If your ex acts they they want to get close but holds back and is sometimes hot and cold, they’re mostly likely a fearful avoidant.
A fearful avoidant attachment style is one of the four attachment styles. Attachment styles according to attachment theory humans are born with a need to form a close emotional bonds, They pattern in which we form these bonds is what is known as attachment style.
Someone is said to have a fearful attachment style if they score high on attachment anxiety and score high on attachment avoidance as well. Someone who scores high on attachment anxiety scale wants and needs closeness to feel loved. When they don’t hear from you in a while or if they contact you and don’t get a response immediately; they become anxious. Someone who scores high on attachment avoidance scale will from time to time pull away or push you away to be alone (want space).
A fearful avoidant attachment style does both of these things.
A fearful avoidant attachment style is hot and cold, gets close and pulls away
When you first start dating a fearful avoidant, they are so into you (sometimes more than you are into them); but once you are in a relationship, they become distant and avoidant. They text less, take time to respond and sometimes don’t respond at all.
Some fearful avoidants when you first start dating play hard to get mind games then slowly allow themselves to get close. But as the relationship becomes more serious or they develop feelings for you, they become more anxious or more avoidant.
The hot and cold you feel from a fearful avoidant is the back and forth between wanting to get close and fearing closeness at the same time. When you are trying to get back with a fearful avoidant, there will be days and even weeks when they reach out, respond right away and seem fully engaged; then they pull away and it’s like they suddenly lost interest.
How a fearful avoidant attachment style develops in childhood
To understand why a fearful avoidant is hot and cold, you must first understand a fearful avoidant’s first experience of love; and their complicated fear of relationships.
A fearful avoidant attachment style also known as a disorganized attachment style describes someone who is both attachment anxious and attachment avoidant. That is, they want and need a closeness in their relationships, but avoid it because they fear rejection and/or being abandoned.
A fearful avoidant attachment style develops from having a primary caregiver or attachment figure who was:
- Unpredictable and chaotic
- Inconsistent in responding to their feelings and needs (neglect)
- Provided care, attention and affection with threats and manipulation
- Was emotionally abusive and sometimes physically violent
- Loving sometimes and terrifying other times
A fearful avoidant attachment style can also develop later in life as a result of a series of bad or toxic romantic relationships; or some other trauma e.g. rape or sexual violence by someone close.
Pull and push, hot and cold is ingrained in the fearful avoidant attachment system
Someone who learned about love from a parent(s) or caregiver who was a source of happiness and a source of fear learns that:
- Relationships are a source of both comfort and anxiety/stress.
- You’re never good enough or worthy of consistent attention and affection
- You can never know what to expect from someone you love
- It’s okay to want love but you should be wary and very careful because you will get hurt.
- People who say they love you will take advantage of you; manipulate you, use you and/or abuse you if you are not careful.
- If you show someone that you love them and need them, they’ll use that against you
- It’s okay to lie to avoid a negative outcome (e.g. rejection or being punished)
When you understand that a fearful avoidant’s hot and cold behaviour goes much deeper, you start to see that they’re not intentionally trying to hurt you; and understand why they keep pushing you away and can’t let you love them. You also understand why they play mind games to test how much you love and care about them.
What to expect when trying to attract back a fearful avoidant
When trying to attract back a fearful avoidant you will encounter so many mixed signals and confusing behaviour. Most of the time you get the feeling that they love you and care about you; but hold back or keep you at a distance. Some fearful avoidants even tell you they still love you but don’t want to get hurt; or don’t want to hurt you.
This mixed signals and confusing behaviour have an origin. Dr. Mary Ainsworth, a British psychoanalyst and colleague of John Bowlby, the pioneer of attachment theory conducted a test was to measure the reunion behaviour of child and caregiver. In the test, parents were told to leave the room and then come back, leave a second time then come back again.
Dr. Ainsworth found that a child with a fearful avoidant or disorganized attachment expresses odd or ambivalent behavior toward the parent, (i.e. first running up to them, then immediately pulling away, perhaps even running away from the parent, curling up in a ball or hitting the parent.) The child’s first impulse may be to seek comfort from the parent, but as they get near the parent, they feel afraid to be in their proximity, demonstrating their disorganized adaption.
When trying to attract back a fearful avoidant, you will experience the same behaviour Dr. Ainsworth found in children with a fearful avoidant attachment style. They’ll get close, pull away, chase you and test you constantly. At times they’ll do things that hurtful just to see if you will still love them.
A fearful avoidant ex’s fear of getting hurt is a constant battle
Because of their past attachment trauma, fearful avoidants are inherently suspicious, doubting and questioning those who show them love and affection. At the back of their mind, they’re afraid that somehow it’s going to end up with them getting hurt and abandoned.
To prepare themselves for abandonment, fearful avoidants subconsciously start finding reasons why they can’t love someone or why the relationship can’t work. And because everything is mixed between wanting closeness and avoiding it, fearful avoidants pull away or push you away; and when they think they’ve lost you, they want you back. But when you show love and affection, they freak out and pull away or push you away again.
Some fearful avoidants develop a dislike for someone who tries to get close to them. They question why you would want to get close if it’s only going to end in someone getting hurt. There must be something wrong with you.
Self-ware vs. a fearful avoidant who’s not self-aware
If a fearful avoidant is not self-aware or understands why they act hold and cold, the pulling you close and pushing you away will not stop, unfortunately. You may have to learn to ride the hot and cold wave if you want to be with a fearful avoidant. And if you can’t, hang up the gloves and call it quits.
If a fearful avoidant is self-aware, they’ll do things that go against their natural instinct to get close, freak out and run. To help a fearful avoidant who is trying to connect and stay connected instead of pulling away, you must behave in the opposite of their childhood attachment trauma. This is not easy when you have not dealt with your own childhood attachment trauma.
When you are loving and caring one moment and ignoring a fearful avoidant the next, you remind them of their relationship with a parent(s) or caregiver who was a source of happiness and source of fear. You confirm to them that people who love you also hurt you.
A relationship with a fearful avoidant can still work if:
- You’re aware of why fearful avoidants self sabotage and have educated yourself on what goes inside of a fearful avoidant when they’re self sabotaging.
- A fearful avoidant’s self sabotage is forgivable and not self-destructive (alcohol, drugs, gambling, sexual promiscuity etc.) or abusive.
- Your fearful avoidant ex is doing their self-work or has taken steps to seek professional.
- You’re working or have worked on becoming more secure.
Working towards secure attachment is particularly important because fearful avoidants are fearful avoidants because they have never known what it’s like to want love, connection and closeness and not be afraid of it.
A secure partner can provide a safe and secure environment for a fearful avoidant to explore being close without self sabotaging; and to gradually over time stop self sabotaging; and for trust of your love for them.