After reading this, you’ll understand why it takes some dismissive avoidants months and others years to come back. You’ll also understand how dismissive avoidants think and feel after a break-up and hopefully avoid many of the common mistakes individuals with an anxious attachment make when a dismissive avoidant ex reaches out first.
You may have read or heard that it takes dismissive avoidants 2 months or 6 – 8 months to process a break-up, and if you give them enough time, nostalgia will kick in, they’ll miss you and begin “longing” for you, and come back. First of all, there is no credible scientific research to support the claim that it takes dismissive avoidants 2 months to process the breakup. Secondly, the notion that if you give dismissive avoidants enough time, they’ll eventually feel nostalgia, begin “longing” for you and come back is a misconception. Bear with me as I explain exactly how waiting for a dismissive avoidant to begin “longing” for you may be costing you more than you realize.
Let’s begin by answering the question: What does “longing” for someone mean?
- dwell in thought of something or someone
- persistent yearning, pining and craving
- a strong desire especially for something unattainable
- a feeling of wanting something or someone very much
- sad feeling because you want something or someone very much
Dwell in thought, yearn, pine, crave, feel sad because they want someone very much, does this sound like a dismissive avoidant? Attachment theory says no.
A dismissive avoidant attachment style is about not needing or longing for anyone
A dismissive avoidant attachment style is a result of emotionally cold, distant, overbearing, strict, controlling, unreliable and/or absent caregiving where a child’s emotional needs were not prioritized; and when caregivers showed love or gave care, it didn’t feel good or safe for the child. A child with this type of caregiving learns very early on in life not to expect to be loved or cared for; and to suppress, deny and even reject their need for love and care.
A dismissive avoidant attachment style is also created when a caregiver is uncomfortable with their own emotions or expressing feelings and scolds or shames a child for having certain needs and expressing feelings that made them look like they were emotionally dependent or weak. The child learns to think of not showing emotions and feelings and not expressing a need as a strength to be cultivated.
Many dismissive avoidants also encouraged or forced to learn to be self-reliant and independent at a very early age. They may have taken on adult responsibilities as children (e.g. provider, care for siblings etc.) which further strengthened their belief that they did not need to be “taken care of”.
The dismissive avoidant attachment script reads something like: It’s safer to be alone than need people who are never going to be able to meet my needs and/or understand my feelings, and may end up disappointing or hurting me.
Dismissive avoidants in a relationship: I need nobody and nobody should need anyone
Because they don’t need anyone, dismissive avoidants feel that nobody should need anyone. This often comes off as a dismissive avoidant doesn’t care.
Some of my clients tell me they know their dismissive avoidant ex loved and cared about them, but most of the time, it didn’t feel like it because the dismissive avoidant:
- Was aloof, distant and very rarely expressed or shared their feelings or emotions.
- Often ignored, downplayed and dismissed their feelings, pulled away often and keep them at a distance.
- Had too many boundaries, controlled when and how they shared they space and time, and were unwilling to commit to anything
- Was unreliable and never there when they were needed or got upset/angry because they needed or acted needy with a dismissive avoidant etc.
This is what dismissive avoidant learned about relationships and how to deal with emotions and feelings. Many dismissive avoidants will tell you that showing affection, the expression emotions or talking about feelings was something that didn’t happen in their household. Love was something understood or shown through actions. When something ‘bad’ happened, it was never talked about. Everyone went on with their lives pretending it didn’t happen.
These internalized experiences provide a framework for how dismissive avoidants act in close relationships to keep you from getting close, but even more importantly, they give a dismissive avoidant a sense of control of their experience. They don’t want to give in to their need to be loved and cared for because they don’t want to feel emotionally dependent or weak, so they control how others love and care about them. They can still love and show they care about you without “needing you” or needing closeness; and they don’t want you to act like you need them because that feels unsafe.
These early internalized experiences also provide a framework for how dismissive avoidant deal with break-ups, and why some dismissive avoidants come back so quickly after a break-up and others come back years later.
How do dismissive avoidants deal with break-ups?
How dismissive avoidants deal with break-ups is consistent with how they’re in relationships. They’re not going to suddenly change after a break-up and begin “longing” for an ex – unless they go to therapy or do serious work on themselves.
Unlike someone with an anxious attachment who pines, longs for and obsesses about their ex, most dismissive avoidants feel that once they give in to the human need for connection and closeness and the emotions and feelings that come with it, everything will unravel. It’ll expose their vulnerability and unacknowledged loneliness and they’ll become the person they’ve worked so hard not to be – dependent, needy, weak, and easy to manipulate or control.
Longing for an ex after a break-up will require a dismissive avoidant to admit to themselves that they need love and care, and to allow themselves to feel the emotions and feelings of wanting or needing someone else. This requires a level of vulnerability that most dismissive avoidants will not subject themselves to.
How do dismissive avoidants feel when they get dumped?
Dismissive avoidants initiate most break-ups, but whether they initiated the break-up or got dumped, dismissive avoidants hurt and feel the pain of a break-up, they’re human. When a relationship ends, dismissive avoidants will go through feelings of loss and grief including missing you, but because dismissive avoidants often don’t form attachments or strong bonds with their relationship partners and do not “lose themselves” in relationships, their break-up grief may not be as deep and may not last as long as someone with an anxious attachment style, I’ll explain why shortly.
Dismissive avoidants handle their hurt and grief differently from other attachment styles because of their ability to compartmentalize and carry on with life like nothing happened. Compartmentalization is a form of psychological defense mechanism in which thoughts and feelings that seem to conflict are kept separated or isolated from each other in the mind. Sometimes compartmentalizing and dissociating from uncomfortable emotions allows a dismissive avoidant ex to come back faster – as long as you avoid emotionally difficult conversations. Quite often though, compartmentalizing and dissociating from break-up emotions and feelings is why a dismissive avoidant ex may not come back at all. They compartmentalized and haven’t processed the break-up.
How exactly do dismissive avoidants feel after a break-up?
How dismissive avoidants feel after a break-up varies from one dismissive avoidant to another. How dismissive avoidants feel after a break-up also depends on the degree of attachment and if a dismissive avoidant had already detached prior to breaking up.
1) Relief – Many dismissive avoidants feel relieved after a break-up because they feel safer alone than in a relationship. They have now all the space they need to do whatever they want to do without having to be concerned about someone else’s feelings or needs.
2) Anger – There are just as many dismissive avoidants who feel anger towards an ex they blame for the break-up. They feel that they made an effort to be a good partner but whatever they did just wasn’t enough or good enough. Dismissive avoidants also feel angry after a break-up if their ex didn’t give them space when they needed it, repeatedly violated their boundaries, was overly critical or made them feel not good enough as a partner.
An angry dismissive avoidant ex is likely to carry that anger (bruised ego) for months, even years. They’re also unlikely to come back, and if they do, it will take months or even years for them to come back. Some dismissive avoidants may even reach out or “come back” to prove something to themselves or to an ex, and quickly leave again.
3) Regret – Some dismissive avoidants regret the break-up as soon as it happens, especially if they had formed some form of attachment. But a dismissive avoidant’s regret is not “I wish we were still together”, it’s more like “I wish this didn’t happen.” And believe it or not, dismissive avoidants also feel bad for hurting someone who cared for them and tried to love them but found it too hard. Many dismissive avoidants know they’re “not easy to love” and some will even warn you that they’re “difficult” to be in a relationship with, will hurt you or break your heart. So when the break-up happens they feel angry with themselves for failing yet again.
4) Numb – Then there are dismissive avoidant who go numb immediately after the break-up. They feel nothing, no relief, anger, regret, guilt etc., nothing. Complete numbness. Some dismissive avoidants I’ve talked to say the reason they party and drink too much or rebound soon after a break-up is not because they feel relieved or ecstatic that the relationship ended; it’s because they feel nothing and are trying to feel something.
Some dismissive avoidant feel more than one of these emotions at different times of the break-up, and others just feel one emotion the whole time. Some dismissive avoidant feel a certain way in one break-up and feel differently in another break-up – you know, just like human being do. There’s no standardized way all dismissive avoidants feel or “stages” that their emotions happen, at least not any that have been proven by credible science-based research.
Dismissive avoidants develop “Who needs you?” attitude after the break-up
Dismissive avoidants seem to move on so quickly after the break-up for several reasons. The number one reason being that dismissive avoidants in general don’t process break-ups the way securely attached or people with an anxious attachment or even fearful avoidants do. It’s not even clear if without therapy dismissive avoidants process break-ups at all, and there’s no scientific research to back up what people say are “the stages a dismissive avoidant goes through after a break-up”.
As a matter of fact, the so-called stages a dismissive avoidant goes through after a break-up proposed by some coaches contradict the original findings on which the four attachment styles are based on.
To understand how children responded to being separated from and then reunited with an attachment figure, Mary Ainsworth (Ainsworth et al 1978) carried out a lab-experiment that is now known as the “Strange Situation”. The experiment was designed to test how a child reacts when the mother leaves the room (separation) and how the child respond when the mother comes back in the room (re-union behaviour). The experiment showed that dismissive avoidant children didn’t appear distressed when the mother left the room or excited when the mother returned. Instead dismissive avoidant children avoided interaction when the mother returned.
The take-away from the “Strange Situation” experiment is that when separated from a loved one (or an ex) instead of feeling and acting like “I need you” (like people with an anxious attachment do), dismissive avoidants develop “Who needs you?” attitude.
Keep in mind that most dismissive avoidant relationships have either been “casual” or didn’t last long and many dismissive avoidants at some point or another in the relationship ask themselves “Am I In love?” . They don’t have many experiences of “falling in love” or “being in love” and sometimes they think they are but aren’t sure. When the relationship ends, they really don’t know if they love you or if it was just lust or the familiarity of being in a relationship. So while you’re “giving them time to begin longing for you”, your dismissive avoidant may have concluded that because they don’t miss you the way other people miss or long for their exes, they may not have been in love after all.
Dismissive avoidants very rarely do a “relationship autopsy” after the break-up
The dismissive avoidant “Who needs you?” attitude is consistent with their “I don’t need you” attitude before the break-up. To go through the stages dismissive avoidants of a break-up proposed by some coaches, a dismissive avoidant will have to go against their attachment programming. They’d have to sit in their feelings and emotions, be self-aware enough for self-scrutiny and be willing to reflect on why the break-up happened. This is something an anxious person would do, but to a dismissive avoidant, this feels like giving a relationship more importance than they want to give it and prioritizing it over more “important things” like focusing on a career, hobbies, interests or even getting back on the dating scene.
And it’s not like the break-up turned their world upside down and they need time and space to “heal and move on”. They can still function as “normal” and even perform better because they don’t have all the expectations and demands that come with being in a relationship.
This inability to reflect on the break-up or do a “relationship autopsy” is one of the reasons dismissive avoidants move from relationship to relationship and why their relationships don’t work out. And because dismissive avoidants have a positive view of themselves and are highly critical of relationship partners, they tend to put all the blame of the break-up on their ex. This somehow buffers the need for self-scrutiny or introspection and allows dismissive avoidants to carry on with life as normal.
Dismissive avoidants reach out and come back when they’re ready
I read comments saying, “I’m giving my DA ex time to process the break-up, then I’ll reach out/they’ll reach out”. The reality is that why or when dismissive avoidants reach out or come back has little to with processing the break-up. Your dismissive avoidant ex may never process the break-up at all. Many dismissive avoidants haven’t even processed their childhood issues and/or trauma or death of someone they cared about. They don’t want to think about it or even talk about it with anyone, not even with a therapist or coach. They just want to move on from those unwanted emotions and go on with their lives.
There are also studies that show that dismissive avoidants don’t “remember” details of their childhood. Somehow a dismissive avoidant’s brain (conveniently) lets them forget a time in their life when they were distressed and needed love and care and either no one was there for them; or someone was there but was cold and distant.
If a dismissive avoidant can conveniently ‘forget” this traumatic part of their life, what are the chances that a dismissive avoidant ex is sitting with their feelings trying to understand why the break-up happened, let alone drowning in nostalgia?
The point I’m making here is that dismissive avoidants reach out when they’re ready to, and come back because they want to, and not because they’ve processed the break-up or because you gave them enough time to eventually feel nostalgia, begin “longing” for you. Feeling that they control their experience is very important to a dismissive avoidant’s sense of independence and security.
A practical and rational decision rather than emotional decision
For most dismissive avoidants, breaking up was more of a practical and rational decision rather than emotional decision. They probably had been thinking about it for a long time before the break-up.
To you it makes sense that because you broke up a few days ago, you both need x number of days to process the break-up and also give your ex time to miss you, but to your dismissive avoidant ex, the relationship ended months ago, they just didn’t tell you. They’ve had enough time to imagine their life without you and have come to terms with the inevitable end of the relationship. The break-up is just a formality, them letting you on what they’ve known for weeks or months.
At the time of the break-up, they’re convinced the relationship can’t work because they don’t see how it can work. They’re thinking logically and rationally, the pros and cons without emotionalizing the break-up. I’m not saying dismissive avoidants don’t feel emotions, on the contrary, many dismissive avoidants feel deeply, they just don’t engage their emotions, present themselves in an emotional way or give an emotional quality to their experiences. As far as they’re concerned, the relationship didn’t work, it ended, it is what it is. No point getting all emotional about it; what good does it do except make one look weak and needy.
This is why most of the “emotional” stages dismissive avoidants are said to go through after a break-up don’t reflect how dismissive avoidants experience break-ups. To experience the emotional stages of a break-up, one has to give an emotional quality to the break-up; that’s something dismissive avoidants try not to do. This is one of the reasons they’re called “dismissive avoidants”; they dismiss and avoid feelings and emotions.
Why it takes some dismissive avoidants months and others years to come back
Dismissive avoidants reach out and come back because they want to. Their attachment style needs to feel that they control their experience. This is how characteristically independent dismissive avoidants are.
“No contact’ and making an ex miss you emotional gymnastics have no significant role in when or if dismissive avoidants come back. Once you go no contact, most dismissive avoidants if they hadn’t already started the process of emotionally detaching before the break-up, disconnect or disengage from feelings for you. They already have one foot out of the door of relationships, it takes very little to push them out.
As a dismissive avoidant, if I thought there was a possibility that I might change my mind and come back later on, I tried to maintain some kind of contact because I knew that once I emotionally detached or disconnected from all feelings for an ex, the feelings never came back. The longer the detachment, the harder it was to recover lost feelings.
And while when a dismissive avoidant reaches out or comes back depends on each individual dismissive avoidant, I know from my work that when and how long it takes a dismissive avoidant ex to come back depends on their level of self-awareness, how strong the attachment was and when they started the break-up process before actually breaking up. During the time they were thinking of breaking up, they thought about their life without their ex and decided they don’t want to lose them, but went ahead with the break-up because they needed space away from them.
Just like the break-up, a dismissive avoidant coming back to an ex is a practical decision rather than an emotional one. Because dismissive avoidants are mostly practical and task-focused, what they do is not emotion-driven. This means that if there are personal or career goals, responsibilities, interests or other things going on in a dismissive avoidant’s life, they’re more likely to prioritize those things over trying to get back with an ex or over a new relationship. A dismissive avoidant ex can even still have feelings for you and miss you but chooses not to come back if they think the relationship is going to interfere with their other priorities.
Given the way dismissive avoidants deal with break-ups, it’s easy to think that a dismissive avoidant ex may never come back, but they do. Understanding how dismissive avoidants think and feel after a break-up will save you a lot of frustration and improve your chances of attracting back a dismissive avoidant ex.