When a fearful avoidant ex is cold and distant, it’s tempting to think, “I wish they were leaning more anxious” or “I wish they’d go back to being anxious”.
You remember how good it felt when a fearful avoidant was texting every day and all the time, saying all the things and doing things that made you feel that they were attracted to you, cared bout you, wanted to be with you and even loved you. At times it even seemed like your fearful avoidant ex was needy, clingy and chasing you, and it felt good, especially after learning about attachment styles and their avoidant attachment.
What you may not realize or understand is that anxious and avoidant are both insecure attachment styles, two sides of the same coin, and a fearful avoidant leaning anxious may have been the reason for the break-up and may be the reason you’ll not get back together. Your fearful avoidant ex may even be telling you that they can see the relationship working, things are better than in the old relationship and they want to come back, but every now and then they say something that tells you they’re anxious about coming back.
Understanding a fearful avoidant ex leaning anxious
A fearful avoidant attachment style also known as a disorganized attachment or anxious-avoidant is result of intense neglect, abandonment, or emotional, physical or sexual trauma. The underlying attachment structure created a love-hate, approach- avoid, push-pull, and/or idealization and devaluation of relationship partners relating style which makes forming attachments or restoring relationships often disorganized.
You find someone who has disorganized relating approach to relationships – displays avoidant tendencies and demonstrates high independence but at the same time shows a longing for intimacy or closeness.
The shifting from seeking closeness to distancing and wanting to be left alone is what is known as leaning anxious and leaning avoidant.
Leaning anxious simply means the attachment system is activated and a fearful avoidant feels anxious – uneasy, worried and fearful – until there’s clear indication that everything’s okay. The strong feeling that something is wrong compels a fearful avoidant to get close in an effort to figure out if something is wrong and if they should create distance from what’s wrong.
Leaning avoidant means the attachment system is deactivated and a fearful avoidant pulls away from connection and wants to be alone to figure out on their own what’s wrong and if they should continue to stay connected/close.
It’s important to understand that leaning anxious and leaning avoidant are both features of an insecure attachment; and leaning anxious creates just as much instability and insecurity in a relationship as leaning avoidant.
Fearful avoidants can become very anxious, needy and clingy
Because we’re used to thinking of fearful avoidants as just avoidants, it’s easy to sometimes think that because a fearful avoidant is responding, reaching out, showing interest and wants to meet that a fearful avoidant wants a relationship or isn’t thinking of breaking up. We often forget that they’re also part anxiously attached and can get very anxious and even needy and clingy when thinking of separating, losing you or ending a relationship.
When distressed about their own personal stuff, concerned about something in the relationship, feeling unsafe or even thinking of breaking up, fearful avoidants either pull away (avoidant) or turn to an attachment figure for comfort, reassurance and support (anxious). But because they’re conflicted about seeking comfort, reassurance and support they never clearly communicate what it is they expect from you. They engage in attempts to seek comfort, reassurance and support and become more anxious (and needy and clingy) when they don’t feel they’re getting the response they need to feel safe, reassured or supported.
So often the behaviour you see is a fearful avoidant “suddenly” wanting to get close or pursuing and chasing you hard. This is an attempt by a fearful avoidant to be comforted, reassured and supported. It looks a lot like they want to get “too close” but it has an intensity and persistency about it that is more just than wanting to get close. This is a fearful avoidant hyperactivated.
Hyperactivation is next level activated attachment system. When a fearful avoidant (or anxiously attached) is activated, they just want reassurance that everything’s okay. When a fearful avoidant (or anxiously attached) is hyperactivated, their efforts or attempts to get satisfying reassurance, care and support are more intense, insistent and unrelenting.
Strong signs a fearful avoidant is very anxious, needy, clingy and chasing you
The intense, insistent and unrelenting effort and attempt to get close and get reassurance that everything is okay is often what is felt as someone is being needy, clingy or chasing. The brain sends a message to the attachment system that everything is not okay (and separation or abandonment is just round the corner or happening), this triggers a series of unhealthy closeness/proximity seeking strategies and behaviours which include:
- Reaching out a lot more than they usually do and even double and triple texting everyday
- Pushing for continuous conversation – every time a conversation dries up, they start another topic because they don’t want to let you go
- Responding to to texts immediately and when you don’t respond promptly they react with frustration, anger, sadness
- More impulsive, increasingly demanding and quick to anger or get “emotional”
- Eager to tell you about their daily activities and asks a lot of questions about what you’re doing
- Talking about their feelings and needs a little more freely and wants you to know they think highly of you/attracted to you/want to be with you
- Sharing things that they’d not normally share even when they lean anxious
- Persistently asking to meet and actually following through; and when you meet they seem to be trying too hard to be attentive and affectionate
- Reacting with feeling sad, hurt, unwanted and abandoned when you spend time with other people/displaying extreme jealousy and possessiveness
- Asking you about what you think of them or what you think about their looks, interest/hobby/creation or something they’re proud of
- Being very flirtatious and using “happy” emojis that don’t seem to match the subject of the conversation or seem a little excessive
- Wanting more touching throughout the day and are kind of aggressive about sex and intimacy
The list is long, but the underlying motivation for someone being needy, clingy and chasing you is the need for a satisfactory response or reassurance that what they think, or feel is happening is not what is happening.
What triggers a fearful avoidant to become needy and chase you
What often triggers someone anxiously attached to become needy, clingy and chase someone is simple and straight forward. They think/feel your unavailable or unresponsive and that means you’re losing interest, aren’t attracted to them anymore, pulling away, want to break up or abandoning them, and they want you to reassure that that’s not the case. Once they get that reassurance, anxiously attached calm down (but not for too long because the anxiety never really goes away).
What triggers a fearful avoidant to become needy, clingy and chase you is complex. There’s the fear that YOU are losing interest, aren’t attracted to them anymore, pulling away, want to break up or abandoning them because they aren’t meeting your needs, will never be enough for you etc., and they want you to reassure that that’s not the case.
But fearful avoidants also have the fear that THEY are losing interest, aren’t attracted to you anymore and/or want to break up. And because fearful avoidants often don’t trust their own feelings about someone, they may try very hard to prove to themselves that they’re still attracted to you and still interested in you. They chase you hard but deep down inside they know that they’re not interested in being with you or have lost attraction to you. This is why as soon as you show interest back, fearful avoidants lose interest and/or attraction. The chase wasn’t about you, it was about them.
This is important. When a fearful avoidant is afraid that separation is only a matter of time or that it’s already happening and it’s because they’re afraid that they’re losing interest, aren’t attracted to you anymore and want to break up, they’ll show anxiety about the relationship but drop hints that they’re the problem (and not you) and sometimes ask for space or a break to focus on themselves/their problems.
If a fearful avoidant is thinking of separating because of they feel/think you’re losing interest or aren’t attracted to them anymore because they aren’t meeting your needs or aren’t enough for you, they’ll continue to be loving and caring but also show more irritation, accusations, more criticism of you, hints and/or anger outbursts that don’t seem to match what’s happening. They may even apologize and/walk about what they said especially if they feel it was too “harsh” or hurtful, and even try to make it up to you by wanting more physical touch, flirtatious or sexually aggressive. But it will probably happen again or they’ll being up something you did that you didn’t even know you did because it felt insignificant at the time and/or they didn’t seem to have a problem with.
But being anxiously attached, you’ll feel hurt by all the hurtful things a fearful avoidant is saying, probably do a little protest behaviour, ignore all the signs you’re being pushed away and focus on a fearful avoidant acting like they’re still in love with you and want to be with you.
Confusing needy and chasing you behaviours with intense feelings of love or attraction
When a fearful avoidant ex is showing elevated attachment anxiety or acting needy and clingy, most anxiously attached people are thrilled and overjoyed how attached to them a fearful avoidant seems to be. They feel loved and wanted because an anxious attachment’s core belief is that people don’t want to be with them. An avoidant acting like they desperately want to be with you, aggressively pursuing you and even showing fear of losing you feels good, exciting, validating and reassuring. But is it love?
It may well be that a fearful avoidant is very much attracted to you and has feelings for you, but in that time when a fearful avoidant is triggered by their fear of abandonment, it’s not about love. What a fearful avoidant is doing is everything they can to get reassurance that what they think is happening is not what’s happening; you’re not losing interest or feelings, you’re not disappointed in them or unhappy, you’re not pulling away or want to break up, there’s no one else etc.
Once they’re reassured that what they think is happening is not what’s happening, intense the needy and clinginess and/or persistent pursuit stops.
The keywords here are “intense efforts” and “insistent attempts”. Many people trying to attract back a fearful avoidant ex like to think “my fearful avoidant ex is chasing me” when all a fearful avoidant is doing is leaning anxious or playing mind games.
A fearful avoidant ex reaching out every now and then, watching your IG stories (from a distance safe from closeness), putting in low effort to connect deeply or meeting you every once in a while is a fearful avoidant just being a fearful avoidant; they want to get close but just enough not to get hurt by it. For a fearful avoidant to be chasing you, their effort to attain closeness have to be intense and their attempts must be insistent.
A fearful avoidant ex leaning anxious and casing you has negative consequences
While it feels good to be chased by a fearful avoidant ex, a fearful avoidant leaning very anxious or chasing you can negatively affects your chances of getting back together by creating resistance that can make getting back together take very long or not happen at all.
Separations or no responsiveness, up to a point, can increase the intensity of proximity-seeking or closeness-seeking behaviour, but beyond some point they provoke defensive distancing so as to avoid the pain and distress caused by the frustrating relationship (Attachment in Adulthood: Structure, Dynamics, and Change By Mario Mikulincer and Phillip R. Shaver. 2007).
A fearful avoidant may become resistant to getting back together because feeling anxious is making them question if:
1. They can truly be happy in a relationship with you and if being in a relationship with you is worth more than their independence or other options; or
2. You’re right for each other because they constantly worry and have doubts in their ability to make you happy and your ability to make them happy, or even feel that you bring out of each other behaviours that they see at unhealthy or toxic.
You see them become increasingly negative, constantly questioning their feelings or your actions and behaviours. It’s like they’re out to catch you saying the “wrong” word, making the “wrong” comment etc. A fearful avoidant ex may even talk about getting back together and give you the impression that they just need a little more time, but every now and then they come up with one reason or the other why they think the relationship might not work.
You may even find yourselves getting into unnecessary arguments and avoidable conflicts, unhealthy testing and protest behaviours that are destructive not just to the relationship but your chances of getting back together. Even if you’re consistently loving, caring and supportive, they have a difficult time believing that’s what they want or that you will continue to be consistently loving, caring and supportive.
What securely attached do when a fearful Avoidant is leaning anxious
Someone securely attached doesn’t wish for their fearful avoidant ex to lean anxious or go back to being anxious because they understand that attachment anxiety is insecure behaviour and not good for a healthy, safe and secure relationship.
Instead of feeling happy or entertained by a fearful avoidant acting needy, clingy and chasing them, securely attached get concerned and try to quickly identify why a fearful avoidant is feeling unsafe, what they’re worried about, or what is making them so anxious and hyperactivated. They become more attentive to what a fearful avoidant is saying and observe what they are doing to try to determine if a fearful avoidant is anxious because they (fearful avoidant) want to separate, pull away or break-up or if a fearful avoidant is feeling unsafe and anxious about something they (securely attached) are doing or have done.
They then encourage an honest, open and clear discussion about what a fearful avoidant is anxious about. Their goal is to help a fearful avoidant feel secure and confident about the relationship by creating a space where a fearful avoidant can feel that their fears, feelings and emotions are validated and not dismissed or shot down as “not true”. If there is differences in perception of the situation or what happened, securely attached do not “argue to win the argument’ or prove who is right, but instead present their own perspective or solutions to the problem that take into account why a fearful avoidant may be feeling anxious, worried or unsafe.
So next time your fearful avoidant ex is cold and distant, and you’re tempted to wish they were leaning more anxious or chasing you, I want you to really think about exactly you’re wishing for. Instead of wishing for a fearful avoidant to lean more anxious or chase you (insecure behaviours), want them to feel safe and secure.
Show with you actions (not talk them into it feeling safe because that doesn’t work) that whatever is making them anxious can be addressed and/or there is a solution to it that is satisfactorily reassuring and supportive of their needs and your needs. Anything less, is postponing the inevitable, which is you’re not getting back together, and if you do, you’ll break up again sooner than later. The more times you break up, the less confidence an avoidant has that a relationship between the two of you can work.