If you’re trying to get back together with a fearful avoidant ex, you will recognize these fearful avoidant self sabotage behaviours. Some of them may have made you ask yourself, did they even love you? Should you try to get back with a fearful avoidant ex?
While individuals with anxious-preoccupied and dismissive avoidant attachment styles self sabotage relationships in some form or another; it’s more common for fearful avoidants to self sabotage a relationship.
The self-sabotage is so gradual that you might not see it when it’s happening. Some of the worst ways fearful avoidants self sabotage include:
Being vague, offering few details, speaking in incomplete sentences and misrepresenting who they’re are some of the ways fearful avoidants self sabotage right from the start of a relationship.
And even though this behaviour is more of a coping mechanism than malicious intent, it feels like the same thing when you’re on the receiving end of the unclear, ambiguous and mixed signals. It makes you wonder what else they’re “lying” about.
I’ve talked to some fearful avoidants who are aware that they’re self sabotaging and harm themselves and their relationships with these behaviours. They say they keep doing it because the alternative; being vulnerable is much scarier.
A fearful avoidant self sabotage may begin when things are going very well. A fearful avoidants sees things are getting serious and they start doubting themselves: if they truly love you, if they can meet your needs, if they’re making the right choice/decision being with you etc.
You get the feeling they don’t believe you love them, and some fearful avoidants even tell you they don’t understand what you love about them; or why you are with them/still hanging around. There are fearful avoidants who resent you for loving them because they don’t think they deserve your love and commitment.
3) Testing partners
Other times, the self sabotage begins with a fearful avoidant having doubts about you. Do you truly love them, are they with the right person, are you with them for the right reasons, are you compatible/want the same things, are things moving too fast, can they see a future with you etc.
They put you through one test after another, often playing mind games to test you. They also get annoyed over small things and minor details; and get more and more annoyed with time. One day they explode, stop responding or break-up with you. If you ever wondered what that was about; this was a fearful avoidant self sabotaging to prevent the relationship from progressing or getting serious.
4) Keeping you away from their inner circle
The show “Help! I’m In A Secret Relationship” comes to mind when I think of a fearful avoidant “hiding” someone they’re dating or in a relationship with.
They don’t introduce you to their friends or family, don’t post any pictures of you on social media; and sometimes don’t want to be seen with you in public. Yet privately they profess their “unconditional” love and commitment. You even feel truly loved, but can’t understand why they don’t want people close to them to know you’re in a relationship; or together.
As in the show, sometimes there is cheating going on, but often times, the reason a fearful avoidant is “hiding you” has less to do with you and more to do with a fearful avoidant’s inability to communicate what’s going on with them outside of the relationship (i.e job stress, financial problems/unemployment, family drama, depression etc).
5) Multiple sexual partners
Men and women cheat for various reasons but someone who cheats or has multiple sexual partner to avoid intimacy; or as away to stop themselves from falling deeply in love is self sabotaging. And fearful avoidants do this a lot.
They start to feel deep feelings for you and get scared that if they let themselves fall in love, they’ll get hurt. So they go have sex with someone else (or multiple people) to distract themselves from dealing with how they truly feel. When you call them out, they’ll in a matter-of-fact-way tell you “it means nothing”, “it was just sex” or some other reason that makes you think, “then why do it if it means nothing to you?”. They’re doing it because they don’t want to be honest with themselves.
Most fearful avoidants keep self sabotaging and pushing you away until you end the relationship; or they do the final self sabotage: breakup with you for no reason at all.
Do fearful avoidants who self sabotage really love you?
Yes, they do. But to understand how a fearful avoidant loves, you must first understand a fearful avoidant’s first experience of love; and their complicated fear of relationships.
A fearful avoidant attachment style also known as a disorganized attachment style describes someone who is both attachment anxious and attachment avoidant. That is, they want and need a closeness in their relationships, but avoid it because they fear rejection and/or being abandoned.
A fearful avoidant attachment style develops from having a primary caregiver or attachment figure who was:
- Unpredictable and chaotic
- Inconsistent in responding to their feelings and needs (neglect)
- Provided care, attention and affection with threats and manipulation
- Was emotionally abuse and sometimes physically violent
- Loving sometimes and terrifying other times
Self sabotage is ingrained in the fearful avoidant attachment system
Someone who learned about love from a parent(s) or caregiver who was a source of happiness and source of fear learns that:
- Relationships is a source of both comfort and anxiety/stress.
- You’re never good enough or worthy of consistent attention and affection
- You can never know what to expect from someone you love.
- It’s okay to want love but you should be wary and very careful because you will get hurt.
- People who say they love you will take advantage of you; manipulate you, use you and/or abuse you if you are not careful.
- If you show someone that you love them and need them, they’ll use that against you.
- It’s okay to lie to avoid a negative outcome (e.g. rejection or being punished).
When you understand that a fearful avoidant’s self sabotage goes much deeper, you start to see that they’re not intentionally trying to hurt you; and understand why they keep pushing you away and can’t let you love them.
Fearful avoidants want to make relationships work, and most of them try
When you are on the receiving end of a fearful avoidant’s self sabotage, it’s inevitable to think they must know they’re self sabotaging. That must know they have a good thing going and pushing you. But when you understand that a fearful avoidant’s self sabotage goes much deeper, you also understand that a fearful avoidant’s confusing signals are sometimes confusing to them too. They love you and care about the relationship; but they always end up self sabotaging and messing it up.
This is not me excusing ‘bad behaviour” or me saying you should just take it and not call out a fearful avoidant; or that you should handle them as if they were delicate souls. Not saying that. This is me saying, if you want to attract back and keep a fearful avoidant, you must fully understand what you are dealing with.
Unless a fearful avoidant ex takes steps to heal their attachment issues, not just be aware of them or hide behind “no contact” but really do the work; relationships for a fearful avoidant will always be walking a thin line between wanting closeness and avoiding it. Sometimes the need for connection and closeness overpowers the fear of getting hurt; and sometimes the fear of getting hurt overpowers the need for connection and closeness.
Should you have to put up with someone who keeps self sabotaging?
Many fearful avoidants I know want to make relationships work, and some of them try. Sometimes there is no contact for weeks even months, they reach out or you reach out; things are good for a while, then the pushing you away and pulling you back in begins all over.
I tell my clients trying to attract back an a fearful avoidant that “No one should have to go through something like this, even for the sake of love. And if being with a fearful avoidant is messing you up emotionally and mentally, walk away. There is no shame is saying “I deserve better”, because you do”.
And as mentioned earlier, it’s not just fearful avoidants who self sabotage. Anxious-preoccupied protest behaviour is just as bad as a fearful avoidants self sabotage. The difference is that anxious-preoccupied like to play the victim of an avoidant. They honestly believe that fixing an avoidant fixes the relationship; or finding a secure partner is the solution.
Your anxious attachment issues will follow you into a secure relationship; and you may end up the one self sabotaging a good relationship. So look inward before you point the finger outward.
Not yet ready to walk away from your fearful avoidant ex?
The best way to approach getting back together is to give a self-sabotaging avoidant a way out; that is let them know you still want to try to make it work but if they’re not feeling it, that’s okay too. You can’t force them to be with you. After you make this clear, space out how often you reach out. Not cut off contact, just reach out less (regular check-ins) to allow them space to process how they feel.
According to Harvard brain scientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor “When a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90-second chemical process that happens in the body; after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop.”
Always that remember that avoidants in general don’t process feelings as fast as anxious-preoccupied or securely attached. Many don’t even start fully processing a break-up for months because they’re busy avoiding their emotions. It’s another way they self sabotage post break-up.
A relationship with a fearful avoidant can still work if:
- You’re aware of why fearful avoidants self sabotage and have educated yourself on what goes inside of a fearful avoidant when they’re self sabotaging.
- A fearful avoidant’s self sabotage is forgivable and not self-destructive (alcohol, drugs, gambling, sexual promiscuity etc.) or abusive.
- Your fearful avoidant ex is doing their self-work or has taken steps to seek professional.
- You’re working or have worked on becoming more secure.
Working towards secure attachment is particularly important because fearful avoidants are fearful avoidants because they have never known what it’s like to want love, connection and closeness and not be afraid of it.
When you are loving and caring one moment and ignoring a fearful avoidant the next, you remind them of their relationship with a parent(s) or caregiver who was a source of happiness and source of fear. You confirm to them that people who love you also hurt you.
If you want a fearful avoidant to let you get close, you must behave in the opposite of their childhood attachment trauma. This not easy when you have not dealt with your own childhood attachment trauma.
A secure partner can provide a safe and secure environment for a fearful avoidant to explore being close without self sabotaging; and to gradually over time stop self sabotaging.