Continuing from part 2 on how attachment styles feel and react. After a break-up, it can feel like an avoidant lost feelings because many avoidants start deactivating and processing the break-up before actually breaking up. This is so hard to understand or wrap your mind around if you have an anxious attachment style. It feels unnatural to someone with an anxious attachment to have an amazing connection and suddenly lose all feelings.
They feel rejected and abandoned and this prompts an anxious person to go into protest behaviour. Protest behaviour is any aggressive or passive aggressive action that tries to get an ex’s attention/response/reaction with the intention of getting them to understand your pain, reestablish connection or get back together.
Anxious attachment protest behaviour includes:
1. Overcontact: Incessant texting, calling, sending angry texts etc.
2. Lashing out: Pushing their buttons, violating boundaries, starting an argument or fight, name calling, cursing out, etc.
3. Punitive silence: Playing mind games, ignoring texts, not taking calls, unfriending an ex, blocking access on social media, changing a phone number; and/or waiting to see how long it takes for an ex to reach out.
4. Stalking: Showing up at an ex’s home, workplace or stalk them on social media. In some extreme cases it may lead to physically harming an ex or cause harm to someone an ex cares about.
5. Threats: Giving ultimatums, and threatening to walk away hoping they’ll beg you to not do so etc.
6. Making an ex feel jealous: talking about other attractive options, posting photos showing you’re happy alone your ex, or with another guy or woman etc.
7. Gift-giving: Usually to try to an ex convince them to stay, take you back or remind them of how much you love them. Kind of like “buying love”.
8. Sexual favours: Sexting, sending nudes or engaging in sex for attention or reassurance.
How does a dismissive avoidant ex react to post-break-up protest behaviour?
Most dismissive avoidants react to an anxious ex’s protest behaviour with anger. They don’t respond at all, act cold and distant, or act as if they don’t care. But a dismissive avoidant’s (or fearful avoidant leaning dismissive) reaction to protest behaviour can also be insensitive and downright hurtful when they reach their breaking point.
This is difficult for someone with an anxious attachment. The nature of an anxious attachment style is that they need to know that everything is okay, they didn’t to anything to upset their ex and if they did, they want their ex to know they are sorry – and they want to fix things, and fix them right away. They assume that a dismissive avoidant ex acting as if they don’t care means that a dismissive avoidant lost feelings for them.
How does a fearful avoidant ex react to post-break-up protest behaviour?
Most fearful avoidants react to an anxious ex’s protest behaviour with mixed signals. A fearful avoidant leaning anxious may at first find protest behaviour reassuring. But protest behaviour can sometimes activate a fearful avoidant’s own anxious attachment. For example, they’ll start to post things on social media that they know you will see and reach out to them, or block and unblock you several times etc. After a while your protest behaviour begins to feel threatening and too hard to deal with. An anxious fearful avoidant ex then pulls away and starts acting like they lost feelings for you.
A fearful avoidant leaning avoidant may go back and forth between aggressive and passive aggressive reactions to protest behaviour. If they still have feelings for you they may respond reassuringly one time and cold and distant the next. If they don’t have feelings for you, they’ll not respond, block you or make it clear to you that they have no feelings for you.
Does it mean an avoidant has lost feelings for you?
No. Just because it feels like an avoidant has lost feelings for you does not mean they lost feelings.
When you engage in protest behaviours it can cause an avoidant to deactivate deeper and longer. Some avoidants even resist their feelings for you to avoid getting hurt again or just to avoid the drama that comes with relationships in general and getting back together with an ex in particular. Other avoidants convince themselves that they don’t have feelings for you when they clearly still have feelings for you.
An avoidant may have been on the fence about getting back together, but after seeing how an anxious pre-occupied handled the break-up, they don’t want to come back.
Due to the nature of attachment avoidance, most avoidants do not communicate that they are not coming back. If they still care about you, they will ask for no contact for a specified number of days or weeks. They hope that after a couple of weeks, an anxious preoccupied will be less needy and clingy.
If they have no feelings for their ex, they will disappear into thin air. And sometimes avoidants take advantage of their ex’s attachment anxiety. They know cutting off contact will make an anxious preoccupied more anxious, afraid and worried but either they don’t care, or think it’s a brilliant strategy to make an anxious ex miss them and/or beg them to come back. And sadly, it works.
How does a securely attached ex responds to post-break-up protest behaviour?
The difference between an avoidant and someone with a secure attachment style is that a securely attached ex will communicate clearly that they are not happy with an anxious ex’s protest behaviour. Securely attached people understand that an anxious preoccupied jumps to worse-case scenarios when they feel rejected, abandoned, or ignored, or when their feelings are dismissed as just being needy, so they try to provide the anxious preoccupied what they need to feel safe and loved.
Instead of grudgingly responding to a text every five minutes, they set a routine where they contact their anxious preoccupied ex on regular days/times (that are more reasonable to them). For example, text once a day or call once every two days depending on what stage things are in your effort to get back together.
They also set boundaries and communicate the consequences of violating the boundaries they’ve set for their anxious-preoccupied ex. Providing some sort of predictability for someone with an anxious preoccupied attachment style helps their anxiety.
Protesting a break-up vs coping with loss
Protest behaviour as you may have noticed by now is self-sabotage – and is exhausting and embarrassing.
Break-ups are hard and there is nothing embarrassing with trying to cope with the pain of losing someone you love the best way you know how. The difference between trying to cope after a break-up and protest behaviour is that coping with a break-up focuses on your own feelings while protest behaviour is an attempt to provoke a reassuring reaction from an ex. For example, going no contact can be a way to cope, deal and heal from a break-up. When used this way, no contact is healthy and may be necessary. But when go no contact to get your ex to miss you, no contact becomes protest behaviour because an attempt to provoke a reaction from your ex. And as discussed above, an avoidant’s reaction may end up being more hurtful than the break-up itself.
It hurts enough that someone who once loved you lost feelings for you, but it’s a different kind of hurt when you know that your ex still loves you but is acting like they lost feelings for you – and you only have yourself to blame.
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.