When an ex doesn’t respond or is acting hot and cold, exes with attachment anxiety typically get triggered and react with worry and fear. Avoidants on the other hand when triggered feel and react with distancing behaviours.
Over the years working with different attachment styles, I have noticed that when a dismissive avoidant is emotionally invested, they get triggered when you don’t respond, and shut down. Someone dismissive avoidants also act mean, cruel and punishing when triggered.
Here is an overview of how different attachment styles feel and react when triggered.
Securely attached (Low-Anxiety/Low-Avoidance) when triggered:
- FEEL: I don’t like how this feels, but I can handle it.
- REACT: Calm and and centered.
Dismissive-Avoidant (Low-Anxiety/High-Avoidance) when triggered:
- FEEL: I don’t like how this feels, but if I ignore it, I’ll be fine
- REACT: Emotionally shut down, cold and distant.
Anxiously-preoccupied (High-Anxiety/Low-Avoidance) when triggered:
- FEEL: I don’t like how this feels, I need to do something, anything.
- REACT: Panicked and frantic.
Fearful-Avoidant (High-Anxiety/High-Avoidance) Leaning anxious when triggered:
- FEEL: I don’t like how this feels, and it’s only going to get worse.
- REACT: Panicked, worried and afraid.
Fearful-Avoidant (High-Anxiety/High-Avoidance) Leaning avoidant when triggered:
- FEEL: I don’t like how this feels, I need to get away before it gets worse;
- REACT: Worried, afraid and emotionally distant.
Anxiously-preoccupied Vs. fearful-avoidant leaning anxious
When things are going well in a relationship or an ex is responding immediately and showing interest and attraction, the difference between anxiously-preoccupied and a fearful-avoidant leaning anxious is undetectable. Their relationships are intense; often moving too fast too soon and they:
- Want constant interaction and reassurance, and are way too much invested in the relationship.
- Are codependent, needy, clingy, over-pleasing, coercive and passive aggressive controlling.
- Feel they must always do something to keep someone’s interest.
- Always worried that the other person will leave them
- Worry too much about a partner’s or ex’s availability and responsiveness
- Allow their emotions to get in the way of effective communication and conflict resolution
The differences are so subtle that most people can not tell if they are anxiously- preoccupied or fearful-avoidants leaning anxious. But as soon as there is an indication that a partner or ex is pulling away, losing interest, or when there is no response for long periods of time, the fearful avoidants feel and react differently.
- Fearful-avoidants leaning anxious seeks more contact but quickly pull back, avoid contact and may not respond at all
- Anxiously- preoccupied seeks more contact and attention (even negative attention), and sometimes use aggressive, hostile and/or manipulative behaviour to get attention.
Fearful avoidants get anxious and fearful when an ex does not respond, but do not reach out
Unlike dismissive avoidants, fearful-avoidants want closeness with their ex but avoid contact because they are scared that staying in contact puts them in a position where they could be rejected, strung along or used. They are also terrified of an ex not responding.
They are more likely to do ‘low-contact” or “active no contact” because it allows them to sty connected to their ex but remain at a distance at the same time. In their fearful thinking:
- If you reach out once in a while you still get to be close but not too close that you act needy.
- You will avoid making mistakes that will push your ex further away.
And if you let your ex initiates all the contact and they stop initiating contact, it’s not rejection. You were not reaching out, they were doing all the reaching out.
An anxious-preoccupied on the other hand reacts with trying to hold on to their ex even tighter. They pull all the stops to stop their ex from pulling away even further.
- Most blame themselves for their ex pulling away or distancing (and sometimes hostile) behaviours.
- Believe that because they are to blame for endangering the relationship, it’s their responsibility to make things right again.
- They keep contacting their ex hoping their ex will see that they want to make things right.
Anxiously-preoccupieds get frustrated when an ex does not respond and text even more
When an ex does not respond, an anxiously-preoccupied will keep texting, calling and trying to see their ex. Thy don’t care if their behaviour is making them look needy or making things worse, they just want their ex to respond. Even angry, cold or rude responses are a sign that an ex has not completely pulled away. They are responding and not blocking or ignoring them, it must mean there is still hope, right?
The result is a complex mixture of emotions and feelings that go up and down depending on how an ex responds. Roller coaster feelings lead to frantic and often disorganized efforts to get their ex back.
Attachment anxiety and preoccupation with an ex
Once activated, people with an anxious-attachment style can not focus their minds on anything else until they’re reassured that nothing is wrong, their partner/ex is not mad, pulling away or abandoning them.
For example, when there is no response to text, someone with an anxious-preoccupied attachment style will send a text to apologize even when they have no idea what they are apologizing for (or have no reason to apologize). If they don’t get a response, they’ll send another text just to check if everything is okay. Then another text telling their ex how much they love and care about them. When there is still no response they’ll apologize, then ask if everything is okay…
Until they get that response that says that “everything is okay”, they’ll be on pins and needles literally. They’ll be in an important meeting, in the gym working out, out with friends or watching a movie alone at home and all they are thinking about is why their ex hasn’t responded.
When all else fails…
Some people someone with an anxious-preoccupied attachment style will even invent an emergency to try to re-establish contact. They’ll fake an email account or use a phone number their ex will not recognize to try to reach their ex.
When all fails, they’ll go into what is called protest-behaviour.