Avoidant Attachment: Understanding Insecure Avoidant Attachment
The way that parents interact with their infant during the first few months of its life largely determines the type of attachment it will form with them. The relationship between the primary caregiver and the baby can create a secure, anxious, disorganized or avoidant attachment style that will form a blueprint for relationships throughout the baby’s life. When parents are sensitively attuned to their baby, a secure attachment is likely to develop. Being securely attached to a parent or primary caregiver bestows numerous benefits on children that usually last a lifetime. Securely attached children are better able to regulate their emotions, feel more confident in exploring their environment, and tend to be more empathic and caring than those who are insecurely attached.
In contrast, when parents are largely mis-attuned, distant, or intrusive, they cause their children considerable distress. Children adapt to this rejecting environment by building defensive attachment strategies in an attempt to feel safe, to modulate or tone down intense emotional states, and to relieve frustration and pain. They form one of three types of insecure attachment patterns to their parent, (an avoidant, ambivalent/anxious, or disorganized/fearful). In this article, we describe avoidant attachment patterns, which have been identified as representing approximately 30% of the general population.
What is Avoidant Attachment?
Parents of children with an avoidant attachment tend to be emotionally unavailable or unresponsive to them a good deal of the time. They disregard or ignore their children’s needs, and can be especially rejecting when their child is hurt or sick. These parents also discourage crying and encourage premature independence in their children.
In response, the avoidant attached child learns early in life to suppress the natural desire to seek out a parent for comfort when frightened, distressed, or in pain. Attachment researcher Jude Cassidy describes how these children cope: “During many frustrating and painful interactions with rejecting attachment figures, they have learned that acknowledging and displaying distress leads to rejection or punishment.” By not crying or outwardly expressing their feelings, they are often able to partially gratify at least one of their attachment needs, that of remaining physically close to a parent.
Children identified as having an avoidant attachment with a parent tend to disconnect from their bodily needs. Some of these children learn to rely heavily on self-soothing, self-nurturing behaviors. They develop a pseudo-independent orientation to life and maintain the illusion that they can take complete care of themselves. As a result, they have little desire or motivation to seek out other people for help or support.
What behaviors are associated with avoidant attachment in children?
Even as toddlers, many avoidant children have already become self-contained, precocious “little adults.” As noted, the main defensive attachment strategy employed by children with avoidant attachment is to never show outwardly a desire for closeness, warmth, affection, or love. However, on a physiological level, when their heart rates and galvanic skin responses are measured during experimental separation experiences, they show as strong a reaction and as much anxiety as other children. Avoidantly attached children tend to seek proximity, trying to be near their attachment figure, while not directly interacting or relating to them.
In one such experiment, the “Strange Situation” procedure, attachment theorist Mary Ainsworth, observed the responses of 1-year olds during separation and reunion experiences. The avoidant infants “avoided or actively resisted having contact with their mother” when their mother returned to the room. According to Dan Siegel, when parents are distant or removed, even very young children “intuitively pick up the feeling that their parents have no intention of getting to know them, which leaves them with a deep sense of emptiness.”
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How does an avoidant attachment develop in children?
Why do some parents, who consciously want the best for their child, find it difficult to remain attuned or to be emotionally close to their children? Attachment researchers have identified several reasons for parents’ difficulties in this area. In studying a number of emotionally distant mothers, the researchers found that the mothers’ lack of response to their infant was at least partly due to their lack of knowledge about “how to support others.” Some of the mothers lacked empathy, whereas others had failed to develop a sense of closeness and commitment that appear to be crucial factors in “motivating caregiving behavior.” They also reported a childhood “history of negative attachment experiences with rejecting caregivers and role models,” which explained why they had “a more limited repertoire of caregiving strategies at their disposal.”
In other words, the mothers in this study were treating their infants much as they had been treated as children, and their babies were now forming an avoidant attachment to them. Interestingly, a recent meta-review of attachment research has provided other “evidence for the intergenerational transmission of attachment style;” it has also demonstrated important links between parents’ avoidant styles of caregiving and their children’s avoidant attachment, especially in older children and adolescents.
The Avoidant/Dismissive Attachment Style in Adults
People who formed an avoidant attachment to their parent or parents while growing up have what is referred to as a dismissive attachment in adulthood. Because they learned as infants to disconnect from their bodily needs and minimize the importance of emotions, they often steer clear of emotional closeness in romantic relationships. Dismissively attached adults will often seek out relationships and enjoy spending time with their partner, but they may become uncomfortable when relationships get too close. They may perceive their partners as “wanting too much” or being clinging when their partner’s express a desire to be more emotionally close.
When faced with threats of separation or loss, many dismissive men and women are able to focus their attention on other issues and goals. Others tend to withdraw and attempt to cope with the threat on their own. They deny their vulnerability and use repression to manage emotions that are aroused in situations that activate their attachment needs. When they do seek support from a partner during a crisis, they are likely to use indirect strategies such as hinting, complaining, and sulking.
According to attachment researchers, Fraley and Brumbaugh, many dismissing adults use “pre-emptive” strategies to deactivate the attachment system, for example, they may choose not to get involved in a close relationship for fear of rejection; they may avert their gaze from unpleasant sights, or they may “tune out” a conversation related to attachment issues. A second strategy is to suppress memories of negative attachment events, such as a breakup. In fact, adults categorized as dismissing report very few memories of their early relationship with parents. Others may describe their childhood as happy and their parents as loving, but are unable to give specific examples to support these positive evaluations.
People with this type of attachment style tend to be overly focused on themselves and their own creature comforts, and largely disregard the feelings and interests of other people. They also find it difficult to disclose their thoughts and feelings to their partner. Their typical response to an argument, conflict, and other stressful situation is to become distant and aloof.
Dismissive adults often have an overly positive view of themselves and a negative, cynical attitude toward other people. In many cases, this high self-esteem is defensive and protects a fragile self that is highly vulnerable to slights, rejections, and other narcissistic wounds. It exists usually as a compensation for low self-esteem and feelings of self-hatred. According to adult attachment experts Phil Shaver and Mario Mikulincer, avoidant partners often react angrily to perceived slights or other threats to their self-esteem, for example, whenever the other person fails to support or affirm their inflated self-image.
How are patterns of attachment supported by the critical inner voice?
The kinds of negative, distrustful, and hostile attitudes toward other people that are associated with a dismissing attachment style are compounded by destructive thoughts or critical inner voices. The overly positive and seemingly friendly views of self that are experienced by many avoidant individuals are also promoted by the inner voice and are often a cover-up for vicious, self-degrading thoughts. Both kinds of voices, toward the self and others, are part of an internal working model, based on a person’s earliest attachments, which act as a guideline for how to relate to a romantic partner. The critical inner voice can be thought of as the language of these internal working models; the voice acts as a negative filter through which the people look at themselves, their partner and relationships in general.
Although many critical inner voices are only partly conscious, they have the power to shape the ways that people respond to each other in their closest, most intimate relationships. Individuals identified as having a dismissing attachment style have reported experiencing such thoughts as:
“You don’t need anyone.”
“Don’t get too involved. You’ll just be disappointed.”
“Men won’t commit to a relationship.”
“Women will try to trap you.”
“Why does he/she demand so much from you?”
“You’ve got to put up with a lot to stay involved with a man/woman.”
“There are other, more important things in life than romance.”
“You’ve got to protect yourself. You’re going to get hurt in this relationship.”
“You’re too good for him/her.”
How can we transform a dismissing/avoidant attachment into a secure one?
Fortunately, we don’t have to remain trapped within the confines of the defensive attachment strategies we developed early in life. There are many experiences throughout life that provide opportunities for personal growth and change. Although your patterns of attachment were formed in infancy and persist throughout your life, it is possible to develop an “Earned Secure Attachment”at any age.
One essential way to do this is by making sense of your story. According to Dr. Dan Siegel, attachment research demonstrates that “the best predictor of a child’s security of attachment is not what happened to his parents as children, but rather how his parents made sense of those childhood experiences.” The key to “making sense” of your life experiences is to write a coherent narrative, which helps you understand how your childhood experiences are still affecting you in your life today. In PsychAlive’s online course with Drs. Dan Siegel and Lisa Firestone, they walk you through the process of creating a coherent narrative to help you to build healthier, more secure attachments and strengthen your own personal sense of emotional resilience. When you create a coherent narrative, you actually rewire your brain to cultivate more security within yourself and your relationships.
In a previous article, I noted that being involved in a long-term relationship with someone who has a secure attachment style is one pathway toward change. The other way is through therapy; the therapeutic alliance or relationship offers a safe haven in which to explore our attachment history and gain a new perspective on ourselves, others and relationships in general.
To learn more about how to write a coherent narrative and develop an earned secure attachment, join Dr. Lisa Firestone and Dr. Daniel Siegel for the online course “Making Sense of Your Life: Understanding Your Past to Liberate Your Present and Empower Your Future.”Tags: adult attachment, anxious, attachment, attachment style, child attachment, fear of intimacy, relationship attachment
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i am confused by the descriptions here. It seems it changed halfway through the article from describing Avoidant/Anxious, to describing Dismissive/Avoidant, or are they both the same thing?
They’re not the same thing. They’re confounding the two, which makes this article confusing. This article sounds like it’s describing people who have avoidant attachment, but not anxious-avoidant attachment.
Avoidant attachment is “I’m better off alone period. I can satisfy my own needs better than anyone else can.”
Anxious-avoidant attachment is “I want intimacy, but I’m afraid to get too close.” I think anxious-avoidant is also known as fearful-avoidant where as avoidant attachment is typically dismissive-avoidant.
Anxious attachment is “I fall deep and want to merge completely with my partner, but I’m afraid I want more intimacy than my partner does.”
Secure attachment is “I’m okay with intimacy, and I’m okay with being alone for a while too.”
But I think people can have one attachment style, but still have a few traits of another attachment style. People tend to fall on a spectrum and not inside clear cut categories.
I apologize for the deletion of my earlier reply to the first reader’s comment, which occurred because of a malfunction on our website last month. Dismissive/avoidant attachment is a descriptive term often applied to the way that individuals interact in their adult attachments or relationships. The term is used by a number of attachment researchers who explore adult romantic attachments, whereas the terms “anxious/avoidant attachment” and “avoidant attachment” are used by developmental psychologists to describe attachment patterns formed between parent and child. You can find the work by adult attachment researchers by accessing the hyper-links embedded within the article.
And you are right. Human beings cannot be adequately described by categories, and the descriptive categories introduced by Mary Ainsworth and Mary Main encompass a continuum of behaviors and traits. Mary Ainsworth also found that children often formed different attachment patterns with mother and father. in addition, she often found two attachment patterns within one child, although one was usually more prominent than the other. “Fearful attachment” is a term used by some researchers to describe a disorganized attachment pattern. Our work is focused on exploring the psychodynamics underlying the attachment patterns and especially the cognitive processes that make up Internal Working Models rather than on the attachment categories themselves. Thanks for all your comments and I especially liked your simple descriptions of the three patterns.
Please see my reply below to the second reader’s comment. I replied to you last month, but the reply was erased through a malfunction on our website.
Hi Michelle, please see my reply to Heather below. I apologize for the delay, but we had a website glitch with comments last month!
I believe I have and anxious/avoidant attachment. In my case I tend to be instantly clingy and needy in relationships and then once the relationship is established I tend to start to distance myself. Which is opposite of what is conveyed in the above article. My mother was in the hospital for three months with post partum psychosis when I was six months old in 1968. I have no other information with regards to what happened or did not happen to me during the six months of my life prior to her hospital stay. I was cared for by my grandparent for the three months. I do not suspect any physical harm and I am waiting for my childhood hospital records to confirm that. What I do suspect is a lack of response to me by my mother who was very depressed at that time. My mother passed in 1989 and never told me about this. I was later informed by my grandmother (not the one who cared for me) about her stay in hospital. I guess my question is what are the effects on children and adult children of mother’s who suffered from post partum psychosis and who it effected my attachment? Also was or would I have been affected again by the separation with my grandparents as caregivers once my mother was released? Any further information regarding effects on post partum psychosis on children or anxious/avoidant attachment would be greatly appreciated.
I do believe you are effected by your mother even in the womb. I was adopted at birth and definitely it effects me. I was also emotionally rejecting during one of my pregnancies due to a pending divorce and even though i love her to pieces, that particular child has much stronger abandonment issues compared to my other older kids when I was more stable during their pregnancies.
You really had a rough beginning in life! But your pattern of responding to love is not that unusual. Many people who have been hurt that early in life feel “clingy” or desperate to find love in an attempt to make up for what was lacking in their childhood environment. The problem is that as soon as the relationship becomes meaningful to them, both emotionally and physically gratifying, they become afraid of losing their new love, of being thrust back into the same painful situation they faced as a child. They fear potential rejection and abandonment. And so to protect themselves, they unconsciously pull back or start withholding the very qualities in themselves that their partner especially loved. Robert Firestone and I have described this pattern in detail in the book Fear of Intimacy (1999).
Children of depressed mothers, in particular, suffer from their mother’s inability to be attuned to them, to their feelings or their needs. They lack a figure who will mirror their emotions back to them, someone who can help them learn how to regulate disturbing emotions, such as their fear, anxiety and anger, and help them build a “core self. You can find some more information on this topic in Daniel Stern’s book The Interpersonal World of the Infant (1985) and any of Ed Tronik’s studies about depressed mothers— for example, his “Still Face” experiments.
Hello I am dating a men who i think has faerful avoidant attachement. We are 3 years together but he never says me i love you and he says he don’t want commitment. When i leave he then starts to make me come back. He says he is confused about his feelings and he is not sure. When we get close he immediately pulls back. I wanted to know how can i help him undestand that he has a problem and that it’s not about me
Which attachment stye is it if your overriding fear of relationship/intimacy is losing self-control/inhibition or of feeling emotions you find demeaning?
Where are parts 1 and 3?
Here is Part I.
I feel that most people including those that are emotional stable are often all, if not, many of these things dismissive, avoidant, fearful, anxious, etc. Hopefully NOT simultaneously and to varying degrees. I feel it is ALMOST next to impossible to pin-point where a person actually falls because emotionally unstable people don’t speak clearly and are usually very inconsistent. I feel that all of these attachment styles are one in the same, they all mesh and intertwine at some point. My husband along with myself, based on the criteria qualifies in every attachment style. For example I can be very dismissive when he wants to “communicate” after coming out of one of his mood swings. We avoid each other when there is tension. Actually, I tend to avoid moody people in general.
My husband can be avoidant wether it’s a bill, unpleasant situation, confrontation, life, etc. I know A LOT of women who struggle with husbands who like to avoid things as much as possible, all of those men didn’t come from avoidant broken homes. My husband and I are both in our early 40’s, this is my second marriage and his first. I am a serial monogamist, he has a history of short-term relationships. Neither is “ideal”. I feel that a lot of people spend their life avoiding anything “unpleasant” this is why happiness is constantly being SOLD to us. I think that life and the future make people fearful, anxious, avoidant, etc. Besides all of that when a relationship goes well everyone is on board. It’s only when that relationship shifts or something happens people start to rethink their status. Due to technology and social media I think we should redefine attachment styles. Parenting was MUCH different than it is now. Most kids come from two working parents who are constantly to busy. Over half of all married couples will divorce at some point and now kids now rely on social media, sports, etc to connect. So in the future will these attachment labels be accurate. We are now connected to texts, imagery, false ideals (happiness, it’s NOT something you ATTAIN), expect to much, don’t give enough, are entitled, deserving, live on credit and borrowed time, etc. I fear and it seems that MOST people have become avoidant. Women don’t even need a man to have a baby anymore, men are becoming obsolete.
I’ll start by assuring you that this is in no way a personal attack, please don’t take it as such. I simply believe you’ve missed the bigger picture. There isn’t an illness in existence that has but one symptom which affects every individual in but one manner with but one outcome that’s resolved in but one case study. Ludicrous, right? Knowing no two minds are alike consider that, realistically, all mental illnesses begin with the same metanarrative. Think expanding circles that co-mingle as you age starting in the center with 1.Chrono=you+ever-changing factors: age, sex, health, religious beliefs, stress, experiences etc. 2.Micro=(direct contact)family, playmates, schoolmates, peers, romantic partners, coworkers etc. 3.Meso=(partial contact)friends of family, friends of friends, friends of partner, neighbors, work acquaintances, child’s school etc. 4:Exo=(influential contact)child’s friends, child’s partner, declining health, social/mass media, politics, school related programs etc. 5:Macro=(basic norms-mental influence)society, law, history, culture, economic structure, gender role socialization and ideologies. That’s an average, VERY simple and “easy” life; now add death, tragedy, stress, abuse, other stressors and realize that circle never stops growing, affecting, overlapping and changing you. The sheer volume of differentiating factors that affect just ONE individual is mind blowing. Genetic and environmental factors affect mental illnesses in the same manner, those illnesses are studied using the same micro-meso-exo-macro system, must be factored into a patient’s past, are just as unpredictable and just as unique as the individual suffering from them. The study wasn’t meant to pinpoint with precision, you stated that you’re aware that’s an impossible task, but research has to start somewhere. So yeah, some of the factors you mentioned do exist-for some. Yes, society is, has, and will always be changing-for everyone and it’s not ALL negative. Yes, comorbid mental illness is a reality that, again, affects every individual differently-some display one or more expected trait and some don’t. I won’t get into the man/woman issue, it’s got nothing to do with mental illness. I do, however, hope you find the peace you seek and wish you the best.
I’m confused … is this comment about ‘mental illness’ appended to the correct article on attachment styles???
It seems really unfair to suggest that avoidant attachment can only be cured by a relationship or potential relationship. I’m a 31 year old woman and I have never once in my life been attracted to anybody (real or fictional, yes really) and I don’t find relationships appealing at all. My parents were wholly emotionally unavailable throughout my childhood and I spent much of that time and adulthood trying to make myself unnoticeable so that I wouldn’t be a target of the yelling and spanking. Am I doomed to be forever stuck with what’s essentially a form of Complex-PTSD because I’m asexual and don’t want to be put through sexual reorientation therapy? I’ve already been abused by men and women who thought that their own romantic/sexual feelings for me could fix me, which of course ultimately fixed nothing. This feeling of soulessness and emptiness is so utterly despairing and I’m “lucky” to not have the constitution to physically act on said despair.
Because our attachment systems are fractured within a relationship, they must be fixed within a relationship. However, this relationship does NOT need to be of a sexual or romantic nature. Studies show that a long-term therapeutic relationship with a therapist can help individuals develop an Earned Secure Attachment. It is also possible that a close, consistent, long-term friendship can help heal the wound of attachment. You are not doomed. There is hope!
Thank you for responding! It’s a relief to hear that it doesn’t always have to be an (invasive and unwanted) intimate relationship and can be a long-term professional therapist thing instead. I’ve been scared away by too many treatment programs that assume they can “cure” my lack of attractions in the process, but maybe I’ll find a therapist who isn’t like that someday. Thank you again for acknowledging the alternatives.
Hello – I deeply resonated on some level with your post and though I’ve never responded on websites, I feel called to, just by chance some things I’ve discovered may be of some use to you. I’ve been studying attachment theory for a while and am currently listening to interviews on the SoundsTrue.com psychotherapy 2.0 summit of some of the most thoughtful, impressive, compassionate people in this field (e.g. Diane Poole Heller, Daniel Siegel, Rick Hanson, Bonnie Badenoch, Stephen Porges, David Wallin, etc.)
These are experts in various fields dealing with attachment, trauma, interpersonal neurobiology, etc. and most have written books; I find great comfort in listening/watching them, and further interviews/talks of theirs can be found free of charge through such sites as: ShrinkRapRadio.com, Insights at the Edge (also through soundstrue.com), the Greater Good Science Center, and NICABM.com (free of charge when broadcast). As a student myself now and having had much experience with many different therapists, what I so appreciate in the above is the understanding and acknowledgment (see especially Heller, Badenoch, Wallin) that for a therapeutic attachment relationship to truly be healing, the therapist must acknowledge and actively heal her/his own attachment-related behavior/reactions and continuously attune/repair/attune/repair during the relationship with the client. (See also Stan Tatkin’s work – a couple’s therapist who essentially considers the heart of the (healthy) romantic relationship to be two people who effectively (enough!) assist each other in emotional regulation. I wholeheartedly personally agree attachment repair need NOT occur through a romantic connection. In fact, Diane Poole Heller discusses one client who found this repair primarily through a neighbor/friend. It does take effort and it does take connection. Which is exactly what is so often difficult. Best wishes – J
Are you sure you want to be emotional? You have no idea what would you have to deal with. Stay exactly where you’re, trust me, if I could I would take your place. Somehow I get attracted only by people that are unavailable to me. I’m 44 years old female, 3 guys up to now. It is so painful, it makes me fully dysfunctional. Love sucks!
Youliana – I second what you’ve said. I’m 43 years old and have never had a healthy relationship. I become attached and needy very, very quickly and my world instantly revolves around that man – especially the unavailable ones. I’ve never experienced anything so painful in all my life.
I just want to echo what was said below, as someone with a very harrowing childhood and avoidant attachment as a result. I’m 34 now but what really helped me was being remothered by a therapist. At around 29-31. it was hard work but I’m in a happy stable relationship now and have graduated in a lot of my friendships. You can’t heal in a vacuum but there are others that can support you in rebuilding your intimacy wiring.
In 39 years old. I have begun therapy with meds back in 2002 after getting out of Navy.
The things I find out about myself throughout life especially in my 30s has been let’s say interesting.
Culture has a huge impact .
One parent mother. (father not in life at all due to schitzophrenia) I was raised by sick father until about 3 or 4. Can that have any impact on my coping? Memmories if any? I have heard stories how he use to leave me and my sister alone outside in the winter in Conn. In our carriages because we cried … One story I found out a few months ago. I don’t really have any emotions toward that idea … Yet.
Mother very distant. Loud ,Finnish , grew up very jealous of siblings during ww2 in Finland. Says sister and brother were always highly regaurded.. ,Multiple times during years 6-teens 18 possibly started to pack up literally in front of us saying she’s leaving as she cried telling how she can’t take it anymore.. . Oh god the memory. Lets move on.
One parent mother Finnish born 42 3 sister 1 brother.
Father schitzophrenic never ” knew him” “didn’t have father” Finnish
I have twin sister 4 min older and 1 brother.
We (well my sister and i) never went to doctors for anything. Anything..even possible broken bones from what I gather to this day.
My bro did go maybe once or twice for a Deep cut.
But she did make sure we went to dentist. And if we had cavity we had to get filling drilling Without Novacain……..
She abandoned Finland where she raised us after leaving Sten (father) back in Florida when we were born . All my cousins and aunts and uncles left behind. No one to attach to in the states, except for a few Finnish friends of mom. (interesting stories with attatchment there)
Visited quite often growing up . leaving Finland as a young girl after visiting 2 months with grandparents became unbearably difficult. I would sulk cry in their bathroom a few days before having to leave back to us. Never let them see my fear or sadness.
Anyway , if you want more knowledge and research…I have a lot to offer. Family dynamics with culture and upbringing gave me many memories of coping. To this day I am very nieve about things, I got therapy because I was unable to cope with life and all the uncomfortable feelings.
You can probably learn new things from my story. Because it involves my twin who apparently suffers very much also with personal identification and coping. Very black and white we are but I’m the more calm one. She’s very passive aggressive. Not to say I’m not. I don’t know.
Just get in touch. I am able to talk about Things that I started to question. Being almost 40 I feel like i have the mind of a 10 year old.
Hello, I just came across your post, even if it is years ago. I was really suprised how well your situation fits to the one of my partner unfortunately. Would you mind telling a bit more?
I have dx of a few disorders…one is BPD. Per the VA. Also I have the common other ones.
Never been married or had kids.
I really haven’t been able to grow up per say to even fathom kids..
Multiple long time relationships.
My life revolves around making sure I don’t get abandoned by partner. Do I really know who I am? No, I know I don’t.
Life has settled after sobering up and started suboxone. The Only med that has given me my sanity back and life worth living “feeling” .
Nothing really worked Until I found this med for obviously a dependent for medication. I’m sober now, for about a year . no alcohol or rx meds. I’m a Registered Nurse . currently disabled by 2 different institutions.
I do know there are trials regarding using the med subox on individuals who dont benefit from the mainstream psych meds. It has saved my life . not just addiction but I am able to withstand living another day in my body and mind. I plan to stay on it for the rest of my life. There’s no way I’m going back to the state I was a year ago.
I am an international adoptee (from Russia to United States). I was adopted when i was roughly 2.5 years old, from an orphanage. I know nothing about my birth mother or father except that my birthmother was 24 when she had me. and she gave up her parental rights 2 days after my birth.
I am 20 years old & I have found myself physically, mentally, and sexually drawn to females who are older and/or possess maternal characteristics. Yes, I identify as lesbian but can’t help thinking my past (adoption) could play a possible role in my sexuallity. Specifically, my preference of attractiveness. I am curious about this seemly deep, unavoidable attraction to any female who shows maternal affection towards me. I feel a giddy, but safe connection. But the irony of it all is that after a while, I become obsessive with either wanting to just be in their presence or the exact opposite: not wanting anything to do with them. Is it a matter of nature vs. nurture? Does self esteem play any role? is this common? Is this common in anxious-avoiding attachment symptoms?
Thank you for your time and i look forward to your reply!
It seems I have all this in spades. I have already destroyed all my relationships, so I can get no help there. Since I am a University student, I am unable to afford therapy. Is there any other way?
I have a hard time distinguishing which I am more of- avoidant or anxious. It seems I am about 90% Anxious in romantic relationships, but Avoidant in day-to-day interactions and with acquaintances, although I do have severe social anxiety, so that may be where the avoidance is coming from. With social anxiety, it is hard for me to tell. For instance, with my acquaintances I don’t display my feelings, I am not open, if I am asked out to coffee, I will take several minutes to think about it first, often to others’ dismay; because I worry that if i don’t like the experience, i won’t be able to leave. I seem to ‘steer clear of emotional closeness’ with acquaintances. I seem to push down or repress all of my social needs. And when people talk to me, it feels like they are talking too much. But that is not how I act in a intimate relationship. In an intimate relationship, I am completely the opposite.
My avoidant attachment spilled over into my sex life. Since I started having sex as a teenager I found myself suffering from sexual dysfunctions any time a relationship with a woman would start getting serious. As long as I could keep the partner at arms length as far as emotional intimacy was concerned (ie: limiting myself to one night stands, paid sex) my sexual functioning was fine. For many years I had no idea what the problem was. I actually thought I was simply easily bored sexually. Despite dating dozens of women between the ages of 15 and 35 (when I finally got married) I had never fallen in love and ended up marrying for reasons other than that. Stuck in a one partner relationship my sex life basically stopped as I couldn’t function with my wife. I didn’t know this was being caused by avoidant attachment until I started seeing a psychiatrist. Although I finally got a plausible explanation of the problem he wasn’t able to help me with my sexual dysfunctions and my marriage has been sexless for many years.
There’s more to all this than what psychology can help us with. Much of what we are all going through is to push us into the next level of experience.
I was very dismissive as a child because of seriously neglectful parents (mum may have been borderline narcissistic). I met my now husband who was very secure. He allowed me to reach out or pull back as I wished. He was simply available to me. Everyone loves his easy going attitude. It’s been 26 years and now I’m the secure one. It took me that long but I’m a very VERY slow learner. I’ve gone from thinking I’m better than everyone (self defence mechanism) and not engaging with anyone because they weren’t worth it (possibly didn’t think relationships were worth it because of my childhood) to becoming someone who absolutely loves others, loves being involved, around others, helping others, laughing and engaging in deep conversations with others. I’ve even occasionally tipped over into an authentic extrovert when I feel like having just pure physical fun (non sexual). I genuinely love other humans!
If that appeals to you, here’s your next step, allow the easy going, responsible, kind, agreeable person into your life, they will teach you and heal you. The ambitious, overly motivated and sexy person who has way too many options is not the person for you just yet.
Is there any way I could somehow gain some more advice and detail from you? I’m suffering in a 3.5 yr relationship with my SO who is this article personified, and you and your partner made it. I’m in desperate need of help from a resource other than counseling (didn’t do much – so depressing), and given that your partner coped and you were both able to overcome what I imagine to be a lot of walls and strenuous times, it would be so helpful to me to get details of how he went about it all. I’m pretty much crumbling inward and outwardly at this point and there is so much slipping from me.
Would greatly appreciate your help.
Hello I have a 5 year old daughter who i adopted when she was 20 months. She was removed from birth but went to a mother and baby foster placement. The birth mother left after 6 months and my daughter remained at the foster home until we adopted her. I believe she was neglected at the foster home. She ticks so many of the Avoidance Attachment symptoms. Are there any books i could read to help me parent her correctly which is beneficial to her and my husband & I? As i cant seem to find any for this particular attachment disorder. Any advice grateful!
Parenting From the Inside Out by Dan Siegel is a wonderful book for understanding child attachment.
I’ve taken Dr. Siegel’s “Making Sense of Your Life” course. The truth is, prior to taking the course I’d read enough stuff online to understand that I am deeply avoidant, and why. My mother learned to parent from her cold German parents. I had a girlfriend once 30, years ago. She was someone who expressed interest in me after she had dated multiple other people at the office. I never dated in high school, I’ve never dated or been involved since that once instance in the 1980’s. I don’t have any friends, but lots of acquaintences. I’m 60 years old and I struggle to see the advantage in changing. I don’t see what I gain. I just want to live out what’s left of my life and not be a bother to anyone.
Thank you. Everyone for opening your hearts and speaking so honestly in this public forum. I am deeply in love with an avoidant man and was myself an anxious attacher (incorrect def)! I have earned secure attachment from my relationship with him due endless hours of research into attachment disorders resulting in a deep understanding of both our behaviours. I’m currently on an alternative route (to focus on my self-care, family and career) however am so extremely grateful to him because without this experience I would not have been able to discover these traits I possess myself. Love comes in all forms… I hope that over time he will let me in but if he doesn’t then I will always be grateful for the experience and hold a special place for him in my heart forever. Much, much love to everyone in their journey… I truly mean it.
Caroline, this is such a wonderful and positive approach. I wish more people could see it the way you do!
I am very intrigued by the information in this article. I have studied attachment a bit, and haven’t seen the distinction between infant and adult. It has always been presented as a continuum.
For as far back as I can remember, I never felt any love from my father. My mother was at times gushing, which because of prompting from my father, led me to totally discount her. And her love was totally conditional, which made it easy for me to discount. Any mistake or annoyance I caused would be met with a total withdrawal of love and affection. Both of my parents gave me the constant overall feeling that I was an unwanted burden.
Now, I am introverted and shy. I’ve been told by counselors that I have a lead blanket I pull over myself when irrational emotions are directed towards me. Attachment tests I’ve taken show me right near the middle on self worth and relatively high on attachment needs. This makes sense, but I’ve never understood the lead blanket portion. It’s like I place a large emotional attachment on my significant other, and withdraw and protect myself from the rest of the world. What would you call that? Is that typical of anxious attachment?
Oh I can absolutely relate to this. I will feel very connected to my SO but disconnected from most other people. I has been helpful to read your comment and see it worded this way.
Hi so i have a hard time trusting other people on if their emotion are truly real and i can never rely come to love. I am 19 now and cant handle clinging relationship like me and my closest guy friend were intimate but when he told me he loved me i cut off contact and it stressed me out. My mother has associative identity disorder and in fact i dont remember most of my past until 12 rely. i zone out a lot too and i cant control that well. its really hard for me to rely on others and to trust others. rely most time i dont even know what i am feeling like im a alive but i feel numb. i too an online test and it said 100 out of 100 on avoidant attachment type.
I remember as early as age 7, and throughout my life, I would wonder if my mother actually loved me. I also remember every time some other adult would fail to see that poor attachment (something I had no words for at that age) because my mom was so good as presenting as the perfect mother. In reality she is highly narcissistic, abusive and self-absorbed person who has never shown genuine affection and who was raised by someone just like her. When I started learning about this trauma and attachment stuff (as an adult) and began to process the abuse I finally realized what a huge impact the attachment issue has really had on my entire life. I (an avoidant attachment type) married a man with huge abandonment issues because his mother left the family when he was a child. His clinginess (and attachment issues) and my avoidance was like one of those Chinese finger puzzles where the harder you pull, the more stuck you are in the puzzle. It took me 8 years to finally get free of him…and he was someone who never purposely mistreated me. To this day I have been unable and unwilling to tell my parents the true reason we divorced because it would involve discussing all this attachment stuff with the very person who instilled it in me. I learned the hard way that she is not a trustworthy source of love or support and I will never ever have that discussion with her, no matter how much therapy. I would rather tell her I had an affair even if that’s not true. I’ve also never been able to tell my parents why I chose not to have children; which is because I really don’t feel like I’d know what to do with them and would probably damage them in the same way I was damaged. (Don’t worry; I’m entirely good with not having them!)
That said, one of the biggest things I wrestle with now is how I view myself, as an avoidant attachment individual. On good days, I feel like a queen; like I am strong and independent, taking a lover if it pleases me (I am not promiscuous, however), being in charge of everything in my life. I own my home, I have a job I am passionate about, I am intelligent, successful and educated. I enjoy introvert-type activities, so not having close friends or not going out a lot often doesn’t bother me. On bad days I wonder if I will ever know how to love someone properly and if I will ever have any true friends or if there is anyone out there who really cares about me besides my therapist, who is paid to do so. Or, whether I really even care if I ever get that close to anyone.
I write short stories based on my dreams, which always involve a character who has no attachments whatsoever except for her dog (who in real life is for sure my most secure attachment), and has no dependence on anyone or anything, who wanders the woods and countryside happily and with great spirituality, all the more so because there are no people in her life. She doesn’t need money or transportation (she does have a horse sometimes, though) and mostly there is no mention even of food or water or shelter. When she does take shelter, it is temporary, a rented room or sleeping under a tree. Occasionally she has contact with people, but not for long as she tires of them quickly. Writing these stories has been very therapeutic for me because I can make this character into some kind of ideal (albeit one that is impossible in real life) and therefore accept that if she can be at peace with her lack of attachment then so can I (eventually). It holds me over while I work on my real life attachment issues, validating them while also allowing me to process them. And honestly I enjoy indulging the fantasy of not needing anyone or anything. In real life that is what I struggle with, though. How to let myself need people, love people etc.
Hello, am citing this for a school assignment. When was this published?
February 15, 2015
This is a really interesting article. Is the online course finished now as the link doesn’t seem to open?
The eCourse is archived, so you can begin the course anytime. We had server maintenance going on this weekend, which is why the link didn’t work. I apologize for the inconvenience.
I score very avoidant but have very loving parents. They both worked and were fairly busy, but I would guess my mom even probably over-comforted me at times. I have some ideas as to why I have intimacy issues, but I have to respectfully disagree that all of those who struggle with avoidance were ignored as children.
I have heard somewhere that parents who are over-protective or act intrusive can also make a child develop avoidant type attachment. If you think, an intrusive parent feels also as if he or she does not really care or relate to the child’s needs or have a relationship with the real child, but with their fantasies and the way they think the child should be or behave. This can make a child feel so suffocated, that he/she has the sensation that all close relationships can become like this and that, maybe because as a child it was difficult to cope with, he/she would not know even as an adult how to cope or react, especially if they are faced with reproach, so the easiest way out is not to completely engage in the first place or to flee if things get too close (and, thus, dangerous for them). In fact the best way they have found to protect themselves and their autonomy is to escape. Such relationships with their parents could truly have felt as prisons. So once they are out, why would they want to go back. But, of course, only toxic relationship can feel like prisons and as a matter of fact, as adults we can always end a relationship if it turns actually toxic (normally). The problem is that for the avoidant type any misunderstanding or dispute, or reproach can feel like toxic and as if they were losing their independence once again. Of course, there is cure and one of them is knowing yourself and seeing, observing your over-reactions, trying to be more objective etc. (true for the anxious type also and true in general whenever our alarm system gets activated apart from the real life threatening situation – in fact when these alarms are on, in a sense we do feel attacked or in real life threatening danger, of course uncounsciously and not exactly in an objective manner – it is the fear mechanism, that gets, basically, activated.) Anyway, if your parents were away for a long period of time, even if it was due to work and they were not there to meet your emotional needs, this could have felt a bit the same. What good does it make if your parents were loving, and I am sure they were, if you knew you were loved, but you were basically left alone to fend for yourself? In this case is easy to learn you do not really need anyone, maybe also from a uncounscious fear of not being dissapointed or just left alone again. Or simply, as their absence was so painful and you have learnt to cope with your own needs, anyway, you are actually not used with being close or with reaching out for others in order to meet your needs. I do not know how it is in your case, but it is logical. Children who have to take care of themselves early, even if they have loving parents, but those parents work too much, become quickly independent, but they may lack this way of reaching out. Even so, I think that if the parents are really loving and they try to compensate by connecting more in the little time they have (it could be your mum’s case), the child, even if developing avoidant attachement, still feels this love on a deeper level and maybe as an adult it would be easier to heal and develop a more secure attachement. Just an hypothesis.
What is the difference between Avoidant/Dismissive and Narcissistic Personality Disorder? Seems like a high degree of overlap.
I pasted a quote below from this article. What does this mean exactly? That this is a generational problem and if parents don’t get their attachment issues worked out that it will affect their children? Thank you.
“According to Dr. Dan Siegel, attachment research demonstrates that “the best predictor of a child’s security of attachment is not what happened to his parents as children, but rather how his parents made sense of those childhood experiences.” The key to “making sense” of your life experiences is to write a coherent narrative, which helps you understand how your childhood experiences are still affecting you in your life today. “
If you have a toddler who seems to display signs of avoidant attachment, what can you do as a parent to change the course?
My husband left me for a younger woman after 40 years, who is very affectionate towards him. I have recently realised that I pushed him away because I have avoidant attachment. My mother was always busy caring for her parents and brothers, rather than spend time with me, even though she was a lovely person. I nearly repeated that behaviour with my children, because of a busy career. I am changing that with them now I have retired, and try to show them affection. It is probably too late for me to find a new partner, and I feel that I caused a self fulfilling prophecy, even though I loved my ex. I have been broken by his leaving, but true to style, I have put a wall around myself, become self sufficient, and spend a lot of time alone.
I have been in relationship with dismissive avoidant Woman for 3 years and I have changed from being very positive, optimistic, strong Man into someone constantly dealing with anxiety and depression.
Everytime when things were getting too nice, too loving and too intimate she was pushing me away and becoming selfish, uninterested and rude and creating absolutely unnecessary silly issues, arguments and then wanting a breakup saying she is unable to commit and do full on relationship.
But at the same time she use to come to me and telling me how special I am and how lucky she is that she has me in her life and how much she cares about me and look forward to lots together.
This cycle continued for about 3 years and few months ago she dumped me again and started casual, sex only relationship with somebody else
I am now though suffering from depression and anxiety.
Dismissive avoidant people are unable to maintain any serious relationships and they are not interested in changing either . !
“You don’t need anyone.”
“Don’t get too involved. You’ll just be disappointed.”
“Men won’t commit to a relationship.”
“Women will try to trap you.”
“Why does he/she demand so much from you?”
“You’ve got to put up with a lot to stay involved with a man/woman.”
“There are other, more important things in life than romance.”
“You’ve got to protect yourself. You’re going to get hurt in this relationship.”
“You’re too good for him/her.”
Seems like yet again, realism is being classified as a disorder. What modern ideologies are we supposed to buy into, in order to avoid this stigma, and how much should we suffer?
That being said, I see reflections of my relationship with my own father in a lot of this.
Would you be able to provide me with the citation for the study that found “avoidant attachment patterns, which have been identified as representing approximately 30% of the general population”? I am conducting research and am having trouble finding the rates of avoidant attachment within the general population. Thank you in advance!
I think I have an avoidant attachment. As a child, my mom left me after 2 months of giving birth to work outside the country. My dad was in another province with my siblings and I was raised by my Aunt’s family. I practically grew up being Aunt and Uncle’s daughter because I call them mom and dad and my cousins treated me as their own sibling.
When I was reading the content, a memory of me crying when I was a child suddenly made me realize something. Children tend to be silly most of the time and also get into trouble a lot. I remember crying because my Aunt (whom I call mama) scolded me and I was crying in the backyard alone. In that moment, I remember calling the name “mama” but I was imagining my biological mom working overseas to come and comfort her princess. But she didn’t come. I guess those incidents occur often where I envision her to come home and comfort me, but it never happened.
Then when she came home, I was excited but also felt absence of something. At that time, we were actually planning to immigrate to the country where she was working. And when we were all living together, it was like I was living with strangers. I didn’t get to know my siblings, my dad, or my mom.
As we continue to live together for years, my mom and dad divorced and stuff happened. I continued to live with my mom and siblings and maybe there were instances where my mom tried to connect with me. But over time, my mom just scolds us (she’s the strong type of mom) and I can count on my fingers the amount of hugs I’ve received from her. And I guess that’s also why I don’t like hugs in general, I don’t even let my friends hug me, well sometimes i do but i feel uncomfortable when they do.
And then I don’t know what came to me, but when I was browsing twitter, there was this tweet that said “i feel so alone and lonely.” Then there was a quote that I saw saying that “alone but not lonely” and until then that was what I envisioned myself as. I even said to myself that I don’t need anyone and i always conclude people who gives me interests that they’ll leave anyway for someone prettier and better.
But yeah, i just realized that I have this attachment style when my prof was discussing about the types of infants develop from their caregivers. But sometimes I do wonder if there’ll be a day where I can fully express what I feel and not what I want to come off as.
I found this article to be very interesting and I stumbled across the term dismissive avoidant attachment because I read about it somewhere else. I’m not saying this is me and why I’m not in a relationship. However I can say that parts of what were said can be somewhat true, because I don’t want to be in a relationship just to be in one. I want to be in one because the man and I want to be together. If there’s a problem that comes about, we talk about it, go through the emotions, and work on what can be fixed and what can’t. I’m the type of a person that will try if need be and if it doesn’t work, then oh well. I don’t have time to sit around trying to fix what’s wrong with someone and I’m definitely not one to be around someone that needs attention all the time. That annoys the hell out of me to the highest level. Yes I’m only 36 and at this point in my life, I don’t even want to get married because I see no point in it. People fall in love with the idea of being married and they put way too much focus on it. Marriage to me is nothing but work and I just can’t see myself getting all beautiful for one day just to impress a bunch of people that say their congrats at the end. Saying congratulations is easy and once everyone is gone, it’s just the two of you making your marriage work for however long you want it to be. If that’s what people want to do with their lives, more power to them. It’s just not for me at all. I was engaged once and it was going well until it all ended because the man at the time did something really stupid and had to go to prison for four years. I knew then that that relationship was over and there wouldn’t be any type of moving forward, once he got out. I knew that in my heart because when people get out of prison, they’re very different individuals when they get out and I was not about to spend another six months nor years trying to help him figure himself out. It may sound selfish yet at the same time, he shouldn’t have done what he did to get locked up. Men that end up in prison give you nothing but empty promises and I’m so glad that I didn’t fall for it. Fast forward years later, I’m in a better place because I chose me and will continue to choose me. I’m better off being by myself versus trying to help people get themselves together and I say this because why put energy and time into someone when they might leave and get with someone else. To me, that’s nothing but time, energy, and effort wasted and that’s just something that I’m not willing to do anymore. People can call it whatever they want yet that’s just how I feel. I’m glad I was able to write this and get it off my chest.
In order to function sexually ain a relationship I need to keep my partners at arms length. If I don’t I lose all desire or the person. This wasn’t a problem when I was single as I would simply leave a relatioship when the intimacy anxiety caused by my Dismissive Avoidant Attachment Disorder kicks in, usually with a couple of weeks after I meet somebody. I have sought help with a number of Therapists but none have been able to help. My marriage has been sexless from the beginning because of this.
Can anyone tell me if infidelity can be resisted by a man with severe dismissive attachment problems or is it a compulsion that can’t be overcome?
I seem to have an avoidant attachment style. But there is confusion, I think my caregiver was fairly responsive in my early years but I became distant around 10’s when my younger sibling was born and
I was the middle child of the family and my father was not present in my early life because he had his business. So how did I end up having this attachment when things were positive?
I have not been in a romantic relationship in 10 yrs. Had several long term relationships, mostly abusive and dysfunctional. I am 66 and have a 27 yr old son. At this age, i feel ready for a real relationship. But… I have no tolerance for anyone trying to control, use me, or boss me around, let alone abuse me in anyway. My childhood was riddled with abuse, neglect, and abandonment by 2 narcissists. Is it possible for me to have a healthy relationship with my avoidance issues? It would be nice to have a partner, I’m tired of going it alone, doing everything for and by myself.
I don’t know why someone would want to change from avoidant. I was told that is what I am by the therapist I hired -but the woman could never explain why I should change. I don’t mind it. I have no idea why that particular therapist was so worked up by it. It had nothing to do with why I hired the woman in the first place
This article describes my husbands whole family. I’ve seen the intergenerational effects. Any in-laws are in their 90s. No one visits. No one calls. Their children – all grown. One moved far away, has no relationship w any of us. Ones a alcoholic who had 2 kids, she to avoided emotional connection with them. One moved far away… the other in efforts to connect on some level w her Mum also became a alcoholic… then cocaine, then crack… fentanyl killed her 6 months ago. NO ONE is speaking of it…. EVERYONE IS AWOL EMOTIONALLY. Her sister won’t talk to anyone. Mums drinking more (apparently ok for someone with MS? she says?).
My husband of 38 yrs has avoidance attachment. I never knew what it was until now. It all makes sense. He aloof. Cold. Un empathetic. Now I know what it’s been soooo easy for him to verbally abuse me. Our son is 30. I’ve protected him form this. I gave him a secure relationship. He and I love each other unconditionally.
Problem is now neither our son or I will put up with his crap anymore. He won’t even attempt to seek help, make life better for our family. I am sick of this. I’m so depressed by it. I wish he’d smarten up, care enough to be better for us….. he’s stone cold stubborn.
It’s so degrading to beg to be loved.