What Is Fearful Avoidant Attachment? Causes & Signs (2022)

fearful avoidant attachment

What is fearful avoidant attachment? 

The fearful avoidant attachment style or disorganized attachment is an insecure attachment style that can have a big impact on the quality of your relationships. 

And today, you’ll learn what fearful-avoidant attachment is and how to heal it. 

Want to learn more? Read on!

(Want to find your own attachment style? Take the attachment style quiz!)

 

What is fearful avoidant attachment in adults? 

Let’s start by defining what fearful avoidant attachment is. And to do that, we first need to understand how it relates to the three other attachment styles. 

The four attachment styles

The four attachment styles in relationships were first identified by psychiatrist John Bowlby in the 1950s. He found that infants who were securely attached to their mothers were more likely to thrive than those who were not.

Since then, researchers such as Mary Ainsworth expanded on Bowlby’s work and identified four distinct attachment styles that adults can have in relationships: secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant. 

Secure attachment is when both partners feel comfortable with intimacy and are able to give and receive love easily. This type of attachment tends to result in the highest satisfaction and stability in relationships. I also call secure partners “Cornerstones”.

Anxious-preoccupied attachment (anxious attachment or, in my practice, Open Hearts) is when one partner feels more needy and clingy than the other and has trouble trusting their partner. 

Dismissive-avoidant attachment (or avoidant attachment or Rolling Stones) is when one partner feels they don’t need the relationship and often withdraws from intimacy. 

Fearful-avoidant attachment (or disorganized attachment) is when both partners are afraid of intimacy and tend to keep each other at a distance. I also call fearful-avoidant individuals Spice of Lifers. 

Anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant are all insecure attachment styles. Insecure attachment style is characterized by an anxious or ambivalent attitude toward relationships. This means that individuals with an insecure attachment style tend to be either worried about being rejected or abandoned by their partners, or they may be hesitant and indecisive about committing to a relationship.

Roughly 40% of all people have an insecure attachment style. Out of those, 5% are fearful-avoidant

Fearful-avoidant attachment is a mix of craving closeness and fearing it. But what does it mean to be fearful avoidant? That’s what we’ll look at next. 

What does fearful avoidant attachment look like? 

What are the most important fearful avoidant attachment signs? 

First, if you’re someone with fearful avoidant attachment, you may have trouble getting close to others and may often feel like you need to keep your distance. You might also find it difficult to trust others and may feel like you need to protect yourself emotionally so that you don’t risk getting rejected or hurt by loved ones. You may have difficulty handling emotions, and may often feel like you are on edge or feeling overwhelmed.

You might also have a “hot or cold” personality, which rarely is anything in between. People with fearful avoidant attachment tend to be very critical of themselves and rarely feel like they fit in anywhere.

In fearful avoidant attachment relationships, that often translates to being both hot and cold, leaving your partner confused. You’re often accused of being “too intense” or “too emotional”. 

And the longer you are in a relationship, the less exciting you might feel that it is. At this stage, you might feel jealous or bored and second-guess your relationship. 

You’re quick to break up with your partner, only to regret your decision later. 

But what are the underlying reasons for fearful avoidant attachment? That’s what we’ll look at next. 

What causes fearful avoidant attachment?

There are a number of possible fearful avoidant attachment causes. One cause may be early childhood experiences. If a child does not feel safe or secure in their environment, they may develop a fearful avoidant attachment style. This can happen if the child’s caregiver is unpredictable, unreliable, or rejecting.

That’s because the reason why attachment styles exist is to increase the likelihood that people survive their childhood. Fearful avoidant attachment is designed to keep you safe, even in traumatizing situations. 

Some researchers believe that there may be a link between fearful avoidant attachment and trauma. Traumatic experiences can cause people to become distrustful of others and to believe that they are not worth trusting. This can lead to a fearful avoidant attachment style.

The mechanics behind this attachment style are related to the shutting down of the dorsal vagal nerve, which normally serves a positive function by helping the body move between stimulated and relaxed states. According to the polyvagal theory, the dorsal vagal nerve can shut down the body and move us into immobility or dissociation. This can feel like lightheadedness or fatigued muscles and it can affect body functioning below the diaphragm, which can cause digestive issues. 

So someone with fearful avoidant attachment can (subconsciously) determine that their relationship is a threat and cut it out. 

What does dating a fearful avoidant woman or man look like? 

What does it look like if your partner has fearful avoidant attachment? 

Your partner might cling to you out of a need to feel secure. They might obsess over response times and communicate with you non-stop while building up self-doubt and a sense of abandonment. 

They might also excessively give love, attention, and time to their partners and feel like it’s not reciprocated without understanding that everyone has different boundaries and standards for closeness. Typically, individuals with fearful avoidant attachment don’t feel worthy enough on their own. 

They might also act hostile, keep score in the relationship, manipulate their partners emotionally, try to please those around them by putting their own needs and desires aside, avoid commitment (but still crave it), or criticize their partners. 

Those are a few traits of fearful avoidant individuals in relationships. It all stems from unresolved trauma or childhood neglect.

But does their attachment style stand in the way of any authentic feelings? That’s what we’ll look at next. 

(Want to find your own attachment style? Take the attachment style quiz!)

 

Can a fearful avoidant fall in love? 

Considering that those with fearful avoidant attachment have experienced trauma and/or neglect, can they ever fall in love and commit to healthy relationships?

The answer is yes. According to research, those with insecure attachment styles, including fearful avoidant attachment, can move towards a secure attachment

And plenty of my own students have fearful avoidant attachment. Many of them have identified their attachment style and are working towards a healthier attachment style. 

For example, Helena used experientials she learned in my course Disorganized Attachment 101 to get into her body and feel her emotions: 

And Joe was able to work on his disorganized attachment style with the help of the arts-based exercises I share in the course:

But how do you move towards a secure attachment style? 

That’s what we’ll look at next. 

How do you fix fearful avoidant attachment?

While all attachment styles can be healed, it is a process. Already recognizing that your attachment style might affect your relationships is one step towards healing. Now that you’ve taken that first step, it’s time to move forward: 

What do fearful avoidants need? 

Your challenge is to stop living in survival mode and start trusting a relative state of stasis. The solution is to practice self-compassion and establish supportive non-romantic relationships. For instance, you can find this in a therapist. You won’t rely on your one inner critic as much and be more trusting to be able to enjoy the emotional stability in your relationships. 

A few ways to get closer to what you need are to:

Talk about your needs

Tell other people about your wants and fears. As someone with fearful avoidant attachment, you both fear and crave intimacy. And the first step is to be open about it.  

Define boundaries

You might set boundaries, but often they are invisible. Try to vocalize them to others around you. By setting your boundaries this way and explaining to others what triggers your anxiety, they know what behavior to avoid or minimize. 

Understand your instincts

It takes self-awareness to recognize your behavioral patterns and take steps to correct them. If you understand your instincts and why you react the way you do, you build tools to change your behavior. 

How do you overcome fearful avoidant attachment?

The process to fix your fearful avoidant attachment style is threefold. You need to address them on three levels; the mind, body, and spirit level. 

The level of the mind

To open up new possibilities in life, we need to reframe negative beliefs about the self so that we avoid trauma reenactments through “projected introjects”; we tend to recreate painful scenarios because they feel familiar to us.

On the level of the body, we work with loosening and integrating energy around patterns that have constellated around negative limiting beliefs and patterns of energetic armoring and constriction in the nervous system and limbic brain. 

In my practice, I use creative arts interventions as experiential interventions. They tap into your creative life force energy so that you can access the real you. As a result, you heal a fundamental self-wound. 

It also promotes bilateral integration of the brain, and creates new sensorial experiences that can carve healthier synaptic grooves in your limbic brain, while stimulating the good-feeling and socially active vagus nerve. 

The level of the body 

To work with the body, and mind, you need psychoeducational and emotional skill-building that allows you to develop a more robust emotional vocabulary. 

With a bigger emotional vocabulary, you’re able to name, claim, and organize your energetic and emotional states more effectively. You finally understand your needs and boundaries and can articulate them. 

You reduce your internal anxiety and the anxiety you feel in relationships because you can let your partner know what’s going on with you and they can meet those needs effectively. 

The level of the spirit 

On the level of spirit, you strive for post-traumatic growth. You adopt an entirely new belief system and identity that promotes increased organization, mental and emotional coherence, and a deeper experience of personal meaning and connection to the collective consciousness. 

You’re further supported by accessing creative life force energy, which has an integrative and holistic influence on your inner and outer worlds. 

Instead of trying to obsessively preoccupy yourself with attempting to control everything and everyone outside of yourself to avoid uncomfortable feelings, you learn how to orient yourself in relation to your inner wisdom and spiritual compass. 

Working with self parts, such as with the wounded inner child or the inner critic, is a particularly effective method of accomplishing this goal, and blends well with creative arts approaches. 

You learn to view your emotions as energy moving through your body, offering you important information about your proximity to your own spirit. Once you learn to act on that information more objectively, life satisfaction improves exponentially. 

Books about fearful avoidant attachment

Finally, what are some books on fearful avoidant attachment? 

You can learn more in my blog posts here: 

How to Change Your Attachment Style 

Disorganized Attachment Style: What Is It? 

What Are the 4 Attachment Styles? A Basic Overview

And here are some of my top videos on the topic: 

 

And for a deep dive into fearful avoidant attachment, take a look at these books: 

“Attachment Theory in Practice: Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) With Individuals, Couples, and Families”, by Susan M. Johnson

This book focuses on the healing power of emotional connection. It shows how EFT aligns with attachment theory and provides proven techniques for treating depression, anxiety, and relationship problems. 

Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love”, by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller 

In this book, you learn attachment theory and how to determine your attachment style so that you can build stronger, more fulfilling connections. 

Wired for Love: How Understanding Your Partner’s Brain and Attachment Style Can Help You Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship”, by Stan Tatkin 

“Wired for Love” explains how every person is wired for love differently. They have different habits, needs, and reactions to conflict. But most people’s minds work predictably to respond well to security, attachment, and rituals so that they can be primed for greater love and fewer conflicts. 

(Want to find your own attachment style? Take the attachment style quiz!)

 

Over to you!

There you have it! Now you know what fearful avoidant attachment is and how to heal it. 

What it comes down to is that you work on all the levels: body, mind, and spirit and take consistent steps to overcome your insecure attachment style. 

Do you recognize yourself as someone with fearful avoidant attachment? Let me know in the comments below! 

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Hi, I'm Briana.

And I love romance novels and campy science fiction shows (anyone else a die-hard Supernatural fan?). I also like being my own boss. Doing what I want to do, when I want to do it. And treating work like play. Through my education, professional experience, and personal life experiences, I have come to passionately serve insecurely attached adults, who want to experience soul-deep intimacy, in their romantic relationships.

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