Roughly 25% of us relate in what is known as an avoidant attachment style. According to attachment theory (for more on this, please see previous post: What is Anxious Attachment?), we all need to feel accepted, loved and cared for, and it is as vital as food and water. When our emotional needs are not met, avoiding emotional intimacy is the most common way to cope.
Why Avoidant Attachment?
In overwhelmingly challenging family situations, people learn to cope through avoidance. Those who are avoidantly attached minimise the importance of emotions and needs in relationships. When a family is under stress or dealing with trauma, there is not the luxury of time, energy and resources to attend to others emotional needs. So, we learn as children to cope alone.
What Does Avoidant Attachment Look Like?
Often when we are avoidantly attached, we cope by typically withdrawing or becoming defensive in response to sadness, hurt, or emotional pain from within ourselves or from others. We have learnt through our life experience to ignore or move on from our emotional needs as our primary caregivers did not tend to them.
The avoidantly attached work extremely hard to do things right for those they care about to avoid hurt, disappointment, or emotional stress. This can look like focusing on meeting others’ expectations rather than sharing their emotions.
Below are several statements that I often hear from my clients who learnt to survive through avoidant attachment:
- However I try, I cannot get it right for my partner.
- When I am told I am uncaring and insensitive, the opposite is true, I care a lot, and then I feel misunderstood, which is so hard.
- Often I feel not good enough in my relationship.
- Yes, I’m frustrated because I’m not appreciated no matter how hard I try.
As a result, I get angry and hopeless.
- I may come across as cold and uncaring when feeling alone and helpless.
Avoidant Attachment Is Normal and Common
Unfortunately, many parents are often overwhelmed with stress and often unable to attend to their child’s emotional needs. As a result, children naturally learn to avoid leaning on parents for emotional support. Instead, children in this situation start to measure their self-worth through the ability to meet parents’ expectations. For example, they learn that I am only loveable if I ignore my emotional needs and focus on pleasing others instead.
Avoidant Attachment Is Tough
Looking calm and relaxed when the opposite is true is a hallmark of avoidant attachment. Conversely, moving away from or ignoring emotional distress is tiring and highly stressful. This can result in risks for health, substance abuse, and mental health problems.
If you relate to any of this you are not alone. However, it is also possible to feel safer in asking for our emotional needs to be met in our relationships.
Growing Toward Relationship Security
To begin this journey, we start by becoming aware of how avoidance shows up in relationships. Then, we begin by noting the good reasons you have now and in the past to use these strategies.
Avoidant attachment is natural and widespread, but it is not ideal within our intimate relationships. If you are avoidantly attached, you can develop new, healthier ways of relating through couples counselling and start to feel safe asking for what you need.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you want to discuss this further. I am seeing my clients from my office in Hove and globally online.