| Attachment Theory | Attachment styles | The two-dimensional model | What is avoidant attachment style | Causes | Signs | How to heal avoidant attachment in yourself | How to cope with an avoidantly attached spouse |
Often, people who have spouses with avoidant attachment styles feel as though they are the only ones invested in the relationship. While they love their partners, they can’t help but feel that their relationship is one-sided. They are the only ones putting in any effort.
In order to better understand avoidant attachment style, let’s take a closer look at the attachment theory.
The attachment theory explains how emotional attachment between infants and their primary caregivers affects the child’s development, behavior, and relationships. This theory was originally proposed by psychoanalyst John Bowlby and has been expanded upon by other theorists since then.
According to Bowlby, infants have an inborn need to be with their caregivers to survive.
The type of attachment behavior exhibited by babies during distress depends on the quality of their care, and this pattern of behavior is referred to as attachment style.
When a child receives consistent warm and responsive care, they are more likely to develop a secure attachment. The child feels safe and secure and can rely on their caregiver for support.
A child’s internal working model, which represents the self and others, is formed from this relationship. It influences how they view themselves and others, affects their behavior, and shapes their development.
Early emotional experiences shape children’s beliefs about trustworthiness and responsiveness. If they are treated consistently and responsively, they develop the expectation of being supported and available when they need it1.
If, however, the caregivers do not respond consistently to the children’s needs, they will not expect support when needed and develop insecure attachment styles.
There are four types of attachment styles in children. Only one of them is a secure attachment type, while the rest are insecure.
- Secure attachment style
- Avoidant attachment style
- Ambivalent attachment style
- Disorganized attachment style (Disoriented attachment style)
Scientists have found that attachment theory can also be applied to adults.
As with child attachment, adult attachment styles play a significant role in interpersonal functioning, emotion regulation, and well-being. Adult attachment styles affect how people feel, think, and behave in intimate relationships.
The four adult attachment styles are:
The two-dimensional model
A two-dimensional model is used in conceptualizing adult attachment.
One dimension of this model is attachment-related avoidance. It indicates the extent to which people organize their attachment-related thoughts, feelings, and behaviors around defensive goals.
People who are high on avoidance are uncomfortable relying on others or allowing others to rely on them. People who are low on this dimension are comfortable using others as a safe haven and a secure base.
The other dimension, attachment-related anxiety, represents the extent to which individuals are concerned about rejection and abandonment.
There are two distinct types of avoidant attachment – dismissive avoidant, who are low in anxiety, and fearful avoidant, who are high in anxiety.
Dismissive avoidants disregard the importance of relationships, whereas fearful avoidants avoid closeness out of fear of rejection.
When it comes to relating to others, people with avoidant dismissive attachment styles are often angry and dismissive, while fearful-avoidants are withdrawn2.
In general, avoidant attachment refers to the dismissive avoidant attachment style.
What is avoidant attachment style
Avoidant attachment style is an insecure attachment style. Avoidantly attached people generally have a dismissive attitude towards close relationships. They are often uncomfortable with intimacy and may seem emotionally distant. They may also have difficulty trusting others and may be hesitant to get too close. People with this attachment style tend to be independent and self-sufficient. They are often uncomfortable with depending on others and may have difficulty showing vulnerability.
What causes avoidant attachment
When a person’s needs are consistently unmet, mistrust develops, and they learn to avoid relying on others. Avoidant individuals often had relationships with attachment figures who were not responsive to their needs3.
In childhood, a child develops distrust in others’ intentions and compulsive self-reliance when their attachment figure is consistently unavailable. A mother’s depression or a father’s absence might contribute to this. Avoidant attachment in children is an adaptive response to the lack of care.
In adulthood, a person may perceive that the social world around them is threatening or unhelpful. Therefore, they do not rely on support from others to cope with life’s challenges. Their avoidant behavior is a defense mechanism.
Attachment in adulthood is primarily influenced by the following four categories.
– Childhood attachment experiences with parental care, sensitivity, and other factors that may affect the quality of the environment (e.g., maternal depression, father absence).
– The development of an individual’s social competence.
– An individual’s peer relationships4.
– An association with certain genetic polymorphisms5
Adult attachment is strongly influenced by one’s interpersonal experiences.
Childhood experiences with primary caretakers can directly affect one’s attachment, but it can also indirectly influence it through the development of worse social competence and lower quality friendships.
As important as early caregiving experiences are, other relationships throughout life are also important6.
Throughout life, adult relationship experiences with parents, close friends, and romantic partners can strongly influence adult attachment7.
Some studies have found a connection between childhood difficult temperament and adult avoidant attachment8.
Parental hostility, criticism, avoidance, coercive discipline, and a lack of playfulness may result from the child’s fussiness, irritability, and distress proneness9 although the results are not conclusive due to the small sample sizes.
Signs of avoidant attachment style in adults
Avoidant adults may demonstrate the following characteristics10–12:
- keeping distance from others
- push others away when they get close or show a desire for closeness
- lack of emotional closeness in relationships
- fears of intimacy
- difficulty trusting others and opening up
- unlikely to seek help in stressful situations
- trouble expressing their emotions
- seem distant or unloving
- self-reliance bordering on isolation
- confident in their ability to deal with problems themselves
- dismiss threatening events or needs for emotional support
- minimize the impact of positive emotions in social interactions
- suppress outward displays of emotions
How to heal avoidant attachment in yourself
Healing begins with admitting and accepting your avoidant attachment style.
While this may sound obvious, it’s actually very difficult for an avoidant person to admit to their own vulnerabilities because they have been denying the effects of their own past all these years.
Therefore, it is imperative to acknowledge the influence your attachment style has on your relationship if you want to improve it.
In order to change it, you must be committed to doing so. No one can change you. Only you can.
Even when things get tough, stick to your commitment and don’t give up.
Avoidant attachment affects one’s ability to form close and healthy relationships.
It takes relationships to heal relationships, which is why therapy can be helpful. Psychotherapy provides the space and opportunity to form safe relationships with someone trustworthy.
Even if you wish to work on your own, getting professional help is still the best way to address attachment issues.
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a highly documented method of repairing romantic relationships. EFT is based on an attachment perspective of adult intimacy. It has been found to be effective when used in couple therapy13.
How to cope with an avoidantly attached spouse
It can be frustrating if your partner has an avoidant attachment style. They may deny having a problem or refuse to seek treatment.
Encourage them to seek therapy and to commit to it. It is impossible for a person to change unless they are willing to do so.
Counseling can help them explore ways to create a closer relationship and rebuild a secure attachment bond with others.
Also See: Fearful Avoidant Attachment
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- 2.Bifulco A, Moran PM, Ball C, Bernazzani O. Adult attachment style. I: Its relationship to clinical depression. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. Published online February 1, 2002:50-59. doi:10.1007/s127-002-8215-0
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- 5.Chen FS, Johnson SC. An Oxytocin Receptor Gene Variant Predicts Attachment Anxiety in Females and Autism-Spectrum Traits in Males. Social Psychological and Personality Science. Published online May 26, 2011:93-99. doi:10.1177/1948550611410325
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- 9.Grossmann K, Grossmann KE, Spangler G, Suess G, Unzner L. Maternal Sensitivity and Newborns’ Orientation Responses as Related to Quality of Attachment in Northern Germany. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development. Published online 1985:233. doi:10.2307/3333836
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- 11.Florian V, Mikulincer M, Bucholtz I. Effects of Adult Attachment Style on the Perception and Search for Social Support. The Journal of Psychology. Published online November 1995:665-676. doi:10.1080/00223980.1995.9914937
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