I can tell that they don’t believe me or believe me but are thinking, “I have never felt someone had my back. I have always felt that sooner or later they will leave. That’s what people do. When you show them that you love them, they leave.”
This is their experience. They have never known what it’s like to want love, connection, intimacy and not be afraid that you will not get it, or ask for what you want and not fear that you will push the other person. To them, relationships have always been walking a thin line between love and fear. That’s why they worry about whether or not to send a text, what to say, how long to wait before they respond, what’s needy and what’s not, should they say how they feel or should they wait etc.
When a fearful-avoidant meets someone who is securely attached and the relationship is loving, secure and stable without the familiar unpredictable, conflicting and disorganized attachment issues, it scares them.
They want the security, stability, consistency and reassurance that a securely attached person provides, but it also scares them. It scares them because the experience is new to them and they don’t know how to act. So they keep sending mixed signals, “I want to be with you but I am scared”.
Unfortunately most of us have our own attachment issues and either don’t hear the message or hear it but are too wrapped up in our own attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance that we don’t know how to respond to someone who is saying, “I want to be with you but I am scared”.
How do you tell a fearful-avoidant not to be scared?
You don’t. Their fear is real and no amount of talking to the fear is going to take it away. What you do is try to make them feel safe.
1. Be a consistent source of calm, comfort and safety.
This requires you to be composed, focused and cool when they start acting up, sending mixed signals and pulling away. A relationship experiences with someone who is securely attached over time makes an insecurely attached person feel secure.
2. Don’t create situations that make them afraid that you will leave them.
Remember, fearful avoidants want contact, connection and closeness, they just fear it. That avoidant tendency of “giving space” to someone who has not asked for it sends the message that at any time you will leave. Show them they have nothing to fear because you are not leaving.
3. Be reliable so they know what to expect from you.
If you say, I’ll text you later, text. If their text requires an immediate response, respond immediately. Don’t sit there counting minutes because you don’t want to appear “needy”. Your ex may be conflicted and have a disorganized attachment style, but they are not stupid. They know when someone is playing the “wait to respond” game and they especially know you – they dated you before.
4. Don’t play mind games.
Don’t act in ways that confirm to them that people who say they love you will take advantage of you, manipulate you, use you and/or abuse you if you are not careful. Instead show them that you love them and want to be with them, and if they show you that they love you and want to be with you, don’t use their moment of vulnerability to manipulate or take advantage of them.
As with any attachment style advice, there are differences among fearful-avoidants that makes one fearful-avoidants different from another and may determine if the advice will work or not work in your situation. These include:
- past relationship experiences
- their perception of you
- what other personal stuff going on your ex’s life
- mental health issues (e.g. depression)
- what their friends and family are telling them about you the relationship,
- religious and cultural background etc.
The core attachment style will be the same, but how they respond to certain things will be different.
If you need help better understanding your conflicted avoidant ex and/or need help with how to respond to some of their conflicting messages and behaviour, please sign up for coaching and let’s talk.