Do avoidants feel bad for hurting you? Yes, they can feel bad for hurting you, they’re human too. Avoidants also feel guilt and apologize but it’s conditional.
Many avoidants feel guilt and shame for not being able to make their relationships last. Fearful avoidant particular so because they have a negative view of not just of others, but of themselves as well. When a relationship ends, they feel a lot of guilt and self-blame for not being good enough and sometimes for causing the break-up. This happens whether they’re the main reason for the break-up or not.
Dismissive avoidants even though they appear on the surface to have a positive view of themselves as independent, self-sufficient, emotionally strong and capable, subconsciously they feel damaged, defective and helpless. When the relationship ends, most dismissive avoidants blame an ex for the break-up but feel guilt for not being able to emotionally open up or communicate their true feelings.
Occasionally both fearful avoidants and dismissive avoidants feel bad and regret not being able commit to the relationship.
The avoidants I’ve talked with agree that they feel bad for hurting someone if that person was good to them. And if they still had feelings for an ex, they may try to offer “friendship” as a way of apology. But they don’t feel guilt for hurting someone if the person didn’t treat them well or was angry after the break-up. Instead they feel relieved that “it’s over” and wanted nothing to do with that person. And if the person acts “crazy” after the break-up, avoidants felt justified for ending the relationship, and often felt that the hurt an ex is expressing is exaggerated because the relationship wasn’t even good (or was toxic).
Avoidants feel bad for hurting you if they feel close to you
This is in line with studies on attachment styles and apology quality that show that avoidants can feel guilt and apologize if they felt close to someone. The closeness motivated them to want to repair the relationship by apologizing. The closer they felt to the person they hurt the more likely they were to offer a a full and deep apology. This is because avoidants have a strong need to be viewed positively by someone they feel attached to. This motivates them to downplay the negativity of their actions and the impact on the relationship; which in turn stops them from deactivating and pulling away.
In general however, avoidants are more likely to disengage during times of conflict as a way of protecting themselves. Even when they were obviously on the wrong, most avoidants make excuses, justify their behaviour, and put all the blame on other person. And because avoidants are less comfortable making themselves emotionally vulnerable, they are:
- in general less empathic toward others
- less willing to engage in constructive conflict resolution behaviours
- more likely to respond to their attachment partner’s negative emotions with hostility and defensiveness.
- would employ more defensive strategies in their responses.
After upsetting or hurting someone, avoidants invest less effort trying to understand the other person’s feelings and perspectives; and more effort in defensiveness and self-preservation strategies.
Avoidants get defensive in their responses to someone they hurt
In another study, participants were told to recall an offense they had committed that was currently unresolved; and write an e-mail to the person they had hurt. They were told to use this e-mail to address the offense that they had committed against someone and say whatever it is that they would like to say to them about this event.
Researchers found that avoidants used less frequent use of apology words and phrases and more frequent use of defensive strategies conveying less vulnerability to the person they hurt.
Another interesting finding of the study is that avoidants are more defensive only when they think they did something really severe; and almost everything avoidants considered severe wrong doing was relational in nature (e.g., insulting, lying, arguing, cheating, breaking the person’s heart).
Another interesting fact about how avoidants feel when they hurt you is that when the other person acts angry at an avoidant for hurting them, they trigger an avoidant’s defensive responses.
Avoidants more likely to apologize if there is less expression of “negative” emotions
This is consistent with past studies that found that the more avoidants perceive negative emotions in their partners; the more they display hostile and defensive behaviour when given the opportunity to respond or apologize. Their self-protective motives kick in and guide them toward less constructive behaviours.
All these studies together suggest that avoidants feel bad for hurting you and apologize but minimizing the expression of “negative” emotions might make an avoidant:
- less hostile and defensive
- more willing to put aside self-protection goals
- invest effort to understand your feelings and perspectives, and
- seek connectedness.
But again, as the studies suggest, whether all the above can happen depends on how the avoidant rates closeness to you.
Why Dismissive Avoidants Push Away People Who Love Them
How to Ask An Avoidant Ex To Show Empathy And Be Support
Why An Avoidant Ex Pulls Away After An Argument (STOP IT)
How I Handled Break-Ups As A Dismissive Avoidant Ex
Dismissive Avoidant Attachment And “Longing” For An Ex
Since I discovered attachment theory, I’ve been reading anything I can find about dismissive avoidants, and I happened to find this article. I recognize myself in what you said in one of your articles about dismissive avoidants blocking all feelings and not processing emotions of a breakup. My last breakup is 6 months, and the same day we broke up I went on a date with a woman who expressed interest in me and for 2 months I hooked up with random women. I felt completely over my ex that when I saw her months later I felt nothing for her. This has been my pattern with all my breakups. With therapy I see how this isn’t healthy, but it’s how I coped. When it was over, it was over.
I’ve been working with a therapist and learning to allow myself to feel things I’ve bottled up all these years. Lately, I found myself thinking about an ex of 7 years ago. I can’t say I miss her, but I think of how I felt when with her and it makes me sad. I told my therapist about it and she advised me to write a letter to my ex as a way of getting in touch with my feelings but not to send it. I want to know your thoughts; do you think I should reach out? Should I send her the letter? I feel like she deserves to know how I felt about her because I never told her.
I think you should listen to your therapist with regards to the letter. Yes, she deserves to know how you felt, but it’s 7 years ago, and it’s very likely that she’s moved on from the breakup.
As for reaching out, if you strongly feel about it, reach out. She may not want to hear from you, she may be in a relationship and will not want to reopen that door, and that’s fine. That’s her right. But she may be single and will be happy to hear from you. Regardless, it’s one way for you to practice vulnerability.
Make it very simple, just reaching out like an old friend.