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.
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.
Do dismissive avoidants ever feel “longing” for an ex?
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.
Dismissive avoidants develop “Who needs you?” attitude after the break-up
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 after the break-up.
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 ex 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 “I don’t need you” attitude in the relationship is consistent with their Who needs you?” attitude after 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 and longing for anyone undermines a dismissive avoidants sense of independence.
How Do Dismissive Avoidants Process The Break-Up?