Part 2 of 4 of a series diving deep into the Attachment Bond, What It Looks Like and What Type of Attachment Style Do You Have
Attachment is the foundation of everything. Of how we see ourselves and how we see others. There are two main types of Attachment, Secure and Insecure. Last week I focused on Secure Attachment and this week I will introduce Insecure Attachment, which has 3 types. These types are Avoidant, Anxious-Ambivalent, and Disorganized Attachment. In this blog I will focus primarily on the Avoidant Attachment Style, how it typically develops, what are the signs of Avoidant Attachment, and finally what you can do to change it.
Insecure Attachment is fueled by anxiety and fear. We all experience anxiety and fear, at different times in our lives, sometimes on an almost daily basis. It’s our body’s way of signaling to us that something is not quite right. When anxiety cripples us or consumes us, then it may fall into the category of an Anxiety disorder. But the experience of anxiety in and of itself is not a bad thing. Fear also acts in this way and is often connected to our feelings of anxiety. Unlike anxiety, fear is just an emotion, like happiness and sadness. When we experience fear, we are responding to something in our environment that is experienced as a threat. Fear and anxiety are connected to our Stress Response System which is often why they are experienced at the same time and also why many people mistake anxiety for fear and fear for anxiety. But they are not the same thing.
The anxiety and fear that are hallmarks of insecure attachment are prolonged and typically result in the person feeling like they cannot trust other people (“I have trust issues”) and feelings of rejection on one end of the spectrum and abandonment on the other. When a person displays an insecure attachment style they worry all the time about loss of connection. Due to this fear around the loss of connection a person may be overly clingy, completely disconnected, or a mix of both.
Before I get into the 3 types of insecure attachment I want to stress that insecure attachment often develops during those critical first 5 years of our lives and this is why it sets the foundation for our adult relationships. Second even though it develops during our early years, you can actually change your attachment style. Once you recognize the patterns and commit to changing them, this change is possible.
Avoidant Attachment is…
Avoidant Attachment develops during those crucial first 5 years and ends up being a lifelong pattern of relating to people if it goes unchallenged. A baby’s natural response is to look to their parent/caregiver when they become distressed, to have this distress soothed by the adult because they do not have the ability to do this on their own. Not only do they look to their parents/caregivers for soothing but also for play and emotional connection. So if the parent/caregiver is unable to attune to the baby’s needs (which includes play and face to face connection) or they are consistently unable to soothe the baby, then the baby learns that the parent/caregiver is not able to meet their need. They then learn how to soothe on their own. This may sound great, except that the way they learn to cope is typically unhealthy. Their little Stress Response Systems kick in which becomes the predominate way they learn to cope. They learn to stop crying out and essentially this is done by disconnecting (dissociating) from their bodes and their emotions.
They learn that parents/caregivers and thus people cannot be trusted to take care of them or meet their needs. They become independent and self sufficient, learning to only rely on themselves. They don’t see their parent/caregiver as a source of fear but they also do not see them as a source of comfort. There is in a sense a lack of connectedness between mother and baby, which leaves the baby to internalize this message and the mechanisms for attachment remain underdeveloped.
The hallmark of Avoidant Attachment is the parent/caregiver may meet the child’s physical needs but not their emotional ones. There is a disconnection emotionally. This is more easily identified during the toddler years when children begin to tantrum as they are learning how to cope with their own emotions. The way parents/caregivers respond to their children in these moments sticks with them. When the child cries or expresses an emotion is the parent/caregiver validating or do they just shut the child down? When you shut them down or minimize their feelings they learn that their feelings are not valid and they don’t matter. Moreover they learn that you will not be able to soothe their distress so why bother expressing them. This leads to disconnection.
Avoidant Attachment Between Parent & Child
-There is very little if any distress during parent-child separations
-Upon parent/caregiver and toddler/child reunions the toddler/child seems to ignore their parent/caregiver
-When distressed the toddler/child doesn’t seek out comfort from their parent/caregiver or any other adult
-Avoids or resists physical touch/contact
-Seems to lack emotion /rarely cries
The Avoidant Attached Adult
-Avoids intimate/close relationships
-Has relationships but they are not experienced by the other as close or deep
-Difficulty tuning into and/or expressing their own emotions. May not even be able to identify how they are feeling
-When they feel like they are getting too close to someone they may become defensive and feel the urge to protect themselves leaving them to put their walls up
-They experience vulnerability as weakness and believe that if they get too close someone will take advantage of them
What an Avoidant Attachment Relationship Between Adults Looks and Feels Like
-Lack of vulnerability-not fully sharing ones self with their partner
-A desire to get close to others but being afraid of this closeness-sending out mixed signals
-Self sabotaging behaviors
-Walling self off emotionally or shutting down when things get to close
-They may feel like their partners desire to get close to them, physically or emotionally, makes them clingy and this in turn makes the avoidantly attached person want to move away from them
3 Tips for Repairing Your Avoidant Attachment
Avoidant attachment can leave you feeling lonely and disconnected despite your desire to be connected to others but your fear is driving you. In order to get your needs met and to not be ruled by fear you can use these 3 tips below.
#1 Understand your triggers: We all have things that we are sensitive about. It’s self protection that keeps us walled off because we don’t want to be hurt. We want to be and express love but the fear around loss can prevent us from doing this. Triggers for your fear are typically around someone getting to close. When we feel like people can truly see us then they will see how afraid we really are and this is scary. In order to fight against that we put up our walls to keep people out. This boundary is often emotional. You will know when your wall comes up because you will suddenly feel an urge to shut down and maybe even to move away. Start to journal emotions when they do come up as well rather than trying to push them away. Keep track of these triggers and what illicit them so you can then move into tip #2.
#2 Start to explore feelings and emotions and getting attuned to your body. When that wall comes up what is happening internally with you? What physical sensations are you having and consequently what thoughts might come along with them? Now get curious about these thoughts. Are they something you really want or believe or are they getting in your way of what you want? If so then challenge them and then move to tip #3.
#3 Practice getting close to someone. This can be with a therapist or a lifelong friend. Start notice how you feel when you’re with them and the types of conversations you have. What happens when they express to you something emotional? Do you feel more anxiety? Fear? What thoughts come up for you when you think about sharing parts of yourself? Being vulnerable with another? Next start off by sharing very small not so vulnerable details about yourself with them. Your anxiety or fear may raise a little and you can stop when it becomes too much for you.
Avoidant attachment is an attachment style fueled by independence and self reliance. But this bravado is a mask for the fear and anxiety around getting close to others. Many of us who struggle with this type of attachment style desire closeness and connection but the fear of rejection or of our needs not getting met prohibits us from getting close. Instead our Stress Response System, sensing a threat, kicks in and self protection dominates. In order to override this coping strategy we must learn how to tolerate closeness, slow and steady. The 3 tips above are a good starting point.
Are you constantly feeling alone no matter how many people are around you and despite having many friends? Let’s get to the bottom of this and alleviate your loneliness. Schedule your intake session today.