What you need to remember first and foremost is that WHY an anxious-avoidant distances, WHEN they emotionally shut down, HOW they pull away, WHO they emotionally distance from and WHAT they avoid is different from one ex to another. For example some anxious-avoidants will:
- Stop initiating contact but respond quickly and engage in back and forth texting.
- Don’t respond to your texts but keep tag of you on social media and even like your photos or posts.
- Actively chat with you through texts but avoid face to face meeting.
- Hang out and go out on dates but avoid any physical contact.
- Text frequently, go out on dates, touch and even be intimate but avoid talk of the old relationship or getting back together.
- Pull away and distance from you but keep in touch with your family and/or friends.
- Distance from you and from everyone including their own friends and family.
So before you make any conclusions or take any action, try to understand what is really going on with your anxious-avoidant. The reason I write this is because many people come to me with “I know my ex is a typical avoidant” and then go ahead and list what they have read about avoidants but have no further insight into WHY, WHEN, HOW WHO and WHAT of their ex’s avoidant patterns and behaviours.
What happens is that they apply general advice about avoidants and end up not only creating more frustration and anxiety for themselves and for their ex, but also creating “unsafe contact” which causes their anxious-avoidant ex to pull further away.
Understanding an anxious-avoidant’s unique patterns and behaviours is key to making contact with you feel safe and to providing the validation and reassurance they need while at the same time allowing them the ‘space’ they need.
When you don’t provide the validation and reassurance they need to feel safe, validated and reassured anxious-avoidants get angry and sometimes act uncharacteristically mean. They feel that you don’t care and they are not important to you and lose the motivation to keep the lines of communication or make the relationship work and slowly pull away.
In short, if they are initiating contact and putting in the work to keep the lines of communication open, you also need to put in the work and not just let them do all the initiating contact, asking questions, arranging dates etc.
But here is the catch. Unlike most dismissive avoidants who distance or just disappear for no apparent reason and without telling you, anxious-avoidant type and fearful avoidants often have a ‘good’ reason for pulling away.
Sometimes the reason they pull away has to do with you not providing the validation and reassurance they need, or you not giving them enough space and freedom to do their own things (without you making a big deal of it), but sometimes it’s has nothing to do with you.
Studies on attachment styles, mental illness and substance abuse show people who qualify as anxious-avoidant types typically have other “emotional problems” in their lives including inability to deal with stress, social and interpersonal difficulties (e.g. shyness, ). They may also suffer from bipolar, depression, substance abuse issues, anger management etc.
So when they pull away, look at WHY, WHEN, HOW WHO and WHAT to determine whether what they need is validation and reassurance or if what they need is space to be on their own without you making it about you or making a big deal of it.
If you need to, check in with a mutual friend, your therapist or coach to make sure that you are reading the situation right and not doing more than necessary validating and reassuring because of your own anxiety or pulling away yourself and triggering your ex’s attachment avoidance. You think they are pulling away but in reality they are pulling away because they think you are pulling away.
Like I said, sometimes the reason they pull away has to do with you not providing the validation and reassurance they need or you not giving them the enough time and space they need, but sometimes it’s has nothing to do with you. Knowing what-is-what can make all the difference.