Table of Contents
- What Is Fearful Avoidant Attachment
- Attachment Styles & Attachment Theory
- Causes of Fearful Avoidant Attachment
What Is Fearful Avoidant Attachment
Fearful avoidant attachment style in adulthood is an insecure attachment style caused by disorganized attachment in childhood. This attachment style is characterized by one’s negative view of themselves and their inability to get close to others. It tends to have worse outcomes than the other three attachment styles and is usually the result of childhood trauma.
Fearful adults have negative views of themselves and others. They are highly dependent on others’ approval and affirmation. They are highly anxious and desire closeness, but they avoid intimacy due to their negative expectations to prevent the pain of rejection or loss1.
Attachment is an infant’s deep rooted motivation to stay close to caregivers for survival. Attachment styles are behavioral patterns formed through interactions with attachment figures. These patterns affect the way a child interacts and develops relationships with others2.
Bowlby & Ainsworth attachment theory states that children with different attachments develop different internal working models which represent how they view themselves, others and the relationships with them. The four resulting attachment styles are:
- Secure attachment
- Ambivalent attachment
- Avoidant attachment
- Disorganized attachment
Later, researchers proposed adult attachment styles which are the grownup versions of infant styles. An adult’s attachment influences how they view the world and interact with their relationship partners.
Adult attachment can be categorized by two dimensions – avoidance and anxiety. The anxiety dimension refers to the degree that one’s view of themselves is positive or negative. The avoidance dimension represent the extent to which a view of others is positive or negative.
Secure attachment style
Securely attached adults tend to have low anxiety and avoidance. They have a positive view of themselves and others.
This is the only secure attachment Among the four attachments. All of the remaining styles below are insecure attachment.
Anxious-Preoccupied attachment style
Anxious-preoccupied attachment, also known as anxious attachment, results from ambivalent attachment in childhood. Anxiously attached individuals have high anxiety but low avoidance. They view themselves negatively but others positively.
Dismissive avoidant attachment style
This avoidant style usually results from avoidant attachment in childhood. People with dismissive avoidance attachment style have low anxiety but high avoidance. They view themselves positive but others negatively.
Fearful avoidant attachment style
This is another avoidant style usually caused by disorganized attachment in childhood. Fearful adults have high anxiety and high avoidance. They view themselves and others negatively.
How Does Fearful Avoidant Attachment Develop
Many fearful avoidant adults are grown-up versions of children with disorganized attachment.
Disorganized attachment is an insecure attachment style. It develops if an infant is continuously rejected or punished by their attachment figure when they try to seek comfort during times of distress. Because of the caretaker’s frightening behaviors in daily interactions, the infant develops a fear of their caretaker and tries to avoid them instead of viewing them as a secure base.
Disorganized infants make up approximately 19% of those seen in the Strange Situation. During the Strange Situation, disorganized infants act fearfully, conflicted, disorganized, apprehensively, disoriented, and in other ways oddly with their attachment figures when they reunite4.
The parents of disorganized children generally have unresolved emotional scars from their own childhoods. They are likely depressed, disturbed, neglectful, abusive or alcoholic in some way. A child who grows up with an alcoholic parent is four times as likely to develop fearful avoidant attachment3 when they grow up.
Fearful Avoidant Attachment in Adolescents
In childhood and adolescence, avoidant individuals often experience less sensitive and more rejecting care. The caregivers are particularly unresponsive or punitive when the child is distressed and needs comfort5. These caregivers tend to be punitive and malevolent. A highly avoidant teen often “deactivate” their attachment system as a result of repeated rejections6.
Signs of Fearful Avoidant Attachment Style in Adults
Fearful avoidant individuals are anxious and avoidant. They are disproportionately women5. And they have the following characteristics:
High avoidance – Fearful adults are high in avoidance. They fear closeness to their partners and avoid them because of the possibility of rejection. They don’t feel comfortable getting close to others. They worry about being hurt if they allow themselves to become too close to others. They find it difficult to trust or depend on others completely.
High anxiety – Yet they desire to have close relationships. These people are high in anxiety and view themselves as undeserving the love and support of others. The mixed strategy makes fearful-avoidant people confused and disoriented, and they display uncertain behavior with romantic partners as a result. They are usually less trusting and more troubled because they have relatively negative models of self and others.
Most distressed and least healthy – Those who are fearful-avoidantly attached tend to have low self-esteem (lowest of all the attachment styles). They are the least trusting and the least assertive.
Less supportive – People with fearful avoidant attachment are less likely to support their loved ones. In the rare case that they do extend support to meet social obligations or receive favors and benefits, the help they give is often provided from a distance7.
Deactivating attachment strategies – Studies have found that the more upset their romantic partner is, the less likely a fearful-avoidant adult is to offer comfort and support8. They are uncomfortable with the distress of others and may fail to recognize distress or empathize with it because they cannot keep their own attachment systems deactivated if they do so9.
Difficulty in handling loss – Fearful avoidant adults have a hard time adjusting to loss because they are highly anxious about attachments10.
Signs of Fearful Avoidant Attachment Style in Parents
Less likely to be parents – Avoidant individuals are less likely to want to become parents.
Hostile parenting style – If they become parents, they tend to have a more hostile parenting style than those with a secure attachment style. They tend to advocate harsher disciplinary methods for young kids. Fearful-avoidant parents are emotionally unaccepting. They expect their children to be independent and less affectionate.
Detached and distant – Parents who are fearful-avoidant are less warm and supportive with their children. They feel less emotionally attached to them11.
More stressful, less rewarding – They find parenting to be more stressful, less meaningful and less rewarding12.
Healing Fearful Avoidant Attachment
People whose lives are affected adversely by their childhood experiences should seek professional help.m
In fearful-avoidant attachment, the individual may feel distrustful of other people, avoids relationships and views themselves as unlovable. Therefore, fearful-avoidant patients tended to experience more problems in mental health treatment such as therapy because they don’t feel secure connecting with the therapist. When seeking help, beware of these characteristics and don’t give up easily13.
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