This explains in detail how a fearful avoidant ex comes back after the breakup; all the break-up stages from how a fearful avoidant ex feels, no contact, when they miss you, mixed signals about reaching out, and how they process the break-up etc.
What you learn will have important implications for your chances of getting back together with a fearful avoidant ex. It will increase the chances of a fearful avoidant coming back, and come back sooner.
How fearful avoidants feel in the initial stages of a break-up
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. To understand how a fearful avoidant ex feels after a break-up and why they come back; we must first understand why some people are said to have a fearful avoidant attachment style or conflicted attachment style.
The purpose of the strange situation (1971, 1978) was to test how young children responded to temporary separation and reunion with their mothers. Dr Ainsworth and her assistant Mary Main (Main and Solomon 1990) found that fearful avoidant children reacted to separation from the mother with anxiety and confusion. They didn’t seem to know whether they should cry or ignore the fact that the mother left the room. When the test was repeated, fearful avoidant children consistently showed confused, conflicted disorganized behaviour. When re-united with the mother, they also acted confused and conflicted; they wanted to go to the mother for comfort but were also fearful of her. This is how they came to be called anxious-avoidants, or disorganized attachment or fearful avoidants.
What you have is an attachment style that wants connection and craves closeness but also has a deep fear of getting too close; fears that you will leave or abandon them, but also pushes you away. This makes a fearful avoidant attachment style more complex than other attachment styles.
A fearful avoidant has both traits of anxious attachment and avoidant attachment
Understanding that a fearful avoidant is both afraid of getting too close (avoidant) and also afraid of abandonment (anxious) is key to getting back a fearful avoidant. Thinking of a fearful avoidant as just an avoidant who is excited and jubilant after a break-up and wants space is a mistake many people make and it often costs them the chance to attract back their ex.
Factually, a fearful avoidant is an anxious-avoidant. Which means that some fearful avoidants don’t want to break up but feel that they have to. After breaking up, they act like you’re not broken up. They still want the closeness, connection and even intimacy you had but they’re also afraid that things might get serious again and they’ll feel trapped. Others strongly feel that you are the reason they have to break up, and even though they feel attracted to you and developed feelings for you, you do things to make them feel unloved, unwanted, not good enough, rejected, abandoned and unsafe. After the break-up, they want space and some are done, done.
At any stage during the relationship and the break-up, a fearful avoidant ex can lean anxious (want closeness) or lean avoidant (want space).Understanding how a fearful avoidant ex who leans anxious or leans avoidant acts in the initial stages of the break-up is very important if you want to get back together with a fearful avoidant ex.
What a fearful avoidant ex who leans anxious goes through after a break-up
A fearful avoidant ex who leans anxious may after a break-up act just like an ex with an anxious attachment style. At this stage, their need for closeness is stronger than their doubts about you and their doubts about what is safe and not safe. Slowly however, their fear of abandonment takes over and they start to deactivate and become avoidant especially if you ignore them and they feel abandoned. This is when they go no contact. They may even completely detach from all feelings about you as a way of coping with feeling abandoned.
Just after the break-up, it felt like your fearful avoidant ex was chasing you, and suddenly they stopped and want no contact. In my experience, the chances of a fearful avoidant who leans anxious coming back are higher in the window between the break-up when they’re very anxious and before they deactivate and become more avoidant.
The mistake many people make is only focus on meeting an avoidants need for space thinking that this is what will make an avoidant feel safe. Sometimes “too much space” can feel to a fearful avoidant like abandonment.
What a fearful avoidant ex who leans avoidant goes through after a break-up
A fearful avoidant ex who leans avoidant may immediately attempt to not feel their feelings and pretend they’re absolutely fine. Most go no contact immediately after the break-up. Many of my clients who learned about attachment styles after a break-up often mistake a fearful avoidant leaning avoidant after a break-up for an ex with a dismissive avoidant attachment style.
After some time, the emotions and feelings find their way to the top and may cause a fearful avoidant to act anxious. When the emotions bubble to the surface is different for each fearful avoidant, other events happening in a fearful avoidants life e.g. job stress, unemployment, advice from social circle, depression etc., influence when and how a fearful avoidant starts to feel anxious and how they act.
To deal with the emotional pain of the break-up and mask growing anxiety and fears of abandonment, some fearful avoidants get involved in short-lived rebound relationships. A fearful avoidant ex’s self-awareness plays an important role in their behaviour after the break-up. A more self-ware fearful avoidant will try to mitigate the negative effects of both attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance. They’re also more forgiving, take responsibility for their role in the break-up and are more willing to change.
Going no contact with a fearful avoidant ex is a big gamble
When you go no contact, it’s hard to predict how a fearful avoidant will react. They may get anxious and chase you, or pull away or even go no contact or get involved in a short-term rebound relationship. And because they’re fearful avoidants, anxious (hot) and avoidant (cold) they may swing from one extreme to the other several times over a short period of time.
Separations or no responsiveness, up to a point, can increase the intensity of proximity-seeking or closeness-seeking behaviour, but beyond some point they provoke defensive distancing so as to avoid the pain and distress caused by the frustrating relationship (Attachment in Adulthood: Structure, Dynamics, and Change By Mario Mikulincer and Phillip R. Shaver. 2007).
As confusing and annoying their inconsistent behaviour is, the worst thing you can do to a fearful avoidant is reinforce their fear that they can’t trust you to be available and responsive when they need you. Growing up with an attachment figure who was inconsistently available and unresponsive (or responsive in an untimely manner) is what created their anxious-avoidant or disorganized attachment in the first place.
Fearful avoidants learned that a source of love, care and safety can also become a source of fear, rejection and hurt. They expect the people who claim to love them to become unavailable or unresponsive soon or later because in a fearful avoidant’s world, that’s what people do. They love you and make you feel wanted, then they reject and abandon you. They tell you they want you to be open and always tell them how you feel or what you need, but then act disappointed in you when you do. They promise you that they’ll always be there for you, then they reject or abandon you.
Going no contact reinforces all of these fearful avoidant’s expectations and fears. If they broke up with you and you go no contact it confirms to them that they can’t be open with you about how you feel or what you need because you’ll punish them. If you broke with them and you go no contact, it confirms to a fearful avoidant that you can’t be trusted to be there for them because you abandoned them.
The healthier and secure attachment alternative to no contact
Sometimes with a fearful avoidant ex, a break-up is an opportunity for you to “fight for them” by showing them that you’re different from what their programming has taught them about people who love them. Showing a fearful avoidant that you want and will fight for them and for a relationship is even more important if a fearful avoidant didn’t want to break-up but felt it was the only solution to the problems you were having.
To show that you’re different from what their fearful avoidant attachment programming has taught, you need to model behaviour that says: “I’m still here. You still matter, and your feelings and needs still matter to me even when right now I shouldn’t still be here (you don’t expect me to be here), and your needs and feelings shouldn’t matter to me because we’re broken up (you pushed me away/broke up with me). I understand that you were unhappy/felt pressured and overwhelmed/felt like you’re not a priority etc., and although I’m hurting from the break-up, I’m not going to punish you for the way you chose to express your feelings and needs.”
These are not words you say to a fearful avoidant ex but what your actions say to them. When you consistently counter a fearful avoidant attachment programming, it create a sense of stability that fearful avoidants never had growing up, and probably have never had in their romantic relationships. You become their attachment stabilizer, a constant or a secure base provider; someone they return to because you did what you said you would do. You said you loved them and cared about them and would be there for them and you kept your word, and matched it with your actions.
If your fearful avoidant ex asked to stay in contact or be friends, not going no contact is a powerful way of showing a fearful avoidant that you heard them and you value their feelings and needs. This has a big impact on their sense of safety since fearful avoidants grew up feeling unimportant and their feelings and needs were ignored or dismissed.
If you’re not in the mental or emotional state to stay in contact or be friends, see how you can get both of your needs met instead of outright rejecting their needs, and then reach out after no contact expecting them to meet your needs.
Fearful avoidants and nostalgia after the break-up
Whether or not a fearful avoidant ex comes back after a breakup depends a lot on how they remember the relationship; and the break-up. Specifically the memories that dominate their thoughts.
According to a study on the effects of nostalgia and avoidant attachment on relationship satisfaction, nostalgia appears to steer individuals with anxious and secure attachment styles towards relationships; but turn avoidants away from relationships.
In his latest research, Rutgers University–Camden researcher and assistant professor of psychology Andrew Abeyta found that nostalgia does not have the same positive psychological benefits for avoidants.
The findings, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, showed that, nostalgia did not change avoidants’ general reluctance to trust others; and their reduced desire to build intimacy and closeness in their relationships. “Nostalgia may actually make things worse” says Andrew Abeyta.
When a fearful avoidant blames you for the break-up
Individuals with a fearful avoidant attachment are especially known to become consumed with thoughts of regret for their actions. For example, “If I hadn’t pushed him away, we would still be together”. They also regret not acting when they should have. For example, “If only I had been more open, she wouldn’t have broken up with me”. But less self-aware fearful avoidants blame an ex for the break-up and take little to no responsibility.
Inducing romantic nostalgia in someone who is consumed with thoughts of regret or blames you for the break-up may not be the best approach for attracting back an avoidant.
“It might be necessary to work on these avoidant tendencies first; before throwing nostalgia into the mix or find a different approach altogether” says Andrew Abeyta researcher and assistant professor of psychology Rutgers University–Camden. See: Why An Avoidant Ex Posts About Good Memories
Why and when a fearful avoidant ex misses you after the break-up
How a fearful avoidant ex feels about you after the break-up is a good indicator of if they will miss you or come back.
If a fearful avoidant ex continues to blame you for the break-up, it’s unlikely they’ll miss you at all. But if they blame themselves or feel that they self-sabotaged, they’ll miss you because they realize they made a mistake breaking up or pushing you away.
Fearful avoidants miss you sooner if:
- The relationship was relatively good.
- They felt that you were good to them and treated them well.
- The relationship has more positive memories than negative ones.
- They felt safe because you respected their need to distance once in a while.
- There were not too many arguments and fights.
- You made a strong connection whether the relationship was short or long.
- Your friends and family liked them – they will miss you and miss them.
It’ll take a fearful avoidant ex longer to miss you if they feel you that you didn’t treat them well. If they think it wasn’t a good relationship in general a fearful avoidant ex will not miss you or come back.
Fearful avoidant exes and no contact after the break-up
Fearful avoidants of all the attachment styles are the most likely to react to a break-up with going no contact. They see no contact as a way to cope with control or discomforting emotions. Many fearful avoidants also see no contact as a way test if you will miss them. They see how long before you contact them as a test of how much you love them. And they also want you to chase them to prove to themselves that you love them.
If a fearful avoidant leans avoidant, they’ll most likely stick to the no contact period and not contact you even if they miss you. If a fearful avoidant leans anxious, they may not be able to go through with a 30 days or even 21 days no contact period. The part of their attachment style that desires contact and connection (even if they fear it) will override their attempts to do ‘no contact’; and they will contact you.
Fearful avoidants are also more likely than all the other attachment styles to block you but leave one line of communication open for you to reach out, or block you and unblock you several times (see: Why Did My Fearful Avoidant Ex Block and Then Unblock Me?)
Why fearful avoidants reach out after no contact
If a fearful avoidant goes through with the no contact period and they want you back; they’ll reach out first. They may send a text or indirectly reach out by liking your photos or commenting on your Instagram stories.
If you contact an ex with a fearful avoidant attachment who’s not doing no contact; they’ll likely respond immediately. But they may also take a while to respond because fearful avoidants don’t want to seem too eager. If they lean anxious however, 90% of the time they will respond immediately.
They may respond quickly to the first text and even a few more, then pull back. It does not mean they do not want you to contact them, it is just what fearful avoidants do. They may even like photos on your Instagram but not respond to texts. Then after a while, they start responding again.
Why a fearful avoidant ex may not reach out after a break-up
Fearful avoidants are very sensitive to rejection, criticism or embarrassment; and avoid situations where they may experience rejection or discomfort.
A fearful avoidant ex will more than likely contact you first if they believe that:
- You will respond
- It will be a pleasant experience for them
- You might still be attracted to them
- There is a chance you will get back together
A fearful avoidant ex will not reach out if they think the risk of rejection is high. They may also not reach out first because they don’t want to look needy and clingy. They will miss you and hope and pray that you miss them enough to contact them first.
A fearful avoidant will also not reach out if after the break-up you made them feel they can’t trust you. More: This Is How An Avoidant Ex Reacts To You After No Contact
Should you reach out or wait for a fearful avoidant to contact you?
You have two options when dealing with a fearful avoidant ex. The first option is to wait for a fearful avoidant to reach out. Most fearful avoidants especially if they lean anxious will at some point reach out. The problem with waiting for a fearful avoidant to reach out is that it could be anywhere from weeks to months, or even after they’ve moved on.
The second option is to reach out. Reaching out may create anxiety in some fearful avoidants who lean avoidant, but in general, reaching out first indicates to a fearful avoidant that they’re worthy of love, time and energy. They may respond right away or take time to respond, and they may even get it into their heads that you’re chasing them – which to a fearful avoidant is a good thing.
You may even reach out and they’ll tell you that they wanted to reach out and/or give some “fearful avoidant” reason why they didn’t. It’s that wanting connection and closeness, but fearing it at the same time disorganized attachment thing.
If you’re reaching out and initiating most of the contacts, it’s important to keep in mind that it’ll take longer than usual (compared to other attachment styles) for a fearful avoidant who leans avoidant to feel safe enough to be comfortable with regular contact and to start reaching out. If the break-up was because you did not show them enough that you love them, reach out at least three times and they do not respond, don’t reach out again. Wait for them to reach out to you.
Expect a fearful avoidant ex to pull and push you away (repeatedly)
Once the lines of communication are open, expect your fearful avoidant ex’s disorganized attachment style to go on full mode. If you thought your fearful avoidant was hot and cold during the relationship, this is whole other level.
The break-up was a fearful avoidant’s worst fear about relationships, and they’re not going to casually take the risk again. From time to time, you’ll see glimpses of their anxious attachment style (e.g. double and even triple texting and acting anxious when you don’t respond quick enough etc.), but most of the time, they’ll keep switching from anxious to avoidant. For example: A fearful avoidant ex will agree on plans to meet but then cancels last minute because they felt so anxious about seeing you and deactivated. This can happen time and time again.
Throughout the process it’ll feel like your fearful avoidant ex is sending mixed signals because they’re. It’s important to remember that most avoidants feel as confused by they’re behaviour just as you are. The mind games, manipulation, pull-push, blaming and overreacting to things most people let slide is all part of a fearful avoidant ex’s disorganized attachment style. At the end of the day, you can’t control someone else’s reality: what they think, feel or do; you can only control how you respond to it. This is the framework from which securely attached approach relationships. They focus more on their own words and action because it’s the only thing they can control.
What are the signs a fearful avoidant will come back?
If you’ve read this far, I’m sure the questions you want answers the most are: Do a fearful avoidant’s feelings come back and what are the signs a fearful avoidant will come back?
Yes, a fearful avoidant’s feelings can come back although with some fearful avoidant exes, things sometimes drag on for too long, and it begins to feel like there is no hope a fearful avoidant ex’s feelings will come back.
The truth is, many fearful avoidants themselves don’t even know if they want to come back or will come back. Even fearful avoidants who still have feelings for an ex fear putting themselves out there because to a fearful avoidant ex, every little thing is some potential threat to defend against or run away from.
Over the years, I’ve identified some consistent signs a fearful avoidant wants to come back.
1.They are consistent – Consistency for a fearful avoidant is not reaching out every day or even every other day, though this may happen with an anxious fearful avoidant ex. Consistency for a fearful avoidant is their words and actions consistently match.
2. They’re putting in the effort – and want you to know they’re trying. This includes opening up here and there and allowing themselves to be vulnerable in both their words and actions.
3. They’re doing self-work – Seeing a therapist or working on their issues on their own. Even acknowledging their role in the break-up, and showing an awareness of their attachment style is a step in the right direction.
4. They want to meet – An avoidant ex avoiding meeting you is expected, but fearful avoidants take it to another level. They won’t say they don’t want to meet, but instead avoid conversations about meeting, promise to meet but never follow up and cancel dates last minute. If they want to meet and follow through with it, that’s a very good sign.
5. They deactivate less – They pull away less and for shorter periods of time; and when they lean back in, they’re more engaged and taking more risks (e.g. talking about their feelings, and even a future with you in it).
There are other signs a fearful avoidant will come back, but these are pretty consistent signs and very good indicators a fearful avoidant ex will come back – eventually.
COMMENTS: I encourage comments from fearful avoidants on why, how and what makes you come back to an ex. Let’s learn from each other. Thank you!