If you fear commitment or find yourself in relationships doomed from the get go, you might have an avoidant attachment style.
An attachment style depicts how we feel in relation to others and how we maintain those connections.
Characteristics of an avoidant attachment
An avoidant is the complete opposite of someone with an anxious attachment. While avoidants may fear abandonment, they fear losing their autonomy more. People with a disorganized attachment have a combination of anxious and avoidant.
They likely had dismissive, authoritarian parents.
How it affects relationships
People with an avoidant attachment style are more independent and self-reliant. They view depending on others as a weakness, and see people who need help as burdensome.
They question diversity of thought and that which deviates from the norm, often believing in antiquated ideals over recent ones. As a result, avoidants tend to believe their perceived reality is fact and do not empathize well with people around them.
By default, they might surround themselves with fellow avoidants. Unfortunately, people with an avoidant attachment style are attracted to those with an anxious attachment style and vice versa due to trauma bonding.
Conflict is avoided at all costs and used as a reason to abandon others. Cognitive dissonance will be met with threats of leaving or breaking up instead of empathy. This is because disagreeing with an avoidant is equated to rejection, which implies abandonment.
They feel disconnected from other people and insecure in relationships, while only feeling connected to themselves. In turn, they don’t care about other people’s needs and only know of their own.
Avoidants are often higher in ranks in the workplace, which is not necessarily a good thing.
Avoidants fear emotional intimacy, but they might engage in sex to remain in control of the relationship, especially in an anxious/avoidant trauma bond. Sex helps them get what they want, including more emotional space, less suffocation, or breaking boundaries. An avoidant personal might use sex to fulfill their partner’s need for intimacy but have no intention of fully committing.
Because they tend to find relationships suffocating, avoidants often seek out relationships they know won’t last. An avoidant who is unaware of their attachment style might do this repeatedly, then wonder what’s wrong with them and why their relationships never work out. They might feel like they can fix their partner, while remaining ignorant of their own deficits.
Avoidants would rather leave before they are left. If they feel too suffocated, they might cheat to end a relationship. Their best match is another avoidant, because neither invests too much emotionally and both feel they have autonomy to leave at any moment.
If you were not easily soothed in childhood, but your parents validated your emotions and experiences, you might have developed an avoidant attachment style.
Dismissive parents meet their children’s basic needs of food, water, shelter and warmth, but they do not meet their child’s unique needs. Avoidant caregivers do not care what interests their child and might even project their interests instead.
The bare minimum keeps a child alive. That’s it. It does not teach a child how to be an adult.
Parents who raise avoidant children do so out of obligation, with the idea that their children will take care of them in old age. Dismissive parents feel children should be seen, not heard, unless that child’s basic needs have been met, in which case they wonder, “why are you here?”
If you are an avoidant today, you might have experienced the following in childhood:
- Had to pretend you were okay when you weren’t
- Been asked or told:
- “You’re fine. Brush it off.”
- “Stop crying/being so dramatic.”
- “Real men don’t cry.”
- “What do you want?” when you approached your parents.
- Did not receive adequate affection, attention or love
Dismissive parents reprimand a child for attention-seeking. Gentle parents developing a secure bond with their children ask, “What’s wrong with attention?” when they are criticized.
If you were raised by a dismissive parent, they were likely raised by one as well, or they were raised by an anxious, helicopter parent and decided to take the complete opposite approach. In both cases, your trauma was caused by theirs, which is known as intergenerational trauma.
Relationship with self
Avoidants trust themselves and no one else. Other people are viewed as the enemy unless they provide some kind of benefit. Like their dismissive parents, avoidants often develop into dismissive individuals who gaslight those around them.
They also place themselves on a pedestal and view other people as below them.
Someone with an avoidant attachment style has rigid boundaries. Their own boundaries matter, but other people’s boundaries do not if those boundaries inconvenience them.
Avoidants are more sensitive to constructive feedback, since they’re also more likely to be perfectionists. They fear being their true selves won’t be accepted and will cause abandonment.
Trust issues stem from childhood trauma. They avoid emotionally intimacy because they fear losing their autonomy and feeling suffocated.
So in this way, the child’s needs were not actually met. A child needs more than the bare minimum — they need their feelings, experiences and interests validated. It is a crucial part of child development, as it helps their sense of self form.
Parentification is when a child has to care for themselves, regardless of capability. Even if a toddler can make a sandwich or a teen can walk to school when they’re late (out of punishment), they shouldn’t have to. Punishment is not discipline. Both age groups still need security and validation.
On the other side of the parentification spectrum is a child having to care for themselves and the parent. At no point should a child ever be responsible for their caregiver’s emotions or needs. Yet, they may have been told by their guardian that they “needed” to do something to keep the adult from being mad, sad, or other high emotional states.
Children are not responsible for meeting the needs or wants of adults. They are not tools for trauma recovery. Yet, many children are expected to be.
A child whose needs are not met, bare minimum or not, is neglected. Parentification is neglect. A child who survives neglect grows into a child with an avoidant or disorganized attachment style. They’re also likely to repeat the abuse they endured.
Avoidants repress their trauma well into adulthood. Recognizing your parents were neglectful and abusive is no easy feat. For generations older than Millennials, reflecting on their childhood for what it really was, equates to ungratefulness.
People with an avoidant attachment style often have black-and-white thinking, so they struggle to comprehend nuance. Acknowledging the gratitude trap requires emotional effort and self-awareness — something a purely logical thinker seldom has.
Avoidants have a high ego, often associated with Cluster B personality disorders (antisocial, borderline, narcissistic, etc.). They also live with high stress and anxiety, the former of which being linked to cancer.
Because avoidants fear rejection, they might also suffer from rejection-sensitive dysphoria (RSD). Leaving before you’re abandoned is a trait of RSD.
Unlike those with an anxious attachment style, avoidants have deactivating strategies and are on high alert (anxiety).
Their top two triggers are:
- Loss of autonomy, or feeling like it
- Feeling suffocated
They fear abandonment and rejection, but are not inherently triggered by these things.
Deactivating strategies are behaviors of thought to reduce intimacy:
- Distancing themselves when stressed
- Thinking/saying they’re not ready to commit or can’t help a friend in need, but doesn’t leave (fears abandonment)
- Keeps secrets
- Avoiding physical contact
- Choosing relationships doomed to fail
How to overcome your avoidant attachment style
While recovering from an avoidant attachment style will not be easy, it’s not impossible with the help of a therapist.
You trust yourself. Now it’s time to learn how to trust others! You need to recover from your trauma. Unlocking and healing from your repressed trauma will be the hardest.
Coping techniques and journaling help you raise self-awareness so you can start behaving more intentionally. Group therapy will help expose you to people with similar experiences, while also easing you into diversity of thought.
An avoidant’s ego is what prevents them from developing a secure attachment style.