Avoiding contact is a common way avoidants push you away. They create distance to as a reaction to you needing connection and closeness. But this is not the only reason fearful avoidants push you away. Fearful avoidants also push you away if they think you lost interest or want to leave them. These are fearful avoidant’s greatest fears.
Unlike dismissive-avoidants who have a positive view of themselves and a negative view of others, fearful-avoidants generally have a negative image of themselves and a negative view of others. They see an anxious attachment’s need for reassurance as a sign that they are unhappy and want to leave.
Fearful-avoidants are so afraid of someone they love leaving or breaking up with them that they expect it. Even when things are progressing well with an ex, they always “have a feeling” that their ex will stop responding, or that no matter what they say or do, their ex will not come back.
It’s their fault because they are not good enough
Some fearful avoidants even go as far as saying to their ex “I am not good enough for you. I think you will be better off with someone else”. They also tell their ex, “I can understand why you broke up with me/don’t want to be with me. You deserve the best because you are a wonderful person.”
When an anxious attachment says. “I think you will be better off with someone else” they are looking for reassurance. They want their partner or ex to say, “No. I love you and want to be with you”.
When a fearful avoidant says “I think you will be better off with someone else”, they believe it. They genuinely believe that if they were x and y, someone will not want to leave them.
When you breaks up with them, they think:
- How can someone say they love you and not want to be with you?
- I don’t understand how his family and all his friends adore me but he doesn’t think we are right for each other?”
- How can she say I am the best thing that ever happened to her and break-up with me? etc.
Through out the process of attracting back them back, they doubt themselves and they doubt their ex’s intentions. They are always afraid that they are being played, led on or taken advantage of, or that they will be replaced by someone “better”. This mix of guilt, regret, distrust and fear is what explains a fearful avoidant ex’s mixed signals.
It’s their fault because they let themselves get ‘too close”.
This doesn’t make sense for someone with an anxious attachment. Anxious attachment want to be very close to their partners and are not afraid if someone wants to get too close to them. But an anxious attachment’s kind of “getting too close” is one of an insecure person seeking to be validated by someone else’s love, affection and attention.
Fearful-avoidants as mentioned earlier also want to be close but believe that people don’t like it when someone gets “too close”. In avoidant thinking, if you don’t ‘get too close’ to someone they will not leave you, but as soon as you get “too close”, they will leave. It’s therefore no surprise that fearful avoidants think the way to get someone back is to give them space, leave them alone or not contact them at all.
Fearful avoidant thinking: Get too close and they’ll leave. Stay too distant and they’ll lose interest
Fear of rejection and/or abandonment is the reason for the fearful avoidant’s limited contact strategy. It’s also the reason why any advice that encourages contact, communication, connection or closeness is met with “Will that not push my ex further away?” or “Ahh… I don’t think it’ll work”.
The painful irony is it usually never works. It never works not because there was no chance for it to work to begin with; it never works because you can’t be close to someone when you are doing things that push them away.
I hear this all the time from fearful-avoidants:
Fearful avoidant: I want to create momentum, but I don’t want to be the one to initiate contact.
Me: I understand what you don’t want but how are you going to get what you want? Your ex hasn’t initiated contact so far and you don’t want to initiate contact. How are you going to create momentum if there is no contact?
And there is this one: “I want my ex back but I don’t want them to think/know I want them back”. How does that even work?
Fearful avoidants want to get close but fear it at the same time
Wanting to get close and then pushing you away is what you experience as a fearful avoidant being hot and cold. The inconsistency between a fearful-avoidant’s actions, thoughts and emotions is on some part sub-conscious. Not even they understand what’s happening to them. Most of the time however, fearful avoidants know exactly what they are doing. They know that they are limiting their contacts, giving an ex space or playing mind games because they are trying to avoid “getting too close” to someone who may stop responding, get upset with them or leave at anytime. They engage in these close-but-not-too-close behaviours so that it doesn’t hurt as much when someone (inevitably) leaves.
For example: If there is back and forth contact and the response time is quick but for whatever reason, an ex doesn’t respond for hours, an anxious attachment will come unscrewed with anxiety. When their ex finally responds, they feel relieved and excited – and respond right away (this is their MO).
A fearful avoidant will also be anxious and go through the “what it all means” overthinking. But when their ex finally responds, fearful avoidants don’t know how to feel or what to do. They think that if they respond right away, they’ll be seen as ‘too eager”. If they don’t respond or take too long to respond, their ex will think they are ignoring them.
Here is how a fearful avoidant pushes you away
1. A fearful avoidant takes long to respond or doesn’t respond at all, an anxious-preoccupied panics and goes into protest behaviour. They think the fearful avoidant is pulling away. The fearful avoidant on the other hand thinks protest behaviour means an anxious-preoccupied ex is upset and angry. An upset and angry ex means there is potential for rejection; so they end up not responding. This triggers even more protest behaviour from an anxious-preoccupied ex.
2. A fearful avoidant stops initiating contact, and an anxious-preoccupied feels unloved and unappreciated. They are happy to do most of the effort to make things work (this is their MO); but they need the fearful avoidant to show they care by equally initiating contact. The fearful avoidant interprets the anxious-preoccupied’s frustration as a sign that they are not good enough/can’t make someone happy. They pull back even further. The anxious-preoccupied panics, and you know how this story ends.
If neither person steps out of the comfort of their attachment style, contact drops down to once a week, once every 2 weeks, once a month and then, nothing for months.
What to do when an avoidant pushes you away
What you can do when when a fearful avoidant or dismissive avoidant pushes you away is not to take it personally. In case of a fearful avoidant, always keep in mind that they want to get close but are afraid and push you away so that they don’t get hurt. If you overreact because you’re triggered yourself, it just confirms to an avoidant that you’re not safe and will hurt them, and this will make them push you even further away. Instead show an avoidant that there is nothing to fear, you’re not going to hurt them and that they can trust you. The keyword here is “show”. Words mean nothing if your actions show something different.
To get a better idea of how often each attachment style comes back, I have written detailed articles on individual attachment styles: why they come back, what makes them come back and how long it takes them to come back. You will find the links at the bottom.