They distance to focus on themselves and what they want (space and autonomy) and to avoid getting caught up in the needs and/or emotions of others, especially if a partner is constant complaining, nagging, critical, controlling, and all the other needy-type behaviours.
They also distance because they feel helpless to meet the needs they are being asked to meet. Not many people who criticize and call out dismissive-avoidants talk about this.
The reason they are dismissive avoidant in the first place is because growing up, their emotions and needs were minimized, dismissed and even ridiculed. That’s their first experience of attachment and what it’s like to have a relationship with another human being. Unless something happens to change their attachment style (e.g. a long-term relationship with someone securely attached) or they become aware of their attachment style and work to change it, they will distance when they feel helpless to meet the needs they are being asked to meet.
Complaining, nagging, criticizing, acting all needy and clingy, punishing, calling them selfish, narcissistic, “love-avoidant” etc., because they can’t meet your needs is like hiring a lawyer and demanding that they perform heart surgery. A smart lawyer knows not to, a not-so smart one will do it, but there is no guarantee that the patient will survive.
Okay granted, that’s an extreme analogy, but you get my point. The point is, sometimes it’s not that people don’t want to give you what you need, they just don’t know how. And if you don’t know how to ask, are asking for more connection, closeness and intimacy than someone is capable of giving or knows how to give, you end up pushing them away whether they are securely attached or dismissive-avoidant.
You can complain, nag, criticize, act needy and clingy, punish, end the relationship (or threaten to), cut off all contact, call them selfish, commitment phobe, narcissistic, “love-avoidant” etc., it won’t get your needs met. It’s as simple as that.
The other point is (if you notice I keep coming back to this), relationships unlike love (which is ingrained in our very nature) are learned. Let me say it in another way. We are born with the ability to love, we are not born knowing how to relate to others.
This is something we learn in childhood and throughout our lives.
1. If you haven’t been taught how to relate in a secure way, you will be insecure in your relationships.
2. If you haven’t been taught how to ask for your needs to be met, you will be a needy partner.
3. If you haven’t learned how to meet the needs of someone you love and loves you, you will feel helpless when asked to meet their needs.
4. If you haven’t learned how to communicate well, deal with relationships problems or conflict in a constructive way, you will run away from the relationship when things aren’t going to well.
5. If you haven’t learned how to regulate your emotions and try to resolve conflict without letting your emotions get in the way, you will feel the need to cut off all contact from who or what you perceive to be the source of your emotional discomfort or turmoil.
6. If you haven’t learned how to put the relationship first and protect it even when you feel rejected and unwanted, you will keep pushing and pushing until the relationship is too damaged or the other person is too exhausted to even want to try to fix the relationship.