While someone with an attachment anxiety reacts to a break-up with protest behaviours, avoidants distance from an ex they still love. The reasons fearful avoidants distance from an ex they still have feelings for and love are different from a dismissive avoidant ex.
This is probably the best time to explain a little bit more about the avoidant attachment style.
Dismissive-Avoidant Vs. Fearful-Avoidant
There are two types of avoidant attachment styles: Dismissive Avoidant and Fearful Avoidant. Both are characterized by:
- A strong desire to protect oneself from emotional pain due to rejection or abandonment and
- Emotionally pulling away, shutting down or distancing when they should be reassuring, supportive, attentive, assertive or showing that they care.
But there are also significant differences between the two attachment styles.
Dismissive Avoidants (low anxiety, high avoidance)
Dismissive avoidants want love, closeness and affection and most of them have no problems finding someone to fall in love with them. They come across as confident, independent and have “it” together – three traits that are very attractive to both the securely attached and the anxiously attached. The problem with dismissive avoidants is that they don’t know how to be close or be with someone who wants them to ‘show love”. As a result, they can come across as detached and aloof. This is all a cover up for the fact that they don’t know how to make someone feel loved and cared for.
It’s not that dismissive avoidants don’t feel love or don’t care, most of them do. They just don’t think it’s that important to be close or show love.
A break-up with a dismissive avoidant ex plays out something like this:
Anxious preoccupied: Show me love. I need to know you love me.
Dismissive Avoidant: You’re being needy.
Anxious preoccupied: I’m not needy. I want to know we’re okay and that everything is fine between us.
Dismissive Avoidant: I don’t know if we’re okay and I don’t want to think or talk about it.
Anxious preoccupied: But I need to know you love me.
Dismissive Avoidant: I need to be away from you right now.
Anxious preoccupied: Why are you pulling away? All I asked was that you show you care and love me.
Dismissive Avoidant: I need to be left alone.
Anxious preoccupied: Please, don’t leave me. I need you.
Dismissive Avoidant: I need to be alone right now.
Dismissive Avoidants use rigid boundaries to limit closeness
A dismissive avoidant ex may still have feelings for you and even love you, but because they worry that you’re investing in the relationship more than they are (or want to), they will from time to time distance when things get “too intense”. They also have rigid boundaries about how much time they want to spend together, how close you can get and what kind of relationship they want. When these boundaries are violated, they react with distancing behaviours and sometimes hostility.
Some dismissive avoidants are aware of their attachment style and are honest about their inability to be close or show love, but others believe that when they meet the “right person”, everything will fall into place. Yet even when they meet the person who checks all the boxes, someone securely attached, they still complain about not feeling what they think they should feel: “By now I should be in love”, “My feelings are not growing”, “I need to feel more in love”, etc. Most dismissive avoidants go out of their way to find something “wrong” with the person they say checks all the boxes; just to prove that they’re the wrong person.
Again, this does not mean that a dismissive avoidant ex has lost feelings for you or does not love you. They may still have feelings for you but are not in touch with their own feelings to understand how they feel about you.
A few times, I’ve told a client, “Maybe you are not feeling what you want to feel because you don’t know what you want to feel or how to feel it” (see: Can A Dismissive Avoidant Truly Love?), and they agree.
Fearful-Avoidants struggle with confidence and self-doubt
Fearful avoidants also want love, closeness and affection but unlike dismissive avoidants, they struggle with confidence, self-doubt and trusting others. They don’t believe they are ‘enough” or can give “enough” in a relationship and worry that if they get too close to someone, that person will eventually leave, and it’ll hurt. Many fearful avoidants play hard to get and other mind games to see how much someone will chase them; and show that they’re worth loving.
A break-up with a fearful avoidant plays out something like this:
Anxious preoccupied: Show me love. I need to know you love me.
Fearful Avoidant: I am doing the best I can. What more do you want from me?
Anxious preoccupied: I want to know that you love me.
Fearful Avoidant: What do you want me to say or do to show you I love you?
Anxious preoccupied: I am not happy.
Fearful Avoidant: I am sorry I am making you miserable. I think I should leave.
Anxious preoccupied: Why are you leaving?
Fearful Avoidant: It’s what’s best for both of us.
Anxious preoccupied: But I don’t want you to leave.
Fearful Avoidant: I can’t give you what you need. (Leaves or cuts off all contact).
Fearful avoidants ignore their own attachment needs and avoid emotional involvement because they have no clue how to nurture interdependence in close relationships. They are also called ambivalent-avoidants because they long for connection and closeness but fear both at the same time.
Fearful avoidants don’t know whether to love or hate their ex
I have found working with both fearful avoidants that they often have a hard time forgiving. When trying to attract them back you’ll find them to be hostile, resentful and angry. It’s like they don’t know whether to love or hate their ex. Even when they are the ones trying to attract back an ex, from time to time their resentment comes through.
Unlike dismissive avoidants who on most part don’t believe they have done anything wrong to cause the break-up and feel the punishment fits the crime, self-aware fearful avoidants believe they are the reason the relationship didn’t work out and if they are hurting it’s because they became needy, allowed themselves to get close or be taken for granted.
They don’t want to remain close to their ex because it hurts; but they also don’t want to distance themselves because that hurts too. Most fearful avoidants do “limited contact” because allows them to stay close; but distant at the same time.
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.