If you are here reading this because you think “no contact” is cruel and worried that going no contact will hurt your chances of attracting back your ex, then read on. You are in the right place. But if you are reading this and believe that there is nothing wrong with going no contact to get back an ex or that “no contact works”, you may not like what you read, and I’m unapologetically okay with you not liking what you read. My role as a coach is not to discourage people who want to go no contact from doing it, my role is to help those who are not sure if it is the right strategy for them to make an informed and educated decision.
Is no contact cruel and does it hurt your chances? Yes, in more ways than many people realize.
1. No contact is a cruel strategy to trigger attachment anxiety
Most people don’t see how cruel no contact is because no contact is such a well marketed strategy for getting back an ex that most of us have come to accept it as the “rule”. But when people say “no contact works” or “no contact is working” what exactly are they saying is “working”?
No contact is an avoidance coping strategy meant to help those overwhelmed by break-up emotions distance from the stress-causing event or person so you can move on. This is a healthy use of no contact because it’s about you and not about making your ex miss you.
No contact as a strategy for getting back an ex is designed to trigger the fear of separation, rejection, abandonment or loss. People with an anxious attachment become extremely anxious and emotional – and can’t focus, sleep, eat, or function normally and may be get depressed – when you go no contact and completely ignore them. This is because “no contact” recreates feelings of rejection and abandonment someone with an anxious attachment experienced in childhood. This is what people mean when they say, “no contact works” or “no contact is working”. It’s working to recreate attachment trauma. The longer contact is denied, the worse someone with an anxious attachment feels.
Intentionally triggering someone’s attachment trauma is cruel whatever the reason for doing it. You know they’re going to be devasted and can’t focus, sleep, eat, or function normally and may be get depressed. You’re making them go through all that for what? Just so you can say “my ex missed me”?. Where is compassion? Where is empathy? Where is the love?
Our childhood attachment trauma and attachment wounds and scars are invisible to the eye. And many of us don’t even realize that we have these wounds and scars until something like a break-up happens, and we feel the attachment trauma in real time. To use someone’s attachment trauma to manipulate them into missing you is not just cruel, to do so without any consideration for how it’ll affect them says you’re not emotionally safe. Even if you’re hurt that they broke up with you, it’s no excuse for hurting them back. You’re just proving to them that they had a good reason to end the relationship.
There are healthier and emotionally safe ways to take some time and space to manage your emotions and heal if you need to; ways that don’t create more pain and hurt for your ex.
2. No contact does not work with all attachment styles
Attachment theory has gained so much attention and become more relevant over the years because the strange situation experiment that first introduced the world to “attachment styles” mirrors adult romantic break-ups and attempts to reunite with an ex.
In the strange situation, Dr. Mary Ainsworth did an experiment to understand how different children react to separation and reunion with the attachment figure, in this case the mother. The mother was asked to leave the room briefly and a stranger who had previously interacted with the child in the mother’s presence was re-introduced to the child and tried to interreact with the child in the mother’s absence. The mother then returned and the stranger left.
Anxious attachment: Anxiously attached children were upset and inconsolable when separated from the mother, were angry with the mother for leaving but still sought comfort from the mother.
This is similar to how exes with an anxious attachment feel and act when you go no contact. They’ll be devasted and will remain preoccupied with the break-up and reconnection with an ex even in no contact. They may also go into protest behaviour because of separation anxiety but ultimately feel soothed when an ex reaches out or comes back.
Fearful avoidants: Anxious-avoidant children found separation from the mother distressing and confusing and acted conflicted and fearful when reunited with the mother.
This is how no contact affects fearful avoidants. It provokes anxiety and confusion and makes them conflicted. They become fearful of losing an ex but also fearful of getting close again. Depending on how anxious or avoidant they are, there is crucial window of time in which fearful avoidants (and anxious attachment) go from wanting to get back together to detaching and start engaging with someone else and/or reject your attempts to get them back and show strong signs of anger.
Dismissive avoidants: Dismissive avoidant children showed little to no separation anxiety and didn’t seem to need any comforting when the mother left or returned.
When you go no contact or stop contacting them, a dismissive avoidant ex will notice it but not be affected by it the way no contact affects someone with an anxious attachment or even fearful avoidant attachment style. It doesn’t mean they don’t notice your absence, they do, but dismissive avoidant sub-consciously (and consciously) choose not to be bothered by an ex going no contact. They develop what I call “Who needs you?” attitude.
Secure attachment: Securely attached children experienced distress but were able to regulate their emotions and feelings because they were confident of their attachment figure’s love and care.
This is how exes with a secure attachment feel and act when you go no contact. They’ll not chose to go no contact themselves but if they reach out a few times and you don’t respond, or if you tell them that you do not want contact, they’ll accept it as something you need and respect your wish not to be contacted. When you reach out, they’ll decide how they feel at the time and whether they want to reopen the lines of communication or leave things as they are – and will communicate their decision with you and not just ignore you.
As clearly demonstrated by the strange situation experiment, no contact does not work with all attachment styles because the effectiveness of no contact is in the fear of separation, rejection, abandonment or losing someone. Take away the fear of separation, rejection, abandonment or loss and no contact is ineffective and likely to hurt your chances of getting back together with your ex.
3. No contact creates more distrust, disconnection, distance and resistance
When you go no contact without communicating to your ex what’s going on, and without so much as a word for weeks, how does your ex know that you will reach out again? How do they know you haven’t moved on? How do they know you’re still thinking about them or want them back?
In the beginning of this article, I pointed out that no contact is an avoidance coping strategy. Avoidance coping- also known as escape coping – is a maladaptive strategy in which a person changes their behavior to avoid thinking about, feeling, or doing difficult things or dealing with emotionally overwhelming situations.
When used as a short-term response to stress (i.e. heal and move on) avoidance coping strategy can be helpful, but when used as a solution to a problem (i.e. a strategy for attracting back an ex) avoidance coping creates more problems than it solves. When you reach out after no contact, the damage is done.
1) An anxious attachment ex who already is scared of separation will feel unsafe trying the relationship again with someone who can easily cut them off and leave them feeling rejected and abandoned.
2) An avoidant ex who doesn’t want a relationship with someone who has a hard time dealing with separation which avoidants need from time to time, will fear coming back. They may even see you needing 30 plus days to “deal with your emotions” as a red flag and a sign that you have a problem regulating or managing your emotions.
3) Even when “no contact” works to get back an ex, the anxious-avoidant dynamic doesn’t change. The relationship continues to struggle because neither person learned how to create safety for the other or is trying to make the other feel safe – and most people end up breaking up again.
Maladaptive coping makes things easier in the short-term but harder in the long term. I tell my clients that before you do anything ask yourself: “How will my actions right now help/hurt me later on?”
If you want your ex back but acting like you don’t want your ex back, if you want to be close with your ex but acting like you want distance or space, if you want your ex to see you still have feelings but acting like you don’t care and they don’t exist, and if you want your ex to see that you have changed, but acting like the same old passive aggressive, manipulative, angry and vindictive you, your actions are hurting your chances.
Basically if you are doing the opposite of what you want, chances are no contact will hurt your chances. I’ve worked with so many people who say, “I don’t regret doing no contact” even when it’s obvious that no contact hurt their chances and they’re unlikely to get back their ex because no contact created more distance and resistance.
Does going no contact make you a bad person?
Does going no contact make you a bad person? No, but it’s a sign that you have your own inner work to do that’s preventing your relationship from working.
Here’s the thing, when you are hurting or desperate you are only focused on how you feel and what can make you feel better. This in itself is not a bad thing, but if in the process of protecting yourself you make your ex feel insecure and unsafe, you will have a hard time getting them to feel safe enough to want to come back, and stay.
Whether to go no contact or not is a decision you’ll have to make for yourself. As I said above, my role as a coach is not to discourage people who want to go no contact from doing it, my role is to help those who are not sure if it is the right strategy for them to make an informed and educated decision.
Attachment styles is like an x-ray that shows the wounding and scaring that affects how we act in close and intimate relationships. We can either use the knowledge and insight from attachment theory to trigger attachment trauma in real time or or use it for healing for both ourselves and the people we love and care about.
Dr. Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Attachment theory confirms that we never forget how unsafe and insecure someone made us feel. Even so many years later, we never forget how our parents or attachment figures made us feel. So next time you see or hear someone say, “no contact works”, “no contact worked” or “no contact is working” ask yourself, do I want to be the person who re-traumatizes my ex for my benefit or the person who makes them feel safe no matter what?
Working on the issues that caused the break-up, working on yourself and becoming more secure and learning to balance being close and giving each other space is your best chance of getting back your ex. And if time and space to manage your emotions and heal healthier , there are emotionally safe ways to take care of you while protecting your connection at the same time.