As discussed in part 1 of this 12-part Attract Back An Avoidant series; our attachment style shows up in different ways throughout the relationship. Each attachment style feels and reacts in relatively predictable, and how an avoidant ex feels after a break-up will tell you if they’ll miss you, reach out or come back.
It’s important when trying to get back with an avoidant ex to understand that in the beginning of the relationship, it may be hard to tell an ex’s attachment style. Most avoidants can come off as having a secure attachment, but slowly over time or when the break-up happens, then the attachment style becomes more apparent.
To understand how each attachment style feels and reacts, it’s important to understand how the attachment style is formed in childhood.
Secure attachment style
How it forms in childhood: A secure attachment style is formed when the attachment figure or primary caregiver is available; and responds quickly to a child’s emotional needs in a consistent and sensitive way; while supporting the child’s independence.
As adults people with a secure attachment style have low-anxiety & low-avoidance.
- Securely attached ex FEELS: I don’t like how this feels, but I can handle it.
- Securely attached ex’s REACTION: Calm, unassuming, empathetic.
Anxious preoccupied attachment style
How it forms in childhood: Anxious preoccupied attachment style forms when the attachment figure or primary caregiver is inconsistent and unpredictable with their availability and responsiveness; or overprotective, excessive with physical affection and closeness.
As adults people with an anxious preoccupied attachment style have high-anxiety & low-avoidance.
- Anxious attachment ex FEELS: I don’t like how this feels, I need to do something, anything.
- Anxious attachment ex’s REACTION: Anxious, panicked and worried
Dismissive attachment style
How it forms in childhood: A dismissive avoidant attachment style is formed when the attachment figure or primary caregiver is dismissive of the child’s emotional needs. An attachment figure or primary caregiver who is so detached, cold or punishing can result in the child being too afraid to communicate their emotional needs.
As adults people with an anxious preoccupied attachment style have low-anxiety & high-avoidance.
- Dismissive avoidant ex FEELS: I don’t like how this feels, but if I ignore it, I’ll be fine.
- Dismissive avoidant ex’s REACTION: Cold, distant and may be angry.
Fearful avoidant attachment style
How it’s formed in childhood: A fearful avoidant attachment style is formed when the attachment figure or primary caregiver is neglecting, rejecting and/or abusive. A fearful avoidant attachment style can also be a result of an emotional environment that is volatile and unpredictable. Recent studies show that a disorganized attachment can also be inherited from a parent who faced traumatic experiences in their own life; or has mental health issues.
As adults people with an anxious preoccupied attachment style have high-anxiety & high-Avoidance.
Fearful avoidants leaning anxious than avoidant:
- Fearful avoidant ex FEELS: I don’t like how this feels; and I don’t know what to do when it gets worse.
- Fearful avoidant ex’s REACTION: Anxious, worried and afraid.
Fearful avoidant leaning avoidant than anxious:
- Fearful avoidant ex FEELS: I don’t like how this feels, I need to get away before it gets worse;
- Fearful avoidant ex’s REACTION: Worried, afraid and emotionally distant.
Similarities between anxious preoccupied and fearful avoidants
How each attachment style feels and reacts is different from when the relationship is doing well and when there are problems in the relationship. When things are going well in a relationship or an ex is responding and showing interest; an anxious preoccupied and fearful avoidant leaning anxious feel and react in very similar ways.
- 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 anxious 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, fearful avoidants start to show their avoidant side.
Fearful avoidants mixed signals and hot and cold behaviour
As discussed in part-1 of this 12-part series, fearful avoidants want connection, love and intimacy but are afraid of losing it. When they want connection they will be intense and come on strong, this triggers the fear that they might lose someone because they want them so bad. They pull away, avoid contact and hide their feelings.
In the initial stages of a break-up, a fearful avoidant ex leaning anxious may seek more contact but quickly pull back, avoid contact and may not respond at all. They pull back or completely back away because they’re 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.
This is why fearful avoidants are more likely to do ‘low-contact”. It allows them to stay 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.
Anxious preoccupied hyperactivated and over pursuing behaviours
When things aren’t going well, an anxious preoccupied person seeks more contact and attention (even negative attention), and sometimes use aggressive, hostile and/or manipulative behaviour to get attention. Their efforts are focused on trying to hold on to their ex even tighter; and pull all the stops to stop their ex from abandoning them.
- 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.
When an avoidant ex does not respond, an anxious preoccupied gets anxious and text even more. They’ll keep texting, calling and trying to see their ex hoping that they’ll wear out their ex and the ex will give in. They 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’re responding and not blocking or ignoring them, it must mean there is still hope, right?
The result is a complex mixture of emotions that go up and down depending on how an ex responds. Roller coaster feelings lead to frantic and often desperate efforts to get their ex back.
Attachment anxiety and preoccupation with an ex pulling away
Once activated, people with an anxious attachment style can not focus on anything else until reassured that a partner or ex is not pulling away or abandoning them. They’ll be in an important meeting, out with friends or home watching a movie and all they’re thinking about is why their ex hasn’t responded.
Until they get that response that says that “everything is okay”, they’ll be on pins and needles literally.
For example, when there is no response, someone with an anxious attachment style will send a text to apologize; even when they 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.
Some people someone with an anxious preoccupied attachment style will even invent an emergency to try to re-establish contact. Others use a fake profile, or a phone number to try to reach their ex.
This behaviour is what is known as anxious protest behaviour. Protest behaviour makes both a fearful avoidant and dismissive avoidant ex feel overwhelmed and exhausted, and it can feel like an avoidant ex lost feelings when they start deactivating and even emotionally detaching.
To get a better idea of how often each attachment style comes back, I have written detailed articles on individual attachment styles: why they come back, what makes them come back and how long it takes them to come back. You will find the links at the bottom.