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.
Next: Attract Back An Avoidant Ex: 3 – Avoidant Ex Lost Feelings
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.
How A Fearful Avoidant Ex Comes Back – Explained In Detail
What Makes A Dismissive Avoidant Ex Miss You And Come Back?
Why Anxious Attachment Ex Doesn’t Want You Back (What To Do)
Do Exes With A Secure Attachment Reach Out And Come Back?
Thank you Yangki for taking the time to explain the difference between a fearful avoidant and dismissive avoidant; and fearful avoidant leaning avoidant and a fearful avoidant leaning avoidant. I noted this in all your articles and videos. This differentiation is important because not all fearful avoidants lean towards the avoidant side of the spectrum. There are many of us who lean more anxious, and a relationship can work by equally appealing to the anxious side of an anxious-avoidant attachment style.
I also found it interesting that Yangki pointed this detail out. I never considered the importance of which side I lean more until I read it here. I feel I lean anxious but my actions display me as someone who is more avoidant, if that makes sense.
A fearful avoidant is not simply both avoidance and anxiety. In most cases you will have both of those styles show up in their behavior but the anxious side is more dominant that the avoidant side or the avoidant is more dominant than the anxious.
I can relate to feeling that things are only going to get worse. My ex and are both fearful avoidant and both conflict avoidant. We love each other deeply but we’ve been on-and-off again for nearly 5 years. All of our breakups have happened because we don’t talk about issues until they get worse and often too late. He’s more avoidant and usually the one that distances first which makes me anxious and because I don’t like how I feel I also deactivate. We’re stuck in this feedback loop.
Would it help to establish with your ex some ways you can safely communicate how you are feeling e.g. you both agree that when you think the over is unhappy, you can ask on a scale to of 1 – 10 how bad is it. If she says a number below 6, you can talk about it later, but if the number is above 8, then you must definitely talk about it immediately. It works if both of you are honest.
Thank you. I wasn’t sure I’d get a response. We haven’t tried on a scale to of 1 – 10 how bad is it. We’ll definitely try this and I’ll update you how things go. God Bless.
This is good advice. I’m DA and learning to communicate to my AA ex when things get too tense. Recently I was able to say to her I needed a few hours of no texting to regulate, and after about 3 hours I texted her and we were able to talk about why I felt triggered.
I’m new to attachment styles and have been reading a lot about my anxious attachment style and my ex’s dismissive attachment. This by far is the most informative site for someone like me new to attachment styles. Your articles are easy to understand and relate to. I found the layout of how each attachment style feels and reacts really helpful. I guess my question is, when triggered, how long does an avoidant pull away?
I appreciate your kind words.
How long an avoidant pulls away when they’re triggered depends on the individual avoidant. Why they’re triggered, how you react to them being triggered and the relative safety of the relationship factors into how long they’ll stay away.
If the relationship is more unsafe than safe, they will stay away much longer. That’s why with someone securely attached, an avoidant pulls away less and for shorter periods of time.
Securely attached people are mostly consistent and responsive in a non- overwhelming or over-bearing way; which is something most avoidants never had in childhood. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like they pulled away because they lean in back real fast. The relationship is where they feel safe.
But do you leave them alone? Some people recommend doing no contact and let them reach out to you.
Yes, you give them space but for a short period of time, no more than 7 – 10 days in my experience. Most avoidant exes have sort of pull away/lean in pattern, reach put based on their pattern. Regular 2-3 days check-ins make a big difference too.
The reason I don’t recommend no contact and letting avoidants reach out is:
1) Avoidants more often than not don’t reach out. By not reaching out you’re basically giving up.
2) Avoidants need space, but they also need to feel that they’re not being “punished” for expressing what they need.
Fearful avoidants are fearful because growing up they never received consistent loving care. Dismissive avoidants are dismissive because they never felt they could express their needs and/or get their needs met. Why would you do things that confirm to an avoidant what they already think/believe about relationships?
As someone new to attachment styles, I think you’ll find this helpful: How to Make An Avoidant Ex Feel Safe Enough To Come Back
It makes sense. Thank you.
But when you express your need for closeness they pull away, but they want you to respect their need for space????
This is what is at the core of anxious-avoidant pursuit/withdraw dynamic. Both people are trying to get their needs met and neither is trying to meet the other’s needs; and sometimes one person is getting all their needs met and the other person is left running on empty.
This is really insightful seeing how each attachment styles feels and processes threat .
For me I’ve learned to go with the flow and let things happen naturally, and it is making a big difference in my relationship with my DA ex. Every time I feel anxious or triggered, I come here, read a few articles and I feel calm and encouraged. I still have along way to go but I feel myself becoming more secure, and it feels good not to be anxious all the time and trying to control how he feels.