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What Is Anxious Avoidant Attachment

Anxious Avoidant Attachment Style – Does It Exist?

The short answer is no; there is no attachment style called anxious-avoidant. There are, however, anxious attachment, avoidant attachment, and fearful attachment. Attachment style names can be confusing. The term anxious-avoidant attachment might be a misnomer for fearful-avoidant attachment, also known as fearful attachment.

Attachment Theory Overview

Attachment theory, a psychological framework first introduced by British psychiatrist John Bowlby in the late 1950s, emphasizes the importance of emotional bonds between individuals, particularly attachment to adults.

Quality of the early bonds and experiences between a child and their primary caregiver plays a critical role in their emotional, social, and cognitive development.

Attachment is the bond developed as a result of the child-caregiver relationship. It affects the behavior used by a child to seek comfort during times of distress. This pattern of behavior, feelings, and thoughts forms the child’s attachment strategy.

Secure attachment experiences foster a sense of trust and stability while having insecure attachment style experiences can lead to emotional, behavioral, and relationship difficulties.

The adult caregiver, usually, but not always, the mother, serves as a secure base from which the child can explore their environment and develop a sense of identity.

As a result of interactions, children develop internal working models or mental representations of themselves, others, and their relationships. These models guide the child’s expectations and behavior in relationships and help shape their self-identity​1​.

anxious avoidant attachment woman leaning on frustrated man

Four Types Of Attachment Styles

There are four types of attachment styles. They are secure, anxious-ambivalent, avoidant, and disorganized attachments​2​.

Secure attachment

Children with a secure attachment style feel safe and confident in their caregivers’ availability and responsiveness. They have a strong sense of security. The secure attachment type seeks comfort and support from their caregivers when needed and displays healthy emotional regulation and independence.

Ambivalent attachment

Children with the ambivalent attachment type, also known as preoccupied attachment, exhibit inconsistent or unpredictable behavior, seeking proximity to their caregiver while appearing resistant or angry. This attachment style can stem from inconsistent caregiver responsiveness.

Avoidant attachment

Children with avoidant attachment tend to minimize their emotions and avoid seeking comfort from their caregivers. This attachment style often arises when caregivers are consistently unresponsive or dismissive of the child’s needs.

Disorganized attachment

Children with disorganized attachment styles display a mix of avoidant and anxious-ambivalent behaviors. They may appear confused or disoriented in their interactions with caregivers. This attachment results from having a caregiver who is both the source of protection and the source of fear. It tends to result from child maltreatment or abuse.

Insecure attachment

Except for the secure style, all attachment types are insecure attachment styles. They are all due to unmet emotional needs in the attachment process, although in different ways by the parents.

The anxious type is caused by inconsistent parents, the avoidant style by dismissive or rejecting parents, and the fearful style by abusive parents.

Attachment Style Summary

Below are the different attachment style names and how they change from childhood to adulthood:

Attachment SecurityIn ChildrenIn Adults
anxious avoidant attachment chart

Adult Attachment In Two-Dimensional Model

Not only do children develop attachment styles, but adults also exhibit distinct attachment patterns that influence their interpersonal relationships.

Adult attachment styles, like those formed during childhood, shape individuals’ understanding, expectations, and behaviors within adult relationships. 

Numerous studies have found attachment in adulthood to be a significant predictor of the quality of romantic relationships.

In his research on patterns of attachment, Bartholomew identified two key dimensions that help categorize different development of adult attachment: anxiety and avoidance. These dimensions correspond to one’s self-image (security dimension) and one’s image of others (avoidance dimension)​3​

Both of these images can be either positive or negative, giving rise to four adult attachment categories:

Secure attachment

Characterized by a positive self-image and a positive image of others, secure adults are comfortable with emotional intimacy and trust in relationships. They can establish and maintain healthy, supportive connections, displaying a balance between independence and interdependence.

Avoidant attachment

This attachment style is marked by a positive self-image and a negative image of others. Avoidant adults often exhibit a strong sense of self-reliance and avoidant behavior in relationships. They can struggle with trust and may hesitate to rely on others for support or connection. This is also called dismissive-avoidant attachment.

Anxious attachment

Adults with an anxious attachment style have a negative self-image and a positive image of others. They may feel unworthy of love and a lack of attachment security. Anxious people seek validation and constant reassurance from their romantic partners, sometimes in a clingy or needy manner. This attachment style can lead to anxious behaviors and unstable relationships.

Fearful attachment

Individuals with a fearful attachment style have both a negative self-image and a negative image of others. They may feel unworthy of love and fear rejection or abandonment, but they also struggle to trust others. This combination leaves those with this attachment style vulnerable to avoidance of emotional intimacy even though they also desire intimate relationships at the same time​4​.

What Is Anxious-Avoidant Attachment

The term anxious-avoidant style is most likely used to describe individuals with a negative image of themselves and others. That attachment style is called the fearful attachment style, sometimes called the fearful-avoidant attachment style in the four-category model.

Fearful attachment is characterized by conflicting desires for closeness and emotional intimacy while fearing rejection, abandonment, and a lack of trust in others.

Individuals with a fearful attachment style may experience difficulty forming healthy relationships, as their internal struggle often leads to inconsistent or contradictory behaviors. 

They might crave connection and emotional support from their partners, simultaneously pushing them away or avoiding vulnerability due to their underlying fears and insecurities.

Also See: Attachment Theory

attachment styles table


  1. 1.
    Ein-Dor T, Hirschberger G. Rethinking Attachment Theory. Curr Dir Psychol Sci. Published online August 2016:223-227. doi:10.1177/0963721416650684
  2. 2.
    Brumariu LE, Kerns KA. Mother–Child Attachment Patterns and Different Types of Anxiety Symptoms: Is There Specificity of Relations? Child Psychiatry Hum Dev. Published online July 20, 2010:663-674. doi:10.1007/s10578-010-0195-0
  3. 3.
    Levy KN, Ellison WD, Scott LN, Bernecker SL. Attachment style. J Clin Psychol. Published online November 24, 2010:193-203. doi:10.1002/jclp.20756
  4. 4.
    Li T, Chan DKS. How anxious and avoidant attachment affect romantic relationship quality differently: A meta-analytic review. Eur J Soc Psychol. Published online January 20, 2012:406-419. doi:10.1002/ejsp.1842

Updated on May 19th, 2023 by Pamela Li

Pamela Li is an author, Founder, and Editor-in-Chief of Parenting For Brain. Her educational background is in Electrical Engineering (MS, Stanford University) and Business Management (MBA, Harvard University). Learn more


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