This is the third in a series of articles focusing on adult attachment styles and how they impact the way we deal with intimacy, how we communicate our feelings and needs and listen to our partners, how we respond to conflict and our expectations in relationships. There are four distinct adult attachment patterns: secure or autonomous, anxious or preoccupied, avoidant or dismissive and disorganized or unresolved.
Do you typically have a hard time committing to your romantic partner? Are you often in need of more space or independence in relationships? Do you want to be in a relationship but then find yourself pushing your partner away?
These are some indicators that you may have an avoidant or dismissive attachment style. Just as with the other attachment styles we have discussed, people bring their past experiences, feelings, expectations and relationship patterns into their adult intimate relationships. Their experiences in earlier relationships create core beliefs and attachment styles, which then determine how they perceive and relate to their partners.
Avoidant or dismissing adults don’t have a coherent state of mind regarding attachment. Their memories and stories of the past are not consistent with the facts. They tend to idealize their parents, deny unpleasant events, do not recall much about early experiences and are unaware of the impact their past is having on their current lives. They minimize and dismiss the importance of relationships and emotional attachments. During their childhood, their parents may have been emotionally unavailable, rejecting and insensitive to their signals and needs. In response, they developed defenses to survive in their emotionally empty families by avoiding closeness, prioritizing independence and denying their needs or vulnerability.
In their romantic relationships, avoidant adults are most comfortable being self-reliant, not seeking or accepting support from their partners. Closeness makes them anxious and they find it difficult to trust others. Often, their partners desire more connection and intimacy, which the avoidant adult is unable or unwilling to give.
Like the anxiously attached adult, the avoidant individual is insecure in their attachment. But their strategies for dealing with closeness, dependence, avoidance and anxiety are different. While the anxiously attached adult’s approach is “hyperactivating” (looking for more enmeshment, reassurance, care and attention) the avoidant adult’s approach is “deactivating” (creating distance from intense connection, intimacy or emotions).
These strategies include:
- Denying attachment needs and being compulsively self-reliant
- Inhibiting basic attachment strategies like seeking close proximity to their partner. This is the partner who doesn’t show up, lets the phone go to voicemail or doesn’t return texts.
- Avoiding emotional involvement, intimacy, interdependence and self-disclosure. This is the partner who will leave to avoid conflict or explode during a disagreement.
- Suppressing attachment-related thoughts and feelings
- Acting mistrustful. This is the partner who distrusts their partner and fears being taken advantage of.
- Expressing unwillingness to deal with a partner’s distress or desire for intimacy or closeness
- Being dismissive and denigrating. Downplaying their partner’s needs.
- Keeping anger and resentments inside.
- Viewing their relationship as unsatisfying, fantasizing about other sexual partners and having affairs.
Through therapy, avoidantly attached adults can identify the experiences and traumas that cause them to fear connection and closeness, learn new relationship and communication strategies, and eventually come to an understanding that a securely attached relationship will enrich their life and still allow them to enjoy their independence.