The avoidant attachment disorder develops when the person’s attempts for comfort from others go overlooked. The result is that they give up on being close to others.
Growing up with a dismissive parent who does not comfort the child’s distress can have a profound negative effect on the child’s ability to feel and understand his own emotions. The person with this attachment pattern is usually dismissive of close relationships and has difficulty seeking comfort from others when emotionally distressed. It is as if the person does not think of others as a source of comfort.
Most individuals with an avoidant attachment pattern lack flexibility in relationships and are very isolated. One way that this pattern manifests is in a narcissistic personality disorder when the person acts as if others do not matter. The person may be sullen and withdrawn, or the person may become angry and controlling of others. Whatever maladaptive pattern the person adopts, he does not access others effectively for comfort and security when distressed.
The person with an avoidant attachment disorder may present as if the individual is very calm in a distressing situation when in fact their internal experience is quite the opposite. Psychophysiological studies show elevated heart rate and cortisol levels in such individuals when they are stressed by separation or loss of the attachment figure (Spangler & Grossmann, 1993).
Over time, avoidant individuals learn to suppress physiological responses related to distress. It does not mean that they do not feel distress, but it appears that they cannot generate a solution when they feel overwhelmed. As a result, they overregulate their affect to appear as if they are unaffected and are in essence emotionally paralyzed.
Hallmarks of the personality of an individual with an avoidant attachment pattern are aversion to physical contact; a brusque, halting, and impersonal relational style; and flat affect, which can appear as depression or apathy.
Sometimes the person does not remember their childhood and may normalize or overidealize their mother as being “a good mother” when she reports early history. However, when probed, the person cannot remember details to support the view of having a good mother.
Others with this pattern who develop insight may report having a mother who was verbally and physically rejecting of them, who was intrusive and overly controlling (Sroufe, 1996), or who withdrew emotional support when they needed it. Unfortunately, the person with this pattern did not get their needs met as a child and then learned to live as if they had none.
Some people develop a sense of self that they are flawed, helpless, and dependent yet they are isolated from others. Another defense may be to view others as weak and flawed and view themselves with inflated self-esteem. When this occurs, they can be rejecting of others, very controlling, and punitive as a way of distancing from closeness.
Georgia A. DeGangi: Dysregulated Adult