Are you reaching out to your avoidant ex because you are following your intuition or gut instincts or contacting them from feelings of anxiety and fear of losing them?
One of the hardest parts about my work as a relationship coach helping people get back with their exes is giving someone advice, then they do their own thing, things unravel fast or get worse and we have to figure out how to get back on track after the fallout. The common explanation most clients give is “I followed my gut instincts” or “I felt it in my gut it was the right thing to do”. I can’t argue with that because doing so is telling them that you can’t trust your intuition or gut feelings.
People with an anxious attachment style or fearful avoidant attachment style (also known as anxious-avoidants) already have a negative self-concept or view of themselves, I don’t want to make them think and feel that they’re incapable and shouldn’t trust themselves. But on the other hand, when you have an anxious attachment style or fearful avoidant attachment style, gut feelings or gut instincts and relationship anxiety can be mixed up.
Anxious attachment and relationship anxiety
Relationship anxiety comes from fear or rejection, fear of abandonment and fear of loss of an attachment. Relationship anxiety can also be caused by stress, uncertainty, and (real or imagined) threat to the relationship. People with a secure attachment and dismissive avoidants have relatively low relationship anxiety, but people with an anxious attachment style and fearful avoidant attachment style have high relationship anxiety.
So sometimes the strong feelings or emotions that people with an anxious attachment style and fearful avoidants feel as intuition, gut feelings or gut instincts are created entirely by their high anxiety and overwhelming need for reassurance.
Intuition or feelings of anxiety and fear of losing your ex?
Break-ups generally increase relationship anxiety, first because of the higher risk of rejection and abandonment and secondly because when you break-up, the norms of things like when you can contact your ex and how much, what you can say to your ex and what you can’t dramatically change. Navigating through all the changes is hard for anyone trying to attract back their ex, but even harder when you have high relationship anxiety.
The general tendency for people with an anxious attachment is to overwhelm someone they love with attention and affection often with the hope that the other person will reciprocate (reassurance-seeking). When you’re driven by reassurance seeking, it a lot harder for example to practice not texting too much or texting your ex when you feel sad, angry, confused, rejected, abandoned or are afraid of losing your ex.
You know you shouldn’t be:
- Blowing your ex’s phone
- Sending your ex money, flowers and gifts
- Writing letters telling them ‘how much you love them”
- Showing up at their home or work,
- Stalking their social media etc.
But the urge to reach out to your ex and have some kind of connection to validate how you feel is so strong. Something inside of you tells you that it’s what you need to do to show your ex how much you love them, how much you are hurting and/or how much you want them back. And because anxiety and fear are a sensation felt in your gut, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish between anxiety or fear and gut instinct or intuition.
So who do you separate anxiety, worry, fear from intuition and gut feelings?
1. Examine the thoughts driving how you feel
Anxiety and fear interfere with the ability to think clearly, make decisions, and behave calmly and confidently. Anxiety and fear also create repetitive thinking or circular thoughts that don’t lead to a solution but instead just stay there, playing over and over again without contributing to anything constructive.
- What if my ex thinks I don’t love them?
- What if they think I am turning my back on them?
- What if they feel I abandoned them?
- What if they need me to show them love?
- What if they need me?
- What if they think I am ignoring them? Etc.
- What if I am just wasting my time?
- What if I am giving them what they want and, in the end, get rejected anyways?
- What if I am being played or taken advantage of?
- What if I say the wrong thing and push them away?
- What if I ask and they say “no!”… on and on and on.
As you can see, fear and anxiety driven thoughts are about the things you worry can and might happen.
2. Pay attention to how you feel
Anxiety, worry, fear have unease feel about them from intuition and gut feelings do not.
Contrary to what most of us have heard or read, not all gut feelings come with that immediate “Aha Moment”. Sometimes, gut feelings are scary because there is no logical explanation for how we know what we know. One moment you know absolutely nothing and the next you know everything. That’s scary. But unlike anxious or fearful thoughts which keep you stuck in scared, an intuitive thought or feeling quickly turns into clarity and calm.
For example: You feel the urge to contact your ex but have no idea what to say in your text. Then a thought, feeling, or voice comes forward and it feels right. How do you know it’s the right thing to say? You do not, and that’s the scary part. But the feeling that it is the right thing to say is stronger than the fear that you don’t know if it’s the right thing to say. What’s more, there is no desire to overthink it or worry about what could happen or might happen. And after you’ve sent the text, you don’t sit there wondering if you should have said something else, done something else. It was the right thing to say and you said it. Moving on ahead.
Anxious or fearful thoughts on the other hand create unrest, discomfort or stress. The thought may even start as a gut feeling but because there is anxiety and/or fear attached to it, you overthink it, second guess yourself, procrastinate, try to come up with something else to say, and write 100 different drafts. In the process, you lose sight of what may have started as a gut feeling. What started as a simple text now feels like your whole life depends on it.
3. Think about what you’re trying to achieve (end goal)
I always ask my clients who say they acted on their “instincts” or “gut feeling”, what were you hoping to achieve.
An action that follows intuition is deliberate, always has a calming effect and almost always results in a positive outcome. An action that comes from relationship anxiety or fear of rejection, abandonment or loss of an attachment or relationship is often rushed/impulsive, not thoroughly thought through and often creates more anxiety, worry, fear and feelings of rejection or abandonment, and even sometimes the outcome in the very things you’re most afraid will happen.
For example, you can’t take the stress anymore and want the (anxiety/fear) discomfort to go away, so you send your ex a text as soon as you click ‘send,’ you start worrying about what could happen, might happen. You even question if you should you have sent the text in the first place. Did you say the right thing? Did you use the right words? Was it interesting enough? What if your ex does not respond? Etc.
If you are a fearful avoidant, you are thinking, “I should not contact them again”. You even convince yourself that your ex needs space. Mind you, your ex hasn’t asked for space, this whole “give my ex space” is all in your head. That’s what avoidants do. When things get ‘uncomfortable’ they run away, emotionally and/or physically. They don’t have (or have limited) capacity to sit through discomfort, show up even when they’re scared and hold the space for a relationship to unfold slowly and naturally.
If you have an anxious attachment (anxious preoccupied), you send a second text “You don’t need to respond (no pressure)”. The longer your ex takes to respond, the needier you become. You may even send your ex a third text, “I’ll give you space” or “I need space to focus on myself” blah blah.
In the short term, you may reduce anxiety, manage your fears and feel better, but that relief will be short-lived. The anxious and fear-driven thoughts will come back, and sometimes they come back stronger, and more persistent. You find it difficult to focus on the present because your mind is busy trying to un-do, modify and change the past or predict and fix the future before what you fear will happen happens.
Listen and 100% trust what our intuition is telling us but…
What I am trying to say here, and hopefully I am saying it right (and not triggering more attachment anxiety) is that there is nothing wrong with following one’s ‘gut feeling’, in fact, we all should listen and 100% trust what our intuition is telling us. Gut feelings and intuition are our reliable source of information and guidance; there are just some things that we know without us knowing why we know them or how we know them. So yes, listen and trust your intuition, every time.
But don’t rush to do anything before you’re sure your “gut feeling” is intuition and not your anxiety playing tricks on you. Take your time to observe your thoughts (and thinking), how you feel and what you’re hoping to achieve with your actions.
Next time you have “gut feeling” about your avoidant ex, check with yourself to see if the action you are about to take gives you more clarity and makes you feel more calm and confident, or if the action is driven by a need to make the anxiety, fear or discomfort you feel go away.
Ask yourself “Am I afraid of something? Am I trying to get rid of the discomfort I feel?” If the answer is “yes”, that’s not your gut feeling that’s your anxiety and fear talking to you. If the answer is “no”, check if you have more clarity, feel calm and confident about what you are about to do and follow your gut.