoffish or like I don’t really care.

  • Most of the people I date want to be too close or too committed.

  • Feelings are overrated.

  • I love you, but I don’t want to spend every night together.

  • I’m not ready to move in with you.

  • I don’t think I’m the marrying type.

  • I don’t need anything from anyone.

  • I need time to myself.

  • I’m not going to change for anyone.

Avoiding intimacy is a coping strategy that develops in infancy. It’s a way to protect yourself from the vulnerability of being hurt or disappointed. All attachment styles are the result of our earliest relationships with our parents or caregivers and how they responded to our needs.

An avoidant attachment style is formed when parents or caregivers are unavailable, preoccupied, or disinterested. Children with unresponsive or disinterested parents feel like they aren’t important and learn that their needs won’t be met. So, they bury their needs, rely solely on themselves, or act as if they don’t have any needs.

When children feel like their parents have little desire to know them, they feel empty, unimportant, and have trouble valuing themselves, especially their thoughts, feelings, and aspirations.

People with an avoidant attachment don’t look to others for comfort; they don’t see others as trustworthy or soothing. And they find it hard to ask for help, so they try to do everything themselves. This looks strong, independent, in control, and resilient as they can seemingly “get over” things quickly. But, in reality, people with an avoidant attachment style suppress their feelings or aren’t aware of how they feel.

Wanting to avoid difficult feelings is understandable, but it’s not effective or emotionally healthy. It holds us back from deep connection and self-understanding.

Avoidant attachment style in adult relationships

Although people with an avoidant attachment style are independent and most comfortable relying on themselves, most aren’t “loners” or recluses.  They’re often kind, helpful, considerate, perfectly lovely people, but if you get too emotionally close they’ll become uncomfortable. Panic can ensue causing the avoidant person to flee (break-up, avoid, ghost, argue, or otherwise push you away).

Emotional intimacy can unconsciously trigger a fear of abandonment for people with insecure attachment styles. For someone with an avoidant attachment, it will spark fierce independence and he’ll distance himself from others to avoid potential abandonment. In comparison, when someone with an anxious attachment is faced with a fear of abandonment, he’ll try to move closer, frantically seeking reassurance and clingy more tightly to his partner.

People with an avoidant attachment style generally want to have relationships. They just don’t want to get too close or expose too much of their inner thoughts and feelings. They’re interested in dating and often get married. They have friends and other relationships but don’t share very much of themselves with their friends, family, or spouse.



Changing an avoidant attachment style

If you have an avoidant attachment style you can move toward a more secure attachment by slowly getting in touch with your feelings, being curious and interested in your partner’s feelings, sharing more of your thoughts and feelings, and asking for help. Here are some of the things that you can do to have more satisfying relationships.

  • If you’re single, look for a partner with a secure attachment.

  • Practice naming your feelings. Using a feelings chart can help (you can find one in my Resource Library or online).

  • Try to slowly share a little bit more of your thoughts and feelings with others.

  • Spend time getting to know yourself (your interests, values, fears, hopes and dreams).

  • Notice when you’re distancing yourself and try to stay in connection even when it feels uncomfortable.

  • Practice communicating your feelings and needs directly.

  • Try to ask for help and support. Practice depending on others.

  • Consider working with a therapist (individually or as a couple).

  • Be patient with yourself and your partner. Change is hard work and it takes lots of practice.

Suggested Reading

©2020 Sharon Martin, LCSW

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Sharon Martin is a psychotherapist, writer, speaker, and media contributor on emotional health and relationships. She specializes in helping people uncover their inherent worth and learn to accept themselves -- imperfections and all! Sharon writes a popular blog called Conquering Codependency for Psychology Today and is the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism: Evidence-Based Skills to Help You Let Go of Self-Criticism, Build Self-Esteem, and Find Balance and several ebooks including Navigating the Codependency Maze.

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