If there’s anything that triggers a dismissive avoidant’s fear of getting too close and makes them push you away, it’s feeling pressured. Feeling pressured to respond. Feeling pressured to talk about emotions. Feeling pressured to open up. Feeling pressured to share. Feeling pressured to reciprocate. Feeling pressured to meet. Feeling pressured to get close. Feeling pressured to be intimate/how often. Feeling pressured to decide. Feeling pressured to get back together. Feel pressured to commit. Let’s just say, everything about relationships makes dismissive avoidants feel pressured and afraid of getting too close.
Why dismissive avoidants fear getting too close
A dismissive avoidant attachment style is synonymous with super independence and a high need for autonomy. This does not mean everyone who is highly independent is a dismissive avoidant.
- Some people have a dominant, highly self-sufficient and confident disposition (nature vs nurture) and come off as super independent from a very young age.
- People who were overly dependent and worked on being more independent to make up for being codependent can also come off highly independent but because they don’t know to to be independent sometimes overdo it.
- Fearful avoidants or disorganized attachment can come off as super- independent because of their fear (or adult-relationship experiences) of rejection or abandonment. The difference with dismissive avoidants is that fearful avoidants have moments when they crave and seek connection and closeness. This makes fearful avoidants extremely inconsistent and very confusing.
A dismissive avoidant’s high independence and a high need for autonomy is unique in that their attachment style is organized and structured to consistently avoid closeness and to not seek connection. They know exactly what to do, how to behave and how to organize their attachment strategy (needs and feelings) to avoid getting close to others. As children, dismissive avoidants learned that:
- Others are incapable of meeting their attachment needs; they’re the only one that can meet their needs. Hoping or expecting others to meet their needs is not only a weakness but risky and unsafe and/or
- If they let yourself get too close, they’ll try to control them and they can’t do what they want to do when they want to do it.
- Unpredictability, inconsistency and unrestrained emotions are cause for concern and stress, and need to be avoided at all costs.
These early experiences forced a dismissive avoidant to prefer hyper-independence, self-reliance and self-sufficiency over relationships, to have extreme discomfort appearing or being vulnerable, to have difficulty asking for help or seeking and accepting support, and to view their emotions and needs as a burden others don’t need.
Dismissive avoidants learned not to want or need anything from anyone, to withdraw from others when they need comforting and consoling, and to fear getting too close to others because hoping that they can be depended on is courting disappoint.
The other, lesser-known and often not talked about root-cause of a dismissive avoidant’s fear of getting too close and probably the one that has the most influence on how dismissive avoidants show up in relationships is their fear of others depending on them.
Anxiously attached and some fearful avoidants want and like others to depend on them because when someone depends on them, they feel like they’re close to them, and they mean something to that person. Dismissive avoidants generally feel that someone depending on them is being needy and clingy. Again this goes back to back to a dismissive avoidant’s childhood where they may have been required at an early age to take on a parent role proving emotional, physical or mental and even financial support in the family system. They came to believe that people close to them “ask too much from them” and even take advantage of them, and the only reason most people ever love someone or cling to them is because they need something.
A dismissive avoidant’s fear of getting close in the beginning of a relationship
Dismissive avoidants come into a relationship feeling like they don’t need the relationship (or you). The relationship may begin just like any other relationship – the attraction and chemistry is amazing, connection is great and all the good stuff, but unlike fearful avoidants who are comfortable with constant contact in the beginning, catch feelings too quickly but also struggle with how they truly feel about you (they’re into you, then back away, then they’re into you again), occasionally complain their needs aren’t being met, and can be mean and hurtful when their feelings are hurt, dismissive avoidants right from the beginning make it known to you different ways that they’re not comfortable with daily contact/multiple texts a day, want to take things slow and don’t want you to think or act like you owe them anything or that they owe you anything. If they’re in a relationship with you, it’s because they’re choosing to and not because they need to (they do fine all by themselves).
They show you that they’re attracted to you and enjoy being around you abut on most part cold, aloof, unemotional and even dispassionate. But that’s not even their worst trait. The most common complaint about dismissive avoidants is that they might be in a relationship, but they really don’t make any significant effort to deeply bond or make the relationship work. Unlike fearful avoidants who at least try to bond, put in mutual effort to make you feel loved and wanted, dismissive avoidants show-up in a relationship like they’d show up for work – do what they’re supposed to do, and no more. If you do the same (and not do “too much”) or don’t complain or ask for more, it’s a good relationship as far as a dismissive avoidant is concerned.
Dismissive avoidants begin feeling pressured, overwhelmed or smothered
1) When they start felling like they’re depending on the relationship (and you) for their emotional or practical needs and just like their parent/caregiver, you’re not someone who they can rely on to meet their needs. Their thinking is that if they let themselves need you or depend on the relationship, you’re going to try to control them, and have expectations and unrealistic demands on who they can be or what they’re allowed to do – just like their parent/caregiver.
2) When you’re depending too much on them for your emotional or practical needs and they’re once again taking on the parent role because they’re the strong, self-sufficient, self-composed and generally less emotion-driven one in the relationship. They start to feel that your needs are overtaking theirs and they have less time and space to be themselves or get things done with you around.
It’s like the thing that they fear the most is happening to them, and dismissive avoidants will go to great lengths to avoid the consequence of allowing themselves to rely on someone, or letting someone rely on them.
The more they feel that your needs are overtaking theirs, they more dismissive avoidants feel like and they’re losing their “independence” or fell smothered and pull away. Unlike fearful avoidants who on most part only know what they want, are hot and old, pull you in and then push you away, dismissive avoidants have a very strong sense of who they are, are clear idea of what they want. You can literally see a line which shows you “this is you/yours and this is me/mine” because it’s thick, it’s black-and-white with no gray areas, and it’s told to you and shown to you again and again.
How can you make a dismissive avoidant ex less afraid of getting too close?
Unfortunately, this is something that a dismissive avoidant has to recognize in themselves and want to work on changing. Let me back track a little. There are five types of dismissive avoidant exes 1) those who are aware of their attachment style and doing self-work to change it; 2) Those who like themselves as they are and are proud of the fact that they’re super independent; 3) Dismissive avoidants who are not aware that when they feel pressured they pull away or don’t fee like getting close. They just know that this is something they feel they need to do; 4) Dismissive avoidants who are aware of their attachment style, but being dismissive avoidant, don’t think too much about it or want to do anything about it; 5) Dismissive avoidants who are aware of their attachment style and feel frustrated by it but also feel helpless to change it.
It’s not your job or responsibility to fix their attachment style, that’s something a dismissive avoidant needs to do for themselves, but if you really want to help, you can make the relationship less triggering for a dismissive avoidant ex by taking off some of the pressure.
Some of the things I’m going to suggest will probably be triggering to someone really hurt by a dismissive avoidant’s cold, aloof, unemotional and even dispassionate tendencies, and I completely get it. I’m not trying to make excuses for these behaviours, I’m trying to help those who still love their dismissive avoidant ex and want to make a relationship work, figure out how to do just that.
If you feel that it’s “more work” for you or that you are “required to make sacrifices” to make up for a dismissive avoidant’s “deficiencies”, skip the part below and move along. Sounds dismissive avoidant, but I’m really trying to spare you from getting triggered. Here we go.
1. Let them be as close as they feel safe to be
A dismissive avoidant has survived by avoiding getting too close to others or allowing others to get too close. As unhealthy as their defense mechanisms are and as frustrating as it is to love someone who won’t let you get close, dismissive avoidants need these defense mechanisms to protect themselves.
Don’t be on top of them, in their face or siting on their ass about things they need to change in order for you to be happy. Give them space to figure things out on their own. I’m not saying “don’t contact them”. Space doesn’t always mean no contact, and as you may very well know by now, if you don’t reach out, a dismissive avoidant will not reach out first. the way a dismissive attachment style is programmed is that they go on for weeks and months without needing connection. I’m saying don’t pressure them to change. If you need to set boundaries then do so. If they’re open to seeking professional help about their attachment style then encourage and support them but don’t try to fix them to meet your needs.
Remind yourself that if a dismissive avoidant ex is responding, reaching out and engaged, it’s because they want to and not because they need to. Focus on the positives, recognize the qualities they share, respect their need for space and independence, and create the right emotional environment for a dismissive avoidant to let go of a little “independence” little by little and want to get close.
2. Meet a dismissive avoidant at their level of self-sufficiency
Meeting a dismissive avoidant at their level of self-sufficiency is being less dependent on relationships or on them for your needs and happiness and more dependent on yourself. Not to the extent of dismissive avoidants because that too comes from insecure attachment, but more from a place of being comfortable being alone with yourself and being comfortable being close to someone without needing them.
Some of my anxiously attached clients say they can not remember a time when they were capable of existing alone. They’re always in a relationship, recovering from a break-up or dating someone new post break-up.
Learn to care for someone and want to make them happy and feel safe without relying on them for your happiness or for reassurance that you’re worthy of love.
3. Manage your own emotions and behaviours
Most anxiously attached and some fearful avoidants have the attitude “If I’m too much, you can just say no/say stop/ignore me/block me”. They’re not trying to self-regulate but relying on someone else to regulate their emotions and behaviours. An anxiously attached ex will even beg an avoidant to “Please block me”. They think they’re giving an avoidant a way out, but dismissive avoidants find it too much work to manage another person’s emotions and behaviours. They can manage their emotions and control their behaviours, why can’t you?
If you can learn to regulate your emotions and control your own thoughts and behaviours so a dismissive avoidant doesn’t have to do it for you, it’ll take off the pressure to manage their emotions and manage yours too.
4. Respect boundaries
This is tied to learning to regulate your emotions and control your own thoughts and behaviours. You may not like or agree with admissive avoidant’s boundaries but understand that people set boundaries to keep out behaviours they find unsafe. Boundaries may sometimes be an avoidant way of keeping you at a distance, but boundaries more than keeping people at a distance are an avoidants way of protecting themselves. When you keep overstepping a boundary or violating it, it puts pressure on an avoidant to set up even more boundaries that are more rigid than before; the same way a persons who’s had break-ins reinforce doors, put up security cameras and even erect walls.
Respecting a dismissive avoidant ex’s boundaries actually makes them relax their boundaries because they feel less need for them. It takes off the pressure from a dismissive avoidant to protect themselves. And when you set boundaries with a dismissive avoidant, don’t overstep your own boundaries and make them feel that they have to help you respect yourself.
6. Don’t expect to be the most important person in a dismissive avoidant’s life
When you have anxious attachment or are a fearful avoidant leaning anxious, you make the person you love the most important person in your life and expect that they make you the most important in theirs. This can be too much pressure for a dismissive avoidant who has been (and is) the only and most important person in their life.
Learn to accept that your dismissive avoidant ex doesn’t owe you their free time. They’ve most likely filled their life with things they want to do, people they want to see and places they want to go because it makes them feel that they’re not all by themselves in this world, and it has nothing to do with you.
This doesn’t mean you mean less to a dismissive avoidant, it just means that sometimes there are things, places and people who take priority over you and the relationship because they meet a dismissive avoidant’s need that you don’t or can’t meet.
7. Tone down the “aggressive” expressions of love
“I love you so much, I will do anything for make you happy” all the mushy love-poetry type-messages that would impress an anxiously attached ex and fearful avoidant ex sends chills down a dismissive avoidants spine. They make a dismissive avoidant ex feel that you need them in your life because you can’t survive or be happy without them. It’s a lot of pressure for a dismissive avoidant ex to be responsible for your happiness, let alone survival.
It’s also a lot of pressure to reciprocate. They’re not the most verbally expressive attachment style or the ;most “lovey-dovey” type, and a dismissive avoidants culture can also play a big part in them feeling pressured to come up with a worthy “the ways I love you” response.
Well timed, deeply felt and short and to the point words expressing your love work better with a dismissive avoidant. The less often the more meaningful.
8. Frame a request in a way that shows respect for their time and space
Most people are turned off when you ask for something that’s theirs and when they say no, you act offended and/or argue with them as to why you can’t have it. Dismissive avoidants are no exception.
Asking a dismissive avoidant for something that requires their time and space doesn’t make most dismissive avoidants feel pressured when you show respect for their time and space and/or don’t need a particular outcome for you to be okay.
If you want to hang out for example, ask your dismissive avoidant ex to do something that you were going to do whether they said yes or no. That way they don’t feel that you were expecting them to change their plans for you. Give them plenty of advance notice and let them take their time deciding. Please don’t say “no pressure”; You think you’re giving someone a way out, but it only makes them feel that you “need” them to say yes.
9. Don’t play mind games with a dismissive avoidant
First of all, dismissive avoidants don’t have the time or energy to spend trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not. For example, if you tell them you want space and don’t want contact, they will give you space and not contact you. They’re not going to get triggered and chase after you because dismissive avoidant do not have the fear of rejection or abandonment.
Secondly, dismissive avoidants can be very stubbornly independent. If they (eventually) figure out it’s just a mind game to get a reaction from them, a dismissive avoidant will show you that they’re so independent that you’re mind games don’t affect them. Even if they wanted to reach out, they’ll feel pressured by your mind games and pull away, keep you guessing what their next move is or keep you at a distance. In a dismissive avoidant’s thinking, you forced them to react or respond with distancing from you.
10. Don’t ask a dismissive avoidant “What do you need from me?”
I read somewhere that to get dismissive avoidant to open up and feel comfortable expressing their needs ask them “What do you need from me”, and I could envision dismissive avoidants collectively triggered.
Asking “What do you need from me?” will make someone with an anxious attachment feel great because they feel that they meet other people’s needs and no one tries or wants to meet their needs. It may even work with fearful avoidants too, but it will backfire with dismissive avoidants.
The need not to be seen as needing anyone is probably the only need dismissive avoidants are vocal about and don’t feel vulnerable expressing. Asking what they need from you is the same as saying they need you. The push back will be a strong “I don’t need you and I’ll show you I don’t need you”, which only reinforces their fierce independence and fear of getting close.
Last but not least, if you can’t be with a dismissive avoidant, walk away
Needless to say, a dismissive avoidant’s hyper-independence makes being in a relationship with them really hard and can take a toll on their partners. It often feels like a dismissive avoidant doesn’t love you because they feel pressured by just about everything that makes a relationship worth being in. But not feeling like they need you or need a relationship has little to do with if or not a dismissive avoidant loves you or still has feelings for you. A dismissive avoidant ex may be scared to be in a relationship because of all the expectations, stress and demands of being in a relationship but still be very much attracted and interested in you.
You’re not going to change a dismissive avoidant however much you try, “tell them off”, shame them, get “emotional”, leave and come back or even love them. Trust me I know, because all the “you need to change” tactics only made me distrust relationships and want to be as far away as a possible from relationships.
Believe it or not, the majority of dismissive avoidants like who they are. It’s served them well so far in terms of protecting themselves. They’d rather be alone in the “peace and quiet” of their loneliness than be in a relationship with too much pressure, chaos, uncontrolled emotions and “my feelings, my needs, my feeling” talk day-in-day out.
Their love for you has to be stronger than their need to protect themselves for a dismissive avoidant to want to change for you and want to get close enough to risk their independence and strong sense of self.
There are dismissive avoidants in long term relationships and marriages which means that dismissive avoidants get there in their own time and in the right emotional environment.