Relationships: The Avoidant Attachment Style

September 23, 2016   •  Posted in: 

An avoidant person, when faced with abandonment in any form, determines never again to be placed in such a position of need. The panic and pain of rejection are protested against by burial of those negative feelings.

Just as those with ambivalent attachment style tend to cling voraciously to others, those with an avoidant attachment style tend to cling voraciously to self.  Because of the emotional, physical, and/or relational unavailability of a parent, the avoidant person has concluded that they must handle life solo.  Here is how an avoidant person answers questions pertaining to love:

  1. Yes, I am worthy of being loved not for who I am but for what I can do.
  2. Yes, I am able to do what I need to do to get the love I need because I give it to myself.
  3. No, other people are not reliable and trustworthy, so I need to rely only on myself.
  4. No, other people are not accessible and willing to respond to me when I need them, so I need to take care of myself.

An avoidant person, when faced with abandonment in any form, determines never again to be placed in such a position of need.  The panic and pain of rejection are protested against by burial of those negative feelings.  The anger produced at the pain and rejection can fuel social isolation, emotional detachment, and perfectionism. 

The avoidant person constructs massive barriers to intimacy as a way to shelter self from additional pain.  The avoidant person learns to deal with relationships as tasks, as check-off-the-box exercises, and avoids deeper emotional context, remaining present in a relationship but distant.

Relying solely on self may appear to be an effective way to get your needs met.  Why rely on others if others only let you down?  This thinking misses the essence of a relationship — the connection between two people.  The reason an avoidant person misses this connection is because the connection was not present in their first and foundational relationship. 

An ambivalent person knows that the parent will be available part of the time at least.  An avoidant person learns that the parent will not be available, period.  In order to provide structure and security in such an environment, the avoidant person learns to rely not on relationships but on self.  Are these people self-reliant?  Yes, to the extreme, and they are also relationship avoidant.

What does a person have to do who has learned totally to rely on self?  What do they do when they mess up?  An avoidant person, with no one else to blame, may resort to narcissism (a falsely elevated sense of self), introversion (unaccountable to others), or perfectionism (rigidly accountable to self). 

The narcissist elevates self at the expense of others, believing self to be superior.  To avoid the anxiety of relying on others to provide love and acceptance, the narcissist may seek out and manipulate others for approval.  While it may appear that these individuals are not avoidant but actually like to be around people, the opposite is true.  The narcissist uses people to build up and fortify self, which is their only relational goal.  The narcissist may be engaging, funny, and charismatic, but the only true relationship the person has is with an inflated sense of self. 

An avoidant person may also become an introvert, one who crawls into a hole of self-sufficiency.  Because the introvert does not trust others, others are not to be avoided.  The introvert shuns relationships with others and instead substitutes things or activities for connection and pleasure.  People, as the avoidant person has learned, are unreliable, so people must be avoided.  Things, on the other hand, can be controlled and manipulated and therefore are more secure. Because the introvert rejects relationships, the introvert is unsure of their own emotions, preferring to suppress them in a bland and apathetic attitude. 

An avoidant person may also be prone to perfectionism, seeking security and order through performance.  If your self-worth becomes tied not to who you are but to what you do, then can you ever really do enough?  If your value in life consists of the content of your performance, then any infraction, any mistake, any miscalculation negatively detracts from that value.  Perfectionism becomes a way to “prove” your value to those who gave you none.

Narcissism is a way for the avoidant person to say, “I don’t need you because I’m better than you.”  Isolationism is a way for the avoidant person to say, “I don’t need you because you don’t mean that much to me.”  Perfectionism is a way for the avoidant person to say, “I don’t need you because I can do it all myself.” 

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Dr. Gregory Jantz

Pioneering Whole Person Care over thirty years ago, Dr. Gregory Jantz is an innovator in the treatment of mental health. He is a best-selling author of over 45 books, and a go-to media authority on behavioral health afflictions, appearing on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN. Dr. Jantz leads a team of world-class, licensed, and...

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