What An Avoidant Ex Is Thinking When They Are Pulling Away

In this article, I explain how an avoidant perceives and processes attachment related information, what triggers them, and how they react to triggers e.g. how an avoidant feels when they miss you, when you don’t respond or when you move on. Understanding how avoidants feel and how they react to how they feel is key to understanding an avoidant’s behaviours and how to make an avoidant feel loved.

How an attachment style is formed dictates how we feel and act

If you’re new to attachment theory and attachment styles, it’s important to know that our attachment style shows up in different ways throughout the relationship. These patterns of behaviour or traits s characteristics is how most of us tell one attachment style from another, but it is how an attachment style is formed that creates patterns of behaviours that are relatively stable and predictable, and dictate how a securely attached, an anxious attachment, a fearful avoidant and dismissive feels in a relationship and after a break-up, and what triggers them.

It’s important when trying to get back with an avoidant ex to understand that in the beginning of the relationship, it may be hard to tell an ex’s attachment style. Most anxiously attached and avoidants can come off as having a secure attachment, but slowly over time when there’s threat to a relationship or when the break-up happens, then the attachment style becomes more apparent.

Secure attachment style and how it forms in childhood

A secure attachment style is formed when the attachment figure or primary caregiver is available; and responds quickly to a child’s emotional needs in a consistent and sensitive way while supporting the child’s independence.

Theses childhood attachment experiences create adults who have low attachment anxiety & low attachment avoidance. When a securely attached is upset, sad or when they’re hurting what they’re thinking is, “I don’t like how this feels, but I can handle it”. Because securely attached believe that they can handle whatever they’re faced with, they’re able to remain calm, unassuming, empathetic.

Anxious preoccupied attachment style and how it forms in childhood

Anxious preoccupied attachment style forms when the attachment figure or primary caregiver is inconsistent and unpredictable with their availability and responsiveness; or overprotective, excessive with physical affection and closeness.

These childhood attachment experiences create adults who have high attachment anxiety & low attachment avoidance. When an anxiously attached is upset, sad or when they’re hurting what they’re thinking is, “I don’t like how this feels, I need to do something, anything”. These thoughts trigger an anxious, panicked and worried response and/or protest behaviour.

Dismissive attachment style and how it forms in childhood

A dismissive avoidant attachment style is formed when the attachment figure or primary caregiver is dismissive of the child’s emotional needs. An attachment figure or primary caregiver who is so detached, cold or punishing can result in the child being too afraid to communicate their emotional needs.

These childhood attachment experiences create adults who have low attachment anxiety & high attachment avoidance. When a dismissive avoidant is upset, sad or when they’re hurting what they’re thinking is, “I don’t like how this feels, but if I need to put a stop to this”. What you see on the outside is cold, distant and may be even angry behaviour but what a dismissive avoidant is really thinking as they’re pulling away is they need to stop how they feel and the only way to do that is create distance from what or the person causing me to feel the way they feel.

Fearful avoidant attachment style and how it’s formed in childhood

A fearful avoidant attachment style is formed when the attachment figure or primary caregiver is neglecting, rejecting and/or abusive. A fearful avoidant attachment style can also be a result of an emotional environment that is volatile and unpredictable. Recent studies show that a disorganized attachment can also be inherited from a parent who faced traumatic experiences in their own life; or has mental health issues.

As adults fearful avoidants have high attachment anxiety & high attachment avoidance, and can either lean more anxious or lean more avoidant (dismissive)

When fearful avoidants leaning anxious is upset, sad or when they’re hurting that they’re thinking is “I don’t like how this feels; and I don’t know what to do when it gets worse.”

Anxious-leaning fearful avoidants feel the same anxiety, worry and fears as someone who is anxiously attached, the only difference is that while someone one with anxious attached is motivated to do something, anything, anxious-leaning fearful avoidants are thinking about how things are going to get worse and start pulling away because they don’t know what to do. when they do.

Avoidant-leaning fearful avoidants have a slightly different response when upset, sad or when they’re hurting. They’re thinking, “I don’t like how this feels, I need to get away before it gets worse” but instead of feeling paralyzed by the fear that things will get worse, avoidant-leaning fearful avoidants immediately look for an exit or escape out of the situation. Just like people with an anxious attachment or anxious-leaning fearful avoidants, they’re anxious, worried and afraid but their solution is not trying to do anything and everything to try to stop what is making them feel the way they feel or to be paralyzed by fear, instead they create emotional distance or physically pull away.

Anxiously attached vs. fearful avoidant leaning anxious

The difference between what someone with an anxious attachment and what an anxious-leaning fearful avoidant feels and thinks is sometimes so subtle that most people can not tell if they are anxious or fearful avoidants leaning anxious. When things are going well in a relationship or an ex is responding and showing interest; an anxiously attached and fearful avoidants leaning anxious feel and act in very similar ways.

  • Want constant interaction and reassurance, and are way too much invested in the relationship.
  • Are codependent, needy, clingy, over-pleasing, coercive and passive aggressive controlling.
  • Feel they must always do something to keep someone’s interest.
  • Always worried that the other person will leave them.
  • Worry too much about a partner’s or ex’s availability and responsiveness
  • Allow their emotions to get in the way of effective communication and conflict resolution

But as soon as there is an indication that a partner or ex is pulling away, losing interest, or when there is no response for long periods of time, fearful avoidants start to show their avoidant side. When they want connection they will be intense and come on strong, this triggers the fear that they might lose someone because they want them so bad. They pull away, avoid contact and/or hide their feelings.

In the initial stages of a break-up, a fearful avoidant ex leaning anxious may seek more contact but quickly pull back, avoid contact and may not respond at all. They pull back or completely back away because they’re scared that staying in contact puts them in a position where they could be rejected, strung along or used. They are also terrified of an ex not responding.

This is why fearful avoidants are more likely to do ‘low-contact”. It allows them to stay connected to their ex; but remain at a distance at the same time. In their fearful thinking:

  • If you reach out once in a while you still get to be close; but not too close that you act needy.
  • You will avoid making mistakes that will push your ex further away.
  • And if you let your ex initiates all the contact and they stop initiating contact, it’s not rejection. You were not reaching out, they were doing all the reaching out.

Fearful avoidants leaning anxious over pursuing behaviours

The other similarity between anxiously attached and fearful avoidants leaning anxious is over pursing. When the other person does not respond for example, anxiously attached and fearful avoidants leaning anxious get anxious text even more.

Both anxiously attached and fearful avoidants leaning anxious think and feel that an ex not responding means they’re pulling away and they:

  • Blame themselves for their ex pulling away or distancing (and sometimes hostile) behaviours.
  • Believe that because they are to blame for endangering the relationship, it’s their responsibility to make things right again.
  • They keep contacting their ex hoping their ex will see that they want to make things right.

The difference between anxiously attached and fearful avoidants leaning anxious over-pursuing behaviour is at some point a fearful avoidants side will kick in and they’ll start pulling away to self-soothe and/or deactivate.

Some anxiously attached also reach a point where they realize that over-pursuing an ex is not going o change anything, but instead of focusing their attention on themselves and find ways to self-soothe turn against their ex in protest which often gets a dismissive avoidant ex thinking, “I need to put a stop to this” and a fearful avoidant ex thinking “I need to get away before it gets worse” and start pulling away.

RELATED:

How To Tell If Your Ex Is A Fearful Or Dismissive Avoidant

Why Dismissive Avoidants Push You Away (What to Do)

What Happens When You Ignore A Fearful Avoidant Ex?

How A Fearful Avoidant Ex Comes Back – Explained In Detail

How Do I Give My Avoidant Ex Space? (And How Much Space)

How to Work On Being Secure While Trying To Get Back An Ex

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16 replies on “What An Avoidant Ex Is Thinking When They Are Pulling Away”
  1. says: AaronDuf

    Thank you Yangki for taking the time to explain the difference between a fearful avoidant and dismissive avoidant; and fearful avoidant leaning avoidant and a fearful avoidant leaning avoidant. I noted this in all your articles and videos. This differentiation is important because not all fearful avoidants lean towards the avoidant side of the spectrum. There are many of us who lean more anxious, and a relationship can work by equally appealing to the anxious side of an anxious-avoidant attachment style.

    1. says: Madis

      I also found it interesting that Yangki pointed this detail out. I never considered the importance of which side I lean more until I read it here. I feel I lean anxious but my actions display me as someone who is more avoidant, if that makes sense.

      1. says: Conan

        A fearful avoidant is not simply both avoidance and anxiety. In most cases you will have both of those styles show up in their behavior but the anxious side is more dominant that the avoidant side or the avoidant is more dominant than the anxious.

  2. says: Jeanette

    I can relate to feeling that things are only going to get worse. My ex and are both fearful avoidant and both conflict avoidant. We love each other deeply but we’ve been on-and-off again for nearly 5 years. All of our breakups have happened because we don’t talk about issues until they get worse and often too late. He’s more avoidant and usually the one that distances first which makes me anxious and because I don’t like how I feel I also deactivate. We’re stuck in this feedback loop.

    1. says: Love Doctor Yangki Akiteng

      Would it help to establish with your ex some ways you can safely communicate how you are feeling e.g. you both agree that when you think the over is unhappy, you can ask on a scale to of 1 – 10 how bad is it. If she says a number below 6, you can talk about it later, but if the number is above 8, then you must definitely talk about it immediately. It works if both of you are honest.

      1. says: Jeanette

        Thank you. I wasn’t sure I’d get a response. We haven’t tried on a scale to of 1 – 10 how bad is it. We’ll definitely try this and I’ll update you how things go. God Bless.

  3. says: Luke Pierre

    This is good advice. I’m DA and learning to communicate to my AA ex when things get too tense. Recently I was able to say to her I needed a few hours of no texting to regulate, and after about 3 hours I texted her and we were able to talk about why I felt triggered.

  4. says: Katylyn

    I’m new to attachment styles and have been reading a lot about my anxious attachment style and my ex’s dismissive attachment. This by far is the most informative site for someone like me new to attachment styles. Your articles are easy to understand and relate to. I found the layout of how each attachment style feels and reacts really helpful. I guess my question is, when triggered, how long does an avoidant pull away?

    1. says: Love Doctor Yangki Akiteng

      I appreciate your kind words.

      How long an avoidant pulls away when they’re triggered depends on the individual avoidant. Why they’re triggered, how you react to them being triggered and the relative safety of the relationship factors into how long they’ll stay away.

      If the relationship is more unsafe than safe, they will stay away much longer. That’s why with someone securely attached, an avoidant pulls away less and for shorter periods of time.

      Securely attached people are mostly consistent and responsive in a non- overwhelming or over-bearing way; which is something most avoidants never had in childhood. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like they pulled away because they lean in back real fast. The relationship is where they feel safe.

      1. says: Katylyn

        But do you leave them alone? Some people recommend doing no contact and let them reach out to you.

        1. says: Love Doctor Yangki Akiteng

          Yes, you give them space but for a short period of time, no more than 7 – 10 days in my experience. Most avoidant exes have sort of pull away/lean in pattern, reach put based on their pattern. Regular 2-3 days check-ins make a big difference too.

          The reason I don’t recommend no contact and letting avoidants reach out is:

          1) Avoidants more often than not don’t reach out. By not reaching out you’re basically giving up.

          2) Avoidants need space, but they also need to feel that they’re not being “punished” for expressing what they need.

          Fearful avoidants are fearful because growing up they never received consistent loving care. Dismissive avoidants are dismissive because they never felt they could express their needs and/or get their needs met. Why would you do things that confirm to an avoidant what they already think/believe about relationships?

          As someone new to attachment styles, I think you’ll find this helpful: How to Make An Avoidant Ex Feel Safe Enough To Come Back

          1. says: Ereen

            But when you express your need for closeness they pull away, but they want you to respect their need for space????

            1. says: Love Doctor Yangki Akiteng

              This is what is at the core of anxious-avoidant pursuit/withdraw dynamic. Both people are trying to get their needs met and neither is trying to meet the other’s needs; and sometimes one person is getting all their needs met and the other person is left running on empty.

  5. says: Elza

    For me I’ve learned to go with the flow and let things happen naturally, and it is making a big difference in my relationship with my DA ex. Every time I feel anxious or triggered, I come here, read a few articles and I feel calm and encouraged. I still have along way to go but I feel myself becoming more secure, and it feels good not to be anxious all the time and trying to control how he feels.

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