Do you think that you have an avoidant attachment style? Or are you currently dating someone with avoidant habits?
Well, then there are a few ‘avoidant attachment’ triggers that you should be aware of.
In this article, I explain which ones they are, where they come from, and what can be done about them.
Want to learn more? Read on!
What is avoidant attachment?
Many of us carry the pain from our past over into our current relationships. For people with an avoidant attachment style, this pain tends to be handled through a self-protective and intimacy-resistant shield.
‘Independent’ and ‘self-reliant’ are two typical avoidant attachment style traits. They want to face difficult situations on their own, and they hate having to rely on others. This is true even when relying on others would actually be beneficial for both parties involved.
Someone with an avoidant attachment may not always overtly avoid finding love, but they do frequently obstruct the development of true intimacy in numerous ways. Be it through their inability or unwillingness to share their deepest feelings, their tendency to implement space and distance, or their painful disappearing act once things get a little too serious, to name just three examples.
These avoidant habits make having a fulfilling intimate relationship rather hard, but the behavior often isn’t chosen consciously. Rather, it stems from their attachment style that was created during infancy.
If you would like a more detailed explanation about the avoidant attachment style, then this video is for you:
A quick introduction to attachment theory
After studying the negative impact of maternal deprivation on children, psychiatrist John Bowlby observed that early attachments shape us in fundamental ways. They not only greatly affect a child’s emotional development but also influence their relationships later in life.
Attachment is the emotional bond that develops between an infant and its caregiver(s). This primary relationship forms the foundation for all future relationships, shaping the child’s thoughts, feelings, expectations, and behavior. In other words: the type of attachment that was once shared with our caregivers is mirrored in how we relate to others.
Children who experience a warm, responsive, and continuous relationship with an adult in early life have a higher chance of becoming relationally healthy adults. If caregivers are overly controlling, unreliable, cold, or abusive, however, an insecure attachment style can develop.
Of the four attachment styles, there is one secure one and three so-called insecure ones:
- Securely attached individuals feel comfortable with both intimacy and healthy separateness in their relationships. I call these people “Cornerstones.”
- People with an anxious attachment style desire a lot of closeness with their partner. They crave love and intimacy, and they are generally highly preoccupied with the state of their relationships. I have given them the nickname “Open Hearts.”
- People with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style tend to feel a lot of unease with closeness and interdependence. They strive to be self-reliant and keep others at a distance. I like to call these people “Rolling Stones.”
- Finally, the fearful-avoidant or disorganized attachment style involves high degrees of both anxiety and avoidance. They crave a soul-shaking connection but also fear it. I call them “Spice of Lifers.”
How does avoidant attachment develop in childhood?
We’ve already established that our attachment style is created early on. But what are the ingredients for an avoidant attachment to develop?
Avoidant attachment often develops when parents or caretakers are largely unavailable and inconsistent in responding to a child’s needs. While the essentials such as food and shelter may be provided, the child’s emotional and social needs are frequently not met. In many cases, the parents openly discourage any display of emotions or bids for affection.
Most children have a natural desire to be close to their caregivers, yet when they notice that this desire is not tolerated, they can quickly learn to suppress it. To appease their caretakers, these children disregard their own needs and ignore their feelings. Of course, just like any other child, they still struggle and feel sadness, fear, and anxiety. But they do so alone and suppress these feelings as much as possible.
Some examples of parental behaviors that can lead to avoidant attachment in a child are:
- Routinely not responding when a child cries or shows other signs of distress
- Actively discouraging any display of emotions, such as crying
- Shaming a child for their emotions
- Repeatedly telling a child to ‘toughen up,’ ‘stop being a baby,’ etc.
- Making fun of a child’s problems
- Not addressing medical issues or nutritional needs
- Avoiding touch or physical contact with a child
- And so on
What are avoidants afraid of?
Caring comes at a big emotional cost for people with an avoidant attachment style. A cost that they’re oftentimes not willing to pay.
When we care deeply about someone, that person becomes important to us. And when someone is important to us, they tend to hold considerable power over our well-being.
For better or for worse.
Whereas a securely attached person knows that the people they care about have the power to hurt them deeply, they also know that these same people have the power to make them feel good and loved. Someone with an avoidant attachment style, on the other hand, may anticipate that offering someone this kind of power will mostly lead to pain and misery.
This obviously complicates tolerating true intimacy, let alone enjoying it.
Helplessness, frustration, shame, feelings of inadequacy, and general distress are just some of the negative things many people with an avoidant attachment associate with close relationships.
If we keep in mind how attachment styles are formed, this isn’t entirely surprising. After all, the pain that can come along with close emotional bonds is often reminiscent of their earlier relational wounds.
6 emotional triggers for people with avoidant attachment:
1. Feeling pressured to open up
Because of their childhood wounds, being vulnerable tends to be a huge trigger for people with an avoidant attachment style. They have spent years, if not decades, building barriers around them to keep others out. A partner who tries to get closer to them by expressing their emotions can already be quite scary, but feeling pressured to open up themselves is usually much worse.
They have probably frequently experienced others wanting them to be more intimate than they feel comfortable being. And while both Rolling Stones (dismissive-avoidant attachment style) and Spice of Lifers (fearful-avoidant attachment style) may actually desire to open up to someone, they generally do not feel safe enough to do so. Exposing our innermost self is never easy. Even less so when you fear that it will bring you nothing but rejection and shame.
2. Having to be dependent on others
People with an avoidant attachment style sometimes learned the hard way that the only person they can trust in this world is themselves. They value independence and they are proud of their self-reliance.
As children, they may have experienced high levels of distress and disappointment when the people they were supposed to depend on didn’t show up in numerous ways. Now, as adults, even the slightest need to rely on others can trigger a profound sense of weakness.
Being the source of your self-reliance also adds another bonus. After all, if you take care of everything yourself and don’t need anything from anyone, then you also won’t be hurt when they don’t give it to you, right?
3. A partner being demanding of their time and attention
In line with their desire for complete independence, many people with an avoidant attachment style also feel greatly triggered when a partner becomes too reliant on them. Especially if this leads to more demands for their time and attention.
Having to focus on others can feel like a burden. And because of their deep-rooted fear of intimacy and closeness, they are quick to feel controlled and smothered. Their boundaries and personal space are sacred. And the less time they have to themselves, the more they feel like they’re losing themselves.
So, what others see as a benign request can quickly evoke unexpected and seemingly exaggerated responses, such as lashing out and withdrawing.
5. Being criticized or feeling judged by their loved ones
Because people with an avoidant attachment style fear not being lovable or good enough, feeling criticized or judged by loved ones can be particularly painful. Especially when it comes to things that they are not so comfortable with, such as their emotions and feelings.
They may be able to take constructive criticism at work, but receiving judgment or rejection from a loved one after sharing their feelings is a surefire way for them to shut down entirely.
Spice of Lifers are particularly prone to getting triggered by criticism as they generally experience a higher desire for acceptance than Rolling Stones.
6. Feeling out of control
While romantic relationships can drastically shake up their world, many people with avoidant attachment manage to acquire a decent level of stability in their daily lives. This is especially true for the seemingly self-sufficient Rolling Stone.
This stability offers them a sense of safety. Seeing that avoidant attachment often goes hand in hand with having experienced a chaotic childhood, it is not hard to understand why.
Feeling out of control can remind them of the painful memories of helplessness that they were subjected to in early childhood. In romantic relationships, unpredictability, emotional volatility, and instability all trigger their fear of being unsafe with others. It also further proves their theory of not being able to depend on people.
7. Feeling like their efforts don’t matter
For people with an avoidant attachment style, meeting the needs of others takes a lot of effort. It requires them to go against their natural tendencies, and it opens the door to a more intimate bond. This might come easily to Cornerstones (secure attachment style) and Open Hearts (anxious attachment style), but the same can’t be said about Rolling Stones and Spice of Lifers.
To them, it can feel like a big task. So, while they won’t generally demand a lot of attention or approval, when they do go out of their way for someone, they desire recognition for their efforts.
Not feeling validated can be highly upsetting as it taps into their subconscious fear of not being enough. It proves to them that what they have to offer is inadequate. And can lead to them shutting down and giving up entirely. Because what’s the point in trying anyway?
Avoidant attachment deactivating strategies
Now that we’ve explored what triggers avoidant attachment, let’s see what happens once avoidant attachment is activated.
Being triggered can cause intense physiological stress responses. We feel overwhelmed, scared, angry, confused, and sad – often all at once!
To combat these feelings, the three insecure attachment styles have a number of strategies at their disposal.
For the anxious attachment style, these are generally hyperactivating strategies. Those with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style tend to rely on avoidant attachment deactivating strategies. And the fearful-avoidant? Well, they are prone to using strategies of both categories.
Whereas hyperactivating strategies involve trying to establish a closer connection through hypervigilance and seeking excessive reassurance, deactivating strategies involve minimizing distress through rationalization and distancing oneself from others.
The goal of these strategies is to minimize one’s distress. While they may sometimes help in achieving that, the damage they cause to interpersonal relationships can be immense.
So, what are avoidant deactivating strategies? Here’s a quick ‘deactivating strategies’ list:
- Distancing oneself emotionally
- Avoiding physical closeness
- Dismissing or rationalizing a partner’s concerns and criticism
- Focusing on a partner’s flaws and imperfections
- Fantasizing about past or ideal partners
- Flirting with others
- Always having an exit strategy on hand
- Pulling away when things are getting more serious
- Pouring themselves into work or hobbies
Recognize any of these tactics? Then keep reading and let’s see what can be done.
How to deal with avoidant attachment in relationships?
Dealing with avoidant attachment in a relationship can be challenging for both parties involved. But avoidant attachment relationship success is possible.
Below I share some tips for both the people with an avoidant attachment style and their loved ones.
How to heal avoidant attachment style in a relationship?
If you think that you have some avoidant tendencies and reading this article has left you wondering things such as: “How do I stop avoidant attachment?”, “Can avoidant attachment be fixed?” or “How can an avoidant heal?” then, first of all: please congratulate yourself for taking the time and effort to engage in this process of self-growth!
Although it will require hard work and dedication, change can happen. And I’m here to help you on your journey.
Here are a few useful tips on how to heal avoidant attachment in relationships:
- Identify your deactivating strategies
You can’t change what you don’t know. Did you resonate with some (or all) of the previously mentioned avoidant attachment deactivating strategies? Perhaps you can think of some more to add to the list?
Becoming more aware of your automatic patterns is an important step towards undoing them.
- Recognize negative thinking and challenge it
Challenging your inner critic goes both ways. Becoming more aware of your tendency to view others negatively can greatly improve your interpersonal relationships and challenging your feelings of worthlessness or inadequacy can drastically enhance your relationship with yourself.
- Communicate with your loved ones
The idea of ‘communicating’ with others may conjure up ideas of having to bare your soul. But simply not bottling up your feelings is already an excellent first step. This can mean letting others know when you feel hurt, clearly stating your boundaries, or even taking your personal space when you need it.
This will take some practice at first. Being emotionally honest with both yourself and others requires vulnerability and it might trigger your fear of rejection and shame. When done in a conscious way, however, it can be incredibly liberating and healing.
It also greatly decreases the chances for resentment to build up.
- Connect to your emotions
As a child, you were perhaps left to deal with your feelings on your own. Support wasn’t readily available so disconnecting from your emotional inner world felt safer. But just because you ignore your feelings, doesn’t mean that they disappear entirely. More often than not, they live a hidden life in your subconscious where they continue to control your thoughts and actions on a daily basis.
Feelings aren’t inherently bad. And the ‘simple’ act of consciously experiencing and subsequently accepting them, can take away a lot of their power over you.
If you would like to further explore the fascinating topic of healing avoidant attachment, in this blog post I discuss overcoming an avoidant attachment in more detail.
Loving someone with avoidant attachment
Being together with someone who has an avoidant attachment style can be beautiful, but it poses some unique challenges. Keeping in mind that their behavior and avoidant patterns likely stem from their own fears will help not to take it personally.
Besides avoiding the six avoidant attachment triggers listed above, here are some tips regarding dealing with avoidant attachment in a partner:
- Make them feel safe. Making them feel accepted and creating a safe space will help reduce their desire to withdraw.
- Be patient and understanding. Be present, give them time to express themselves, and really try to understand their point of view.
- Communicate clearly. Be honest and don’t expect them to read between the lines.
- Validate their feelings. Expressing their feelings and needs usually takes a lot of effort and can make them feel very vulnerable. Listen, be gentle, and acknowledge what they’ve shared with you.
Want to learn more about how to engage with your avoidant partner? In this video, I share five surprising triggers that you better never say to someone with an avoidant attachment style as well as the healthier alternatives that you can say instead:
Over to you!
That’s it for today!
For someone with an avoidant attachment style, intimacy can be incredibly intimidating as it has the potential to touch several of their core wounds. These wounds were often subconsciously created in early childhood and are carried on into adulthood.
While the pain itself might not always be visible, the intense responses that are evoked once their alarm system is activated, hint at something bigger going on beneath the surface.
Have you ever noticed any of these avoidant attachment triggers in yourself or others? And how do you deal with being triggered?
Share it in the comments below!