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Fearful Avoidant vs Dismissive Avoidant Attachment Styles

Among the four adult attachment styles, avoidance is an insecure attachment style.

Avoidant people use an attachment avoidance strategy.

They are less comfortable being close to others than those with secure attachment styles or anxious attachment styles.

Avoidants also feel less obligated to support their friends or romantic partners.​1​

Researchers have identified two distinct types of avoidant attachment: fearful avoidance and dismissive avoidance.

While both avoidance types avoid emotional closeness with partners in romantic relationships, their reasons for doing so differ.

A man and woman shout, her hand in his face and his hands in fists.

Fearful avoidant vs. dismissive avoidant

The main difference between the fearful-avoidant attachment style and the dismissive-avoidant attachment style is that fearful avoidants tend to shy away from closeness because of fear, while dismissive avoidants do so because they disregard the importance of connections with others.

Fearful-avoidant individuals have low self-esteem and high levels of attachment anxiety.

They believe that they are not lovable.

Dismissive-avoidant individuals have high self-esteem and low levels of anxiety.

They have a good self-image.

Fearful avoidant attachment style

Fearful avoidant attachment in adults is associated with disorganized attachment in infants identified in Strange Situations. 

A disorganized infant fears the attachment figure who shows frightening behavior.​2​

These babies may show disorganized strategies for coping with stressful situations.

In times of stress, they may approach and avoid their attachment figures simultaneously with incoherent, contradictory actions.

They may suddenly stop advancing, appear paralyzed, or withdraw when approaching.

The disoriented attachment approach is usually the result of abuse in childhood.

Adults with the fearful-avoidant style of attachment are characterized by their lack of assertiveness.​3​

They tend to be more troubled emotionally than those with other types of attachment insecurity.​4​

Those with the fearful-avoidant attachment style often show more depressive symptoms​5​ and dissociative symptoms.6​

Stress can cause a fearful-avoidant individual to behave in ways that seem aimless, confused, dazed, self-contradictory, dissociative, and withdrawn.​7​

Dismissive avoidant attachment style

Dismissive avoidant attachment in adults is associated with avoidant attachment in infants identified in Strange Situations

Babies’ avoidant attachment is caused by the rejection of their attachment behaviors due to caregiver absence or lack of caregiver responses.

As a result, they learn that even under stress, they cannot seek comfort from caregivers and instead avoid them.

Adults with the dismissive-avoidant style are distinctively cold.

They have a negative view of others and avoid closeness with relationship partners. 

Acceptance from others is not very important to dismissive avoiders. Instead, a dismissive-avoidant individual downplays the value of others, rejects the necessity of relationships, and strives to remain independent and unaffected by others.

Dismissive-style adults see friends who ask for social support as dependent, weak, emotionally unstable, and immature.

Researchers have found that violent and aggressive offenders are more likely to have dismissive-avoidant attachments than other insecure styles.​8​


  1. 1.
    Rholes WS, Simpson JA, Friedman M. Avoidant Attachment and the Experience of Parenting. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. Published online March 2006:275-285. doi:10.1177/0146167205280910
  2. 2.
    VAN IJZENDOORN MH, SCHUENGEL C, BAKERMANS–KRANENBURG MJ. Disorganized attachment in early childhood: Meta-analysis of precursors, concomitants, and sequelae. Develop Psychopathol. Published online June 1999:225-250. doi:10.1017/s0954579499002035
  3. 3.
    GUERRERO LK. Attachment-style differences in the experience and expression of romantic jealousy. Personal Relationships. Published online September 1998:273-291. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.1998.tb00172.x
  4. 4.
    FEENEY JA. Adult attachment, emotional control, and marital satisfaction. Personal Relationships. Published online June 1999:169-185. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.1999.tb00185.x
  5. 5.
    Pincus AL, Wilson KR. InterpersonalVariability in Dependent Personality. J Personality. Published online April 2001:223-251. doi:10.1111/1467-6494.00143
  6. 6.
    Anderson CL, Alexander PC. The Relationship between Attachment and Dissociation in Adult Survivors of Incest. Psychiatry. Published online August 1996:240-254. doi:10.1080/00332747.1996.11024765
  7. 7.
    Carlson EA. A Prospective Longitudinal Study of Attachment Disorganization/Disorientation. Child Development. Published online August 1998:1107-1128. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.1998.tb06163.x
  8. 8.
    Jamieson S, Marshall WL. Attachment styles and violence in child molesters. Journal of Sexual Aggression. Published online January 2000:88-98. doi:10.1080/13552600008413301


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