Avoidant Attachment Style: What It Is & How It Manifests In Relationships

How we interact with our partners and how we handle relationships in general often stems back to our attachment style. Diagnosing which — secure, anxious, avoidant, or fearful — applies to you can be difficult, especially if you exhibit behaviors present in multiple attachment styles. Here are some signs you may have an avoidant attachment style and what that means for your love life.

What is an avoidant attachment style?

  1. It’s all about our early emotional connections. These connections are usually with our mother or primary caregiver. These connections come to set the tone as the marker against which all future connections are judged in our minds. For reference, the gold standard of attachment styles is Secure attachment.
  2. John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth pioneered the theory. They suggest that the quality of that initial connection determines and is the standard by which all future relationships are judged in your mind. The better your caregiver tended to your needs and the more comprehensively that they guided you through life, the better equipped you are to embrace intimacy in future relationships.
  3. An avoidant attachment style stems from avoidant parents. Just as good early connections improve a young person’s likelihood of pursuing and achieving good connections going forward, inattentive caregivers at the start of life will result in a lower quality of relationships in a child’s life. This leads to a lack of trust in partners, and plenty of unsuccessful romantic relationships.
  4. How can I tell if this is me? It can be difficult to identify your own attachment style because on the surface you might be talkative and energized and appear engaged. Identify how you respond when things get hard in relationships and it will help. Below the surface, you might be emotionally cut off and deflect opportunities to share emotional connections. It can be deceptive, but this points to an avoidant attachment style.
  5. Is it my fault? Having an avoidant attachment style (or any other!) isn’t your fault, because the origin lies with your history and your parents. You can’t blame yourself though because, as Bowlby asserts, the influence of these early connections on the infant’s brain cannot be understated. It sets the boundaries of right and wrong and defines what being safe and secure means to you. It’s hard to change!

How avoidant attachment style manifests in relationships

  1. You often step away when things get hard. Where some might become increasingly clingy or insecure in close relationships, those with an avoidant attachment style will become distant or leave the relationship altogether rather than hang around and work through things.
  2. You’re overly independent. We all want to feel like we’re in control, but you feel this to a fault. Conflict is difficult, particularly when partners call you out on this behavior. This is because your parents didn’t deal with conflict in a meaningful way and just left problems to fester. It means those with an avoidant attachment style don’t have skills in managing conflict, so you avoid getting too close where people can hurt you.
  3. Commitment scares you. We all have our own relationship with commitment, but people with avoidant attachment style find that they actively run from commitment. Flings and fleeting relationships represent much safer territories for you. You can protect yourself with unsatisfying relationships that mimic your emotional dissatisfaction when you were younger. It’s toxic, though.
  4. You think you can do without human connection. Are you happier in a room alone all week than with people, constantly hanging out and learning more about yourself? You might think so because your intimacy issues prevent someone from getting close, but in reality, you crave the connection you never had. But that craving is deep, deep below your layers of emotional repression.
  5. You’re manipulative when threatened. This attachment style isn’t called “avoidant dismissive” for no reason. Rather than deal with emotions head-on, you project your own feelings of inadequacy, instilled in you by your parents, in your relationship. Your desire to manipulate, gaslight, and deflect the true issue is a key manifestation of the avoidant attachment style in relationships.
  6. You’re triggered by inconsistent affection. This is because your parent/guardian was inconsistent or just not present growing up. This can be seen through verbal and nonverbal cues ttoo. If you grew up without attentive caregivers, you learned that no matter how much to express your needs, they weren’t met. As a result, you now associate vulnerability with rejection and shame.
  7. You don’t trust easily. Secrets are second-nature to those with an avoidant attachment style, mostly out of not trusting other people or themself. This low self-esteem has been created because the feelings of inadequacy created by their parents make them feel that if their partner saw the ‘real’ them, they would abandon them. This causes lots of bottled-up feelings and shady, secretive behavior.
  8. Neediness scares you. As soon as you see the evidence of someone else liking you, those with an avoidant attachment style will doubt them and step away. Furthermore, if that person tries to get even closer because they have an anxious attachment style, it will feel like a huge pressure on you. You don’t want to hurt anyone, but you also know that you haven’t got the instinct to properly deal with another person’s feelings when yours are still such a mystery to you.
  9. You’re always making the same mistakes. If you feel like you’re always making the same mistakes or pulling away from your partner who doesn’t seem to have the same issues with intimacy, you likely have an avoidant attachment style. Cycles of secrecy and keeping people at bay will result in lots of broken relationships, so make sure you keep learning and evolving beyond your parents where you can.
Hannah has a Masters degree in Romantic and Victorian literature in Scotland and spends her spare time writing anything from essays to short fiction about the life and times of the frogs in her local pond! She loves musical theatre, football, anything with potatoes, and remains a firm believer that most of the problems in this world can be solved by dancing around the kitchen to ABBA. You can find her on Instagram at @_hannahvic.