(This is part 3 of 5 in the Attachment Series. If you missed the others, you could find them on my website)
As human beings, we are wired for connection. From the moment we are born, we crave and seek out relationships with others. However, for some of us, the relationships we form can be fraught with challenges, particularly if we have an avoidant attachment style.
Avoidant attachment style is characterized by a fear of intimacy and a tendency to avoid emotional closeness. Individuals with this style may feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed by the vulnerability and emotional intensity that comes with intimate relationships. As a result, they may push others away, withdraw from emotional interactions, and struggle to form close and meaningful connections.
People with an avoidant attachment style grew up with caregivers who gave the message (directly or indirectly) that:
- it’s shameful to make mistakes
- emotions are weak, other than anger
- reaching for connection or needing support makes you needy and weak
- you are only accepted when you are strong, competent, and perfect
- your feelings and needs will be rejected, shamed, or ignored, so don’t bother coming to us with them
In adult relationships, avoidant attachment shows up like this (you may NOT experience all of these):
- you are uncomfortable with your partner’s emotions and don’t know how to handle them, so you may either ignore, avoid, or downplay them or get annoyed and shame your partner for being weak or needy
- you present as unemotional and strong, so your partner won’t think you are weak or flawed
- you don’t know how to connect deeply with or comfort your partner, and you feel uncomfortable reaching for closeness and comfort in fear that you’ll be deemed weak or get rejected
- you use sex as a substitute for intimacy because this is the only way you know how to feel close and connected to your partner, and when your partner doesn’t want to give you sex, you get angry
- You hide your flaws and mistakes or lie to your partner
- Anger is the only emotion you show because it’s strong or you never get angry because only “bad” people get angry
If you identify with an avoidant attachment style, it’s important to recognize that this pattern of behavior has been deeply ingrained since childhood. But with intention, practice, and patience, you will be able to heal your past and break this cycle. Here are a few tips on how to start this healing process:
1. Notice your urge to run away, avoid, downplay, or ignore
This urge typically comes when you feel flooded with fear, the fear of feeling unworthy or not good enough. Take a deep breath, remind yourself that your partner is not your caregiver. They are not out there to get you. Simply tell your partner about the urge to run away when you’re feeling overwhelmed and that you’re trying your best to stay. Then…
2. Practice assertiveness.
Most people with an avoidant attachment style don’t ask for what they need. They just want to appease their partner to make them shut up so they don’t get in trouble and feel bad. Know that it is impossible for your partner to know what you need when you don’t speak up. Thus, ask for what you need and express your real feelings (not just anger).
Remember there is so much goodness in people who have an avoidant attachment style. For instance, you are accommodating, generous, and easygoing. Keep showing up for yourself and your relationship, even when it feels difficult or uncomfortable. Over time, you may find that you are able to form a deeper, more meaningful connection with your partner (and others) and experience greater joy and fulfillment in all your relationships.