The anxious-avoidant in childhood and dismissive in adult attachment style is one of the three insecure attachment styles in psychological literature.
Parents who are strict and emotionally distant, do not tolerate the expression of feelings, and expect their child to be independent and tough might raise children with an avoidant attachment style.
As adults, these children appear confident and self-sufficient. They do not tolerate emotional or physical closeness and intimacy, and might not be able to build healthy relationships. At work, they are seen as independent and self-motivated. While there is work to be done, the dismissing individual has the capacity to achieve “earned secure” attachment.
We will cover the most common questions around avoidant attachment:
- How does attachment form in early childhood?
- How do children develop insecure attachment styles?
- What specifically causes avoidant attachment in children?
- What are symptoms of avoidant attachment in adults?
- What are relationships with avoidant adults like?
- Can you change an avoidant attachment style?
- How to heal from avoidant attachment?
How you form relationships as an adult depends on your childhood
Have you ever wondered why some people do not want to depend on or truly connect with anyone, even when in a relationship? Most of us aim to build strong relationships throughout our lives.
We are ‘hungry’ for love and affection. Why? Because emotional intimacy has many advantages. Namely, we are able to share our thoughts and feelings openly, we receive support and reassurance, we feel heard, appreciated, valued, and consequently, we feel calm and safe.
Emotional closeness can provide us with a feeling of stability – we are not going through life alone; we have someone to rely on. If we feel safe and valued by others, we are also able to maintain a higher self-esteem and a positive outlook on life.
If you are someone that needs to have close relationships and wants to rely on others (and have others rely on you), you have probably wondered why some people lack these basic human desires. How do they even make it work?
The truth is, this is most often not a conscious choice. The way we form relationships as adults has a lot to do with the way we formed our first social bonds as children with our caregivers.
How do children develop an anxious-avoidant attachment style?
The development of the anxious/avoidant attachment style has much to do with the emotional availability of their caregivers. The caregivers do not necessarily neglect the child in general; they are present.
Nevertheless, they tend to avoid the display of emotion and intimacy and are often misattuned to the child’s emotional needs. Such caregivers are reserved and seem to back off when the child reaches out for support, reassurance and affection.
The caregivers are likely to become more distant as the situation gets more emotionally dense. They might become overwhelmed and want to get out. This is when their unavailability would be most evident.
The child expresses a need for closeness, but instead of receiving it, they perceive that the door is shut in their face. Parents whose children become avoidant might not only avoid expressing their own feelings.
They might also disapprove of and not tolerate any notable display of emotions from their children, regardless of whether it is negative (sadness / fear) or positive (excitement / joy).
When such display of emotions occurs, caregivers can become angry and try to disrupt the child’s behavior by telling the child to toughen up. The parent expects the young child to behave independent, serious, and reserved.
Being raised in such an environment is likely to cause an avoidant attachment style. Most often, the caregivers have this attachment style themselves. Since the parent was raised that way, they pass it on, unintentionally, to the next generation.
Symptoms of avoidant attachment style in adults
Adults with the dismissive / avoidant attachment style seem to be pretty happy about who they are and where they are.
They might be very social, easy-going, and fun to be around. In addition, these individuals might have a lot of friends and or sexual partners. Literally speaking, they are not alone or lonely.
Avoidant adults tend to be independent. Their self-esteem is high and they do not rely on others for reassurance or emotional support.
Such individuals might invest in their professional development and are likely to build up their confidence on each personal success. They seem to be in control.
How does an avoidant adult behave in relationships?
For avoidant adults, social interactions and bonds remain on the surface. In order for a relationship to be meaningful and fulfilling, it has to become deep. That’s when you would ‘hit a wall’ when dealing with an avoidant person.
These individuals will let you be around them, but will not let you in. They tend to avoid strong displays of closeness and intimacy. As soon as things get serious, dismissive/avoidant individuals are likely to close themselves off.
At this point, such people might try to find a reason to end a relationship. They might be highly annoyed by their partner’s behavior, habit, or even physical appearance. Consequently, they start drifting off and distancing themselves from the partner. Adults with this attachment style believe that they do not need emotional intimacy in their lives.
This is a direct result of their upbringing. Their caregivers showed them that people cannot be relied on. Whenever they sought emotional support in the past, it was not provided. They simply stop seeking or expecting it from others. It’s as if they have ‘turned off the switch’.
To the avoidant adult, emotional closeness and intimacy are often off the table
From the outside, an adult with an avoidant attachment style might look confident, strong, and together. This does not mean, however, that this person is not suffering or making those around him/her suffer.
To the avoidant adult, emotional closeness and intimacy are often off the table. Not because they will not reap benefits, but because they do not know how.
Either way, not being able to build a deep, meaningful, and long-lasting relationship can be painful for people with this attachment style. It can also be heart-breaking for the ones who love them.
The Attachment Project: http://www.attachmentproject.com
Ainsworth, MD, Bell, SM.(1970). Attachment, exploration, and separation: Illustrated by the behavior of one-year-olds in a strange situation. Child Development, 41(1), 49-67.
Bowlby J. (1958). The nature of the child’s tie to his mother. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 39, 350-371.
Bowlby J.(1982). Attachment and Loss: Volume 1 Attachment. 2nd ed. New York: Basic Books. 23 Jul 2021