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Anxious Avoidant Attachment Style: Understanding and Overcoming It

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. 

Researchers suggest that people who are high in anxious avoidant attachment experience a great deal of anxiety in relationships and tend to have negative views of their romantic partners. They need to maintain autonomy and control, which is why they use distancing to cope with the stress that relationships cause.

In this article, we will explore what anxious avoidant attachment is, what causes it, and how to cope with and overcome it.

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.

Signs of anxious avoidant attachment

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.

Research has found that attachment anxiety and avoidance have a severely detrimental impact on well-being. Having an anxious avoidant attachment style is associated with increased psychological rigidity, decreased resilience, and reduced expressions of awareness.

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.

Self-Sabotage

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.

Trust Issues

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 Fear 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’re 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’re Very 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 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 Don’t Trust Others Easily

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.

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How do you feel if my romantic partner isn't around when you need them?

Do you feel like you always need to be in a relationship?

How comfortable are you with relying on your partner?

How often should someone tell you that they love you?

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How do you think your partner feels about you?

Do you feel like your partner understands you?

How do you feel about being affectionate with your partner?

What's your greatest fear about your relationship?

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How do you feel about emotional intimacy?

Do you tell your partner what you really think and feel?

How would you describe your relationships?

How do you feel when your partner shows their emotions?

What Is My Attachment Style? Take the Quiz
Your Attachment Style: Secure
Based on your quiz answers, you have a predominantly secure attachment style. People with secure attachments tend to feel comfortable with themselves and their relationships. Securely attached individuals tend to have happier, long-lasting relationships. You feel comfortable sharing your feelings with your partner and are able to turn to your partner for support. While this quiz cannot fully describe every aspect of your attachment style, it can provide a basis for understanding more about your romantic attachment style.
Your Attachment Style: Avoidant
Based on your quiz answers, you have a predominantly avoidant attachment style. People with avoidant attachments tend to have difficulty with close, intimate relationships. You may feel uncomfortable sharing your thoughts, feelings, and ideas with your romantic partner. In some cases, you might even come up with excuses to avoid intimacy. While this quiz cannot fully describe every aspect of your attachment style, it can provide a basis for understanding more about your romantic attachment style.
Your Attachment Style: Anxious
Based on your quiz answers, you have a predominantly anxious attachment style. People with anxious attachments tend to worry more about romantic relationships. You may worry that your partner does not feel the same way about you as you do about them. You may also be concerned that your partner will leave you. In some cases, those with an anxious attachment style want to become very close to their partners but worry that this will scare the other person off. While this quiz cannot fully describe every aspect of your attachment style, it can provide a basis for understanding more about your romantic attachment style.

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.

Practice Self-Care

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.

Key Points to Remember

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.

Sources:

Sagone, E., Commodari, E., Indiana, M. L., & La Rosa, V. L. (2023). Exploring the association between attachment style, psychological well-being, and relationship status in young adults and adults-A cross-sectional studyEuropean Journal of Investigation in Health, Psychology and Education13(3), 525–539. https://doi.org/10.3390/ejihpe13030040

Simpson, J. A., & Steven Rholes, W. (2017). Adult attachment, stress, and romantic relationshipsCurrent opinion in psychology13, 19–24. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2016.04.006