Do you avoid commitment, but fear letting go? You might have a disorganized attachment style.
Attachment styles define how we connect in our relationships and feel about the world around us.
What is a fearful attachment style?
Characteristics of a fearful attachment style contradict one another, causing “disorganization” — hence the name.
How it affects relationships
Fearful-avoidants trust neither themselves nor other people. They have a negative view of themselves and of others.
They both seek and avoid connection. This is not to be confused with autistic people and limerence, which is the preoccupied attachment style.
People in platonic and romantic relationships with the fearful-avoidant feel like there is a scoreboard. In a disorganized attachment, you keep score. Everything is give and take, the weight of each action being decided at the discretion of the fearful-avoidant.
No gift or act of kindness is that alone — there is always an expectation of:
in favor of the one with a fearful attachment style.
Because they think negatively of themselves and others, they have no issue gossiping about anyone and everyone they know. If someone enables this behavior, the fearful-avoidant will view it as:
Fearfuls are both supportive and distance. They want love but reject intimacy. They fear abandonment, but withdraw to avoid it from happening in the first place.
While a person with a disorganized attachment style has poor communication due to insecurities and a lack of empathy, they also seek to meet the needs of the people in their lives.
Diversity of thought is both accepted and rejected.
Ultimately, their relationships are unhealthy and abusive. Their best course of action is trauma therapy, because hurt people hurt people.
Fearfuls will put the bare minimum effort required for sustaining the relationship, so as to avoid facing their fear of abandonment.
Children whose needs were not met, and feelings and experiences invalidated, tend to develop a fearful-avoidant attachment style. In this case, they were not easily soothed by their parents, and they didn’t trust or find reliable their parents to support them when they were upset. They felt ignored and dismissed.
Their own parents were avoidant, anxious or fearful as well — never secure. Fearful-avoidants may have been victims of parentification, neglect, and/or other forms of abuse.
Children with fearful attachment were not able to be themselves and feel their feelings without their caregiver’s protections. Essentially, the child was treated not as a child, but akin to an accessory.
If the child expressed themselves or shared about an experience, the guardian was dismissive. Dismissive responses include invalidating emotions and experiences by:
- Inflicting blame (“you shouldn’t have ____”; “that was a choice”, etc.)
- Ignoring the emotional side of the experience by telling the child what to do (“you need to ____”; “I already told you that you ____”; “you always ____”; “why can’t you ____”)
- Not acknowledging that their child needs comfort and empathy.
The parent themselves were not parented by someone with a secure attachment and did not form a secure attachment with their child. If that child also has siblings, then they likely did not form secure attachments with them, either.
Triggers and deactivating strategies
Those with a disorganized attachment style adopt the triggers from the anxious attachment style and deactivating strategies of avoidants.
In turn, they have either zero boundaries or inconsistent boundaries. The boundaries of other people do not matter and are incomprehensible to a fearful-avoidant. They will view boundaries as rejection and rely on enmeshment as proof of love.
But the lack of boundaries in the fearful-avoidant attachment style is ironic, because they expect other people to accommodate them and be attuned to their needs.
A relationship with someone whose attachment style is disorganized may feel hot and cold or be off and on.
Aggressive behavior is common; anger comes easily. They often lack empathy for other people.
How to overcome a fearful-avoidant attachment
With this attachment style, both anxious and avoidant traits are present, which makes recovering from a disorganized attachment style difficult.
Therapy may involve changing you to an anxious or avoidant attachment style, depending on your levels of trust with yourself versus other people.
Precious childhood memories might actually be trauma. For example, a moment when you helped your mother into the shower after she soiled or spilt something on herself was actually parentification. Or perhaps, like my caregivers, you were given medicine when you couldn’t stop stimming and later learned this is abuse.
The more trauma you unlock, the more terrifying it is, but it needs to happen.
In order to develop a secure attachment, you need to work on your inner child. You heal by releasing your anger towards your parents and the trauma.
Developing a secure attachment style will help you form and maintain stable relationships where you feel safe and secure, instead of fearing the worst scenarios. The healing process will teach you how to identify healthy relationships and develop a more stable sense of self.