Why do anxious attachment go back to avoidants? Should an anxious attachment go back to avoidant exes who can’t meet their attachment and emotional needs?
If you have an anxious attachment or suspect that you do, and haven’t asked yourself these two questions, you should. And if you’re an avoidant (fearful or dismissive) and you’re ex has an anxious attachment, you need to read this, not only to understand what is an anxious attachment style is but also to understand how someone ends up with this attachment style and how you can make relationship with an anxious attachment work.
An anxious attachment style is characterized by:
- Over dependency on an attachment figure
- Overwhelming fear of abandonment
- High sensitive to cues of love being given or taken away
- Low view of the self and high view of others, especially an attachment figure
- Preoccupation and even obsession with a romantic partner
- Indirect expression of needs or feelings
- Panic and worry that the other person could leave
- Feeling underappreciated and unloved
- A strong desire or urge to stay connected in spite of damaging or harmful consequences
- Difficulty letting go of a love interest
How someone ends up with an anxious attachment style
A child develops an anxious attachment style from having had parents who were unavailable most of the time or inconsistent with meeting the child’s emotional needs. The child grows up feeling unloved – always seeking attention, affection, care and love.
One can also develop an anxious attachment from anxious and overprotective parent(s). A parent’s anxiety or and intrusive parenting creates a lingering fear that one is unsafe and needs to be protected.
Intrusive parenting is when a parent or caregiver makes all the decisions regarding how a child should think, feel, and excessively directs or limits the choices a child makes. Intrusive parents or caregivers also have poor emotional boundaries, are verbal/loud to an excessive degree and overload a child with more experiences, noise and activity than they can cope with. A child grows up feeling smothered because they do not have enough room to grow or be themselves.
You can also develop an anxious attachment from being in an abusive relationship. Instead of an intrusive parent or caregiver, you have a relationship partner who constantly makes you feel that you’re incapable of taking care of yourself and need them to survive or be happy. You find yourself bending over backwards to prevent them from leaving because you’ve been made to feel that you need them for your happiness.
Looking for attention, affection and care from people who can’t give it
The need for attention, care and love and the lingering feeling that one is unsafe and needs to be taken care of drives individuals with an anxious attachment to fall in love too quickly. They put their love interest on pedestal and sometimes they don’t really know the person well. And without realizing it (quick enough), they find themselves in one-sided relationships where they’re putting in a lot more energy, time and commitment into making the relationship work; and putting up with so much neglect and even abuse.
They neglect their own needs and don’t give themselves the same love and care they give to their partners. Instead they rely on relationship partners to meet their needs and to make them happy, creating a dependent attachment.
On the surface, individuals with an anxious attachment appear to be naturally caring individuals because they give more, sacrifice more and put up with more than all the other attachment styles. But they are not as caring and giving as they appear. When an anxious attachment gives, they give with the expectation of receiving something similar back. If they give attention, they expect the same kind of attention from a partner etc.
They get increasingly needy, clingy and even controlling and abusive when they feel they’re not getting back the return on their investment. This is where much of the protest behaviour comes from – unexpressed, inappropriately expressed or unmet needs. Protest behavior is very damaging to a relationship; and sometimes leads covert narcissism.
Why do anxious attachment always end up with avoidants?
Given what we know about how an anxious attachment is formed and their overwhelming need for love and care, fear of abandonment, feeling unloved and underappreciated, and a strong desire for connection, the secure attachment style seems like the perfect match for someone with an anxious attachment style. But the most common relationships for an anxious attachment are with an avoidant.
It’s not by some “bad luck” that individuals with an anxious attachment often end up with avoidants. There is some evidence to suggest that people end up in relationships with partners who confirm their existing negative beliefs, expectations and fears about close intimate relationships.
Avoidants who often fear closeness, are distrustful of close relationships, and fear being smothered end up with anxious partners who are needy, dependent and overwhelming with their need for attention, affection and love. In the same sense, individuals with an anxious attachment often feel that their partners don’t love them and will abandon them, but end up with avoidants who neglect them, dismiss their needs and feelings, avoid connection, get overwhelmed with closeness and abandon them.
When a relationship with an avoidant ends, it’s not just the feeling of loss and abandonment that anxious attachment have to deal with, you also have to learn to calm yourself down, take care of your own needs, find something other than your ex to give you a sense of purpose and happiness etc. This can be overwhelming for many anxious attachment, but the break-up with an avoidant shouldn’t be the end of you.
Should an anxious attachment go back to avoidant ex?
Should an anxious attachment try to get back with an avoidant ex even the avoidant hasn’t done work to change their attachment style? Yes.
I’ve received flack for advising exes with an anxious attachment who still love an avoidant and want a relationship to work to try to get back together even if the avoidant hasn’t done work to change their attachment style. I’ve also been criticized for saying starting as friends with an avoidant may actually help the relationship if it creates a safe space to learn new ways of communicating, connecting and relating with each other, but that’s for another article.
It’s true that a relationship with an avoidant will work better if they work on their attachment issues too, but I’ve also seen so many cases where one person becoming more secure completely changed the dynamics of the relationship.
The end of a relationship with an avoidant should be the beginning of you learning self-care, emotional regulation, non-violent communication and becoming more securely attached. The end of a relationship with an avoidant should also be an opportunity to re-evaluate what it is that you really need and want from a relationship and from a relationship partner.
Attachment healing can happen with therapy and self-work but attachment healing can also occur with one partner with a secure attachment providing safety and security for the other partner to unlearn or change their attachment style programming to secure. In my opinion (and experience), this is the most effective way to help an avoidant change their attachment style than asking them to change or demanding that they change.
Loving an avoidant means learning to accept them as they’re
Acceptance is the first step to genuine unconditional love. Choosing to love an avoidant is learning to accept them exactly as they are. I know for myself as a dismissive avoidant that what motivated me to want to change was feeling understood (my failings, struggles and all), and knowing that I could be myself without feeling judged, “coached” on how to love or be a better partner or made to feel I needed to change to be loved.
When asked to change, I thought to myself, “You’re not the greatest catch yourself” and in my head list all the reasons why someone wasn’t what they thought they were. This then triggered my rejection of them as not good enough for me – I could do better.
Learning to accept an avoidant ex exactly as they are is the approach I advice my clients trying to get back with an avoidant. The clients who take this approach slowly see an avoidant change almost like they’re mirroring my clients secure words, behaviours and actions. The clients who insist that “an avoidant has to change too” very rarely get back with their avoidant ex.
The break-up with an avoidant shouldn’t be the end of your relationship
If you’re like me who believes that everyone is flawed in some way or another, people are not disposable just because they’re not “perfect” and all relationships need some work; and if you’ve worked on your own attachment style (or working on it) and feel secure enough to accept and love an avoidant just at they are, yes, absolutely try to make the relationship work.
But go into this process with not just blind-determination but with a willingness to understand an avoidant from their perspective, realistic expectations, and better tools for communicating your feelings and needs, and enough love and respect for yourself. I say this because 1) loving an avoidant isn’t easy, 2) your avoidant ex may never change and 3) trying to get back with an avoidant requires the kind of emotional resilience that if you don’t have, the process may be damaging to your mental health.
If you’re up to the task however, trying to get back with an avoidant can be a rewarding experience. The secure new behaviours, skills and tools you’ve earned will transform your relationship to a safe fulfilling relationship. On a personal level, you’ll experience a level of personal growth that no article, video, online course or even therapy alone can achieve.
If after working on your attachment style and providing an avoidant with the safety and security they need to begin doing their own self work, and an avoidant still keeps recreating the same unhealthy (even toxic) dynamic, give yourself permission to walk away. Sometimes however much you love someone, it’s not enough to make the relationship work.