Avoidant Attachment: Everything You Need to Know

According to the attachment theory developed by psychoanalyst John Bowlby, the avoidant (otherwise known as dismissive-avoidant) attachment style is one of the four types of attachment patterns in adults.

Originally, all of us are wired to pursue love and intimacy. However, a person can develop an avoidant style if they grow up suppressing their instinct to seek comfort from their parents/caregivers because the latter might have ignored the child, have been emotionally unavailable, or even have punished their son or daughter for needing help and support.

As an adult, such an individual tends to not rely on others and avoid being romantically linked to someone because they do not see strong intimate relationships as their first priority in life. But even if they do get into a relationship, they avoid emotional (in some cases, also physical) intimacy and closeness with their partner. They prefer freedom over intimacy and strongly dislike clingy partners or being seen as clingy themselves. They often refuse to open up, share their emotions with their partner, and often feel uncomfortable when their partner seeks out emotional intimacy.

Such people are often viewed as independent and confident, especially in the workplace. Avoidantly attached individuals can change and develop a healthy attachment style. However, it takes a fair amount of time and self-work.

In this article, we will answer the most searched questions regarding avoidant attachment:

  • How does the attachment style develop in a person’s early childhood?
  • What does the process of unhealthy attachment styles development look like?
  • What causes children to become avoidantly attached?
  • What are the most common signs of the avoidant type of attachment style in adults?
  • What is it like to be dating or be married to an avoider?
  • Is it possible to do something to fix avoidant attachment tendencies and become securely attached?
  • How to heal and move away from an avoidant attachment style?

Why relationships in your adult life depend on your bond with your parent when you were a child

Most people’s goal is to build strong emotional connections with people in their lives. Having close friends and a supportive romantic partner usually makes a person with a secure attachment pattern very happy. But this is not the case for people with an avoidant type of attachment style.

If you feel the need to have close relationships in your life and want your friends and partner to support you, and, in your turn, offer your help and support when they need it from you, it might be strange for you that some people lack these desires. The thing is that, in most cases, this is not their conscious choice to be that way. It is because their first social bond (the one with their mother, father, or any guardian) was that way.

According to the attachment theory, the four types of attachment styles in adults are the following:

  • Anxious (or preoccupied) attachment style
  • Avoidant (or dismissive) attachment style
  • Disorganized (or fearful-avoidant) attachment style
  • Secure attachment style

So how do children develop their attachment patterns in their first years of life?

The way our parents or other caregivers respond to us when we are little is the very first example of social interactions we see in our early childhood. That is why it influences all our significant relationships in our adult lives.

If an infant’s parent/caregiver is highly sensitive and responsive to their emotional needs, the child learns that it is absolutely safe to rely on and trust people around them. In this case, a secure attachment style forms.

But if a child’s caregivers are emotionally unavailable and neglectful, if they ignore or even punish them for displaying any emotions, the little one start perceiving social bonds as unsafe and unstable. As they grow up, a person raised by an insensitive caregiver develops an insecure attachment style. It is very likely that it will lead to trust issues and troubled relationships in avoidant types’ adult lives.

So, if you know an individual (a friend of yours, your romantic partner, or a coworker) who is too independent, self-sufficient, and never seeks others’ help, their attachment style is, most likely, avoidant or dismissive-avoidant.

Signs that an adult might be avoidantly attached

Avoidant types appear to be happy with their lives. They are often easy-going, social, and fun to be around. Such people might have many friends and/or sexual partners. This is to say that they do not seem lonely.

Avoidantly attached individuals are usually autonomous and independent. They are likely to focus on their career and build up their confidence mostly based on their professional and financial success. Their self-esteem is seemingly high, and they appear to not be needing anyone’s emotional support. However, oftentimes such people only act self-assured and in control of their lives while deep inside they feel lost.

What is it like to date or be in a relationship with an avoidant type?

For a relationship to be solid, meaningful, and fulfilling, it must become deep at some point. But people with avoidant tendencies never deepen their relationships. All their bonds and social interactions start as something superficial and remain so.

Have you ever wondered why your romantic partner or a close friend tends to avoid physical touch or eye contact with you? Or why do they withdraw when you try to talk about your relationship or get to know their inner world better? Why, whenever you make an attempt to have an emotional, deep conversation with them, is it like talking to a brick wall? Do they often use phrases like “I’m not going to discuss this” or “I’m not sure why we need to talk about it”? Do they accuse you of being too needy and clingy?

All the above are compelling signs of this person having a dismissive-avoidant type of attachment style. Even when they are there with you physically, they will never let you in emotionally. It manifests particularly clearly in romantic relationships: as soon as things get more or less serious, avoidantly attached individuals close themselves off and distance themselves more and more from their partner. Most likely, at some point they will find a reason to end the relationship. In other words, they will do anything to avoid getting close to someone.

Needless to say, this denial of needing emotional intimacy is nothing but a direct result of their parents/caregivers’ behavioral patterns. Because their caregivers gave them little or no emotional support in their early childhood, individuals with a dismissive-avoidant style learned that it is useless to rely on people. So what they did is they just stopped seeking comfort, help, and reassurance from others in their adult lives.

Avoidant adults simply do not allow themselves to build emotional intimacy

An avoidantly attached adult might outwardly portray confidence, strength, and self-reliance. However, the truth of the matter is that, in most cases, such people are just “wearing a mask”. They are insecure and vulnerable deep down inside. They are feeling uncomfortable. They are suffering - and making people around them suffer a lot, too. In other words, to individuals with avoidant attachment issues, emotional intimacy is simply off the table.

And in the majority of cases, it doesn’t happen because they do not see how it might benefit them, but because they do not allow themselves that, have no idea how to achieve it, or it scares them! Yes, very often avoidant types have a big fear of true love and acceptance. There’s a part of them that wants a deep emotional connection, but the other part is frightened by it. In the end, individuals with this type of unhealthy attachment style find themselves not being able to build any meaningful long-term relationships. Obviously, it is heart-breaking for them and painful for the ones who love and care about them.

If you are an avoidant parent, you are also very likely to pass your attachment style on to your son or daughter.

I think I know someone avoidantly attached: what should I do?

If you noticed some avoidant tendencies in your close friend or romantic partner or you realized that you are avoidantly attached, there are various things you can do to help yourself or important people in your life to overcome it.

The very first step to take is acknowledging the issue. The next step is the realization that any changes in behavioral patterns require active effort for a long time.

If it’s a close friend of yours or your romantic partner who is an avoider, we recommend that you take the following steps:

  • Do not take their emotional unavailability personally and try to understand their perspective;
  • Avoid controlling them - too much control will only scare them off, and they will distance themselves from you even more;
  • Phrase criticism and complaints as requests to make your person feel less criticized and more accepted.

If it’s you who is avoidant and you want to change, you should work on the following:

  • Practice expressing your feelings - even if you are not sure what you are feeling, find a way to explore it and then describe it;
  • Leave your comfort zone by exposing yourself to situations you fear - communicating more with a close friend or romantic partner, addressing a conflict directly while staying calm, etc.;
  • Consider working with a therapist.