Both fearful and dismissive avoidants tend to end relationships with people they still have strong attraction and feelings for, and after the break-up these feelings linger. They’re mostly suppressed but not gone. But in my years helping exes get back together, nothing makes an avoidant ex suddenly lose the lingering feelings they still had after the break-up faster than protest behaviours.
I’ve worked with many clients who are like “He told me after the break-up that he still loved me. How can he just stop having feelings” or “She told friends just a month ago that she still had feeling for me. Can avoidants just lose feelings like that?”
Yes, avoidants can lose feelings and lose interest when you engage in protest behaviours. They are reminded of why they’re afraid of developing feelings, afraid of allowing you to get close or afraid of being in a relationship, and quickly lose the lingering feelings that they still had for you after the break-up.
Protest behaviours is also why avoidants who were initially they were open to contact, were responding immediately and were even reaching out stop responding and lose interest.
Understanding protest behaviour in attachment theory
For those of you new to attachment theory, protest behaviour is an adult “tantrum”. When we’re frustrated, upset or angry, instead of communicating our needs, feelings, frustration etc, like an adult, we engage in unpleasant, disruptive and explosive behaviours intended to get what we want from someone we think won’t give it to us any other way or things we do to fix what we think, or feel is going wrong in the relationship but in an unhealthy way.
Protest behaviours can be aggressive or passive aggressive, but the driving motivation is the same, “get back” at someone for how we feel or how something they’re doing is making us feel anxious, afraid, angry, unsafe, dysregulated etc.
Both anxiously attached and avoidants engage in protest behaviours but more so people with high attachment anxiety including fearful avoidants especially those leaning anxious. The nature of an anxious attachment style is that they need to know that everything is okay, they didn’t to anything to upset their ex and if they did, they want their ex to know they are sorry – and they want to fix things, and fix them right away.
Most of the time high attachment anxiety protest behaviour can look like coping or an attempt to self-regulate. For example no contact even if you’re doing it because you’re trying to self-soothe, self-regulate, heal and grow can look like protest behaviour if when you were together you used the silent treatment or ignoring an avoidant to get what you want or punish them for behaviours you didn’t approve of.
An example of anxious attachment protest behaviour
To help explain protest behaviour more vividly, I’ll use an example many of you can relate to. You’re texting back and forth for days, and a fearful avoidant or dismissive avoidant ex abruptly stops responding. There was no argument or fight, but the avoidant ex’s texting behaviour suddenly changed.
Until you get that response that reassures you that “everything is okay”, they’ll be on pins and needles literally. They’ll send another text just to check if everything is okay, you can not focus on anything else. You can in an important meeting, out with friends or home watching a movie and all you can think of you’re your ex hasn’t responded. You can’t take the waiting anymore, so you send a text asking why they haven’t responded. Still no response. You tell them you’re worried about them. Stil not response. You tell them you care about them and love them. No response.
Now you think you must have done something wrong to cause them to not respond so you send a text apologizing when you don’t know what you did wrong. Still no response. You send another text telling them how much they love and care about them. No response. When all the “nice attempts” to get your avoidant ex to respond fail, you start to get angry, and your texts become more worried, needy, clingy and angry.
You’ve reached the point of no return. You don’t care anymore if your behaviour is making you look needy or making things worse. You want them to feel how you feel. You want them to know that their behaviour is unacceptable. The texts become more aggressive or passive aggressive and even threatening. Still not response.
You keep texting hoping that somehow you will wear them out and force them to respond or you invent an emergency, use a fake profile, or a phone number to try to get your ex to somehow talk to you. Even an angry, cold or rude responses is a sign that they’re not completely gone. Some people even beg and ex to block them because it’s better than waiting and hoping. Others send the “I’m going no contact” text hoping that somehow that will an ex feel they’re losing them and respond..
Common anxious attachment and fearful avoidant protest behaviours
Protest behaviours that make avoidants shut down, push them to the breaking point and make them lose feelings include.
1. Emotional stress
Incessant texting, calling, sending angry texts, emotional drama etc. all designed to cause extreme emotional distress in someone and make them given in or give up resistance.
Lashing out or emotional outburst in the hope getting reassurance, pushing their buttons, intentionally violating boundaries, starting unnecessary arguments or fights, name calling, cursing out, and behaviours intended to cause as much hurt as we think they’re inflicting on us.
3. Punitive silence
Ignoring texts, not taking calls, unfriending an ex, blocking access on social media, changing a phone number and generally withholding attention, care or affection with the hope that the other person will miss us, gives in to what we want or will chase or fight for us.
4. Emotional manipulation
Playing mind games to try to get back in touch, trying to make someone jealous in an attempt to make them realize our worth and miss us, posting photos showing you’re happy without them in an attempt to devalue their worth, gaslighting, giving ultimatums, threatening to walk away hoping they’ll beg you to not do so etc.
5. Physical threat
Showing up at an ex’s home, workplace or stalk them on social media. In some extreme cases it may lead to physically harming an ex or cause harm to someone they care about.
Gift-giving usually to try to an ex convince them to stay, take you back or remind them of how much you love them (kind of like “buying love”), sexual favours, sexting, sending nudes or engaging in sex for attention or reassurance.
How protest behaviour makes a dismissive avoidant lose feelings
Most dismissive avoidants grew up with caregivers who used behaviours similar to protest behaviours to manipulate, control and make them comply. They are therefore sensitive to a romantic partner or ex doing the same and react to protest behaviours with anger.
Most dismissive avoidants emotionally shut down and don’t respond at all, act cold and distant as if they don’t care, or lash out act. Their reaction to protest behaviour can be insensitive and downright hurtful when they reach their breaking point.
The more you engage in protest behaviours the faster a dismissive avoidant loses feelings because dismissive avoidants see protest behaviours as a sign of emotional weakness or immaturity, lack of self control and/or an attempt to control what they do, how they want to engage or get close, and feel completely justified for their angry reaction to a romantic partner or ex’s protest behaviour.
Some dismissive avoidant exes can even still have feelings for you that are just as strong and when you were together but resist their feelings for you to avoid the drama that comes with relationships in general and getting back together with an ex in particular. They convince themselves that they don’t have feelings for you so they can move on.
How protest behaviour makes a fearful avoidant lose feelings and lose interest
Most fearful avoidants react to an anxious ex’s protest behaviour with mixed signals. Protest behaviours feel familiar to their childhood experiences with caregivers who made them feel loved but also frightened them.
Some fearful avoidants even find protest behaviours reassuring (and even exciting) because if you didn’t love them or care about them, you would be so bothered enough to engage in protest behaviour.
But protest behaviours also often trigger a fearful avoidant’s fear and a belief that people eventually get disappointed, lose interest and leave them, and/or that they (fearful avoidant) will eventually be disappointed, lose interest or lose feelings and leave.
Protest behaviour becomes a cat-and-mouse game or even eat-or-be-eaten game. For example in reaction to protest behaviour, a fearful avoidant ex will post things on social media that they know you will see and reach out to them, or block and unblock you several times to try to get you to reach out first. A fearful avoidant ex can even respond to protest behaviour with cutting off contact because they know from personal experience how being cut off feels to someone with high attachment anxiety; play the player kind of thing.
Most fearful avoidants will go back and forth between aggressive and passive aggressive reactions to protest behaviour. If they still have feelings for you or are on the fence about getting back together, they’ll respond reassuringly one moment and cold and distant the next.
After a while a fearful avoidant ex will stop responding, block you or even tell you that they have no feelings for you because the protest behaviour started to feel threatening and too hard to deal with. They pull away and start acting like they lost feelings for you or actually loses feelings.
If you’re still protesting the break-up or engaged in protest behaviour, the first thing you need to do is send a test accepting the break-up. Make sure you’re accepting the break-up not agreeing with it.