Avoiding Intimacy? Avoidant Attachment
Updated: Jul 11, 2022
They’re upset again.
The neediness is overwhelming.
My mind is frozen, not knowing what to say, how to react.
I need space.
It’s too much.
I feel that I’m always giving.
I feel trapped.
That my life isn’t my own.
That my time belongs to everyone but me.
I just need to be left in peace.
I don’t want to talk.
I change the subject and the anger I receive is worse so I leave the room.
The claustrophobia was suffocating me, enveloping me.
I felt put on the spot.
Not ready for that outburst.
I need time to think and to process.
If you’re reading this process then first of all, well done!
As it’s possible that you may identify as an ‘avoidant attached’ person, you likely didn’t think that you needed help of any sort, so the fact that you’re aware of needing to heal, to become your more empowered self, is already a great achievement. So here’s to you!
This experience isn’t my own as I am the antidote to avoidant attached, I’m healing from anxiously attached. So this piece of writing has been supported and guided by two gentlemen who work in this field, Kel Good (www.romanticfriendships.com) and Philippe Lewis (www.exquisitedark.love). So before we get started, a big thank you to them for their support.
Last week, we took a look at anxious attachment. This week we’re looking at avoidant attachment. It’s very common that people from ‘opposing’ attachments tend to get drawn to each other.
If you’re anxious attached, it’s a good opportunity to understand a little bit better those friends and partners who tend to ‘ghost’ you, who change subject leaving you wondering if you’ve said something wrong, who can appear a bit ‘aloof’, like ‘they know it all’. These avoidant attached people aren’t wanting to avoid you or disconnect. They just don’t know how to connect.
Let’s get started, if you’re avoidant attached you possibly struggle with intimacy and opening up and expressing your emotions and private thoughts. You likely feel that you are pretty independent and don’t need support or help from anyone as you prefer to do it yourself and also you don’t fully trust and rely on others.
Situations of stress and tension can leave you feeling unsafe and you can come across as disinterested. Which, if you are in a relationship with an anxious attached person, will be a huge trigger as they question even more your behaviour and then they need to seek further reassurance, which you struggle to communicate to them.
Time is really important to you and it is a real battle to carve that out for yourself and you can repeatedly feel that this isn’t being respected.
As with any step to changing a behaviour pattern, small steps are key.
Simple things like writing down in a journal your thoughts and feelings from the day. Writing down thoughts and trying to put feelings to them will enhance your emotional connection to what goes through your mind. Learning to connect to your emotions via thoughts will put you in a better situation to then understand the emotions of those around you which can feel a bit ‘foreign’ and erratic, a bit like a rollercoaster - really difficult to understand and connect to. Know that this is really commonplace amongst avoidant attached people and understanding that you can’t identify with friends or partners will bring feelings of shame. This is normal! As with any emotion that may come up, accepting it and sitting through it rather than trying to hide from it or connect ‘stories’ to it. Observe, be aware of those thoughts, you may know what feelings you ‘should’ experience in the situation, even though you might not fully feel them, so connecting the thoughts and feelings and being more aware of them is important to aid in creating that neural connection.
Once you start to get reasonably comfortable in writing in your journal, the next step could be reading them out to a loved one or a partner, getting used to making yourself vulnerable. Which you will likely find really difficult as your concern of trusting others will be greatly exposed. Know that this is completely understandable. A gradual process will help to retrain your brain to get used to a new way of behaviour so that you don’t go to your default mode of shutting down.
As an avoidant attached you have a conscious fear of intimacy, so you are very much aware of how difficult it is to be open to another person. What you might not be aware of is that you have an unconscious fear of abandonment, which is why you’ll seek out and stay in relationships or start them as deep down you want love and connection, even though you may not behave like you do. This is why you seek out relationships but then struggle to be in them.
If you are currently single, then no matter what your attachment type, healing as much towards a secure attachment will mean you choose a partner who is more conscious and supportive. It means you’re less likely to get into that tumultuous relationship with an anxious attached person who then pushes all your buttons. Be comfortable being with yourself first. Once you know you can be comfortable alone whether avoidant or anxious attached, you are stepping into a relationship from a place of authentic self and self-empowerment rather than ‘need’ or ‘lack’.
What I have seen, and others I have spoken to have also noticed, is a general tendency (but not absolute) for men to be avoidants and women to be anxious. There are some who link testosterone to avoidant attached people and oestrogen to anxiously attached people And others who believe it’s more related to their childhood.
Anxious attached people tended to have caregivers who were hot and cold. Sometimes showing lots of love and affection then at other times, not having their emotional needs met. This see sawing and inconsistency can leave the child disorientated and the child doesn’t know if and when their needs will be met. Therefore they’re always looking for ways to understand how to get the caregiver’s attention. Because for them, ‘love’ is chasing, if they do actually get the love they’ve been chasing, it doesn’t feel real to them and they lose interest.
Avoidant attached struggle the most with lack of emotion because when growing up the emotion part of the brain (limbic) was starved neurologically. It’s believed that the brain isn’t able to build social responses because it doesn’t receive the necessary signals. The frontal brain, which develops bonding, is also not stimulated. This can leave the individual very much isolated as they struggle to connect with those around them.
For Avoidant attached children their caregivers were likely antagonistic, possibly emotionally unavailable and often hostile and insensitive to the child’s need to connect.
So of course it makes sense due to the inability of avoidant attached people to be able to socially connect that they will struggle in social situations which is why they can appear, as we said earlier, ‘aloof’. They just don’t feel comfortable in social situations.
Communicating needs and expressing them is extremely difficult and there is a lot of shame attached to that. They are in a fog and need guidance, while at the same time not wanting to feel ashamed.They want to trust the person they ask for help will not blow up in their face. This is a learnt behaviour because it’s likely their caregivers did blow up and partners in their subsequent relationships. Therefore finding the right person to trust is hard.
I understand that avoidant attached people feel they don’t need help. Why ask someone else when they can do it themselves? However, what can happen in a relationship with an avoidant attached person is that they may complain about the workload or another person’s behaviour and not do anything about it as they seem to expect the other person to ‘just know’ that they shouldn’t be behaving in a certain way or understand that they need time to finish the project so should just be left alone. What can happen is those around them, especially those who are anxiously attached and needing to ‘save and rescue’ others in the name of being loved, they will run around trying to make the avoidant attached happy. Losing all sense of boundaries in their quest to fulfil the needs of the other person, so they can feel love.
So if you struggle to ask for help, start with small things. Things that you don’t need help with, and create that need. Put it out there to a friend or partner, and see how they can find a way to help you. An example could be painting the house or making a meal. Observe how other people ask for help and copy. Find a problem that you might have and ask a supportive friend or partner for help with it.
We have looked at boundaries in previous posts and sometimes they can actually be too rigid. We over-protect ourselves to a point of self-destruction and isolation, making the journey even more painful as the lack of safety and love which is craved isn’t received. It can feel completely unnatural and almost dangerous when having our boundaries more pliable, but recognising that this is what’s happening and being aware and observing it is important.
As with many of my posts, being aware of the ego is important. Listening to the stories going around in your head. As you could see in the thought process above, when it happens, recognise it. Observe it, but don’t become it. Your thoughts are not you. Take a moment to breathe and choose to respond differently. If you don’t feel regulated in that moment calmly say ‘I want to talk about this. I need 5 minutes to gather my thoughts and then let’s discuss it.’ In that way you are giving yourself the space you need but also meeting the request of the other person too.
What about you? Which of the attachment posts resonated for you the most? This one or last week's anxious attachment?
Carla Crivaro is a trauma-informed and certified Sex, Love & Relationship Coach, she works with men and women internationally to reach their goals in delicious sex, profound love and authentic relationships. Carla helps men and women understand themselves and each other, sexually and relationally, in and out of the bedroom. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.