Attachment theory suggests that the way we build relationships with others is influenced by our early experiences with caregivers and other significant relationships in our lives. In adulthood, there are three primary attachment styles: secure, anxious, and avoidant. However, there is a fourth attachment style, known as fearful-avoidant attachment, which is less common and receives less attention in discussions.
What is fearful-avoidant attachment?
Fearful-avoidant attachment is a relationship pattern characterized by high levels of anxiety and avoidance. Individuals with this style desire connection, yet they also fear getting too close to others. This attachment style, also referred to as disorganized attachment, is the least common among the four attachment styles.
The fearful-avoidant attachment style is considered a blend of both anxious and avoidant attachment styles. Individuals with an anxious attachment style constantly seek more intimacy and reassurance in their relationships, often appearing needy. On the other hand, those with an avoidant attachment style tend to distance themselves from others due to their fear of intimacy.
Fearful-avoidant attachment can result in behavior that might be puzzling to both friends and romantic partners. Individuals with this attachment style may initially welcome closeness but later withdraw emotionally or physically when they begin to feel exposed or vulnerable within the relationship.
What causes fearful-avoidant attachment?
Fearful-avoidant attachment often stems from a childhood environment in which at least one parent or caregiver displays alarming behavior. This behavior can vary from overt mistreatment to more subtle indications of anxiety or uncertainty, but the outcome remains the same.
When a child seeks solace from the caregiver, they are met with an inability to provide comfort. Since the caregiver fails to serve as a secure foundation and may even cause distress to the child, the child’s natural inclination is to initially approach for comfort but then retract.
Individuals who carry this fearful-avoidant attachment style into adulthood tend to exhibit the same pattern of approaching and withdrawing in their relationships with friends, partners, spouses, colleagues, and even their own children.
What are the signs of someone with a fearful-avoidant attachment?
Those with fearful-avoidant attachment often struggle with conflicting emotions and behaviors when it comes to closeness and intimacy. Let’s explore some signs that may indicate a person with fearful-avoidant attachment:
Fear of Intimacy or Relationships
Individuals with fearful-avoidant attachment often struggle with a deep-seated fear of intimacy and may avoid getting involved in relationships altogether.
Avoidance of Commitment
People with this attachment style tend to shy away from commitment in relationships. They may resist making long-term plans or avoid fully investing themselves emotionally.
Fearful-avoidant individuals often experience heightened anxiety within relationships. They may worry excessively about rejection, abandonment, or being hurt by their partners.
Those with fearful-avoidant attachment tend to have a negative view of themselves and may feel unworthy or undeserving of healthy and fulfilling relationships.
Difficulty Regulating Emotions
Individuals with this attachment style may find it challenging to regulate their emotions in relationships. They may experience intense emotional ups and downs and struggle to manage their feelings effectively.
Poor Emotional Responsiveness
Fearful-avoidant individuals may react poorly or inappropriately when faced with negative emotions from their partners. They may withdraw, become defensive, or exhibit other unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Negative Perception of Others’ Support
People with fearful-avoidant attachment often perceive support from others in a negative light. They may struggle to accept or trust the care and concern expressed by their partners or friends.
Increased Risk of Relationship Violence
Research suggests that individuals with fearful-avoidant attachment may have a higher likelihood of exhibiting violent behavior in their relationships. This violence can manifest in various forms, including emotional, verbal, or physical maltreatment.
High Number of Sexual Partners
Those with fearful-avoidant attachment may engage in numerous sexual relationships without developing deeper emotional connections. They may seek physical intimacy while avoiding emotional intimacy.
General Relationship Dissatisfaction
Fearful-avoidant individuals often experience a pervasive sense of dissatisfaction in their relationships. They may struggle to find lasting fulfillment and frequently question the quality and longevity of their connections.
How to deal with fearful-avoidant attachment
If you or someone you know has fearful-avoidant attachment, the following tips can help in coping and improving relationships:
Encourage Openness, but Respect Boundaries
Individuals with fearful-avoidant attachment desire intimacy but may feel overwhelmed by it. Encourage them to express their feelings and fears, but avoid pushing them aggressively, as it may lead to emotional withdrawal. Respect their need for space and allow them to open up at their own pace.
People with this attachment style often fear abandonment or rejection. Be supportive and comforting, demonstrating your commitment to the relationship. Showing consistency and reliability can help build their confidence and trust.
Individuals with insecure attachments may struggle with low self-esteem. Take time to recognize your own worth and prioritize relationships that are healthy and mutually beneficial. Establishing boundaries and recognizing when certain relationships are not worth the effort are essential.
Fearful-avoidant individuals tend to have subconscious boundaries that make them feel emotionally safe. Although they might not be aware of these boundaries, expressing them to others can help avoid triggering their fears and anxieties. Communicate what makes you feel fearful or anxious, allowing others to understand and respect your limits.
Understand Your Reactions
Recognize that you and your loved one have different ways of responding to emotional situations. Developing self-awareness can help identify your own tendencies and actively work towards healthier communication. If you tend to shut down, a partner can encourage openness, and if your partner becomes emotionally charged, you can employ techniques to promote calmness.
Seeking professional help, such as therapy, can be beneficial for individuals with fearful-avoidant attachment. Therapy can provide a safe space to explore and address emotional challenges, facilitate uncomfortable conversations, and guide the development of healthier communication patterns.
You may reach out to Mindshift Psychological Services for your therapy and counseling needs. Visit their website to learn more about them, or contact them at (714) 584-9700 to schedule an appointment.