How Texting Activates And Deactivates Attachment Styles And How to Avoid It

I found this little gem on Psychology Today, written by Hal Shorey Ph.D.

It’s a long article about why attachment styles and texting don’t always mix, and I thought to spare you the read and zero in on the parts that someone trying to figure out how and when to text based on one’s attachment style might find interesting.

According to Hal Shorey, some of the issues with texting relate to attachment style differences, but some issues are about text messaging in general.

Problems with texting

A recent study by Halpern and Katz, 2017, revealed that more texting is related to more conflict erupting and less intimacy in romantic relationships. Greater conflict and less intimacy then lead to a decrease in relationship quality over time.

As a means of communicating plans, details, and what you need your partner to pick up at the store, texting is great. But, as a vehicle for communicating complex and emotionally charged information where you need to go back and forth with a partner or resolve issues or misunderstandings, it is downright maladaptive and potentially damaging.

Issues with texting in relation to attachment styles

The problem with ongoing texting is that we are always “on” — i.e., no more than a thumb stroke away.  This can keep us activated all the time.

Someone with a fearful attachment style doesn’t learn to to tolerate ambiguity;

Someone with a dismissive attachment style doesn’t learn to how to reconnect and obtain comfort, and;

Someone with a preoccupied attachment style doesn’t learn to regulate their own emotions and end up burning out the attachment figure.

Research findings by Drouin and Landgraff (2012) indicate that higher levels of avoidance (as with dismissive-avoidants and fearful-avoidants) are associated with less texting to romantic partners. If you have a preoccupied or anxious-fearful attachment style, less texting or delayed responding activates the attachment system which triggers attachment avoidance. 

Sometimes it is hard to know who started the activation and deactivation system — the anxious person texting too much, the fearful person overthinking and misinterpreting what was said or the dismissive avoidant person not responding enough.

So how do you avoid the activation and deactivation of the attachment system?

If you have a preoccupied or fearful attachment style

  • Don’t sit by your phone waiting for a text. Put it down, don’t look at it, and learn to regulate and soothe your own painful emotions before sending a text.
  • Don’t be in too much of a rush to fill in the missing information about what is really happening on the other end of the text exchange
  • Don’t jump too quickly to offer reassurance and validation and in the process actually depriving yourself and others the opportunity to learn distress and frustration tolerance (emotional resilience).
  • Have “no texting” times, like when you are at work. Having no texting times can preserve your secure base for when you really need it.

If you are a dismissive avoidant, try to respond even when you don’t feel like it and invite a phone call or in-person conversation instead of texting.

It all comes down to how we interpret and process what is really happening on the other end of our text exchange.

If you have a preoccupied attachment style, you may be on guard for rejection and anticipate being considered not good enough or somehow damaged and needy. You are likely to project your own insecurities in ambiguous situations such as a text exchange.

If you are a dismissive avoidant, you may ignore how the other person may interpret your text and tell yourself that it doesn’t matter and/or that the person on the other end of the text should be fine with what you said.

If you have a fearful attachment style, you may anticipate being attacked or falsely accused. You may then lash out with rash texted words in an effort to counterattack. In so doing, however, you may fail to anticipate how the other person is also likely to inaccurately interpret your intention and attitude.

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