5 Signs Someone Has An Avoidant Attachment Style

I may not have an avoidant attachment style but I have definitely dated my fair share of avoidant partners. If you have an anxious attachment style, there is a natural and strong attraction to those with an avoidant one, and a good chance you, too, have fallen for someone with this attachment style.

For many years I thought that those that I was attracted to were simply not “emotionally available,” and I held a lot of resentment towards them and their inability or unwillingness to connect. I can now look back and understand that these folks probably grew up in environments where relationships weren’t secure or nourishing, and are now protecting themselves in the only way they know how.

As Diane Poole Heller says in her book The Power of Attachment:

“No matter what happens to us as children, we adapt to our caregivers. Through interacting with them and their nervous system, we internalize how we view relationships and form strategies for meeting our emotional and social needs.”

Early experiences with caregivers may have left those with an avoidant attachment style feeling neglected or rejected, and it often did not feel safe or comfortable for them to be vulnerable. To protect themselves, they disconnect from the very human need to connect.

Here are a few signs that you or someone you are in a relationship with may have an avoidant attachment style (summarized from The Power of Attachment):

Isolation is easier than connection

The reason those with an avoidant attachment style tend to prefer one-night stands or casual relationships is because their bodies and unconscious minds remember that being in a relationship is not safe. Even if they do want to commit to you, they may have a difficult time letting you know. From experience, I can attest that these patterns can be painfully confusing and infuriating to be on the receiving end of. Whereas those with an anxious attachment system experience goodbyes as riddled with fear and anxiety, for those with an avoidant attachment system goodbyes may come with a welcome sense of relief.

Until we moved in together, my partner would occasionally bail on our scheduled hangouts after a long day of work. As a Social Worker, his days very rarely allow for isolation and since being alone is calming for his nervous system, it was often what he needed. If I received him not wanting to see me as rejecting, it would inevitably lead to a fight. Once I began to see that it had nothing to do with me and that he’d been soothing himself in isolation for his entire life, it allowed me to soften and accept his need for space.

They dissociate and dislike being interrupted

I remember reading that meditation and mindfulness practices that call us to “detach” are often very appealing for this particular attachment style. That is because dissociating — disconnecting from one’s thoughts, feelings, and sense of self — is a common way for those with an avoidant attachment style to feel calm.

You might notice that your partner has habits that create space between you. Maybe it is playing video games, checking their phone, or overworking in the evenings. Transitioning from isolation to connection can be difficult for them as well, so you may find a request for connection while they are engaged in their inner world to be met in a cold response.

I’ve learned that if I interrupt my partner while he is absorbed in his inner world, it can feel to him like I am being intrusive and actually be quite triggering. It is not that he doesn’t want to connect, he just needs more time to transition from isolation to connection because it is a lot of work for him to do so. Giving these individuals a heads up that you’d like to connect or asking them to come to you when they are ready, can be a strategy that allows them the space and time they need.

Do they make eye contact with you?

Growing up, eye contact with caregivers may not have been a pleasant experience for someone with an avoidant attachment style. Meeting their gaze could mean being met with hostility, anger, rejection, or critique and in order to protect themselves, they learned early to avoid eye contact. They may also have learned strategies that make it appear they are making eye contact, such as gazing at your chin or nose, which can be more difficult to notice.

This one may be less obvious unless you are someone who needs and enjoys eye contact while communicating. If you are someone who wants more eye contact, remember that demanding eye contact can be distressing for someone with an avoidant attachment style in a way that the rest of us may not understand.

Left-brain orientation

Whereas those with an anxious attachment style have an abundance of right-brain activity, those with an avoidant attachment style have an overactivity in their left brain. To make things simple — the left brain is the “thinky,” analytical, or methodical, side of our brain, and the right brain is “feely,” intuitive, and responsible for helping us connect with others.

These folks tend to be logical and factual and this can become glaringly clear if you ever get into a conflict with someone with this attachment style. I often tell my partner that getting into an argument with him feels a lot like an interaction that may take place in the courtroom between me and an effective lawyer. You may feel like, especially during conflict, your feelings don’t matter and instead, your words are being picked apart. In the same breath, you may notice they are gifted when it comes to problem-solving and thinking objectively which can come in handy for navigating many of life’s challenges.

They avoid the past and their need for connection

If your partner has an avoidant attachment style, you may find that they either avoid talking about their childhood or are vague and dismissive when these types of conversations arise. You may also notice that they may feel more comfortable talking about the future. It can be difficult for them to acknowledge that their early needs were not met and this can lead to them having a hard time expressing their needs in the present.

When they do talk about their childhood, the left brain orientation may mean they have an easier time recalling facts than they do their emotional experiences. They may even let you know that they had a “really nice childhood,” especially if they have not started the process of healing their attachment wound.

Their early experiences can lead to them viewing others as overly dependent. If they have managed to become self-sufficient, why aren’t we? When avoiding their childhood pain allows them to identify with values of independence and autonomy, why change? This way of being may make it difficult for someone with an avoidant attachment style to express empathy or understand that other peoples’ needs are not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of being human.

Being in a relationship with someone who has an avoidant attachment style can be triggering for many of us, particularly those of us with an anxious attachment style. It can leave us questioning whether or not this person loves and cares about us. The most heartbreaking thing is that even though they are experts at keeping people out, the desire for love and connection is still there.If this person is committed to healing, though, they can also be our greatest teacher. If they are committed to healing and desire a secure relationship, the path to love can be challenging and difficult for them, and they will require a great deal of love and patience. For more information, I highly recommend checking out The Power of Attachment: How to Create Deep and Lasting Intimate Relationships by Diane Poole Heller, Ph.D. Her book dives deeper into all of the attachment styles and provides exercises to help all of us move to a more secure style of attachment.

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