Learning about attachment styles is arguably one of the best ways to understand why you act the way you do in romantic relationships. Though British psychologist John Bowlby originally developed the concept to describe the relationship between children and their caregivers, attachment styles have now become something many people use to assess their dating habits.
"Attachment theory suggests that our relationships with our primary caregivers are the foundation and sets the stage for how we build relationships in adulthood," licensed therapist and educator Quanesha Johnson says. This means the relationships we had with our parents as children affect what our romantic relationships look like today.
Depending on that relationship, we develop one of the four attachment styles: anxious, avoidant, secure, and fearful. And those styles can stick with us, informing how we relate to people throughout our entire lives.
It can be helpful for people with any style to learn about all the attachment patterns, since chances are, you'll come across someone with each of these styles at some point in your life. But as you delve into the world of attachment styles, you'll quickly learn that avoidant attachment types in particular tend to get a bad rap. They're known for withdrawing from relationships when things are getting vulnerable. And considering the vitriol many of us feel for ghosting, it's no wonder people can be wary of avoidant attachers. But according to the book "Attached," while nearly 50 percent of the population are secure, 25 percent are avoidant, making it the second most common style — meaning, a lot of us are avoidants, whether we realize it or not. (For what it's worth, 20 percent of people have anxious attachment, and five percent have fearful.)
This expert-backed guide spells out what avoidant attachment style really is and how it can be handled.
What Is Avoidant Attachment Style?
The avoidant attachment style is best described as just that: avoidant. "Those demonstrating an avoidant attachment style appear very independent and struggle to build intimacy and connection in their romantic relationships," Johnson says. As a result, these people tend to push others away in an attempt to not get hurt. They are also emotionally detached from their partners.
This attachment style is the exact opposite of an anxious attachment style. A person with this style "desires a lot of closeness and connection" and is "easily activated by things like subtle changes in the other person's mood or behavior," Madeline Lucas, LCSW, therapist and clinical content manager at mental health app Real, previously told POPSUGAR. Because of the differences, a relationship between an anxious person and an avoidant person is known to bring out the worst in each other. (That's why these pairings tend to get a lot of attention — because they can be so stressful and difficult to manage.)
What Are the Different Avoidant Attachment Styles?
Under the umbrella of avoidant attachment styles are two terms: dismissive-avoidant and fearful-avoidant. If someone is fearful-avoidant, they "may long for and crave connection, but they are fearful of getting hurt, and therefore lack trust," Johnson says. If someone is dismissive-avoidant, they avoid almost all emotional connections in their romantic relationship because "they lack the ability to communicate, and their partner often feels intentionally shut out of this side of them."
The biggest difference between dismissive- and fearful-avoidant types is that people with fearful attachment styles shut out romantic connections out of fear, while people with dismissive attachment styles shut out romantic connections because they don't see the benefit of maintaining a connection with others.
Signs You Have an Avoidant Attachment Style
Though there is no exact formula for determining if you do or don't have an avoidant attachment style, Johnson says some of the signs below are indicators that you might.
- You have a fear of commitment. Whether it's marriage or committing to a long-term relationship, commitment is not something that excites you. In fact, it may have the opposite effect and make you feel trapped.
- You don't feel the need to express your needs or wants, simply because you don't think it matters or will make a difference.
- You feel easily overwhelmed, especially when a partner is requesting something from you or voicing their needs.
- You are generally emotionally detached and able to refrain from developing feelings for someone in an attempt to avoid pain or disappointment.
- When you seem to be getting too close to a partner, you find ways to create distance. This is your way of regaining self-control.
- You avoid healthy, balanced communication because you see it as confrontation.
If, after looking at the list, you're still not sure where you stand, speaking with a mental health therapist who can better understand your specific dating experiences might be useful.
How Can an Avoidant Attachment Style Become More Secure?
For starters, self-awareness is key — as many people with avoidant attachment style aren't aware they are avoidants in the first place. Once you're at least remotely aware of attachment styles, diving deeper into what it means to be avoidant can be helpful. Many experts suggest reading "Attached" to better understand how an avoidant attachment is developed.
Once you're thoroughly educated on the attachment style, it could be beneficial to work with a trained professional in order to "process events of your childhood and identify emotional triggers," Johnson says. She adds that "a therapist can help support you with healthy ways to communicate emotions to your partner."
If you want to do some inner work yourself, journaling could also be useful. You could start by writing down your feelings and thoughts for about 10 minutes every morning, which Johnson says can be a "great way to practice getting your feelings out so that you aren't bottling up your emotions."
Lastly, Johnson suggests challenging your negative emotions. "When you do this, you can reframe your negative thoughts and shift your mindset about how you see yourself, others, and relationships." Though this may be better developed in therapy, instead of thinking that all love is doomed, embrace the newness and feelings you experience when you meet someone for the first time. Instead of refraining from sharing your feelings, push yourself to be vulnerable. Instead of running away from a partner who is expressing interest in you, be OK exploring that and seeing where the connection goes.