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.