If you are thinking “If only my fearful avoidant ex could see how much I love and care about them, they will see that we are meant to be together and come back” or “I just need to remind my fearful avoidant ex of nostalgic memories and they’ll see how much I love them “, you need to read this.
Attracting back a fearful avoidant ex is more complicated than just telling them how much you love them or reminding them of nostalgic memory after another. First you need to understand how fearful avoidants experience relationships or feel love, what drives a fearful avoidant attachment style, how they process relationship-related information, how they perceive your efforts to show them you love and care about them, and why all your efforts to show them that you love and care about them might not be enough – and may even backfire.
Our attachment style has a profound impact on how we perceive and experience love
According to attachment theory, our attachment style formed during early childhood and subsequent experiences with important attachment figures has a profound impact on how we experience adult romantic love and our satisfaction within the relationship and with a relationship partner. This presents several challenges especially when it comes to attracting back someone of a different attachment style.
Our natural tendency is to think that they’d want what we want, behave how we’d behave and feel what we would feel if the tables were turned. But attachment theory has shown that when people are placed in the same exact relationship/attachment situation we respond in accordance with our attachment style, and when we are exposed to the same exact stimuli, we react in ways consistent with our expectations.
For example, individuals with an anxious attachment who need sustained emotional intensity in their relationships to feel loved will be happy with an ex constantly reaching out, telling them how much they love them and reminding them of all the good memories of the old relationship. The more intense the feelings and connection, the more an anxious attachment feels love and perceives the connection/relationship as fulfilling.
When an ex stops responding or doesn’t respond in a way that someone with an anxious attachment needs to feel that someone loves them, people with an anxious attachment feel rejected and abandoned. This is consistent with their expectation that people don’t want to be with them.
Because this is how they feel, someone with an anxious attachment style then assumes that their ex needs them to constantly reach out, tell them how much they love them and remind them of all the good memories of the old relationship. The worry that if they stop responding (or don’t respond quick enough), their ex will feel rejected and abandoned.
An avoidant attachment style is not wired for sustained emotional intensity
An avoidant attachment style is not wired for sustained emotional intensity in their relationships and easily get overwhelmed by intense emotions and connection. An anxious ex constantly reaching out, telling them how much thy love them and reminding them of all the good memories of the old relationship will not have the same reaction as someone with an anxious attachment. Instead, they’ll feel overwhelmed and want distance from all it all.
Even avoidants who were initially okay with intensity in their relationships, over time become uncomfortable with it because an avoidant attachment is not wired to handle intense emotions or sustained connection. An avoidant attachment style is wired to distance from such experiences.
A fearful avoidant (anxious-avoidant) is unique in that they are wired to feel happy with an ex constantly reaching out, telling them how much they love them and reminding them of all the good memories of the old relationship, and also wired to feel overwhelmed and want distance from all an ex constantly reaching out, telling them how much thy love them and reminding them of all the good memories of the old relationship.
Did I say, “attracting back a fearful avoidant ex is more complicated”.
The key understanding a fearful avoidant is understanding their internal working model
The key to understanding both sides of an anxious-avoidant is understanding what drives their thinking, feeling and actions or what internal working models or scripts formed from their childhood and subsequent experiences.
Internal working models or scripts are survival reactions run at a sub-conscious level and affect how we experience relationships and feel love, how we regulate attachment-related emotions, how we react to separation, how we interpret situations and events, the decisions we make and the strategies we use to justify our decisions and actions. These internal working model or scripts form the basis of our attachment style.
A fearful avoidant attachment internal working model or script is formed when an attachment figure who was a source of safety was also a source of fear, uncertainty, instability, chaos or anxiety. Because the child longed for closeness with the attachment figure but also felt fearful and distrusting of it, and because they were let down and/or hurt so many times and in so many ways by attachment figures, fearful avoidants developed an internal working model or script that says: Can I trust you? Can I trust myself? Can I trust us together?.
Inability to trust others is why fearful avoidants fear getting close
A fearful avoidant’s greatest fear is that when they allow someone to get close, the person will either find reason to reject them or information to use to hurt them; or they’ll end up finding something about the person that’ll make them lose interest. Either way, they end up getting hurt.
This is the filter through which fearful avoidants processes and interpret key emotional information. They hyperfocus on inconsistencies and things that can go wrong in the relationship even if there is nothing to worry about, and are prone to overanalyzing and focusing on words, sentences and tone that is consistent with their belief that they can’t trust others and can’t trust themselves to make a relationship work.
And because fearful avoidants typically assume the worst of others and often don’t seek clarification to understand the source of a misunderstanding or unintended conflict, they see “inconsistences” as a revelation of who someone really is and justification for them not trusting them – or losing interest.
The fearful avoidants I’ve talked to say it’s scary having the thought that they will lose interest in someone right at the start of a relationship. Like many FAs, they develop feelings and love for someone and even like and entertain the idea of a future with them, but they just can’t shake off the fear that the relationship will not work however much effort either they or the other person puts into it.
And there are many fearful avoidants who take time to attach or commit to someone because their experience is that if they wait long enough, their feelings will change if not disappear completely. Others say they sometimes push through their fears and thoughts and even get to a place where they’re comfortable with the idea of being in the relationship and having a future together, but every now and then the fears come back.
Even when a relationship is relatively good, a fearful avoidant thinks: I can’t trust you. I don’t trust myself. I can’t trust us together. At some point their inability to trust themselves and trust a relationship partner makes them conclude “I don’t know if I want a relationship right now” or “This is not going to work”. Most of the time they don’t really have an idea (or won’t say) why they think the relationship is not going to work. They say “it’ just a feeling” or “I just know it’s not going to work” because it’s what they’ve come to expect.
The problem is that people with an anxious attachment have a different internal working model and this often clashes with a fearful attachment working model.
Do you love me? Do you feel my love? Do want to be close to me?
While fearful avoidants constantly run Can I trust you? Can I trust myself? Can I trust us together? script in their heads, people with an anxious attachment have Do you love me? Do you feel my love? Do want to be close to me? internal working script working in theirs.
An anxious attachment is a result of concern for an attachment figure’s availability, responsiveness, love and care. The attachment style is formed when a child fears that the person they love, and care about will not love them back, want to be close to them or will leave them and they’ll be left all alone. To avoid being left all alone an anxious child develops complex ways to stop or prevent others from leaving them. As adults, people with an anxious attachment will do whatever it takes to increase closeness, earn a partner’s approval, attention, affection, love and care and stop someone from leaving. They genuinely believe that showing someone how much they love them will make the person love them back – and not leave.
Most can’t understand and are confused as to why someone they love and obsess over isn’t thinking about them constantly, can’t see how much they love them and wants to leave the relationship. But the constant need to provide reassurance, validation or be support tires most people and they pull away or leave, which anxious individuals then perceive as rejection or abandonment.
When the relationship ends, individuals with an anxious attachment feel neglected or unappreciated and blame themselves for the break-up. Many think their ex ended the relationship because they didn’t show their ex that they love them or didn’t do enough to show their fearful avoidant ex they loved them. Others hold resentment because they feel they did too much to love their ex and show them that they love them, but their ex didn’t appreciate them.
When trying to attract back an ex, most individuals with an anxious attachment honestly believe (even when facts are pointing the opposite direction) that if their ex can see how much they love them, their ex will change their mind and take them back.
A break-up confirms a fearful avoidant’s greatest fear that they can’t trust you, they can’t trust their own feels and they can’t trust the two of you together. The break-up also confirms an anxious attachment’s greatest fear that you don’t really love them or want to be close to them.
This creates a bias for the kind of information each attachment style pays attention to or dismisses and ignores. It also biases and distorts what the other is actually saying or what’s actually happening. The fear that an ex doesn’t love them anymore, doesn’t want to get close and doesn’t want to come back affects how exes with an anxious attachment 1) word their texts or construct sentences and the general tone and mood of their communication and 2) process and interpret their ex’s words and actions.
For example, when a fearful avoidant ex doesn’t respond or takes too long to respond, an anxious attachment information processing bias tells them their ex’s unavailability and unresponsiveness means that they’re pulling away and to stop them from pulling away, they must show their ex that they love and care them. So they send a text message telling their ex how they feel and/or how much they love and care about them; or post something on social media with the hope that their ex will see how much they still love and care about them.
Because they’re biased by their own internal working model and the way they experience love and want to be shown love, some exes with an attachment start imagining that their avoidant ex wants them to reach out, tell them how much they love them, be reminded of all the good memories and even chase them, even when facts are pointing the opposite direction. They excitedly wait for a response, but get no response or the fearful avoidant ex responds but says nothing about how they feel. The anxiously attached ex is disappointed, hurt and feels resentment. In their attachment way of processing information, if someone sent them a text telling them how they feel and how much they love them, they’d feel loved and wanted and communicate their feelings too
Sometimes an ex posts something on social media and anxiously attached ex immediately thinks it’s some kind of sign that “My ex wants me to show them I love and care for them”. They react to the post and either get no response back, or even get blocked – and they’re genuinely confused because all they did was show love and care.
Why telling a fearful avoidant ex how much you love often backfires
In the years I’ve been helping exes with an anxious attachment and fearful avoidant exes get back together, it all comes down to.
Anxious attachment ex: Do you love me?
Fearful Avoidant ex: Yes, but can I trust you?
Anxious attachment ex: Do you feel my love?
Fearful Avoidant ex: Yes, but can I trust myself?
Anxious attachment: Do want to be close to me?
Fearful Avoidant ex: Yes, but can I trust us together?
It’s like they recycle the same scripts over and over in many different ways and many different conversations.
When a fearful avoidant receives a text from an ex telling them how they feel and how much they love them, a fearful avoidant doesn’t necessarily feel love or want to communicate how they feel. Most are unimpressed (and sometimes annoyed) because to them telling them you love them is not enough. People who told them they love them also disappointed and hurt them; and the same people who were their source of safety also became a source of fear uncertainty, instability, chaos or anxiety.
And your fearful avoidant ex may even know you love them, miss them and remembers all the good times and how great your connection was, but they still will not come back because they didn’t break-up with you because they forgot all the good times, they broke up with you because they don’t trust you to be safe, and don’t trust that if they came back, they’ll not be making a huge mistake. Some fearful avoidant exes even get angry that you are talking about the good memories and ignoring the fact that the relationship had many problems.
To experience love or feel love, a fearful avoidant ex needs to know they can trust you
What a fearful avoidant ex wants to know is not do you love me? What a fearful avoidant ex wants to know is: Am I safe?… can I trust you?… can I trust myself not to lose interest or regret allowing you to get close? If your words and actions have in the past shown that they can’t trust you and don’t feel safe with you, it doesn’t matter how much you love a fearful avoidant, they’ll always keep their guard up.
They need to trust that someone will not disappoint or hurt them, or that they will not lose interest and not want to be in the relationship anymore. Even when they want to get back together, they remain guarded. If they’re not questioning an ex’s motives and intentions, they’re questioning their own instincts, worthiness, attractiveness or ability to love.
They don’t open up about their feelings because they don’t feel safe with an ex and don’t trust themselves and their own feelings. What happens is that they keep conversations at a superficial level. They may even be fully engaged but avoid or sidestep topics or questions that ask them to reveal or talk about how they truly feel. How they truly feel is that they’re confused, conflicted and afraid of getting hurt again or losing interest.
As long as the conversations stay superficial and spaced out, most fearful avoidant exes don’t deactivate. But just not deactivating is not enough for an ex with an anxious attachment because to feel love, an anxiously attached ex needs to know: Do you love me?… do you feel my love for you?… Do you want to be close to me? They’re happy that a fearful avoidant is responding, but what they’re looking for from a fearful avoidant is reassurance that a fearful avoidant feels their love and wants to get close.
An anxiously attached ex gets impatient and frustrated with a fearful avoidant not wanting to talk about how they feel and not providing the assurance and validation that anxiously attached need to feel loved and wanted. Being anxiously attached, they push for a fearful avoidant to provide validation and reassurance but because each attachment style is processing information through their own internal working model and information processing bias, miscommunication and unintended conflict and escalation is unavoidable.
This is usually where I step in. I’m securely attached and can easily see where and how tow people who obviously still have feelings for each other and want to get back together are trapped in their own attachment internal working models and failing to communicate. I help them see how t their internal working model and information processing bias is distorting what’s really going on and limiting their ability to really hear each other, to respond constructively and in a way that strengthens feelings of attraction; or in a way that avoids unintended conflict and escalation.
On one hand you have an ex with an anxious attachment doing everything to show a fearful avoidant that they love them because they believe that if their fearful avoidant ex can see how much they love them, they will change their mind and take them back. On the other hand, you have a fearful avoidant ex more concerned about being safe and if the relationship can work than about being told how much they’re loved.
Should you tell a fearful avoidant ex you love them?
You should show and even tell a fearful avoidant ex that you love them, fearful avoidants are part anxious and want to know you love them, but make sure they trust you first. If they can’t trust you, it doesn’t matter how much you tell them you love them, they’ll keep their distance, in some cases it may even backfire.
A fearful avoidant ex wants to know first and foremost that they’re not going to get disappointed or hurt whether intentionally or unintentionally. In the past, they allowed themselves to get close you because they believed loved them and even showed them that you cared about them, but you also ended up disappointing and hurting them. As a result they can no longer trust themselves to know who to trust or get close to – and if they do, if their feelings for you and desire to be close will last.
So instead of frantically and excessively showing a fearful avoidant that you love them in the way you want someone to show they love you, make them feel love the way they want to feel loved. I’m not talking just about “love languages”, I’m talking about a fearful avoidant feeling that they can trust you to show up in ways that make them feel safe being in a relationship with you.
You can go no contact or stay in contact, write a fearful avoidant ex all the letters you can, tell them how much you love them in many different ways and remind them of all the memories you can think up – and a fearful avoidant ex may even initially respond positively – but it won’t make a fearful avoidant come back and stay.
What fearful avoidant ex wants is to know that you understand them and understand their feelings and needs (including need for closeness and need or space), accept them as flawed as they are, support them when they need your support, and consistently show up in ways that make them feel safe being in a relationship with you. They want to be able to trust that what they feel for you isn’t going to end up hurting them again. If they can’t trust you or trust themselves, your fearful avoidant ex is not coming back.