What's Your Attachment Style? About Avoidant Attachment
I recently wrote about attachment theory as a way to better understand relationships and how we relate to others in relationships. Your attachment style shows up in all of your relationships, including your partner, friends, family members, and even your boss. You can read more about the theory of attachment here.
Our attachment style originates in our childhood experiences. The three primary styles are secure, avoidant, and anxious. In this post I want to further explore the avoidant attachment style. You can also read more about the secure attachment style and the anxious attachment style.
What does an avoidant attachment style feel like?
You love independence. This is a good thing. But you also find yourself feeling panicky at the thought of committing to a relationship or being dependent on others, even when it’s a healthy partnership where there is a lot of support and warmth and love.
There is always a fear of getting overwhelmed or being compromised by the other. In some ways you stay in a state of vigilance, looking for clues that others might ask for too much or take too much or exhaust you.
You get uncomfortable at the thought of being controlled by people you are in relationship with. The relationship doesn’t matter - it could be your boss or your friend or your partner. The idea that they might put up limits for you or expect some kind of accountability from you makes you uneasy.
Just being in relationships can be stressful for you. It’s really difficult and overwhelming for you to show or share your emotions with your partner or anyone else. While sex might be an easy way to connect with someone, moving into emotional intimacy can feel like too much.
What does an avoidant attachment style look like?
Avoiding is the key word here. You avoid committing to relationships in big and small ways. You avoid expressing your feelings. You avoid any behavior that might lead you to feeling overwhelmed. You often push away from relationships where it feels someone might be getting dependent on you (even if they aren’t). Even if you actually want or need support from someone your default mode is to remain independent and take care of yourself. Feeling dependent on someone else can be really painful.
Actually committing to something in a relationship can be really difficult. It can be a big commitment like getting married or something small like being asked to text your partner and check in during the day. On a broader level, you avoid any situations where you feel controlled by someone else (whether or not they are actually doing that) and you are always scanning the environment to make sure that someone doesn’t control you.
Rather than focus on what’s working in a relationship, you might find yourself focusing on the challenges in the relationship or perceived flaws in your partner. You spend a lot of time looking for clues that this relationship isn’t working or that they will let you down.
Ultimately, your behaviors are functioning to protect you from being hurt, even though they are preventing you from receiving care, support, or love.
How did you get here?
Like the other attachment styles, childhood experiences have a significant influence on how we relate to others as adults.
Perhaps your parents or other caregivers provided little or no warmth, love, or emotional connection. You might have been encouraged to be independent but punished or rebuked if you displayed dependence or asked for help. Your caregivers may have felt distant: you were fed and clothed and sheltered, but they might as well not have been there - you usually felt like you were on your own. You may have been verbally or physically rejected when you shared some part of yourself, asked for love, or just expressed yourself.
From these experiences you learned that the world is not OK and will not reliably give you love and support. You can’t expect this from others. Avoiding situations that might be unsafe and where you could get hurt is the best way to keep yourself feeling OK.
What can you do about it?
Much like the anxious attachment style, it can be really helpful to start noticing your internal experience: your feelings, thoughts, and urges. Noticing when you have thoughts or urges to avoid connecting with, committing to, or trusting others is a good place to start. Also start noticing patterns of behavior where you push away and avoid. You may be getting feedback from others about this or you may be noticing it yourself. Being willing to try new behaviors where you lean into a relationship and create opportunities to actually receive love and support is the truly healing part of this process. Of course, therapy can be really helpful in uncovering some of the childhood trauma that may have occurred around this and to help you identify ways to cope with the difficult feelings and thoughts you are experiencing.
Having an avoidant attachment style can be a really painful and lonely experience. The good news is that there are steps you can take to see the world and people in your life as OK and willing to give you love and support. You can relate differently to people and experience meaningful relationships.