Attachment theory outlines different attachment styles formed during childhood and can profoundly impact adult relationships.
One of the most complex and challenging to navigate is anxious avoidant attachment, also known as fearful-avoidant attachment. This attachment style can leave individuals feeling disconnected, fearful, and unable to form secure relationships.
In this article, we will explore what anxious avoidant attachment is, what causes it, and how to cope with and overcome it.
Table of Contents
Understanding Attachment Theory
Attachment theory is based on the idea that our early childhood experiences shape how we form relationships as adults. Our attachment style is developed through interactions with primary caregivers and can be secure or insecure.
A secure attachment style is characterized by a sense of safety, trust, and emotional closeness. In contrast, an insecure attachment style may lead to fear, mistrust, and a lack of emotional connection.
Anxious Avoidant Attachment
Anxious avoidant attachment, also known as fearful avoidant attachment, is an insecure attachment style characterized by a fear of intimacy and rejection. Those with an anxious avoidant attachment may:
- Feel both the desire for closeness and the fear of it
- Experience a push-pull dynamic in relationships
- Withdraw emotionally
- Avoid intimacy when things get too close
- Lack of deep connections with others
Causes of Anxious Avoidant Attachment
Anxious avoidant attachment can develop for several reasons, including childhood trauma or neglect, inconsistent caregiving, or overly critical parenting. It can also result from a previous relationship where trust was broken, or there was emotional abandonment.
Anxious avoidant attachment style can be caused by various factors, including childhood experiences, particularly those related to the quality of caregiving. Inconsistent or unpredictable caregiving can lead to developing this attachment style, as children may learn to seek out and avoid close relationships.
For example, a child may have a caregiver who is sometimes loving and nurturing but at other times cold, distant, or critical. The child may develop a fear of rejection or abandonment, which can lead to a preoccupation with forming relationships and an avoidance of intimacy to protect themselves from emotional pain.
Traumatic events in childhood, such as abuse, neglect, or loss, can also contribute to the development of anxious avoidant attachment. Children who experience trauma may struggle with anxiety, mistrust, and disconnection from others. This can lead to a tendency to withdraw from relationships or be guarded when forming new ones.
Anxious avoidant attachment style can also result from previous romantic relationships that ended badly. Experiences such as betrayal, emotional abandonment, or loss can create a fear of intimacy and trust issues, making it difficult to form deep connections with others. The individual may become emotionally withdrawn or engage in self-sabotaging behaviors to avoid getting too close to their partner.
Impact of Anxious Avoidant Attachment on Relationships
Anxious avoidant attachment can have a significant impact on adult relationships. Individuals with this attachment style may struggle to form deep connections, often sabotaging relationships when they begin to feel too close. They may also struggle with vulnerability and have difficulty expressing their emotions, leading to misunderstandings and miscommunications with partners.
Anxious avoidant attachment style can significantly impact an individual’s emotional well-being and ability to form and maintain relationships. Here are some of how it can affect a person:
Difficulty Forming Close Connections
Individuals with an anxious avoidant attachment style may struggle to form deep emotional connections with others. They may feel conflicted about their desire for intimacy and their fear of rejection, which can create a push-pull dynamic in relationships.
Fear of Intimacy
People with this attachment style often struggle with intimacy and may feel uncomfortable with physical touch or emotional closeness. They may have a hard time expressing their emotions or being vulnerable with others, which can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunications in relationships.
Tendency to Withdraw
When things start to feel too close or intense, individuals with an anxious avoidant attachment may withdraw emotionally or physically from their partner. They may feel overwhelmed by their emotions or fear rejection, leading to a pattern of self-sabotage in relationships.
People with fearful avoidant attachment may engage in self-sabotaging behaviors that prevent them from forming deep connections with others. For example, they may be quick to find faults in their partner or may create unnecessary conflicts to avoid getting too close.
Anxious avoidant attachment can also create trust issues in relationships. Individuals with this attachment style may struggle to trust others, leading to feelings of suspicion or jealousy. They may also have a hard time believing that others will be there for them emotionally, leading to a lack of emotional support in their relationships.
Signs of Anxious Avoidant Attachment in Adults
There are several signs that someone may have anxious avoidant attachment, including:
- Fear of intimacy
- Difficulty expressing emotions
- A tendency to withdraw when things get too close
- A lack of deep connections in relationships
- A tendency to self-sabotage relationships when they become too intimate
- Difficulty with trust
How to Tell if You Have an Anxious Avoidant Attachment Style
If you are wondering if you have an anxious avoidant attachment style, there are several signs and behaviors that you can look for. Here are some common indicators:
You have a fear of abandonment: People with an anxious avoidant attachment style may have an intense fear of being abandoned by others. This fear may manifest as anxiety or worry about your partner leaving you or a preoccupation with whether or not your partner truly loves you.
You are uncomfortable with emotional closeness: Individuals with this attachment style may feel uncomfortable with emotional closeness and intimacy. If you have this style, you may have difficulty expressing your emotions or feel you must keep a distance from others to protect yourself from hurt.
You tend to be highly self-sufficient: People with an anxious avoidant attachment may value self-sufficiency and independence. You may have difficulty relying on others for emotional support or prefer to handle things on your own.
You tend to send mixed signals: If you have an anxious avoidant attachment style, you may send mixed signals to your partner. You may crave emotional connection and intimacy but also fear it at the same time. This can lead to a push-pull dynamic in relationships, where you may alternate between seeking out and avoiding closeness.
You self-sabotage your relationships: Individuals with this attachment style may engage in self-sabotaging behaviors in relationships. For example, you may find faults in your partner or pick fights to create distance, even if you genuinely care about them.
You find it difficult to trust others: People with anxious avoidant attachment may struggle to trust others, especially when it comes to emotional intimacy. You may feel like you need to keep your guard up to protect yourself from being hurt, leading to difficulty forming close relationships.
You can also learn more about your attachment style by taking our Attachment Style Quiz.
If you identify with many of these signs, exploring your attachment style further through therapy or self-reflection may be helpful. Understanding your attachment style can help you develop healthier relationships and more secure connections.
Coping with Anxious Avoidant Attachment
If you suspect you have an anxious avoidant attachment style, the first step is to recognize it and acknowledge its impact on your life. From there, you can work on developing coping strategies, such as setting boundaries and learning to communicate your emotions in a healthy way. It may also be helpful to seek professional help, such as counseling or therapy, to address the underlying causes of your attachment style.
Breaking the Cycle of Anxious Avoidant Attachment
Therapy can be an effective way for individuals with an anxious avoidant attachment style to work through their issues and develop more secure attachment patterns. Here are some ways therapy can help:
Identify Attachment Patterns
The first step in building healthier relationships is to identify your attachment style. Once you understand your attachment style, you can work on developing more secure attachment patterns.
In therapy, individuals with anxious avoidant attachment style can work with a therapist to identify and understand their attachment patterns. This can involve exploring past relationships and childhood experiences to gain insight into how attachment styles develop.
Develop Emotional Regulation Skills
People with anxious avoidant attachment style may struggle with emotional regulation, leading to difficulties in relationships. Therapy can help individuals develop skills to manage and regulate their emotions, allowing them to form deeper connections with others.
Challenge Negative Beliefs
People with anxious avoidant attachment style may hold negative beliefs about themselves, others, and relationships. Therapy can help challenge these beliefs and develop more positive and realistic perspectives.
Get Comfortable With Vulnerability
Vulnerability is essential for building deeper connections with others. Practicing vulnerability means being open and honest about your feelings and needs, even if it feels uncomfortable. Start by sharing your emotions with people you trust, and gradually work your way up to being more vulnerable with others.
Therapy can provide a safe space for individuals to practice vulnerability and learn how to communicate their emotions effectively.
Set (and Maintain) Healthy Boundaries
People with anxious avoidant attachment styles may struggle with setting healthy boundaries, leading to feeling overwhelmed and burnt out. Setting boundaries means learning to say no when you need to and communicating your needs.
Learn Healthy Communication Skills
Effective communication is crucial for building healthy relationships. This means learning to listen actively, express your needs clearly, and communicate assertively without being aggressive or passive.
Individuals with an anxious avoidant attachment style may struggle with effective communication in relationships. Therapy can help develop healthy communication skills, such as active listening and assertiveness, to improve relationship dynamics.
Work Through Past Traumas
Past traumas can impact attachment styles and relationships. Therapy can help individuals work through past traumas and develop coping strategies to manage their impact on relationships.
Taking care of yourself is crucial for building healthy relationships. This means prioritizing your physical, emotional, and mental health, setting aside time for relaxation and self-care, and learning to manage stress effectively.
Healing from anxious avoidant attachment is a process that requires both self-reflection and a willingness to change. This may involve examining past relationships, identifying behavior patterns, and learning to be more open and vulnerable with partners. It’s important to recognize that change won’t happen overnight and that it’s a journey that requires patience and self-compassion.