Avoidant Attachment

Attachment behaviours are the response of children to their primary caregiver (often the mother). With the amount of rapid brain growth occurring throughout childhood the brain is literally being wired for relationships.

With the avoidant attachment style, the mother is often emotionally unavailable to the child or unresponsive. The needs of the child are ignored or deemed unimportant. These parents can punish children for crying and being emotional.

In response, these children will avoid their primary caregiver, suppress their desire to seek comfort in the mother figure, even when hurt or ill. These children show no preference between a parent and a stranger. This is often the result of abuse or neglect. The caregiver is a danger to the child, so she avoids them. They are often ‘old before their time’ because they have had to grow up quickly and take care of themselves.

What has actually happened is they have learned to ignore their own needs and feelings because they were punished for having them or ignored. In research these children want to be near the parent and feel as much anxiety as other children, but they will not directly approach the parent.

As adults these people avoid emotions, are disconnected from their bodily needs, they often find partners clingy and have a strong critical inner voice. Remember, at a subconscious level, the avoidant behaviour is essentially a defence mechanism to keep themselves safe. These people may pour all of their energy into a sport or career in order to avoid intimate relationships. They may build up their egoic self as a defence and to cover up any vulnerability.

To remain distant from a partner they will make the other person feel less important than their work or sport, they may be critical and not notice the genuine needs of their partner. They may expect their partner to ‘grow up’ if they express their needs or emotions, thus pushing the other person away. This is their subconscious drive to protect themselves from re-experiencing the pain of the relationship with the mother. The problem is that by doing this they ARE recreating the original pain they experienced with the mother.

If relationships become too intense for these people, they can be easily drawn into affairs, maintaining a few non-intimate relationships can be much more comfortable than one intense relationship for the avoidant type.

Interestingly the avoidant type often attracts the anxious style of attachment, who tends to feel insecure and clingy and give up too much in relationship. For the anxious style, being in relationship with someone who is not totally available feels familiar. They are not validated or cared about in the way they deserve and remain in the relationship despite little input from the avoidant. This style of relationship is toxic.

If you feel this is you, know that with time and focus you CAN change your attachment style. With help and support, you can begin to unravel your history, connect with and identify your emotions and needs and share them with people you trust. Yes, you will have to become more vulnerable, but it will be worth it!

* Attachment theory by John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth & Main & Solomon