A dismissive-avoidant attachment style is demonstrated by those possessing a positive view of self and a negative view of others.
People with a dismissive style of avoidant attachment tend to agree with these statements: “I am comfortable without close emotional relationships”, “It is important to me to feel independent and self-sufficient”, and “I prefer not to depend on others or have others depend on me.” People with this attachment style desire a high level of independence. The desire for independence often appears as an attempt to avoid attachment altogether. They view themselves as self-sufficient and invulnerable to feelings associated with being closely attached to others. They often deny needing close relationships. Some may even view close relationships as relatively unimportant. Not surprisingly, they seek less intimacy with attachments, whom they often view less positively than they view themselves. Investigators commonly note the defensive character of this attachment style. People with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style tend to suppress and hide their feelings, and they tend to deal with rejection by distancing themselves from the sources of rejection (e.g. their attachments or relationships).
A fearful-avoidant attachment style is demonstrated by those possessing an unstable fluctuating/confused view of self and others.
People with losses or other trauma, such as sexual abuse in childhood and adolescence may often develop this type of attachment and tend to agree with the following statements: “I am somewhat uncomfortable getting close to others. I want emotionally close relationships, but I find it difficult to completely trust others, or to depend on them. I sometimes worry that I will be hurt if I allow myself to become too close to other people.” They tend to feel uncomfortable with emotional closeness, and the mixed feelings are combined with sometimes unconscious, negative views about themselves and their attachments. They commonly view themselves as unworthy of responsiveness from their attachments, and they don’t trust the intentions of their attachments. Similar to the dismissive-avoidant attachment style, people with a fearful-avoidant attachment style seek less intimacy from attachments and frequently suppress and deny their feelings. Because of this, they are much less comfortable expressing affection.
~Wikipedia, August 2019
While the avoidant attachment styles are not my dominant styles, I have been in relationships (both intimate and platonic) where the other person has an avoidant style. Some of the ways I have witnessed these styles show up in others (note I have broken it down to three lists: characteristics they share; dismissive only; fearful only)
Both avoidant styles ::
- Struggle with emotional intimacy
- Unable to share their own thoughts or feelings with others in a constructive way
- “Logics” their way out of emotional conflict
Avoidant Dismissive style ::
- Become uncomfortable when relationships get too emotionally intimate; may perceive their partners as “wanting too much” or being clinging when the partner expresses a desire to be more emotionally intimate
- Appear fiercely independent – act as though they don’t need others; they can take care of everything themselves
- When faced with separation or loss, they shift their focus and attention to other (non relationship) issues and goals
- Tend to withdraw and isolate, attempting to cope with loss and other emotions on their own
- Deny their vulnerability; use repression to manage emotions that are aroused in situations that activate their attachment needs
- When seeking support from a partner are likely to use indirect strategies such as hinting, complaining, and sulking
- Overly focused on themselves and their own comforts; largely disregard the feelings and interests of other people
- Typical response to conflict, and stressful situations is to become distant and aloof
Avoidant Fearful ::
- Afraid of being both too close to or too distant from others; attempt to keep their feelings at bay but are unable to
- Overwhelmed by their emotional reactions and often experience emotional storms
- Unpredictable moods; unable to self-regulate or suppress feelings
- Often in rocky or dramatic relationships, with many highs and lows
- Fear of being abandoned and also struggle with being intimate
- Cling to their partner when they feel rejected, then feel trapped when they are close
- Timing seems to be off between them and their partner
What these styles can look like in the modern world:
- Ghosting or semi-ghosting
- Refusing to talk about emotional personal topics
- Avoiding or ignoring conflicts by ignoring phone calls, texts, emails; when they do reply make no mention of the conflict
Ghosting is a very modern day way that those with avoidant, and particularly dismissive-avoidant, attachment styles cope with their feelings. They may tell themselves all kinds of things about why they are ghosting the person, but it does boil down to not wanting to face and feel with their emotions. Note that their partner may or may not even be aware of a conflict, as avoidant styles struggle to state when something is an issue for them.
As with the insecure-anxious attachment style, the avoidant styles grow from neglect from their primary caregivers during their developmentally sensitive years. This may be due to the caregivers having addiction issues, having avoidant attachment styles themselves, or could be from a life event in the adult’s life that has them withdraw into themselves, like grief over the death of a loved one or needing to work outside the home suddenly due to divorce.
Those with fearful avoidant styles tend to have grown up in homes when sometimes a caregiver was available and sometimes not; creating a sense of confusion and not knowing if the adult will be available to meet their needs.
Generally speaking anxiously attached and avoidant attached people are attracted to each other. Their relationships tend to look a bit like a cat and mouse game where the anxiously attached person reaches out for connection, then the avoidantly attached person withdraws, so the anxiously attached reaches out more and the avoidant withdraws more, each upping the ante so to speak with each turn of the cycle with neither ever getting their attachment needs met. This cat and mouse game can last for decades, for a lifetime even.
However as one or the other partner works through their own trauma history and starts to process it, learning to develop a more securely attached relationship style there are two paths the relationship could either go down: 1. The relationship ends or 2. The other partner also begins to work through their trauma history and learns how to become more securely attached in relationship.
Securely attached people can be in relationship with either avoidant or anxious attached people (and of course other securely attached people). The good news for those with the insecure attachment style, is if they are willing and able, these relationships are excellent opportunities for them to grow and begin their trauma processing work and begin to shift their styles. However, the securely attached partner is not the insecurely attached partner’s therapist, and so finding a good trauma informed therapist is vital to facilitate the shifting that can begin to happen in these types of relationships.
Of course the ways we relate to others, especially our intimate partners, is complex and varied. We all have a more dominant style that we typically utilize, however we all have bits of each of the insecure attachment styles in us, regardless of which one is more dominant for us. How our attachment styles show up in our relationships is also varied depending on our partner’s (dominant) style and the work each person has done in processing their own childhood trauma.
My hope for sharing about each of these styles over the last couple weeks is for you to learn a bit more about yourself and to help you develop a bit more compassion for yourself in understanding some more of the hows and whys you interact in the world the way you do.
The best news in all of this, is with the right trauma informed therapist and our own dedication to practice and growth, we can all shift from insecure attachment styles to a more and more securely attached style. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it can be done. It requires us to literally rewire our neural pathways, and I highly recommend a therapist who utilizes a combination of somatic and talk therapy. This rewiring can begin to happen in a few months, and with more and more work people can begin to see significant changes in how they feel in their own bodies and within their relationships in as little as a year to eighteen months.
That may seem like a long time (eighteen months), but consider how long, how many decades, you have lived with the attachment style you developed as a child. When we look at it from this perspective, eighteen months is a drop in the bucket.
That doesn’t mean that in a year and half you will be “healed” or “cured” or completely changed in your attachment style. I believe those of us who developed insecure styles as children will always need to manage them in certain situations and consciously and intentionally bring ourselves back into more secure ways of being. However, developing that pause, to be able to move into that secure way of being with ourselves and with others, is everything.
** I want to note that I do not believe it is the responsibility of those who have more securely attached styles to “help” those with insecure styles. None of us are responsible for another person’s growth or trauma processing when in intimate relationships or platonic friendships. However, love is complex and we may find ourselves being willing to be present during our partner’s growth. The key is being able to recognize when a partner is being abusive and to be very clear that abusive behavior is unacceptable and if repeated it is necessary, always, for us to save ourselves and leave the relationship.
This essay was originally published in my newsletter on August 11, 2019 and edited for publication here. To read my most recent essays, you can subscribe to my weekly(ish) newsletter here.