So far in this series of articles we have covered an Introduction to Attachment Styles and the Preoccupied Attachment Style and Dismissive Attachment Style. Taking the time to read these articles before continuing into the current topic may be helpful as they help to lay a foundation of attachment styles and how these styles play a role in romantic relationships.
As a brief refresher, attachment refers to the unique bond that is formed in infancy with a primary caregiver and has been expanded to also include and reflect how we attach romantically as adults. Our attachment style is influenced by our thoughts of self and our thoughts of others.
The fearful-avoidant attachment style is characterized by a negative view of self and a negative view of others. Those who fall into this category view themselves as unworthy and undeserving of love. Additionally, they feel that others are unworthy of their love and trust because they expect that others will reject or hurt them. Given their negative view of self and their view that others are bound to hurt them, those with a fearful-avoidant attachment style tend to avoid close involvement with others in order to protect themselves from anticipated rejection (Bartholomew, 1991).
In some ways, this fearful attachment style resembles the dismissive attachment style, as they both result in the person being avoidant of attachments. Fearfully attached individuals however, have a negative self-regard and therefore rely on others to maintain a positive view of self. This need for approval often sets them up to become dependent on their partner even though they are initially very hesitant to get attached. That being said, fearfully avoidant partners are less likely than preoccupied partners to pursue attachment and make bids for affection because they anticipate they will be rejected when they try.
The fearful-avoidant attachment style may be one of the most difficult styles to understand. It is characterized by a strong desire to protect oneself and to avoid relationship, while on the other hand still having a strong desire to be in relationship. The most characteristic patterns of a fearful-avoidant style include a desire to be in relationship with others, while also feeling uncomfortable getting close to others, perpetual worry that one will get hurt if they allow someone in and an overall negative view of themselves.
Due to the self-consciousness that a fearful-avoidant person experiences, they become dependent in relationships and may struggle with separation anxiety. They have difficulty building trust and often avoid conflict. They avoid displaying emotions and being vulnerable with their partners unless they are certain they will get a positive response. After entering into a relationship, those who are fearfully attached tend to be insecure and have more invested in the relationship than their partner. They tend to internalize problems in the relationship as being their fault and assume a passive role within the relationship. Due to all of the worries and fears experienced getting to know someone and that persist through their relationship, fearfully attached individuals often try to physically and emotionally avoid intimate connections with others.
Understanding this attachment style can be difficult. So if you’re still not sure where you stand, here is a list of the most common symptoms that characterize the fearful-avoidant attachment style:
- A negative view of self (low self-confidence)
- A negative view of others
- A desire to be connected with others paired with a very strong hesitation
- Fear of rejection
- Fear of abandonment
- A sense of not being good enough or worthy
- Fears so predominant that you want to withdraw or avoid relationships
- Difficulty trusting others
- Feel more invested in your relationships than the others involved
- Take a very long time to get into a relationship, but tend to be dependent once it begins
- Often try to avoid conflict
- Hesitant and reserved in how much you share about yourself and your feelings
- Tend to be passive in relationships
- Have a very hard time breaking off relationships due to fear of not finding another partner
If you are reading this and think I am describing your attachment behaviour than I am excited for you because you have the power and now the awareness to begin to shape your attachment behaviour. I believe that once you have an understanding of your attachment style and how you interact with your romantic partner, that you have the ability to change some of those patterns.
Most research suggests that these attachment patterns are consistent over time, but there is other research and many psychological professionals who believe that with insight and some hard work, you can interrupt negative attachment patterns. I believe that every person can make steps towards becoming more secure within their attachment to their partner. Here are a few target areas I would suggest you start if you have a fearful-avoidant attachment style.
- Challenge your “all bad” perception of people: Given that attachment styles are something that develop in the early stages of life and are continually reinforced over the lifespan, a fearful-avoidant person has likely experienced some trauma or serious rejection. This could include experiencing divorce as a child, their own personal divorce as an adult or other life experiences that taint people as untrustworthy in their mind. Not everyone is underserving of trust and maybe you just need to work on identifying who to trust and how quickly. Trusting someone should come in stages and to understand these stages, you can refer to the Five Stages of Friendship.
- Take time to reflect and develop yourself: If you are fearful of relationship and intimacy, chances are there are some wounds that need healing. Rejection and abandonment are the most common attachment fears when entering into a relationship, and most people have experienced them in relationships throughout their life. Not all relationships end in abandonment or rejection. There is someone out there in whom you could build a secure attachment with, but it is important that you take the time to be reflective about your own behaviours and patterns in relationships.
- Challenge the lens through which you process relational data: Just because you perceive an action or statement in one way doesn’t mean it is truth. When we have a belief about something we often seek out information to support our belief. If we have several negative and fearful beliefs about relationships we will look for information to confirm our conclusion. For example, if you meet someone you might find out that they broke up with their last partner and therefore you believe that they will leave you. Or if they didn’t text you all day, you believe that they must not love you or that they are not thinking about you. We tend to seek out information to confirm the beliefs that we hold. While this maybe helpful in some cases, it can also be very destructive. Therefore, it is important to be conscious of how you process information and cues about your partner and your relationship. These perceptions get internalized and you could be building a negative belief on skewed or biased information.
These suggestions cannot be checked off overnight; they are to be worked on over time. The fearful-avoidant attachment style is characterized by a fear of rejection, abandonment and low self-confidence, which are themes that do not have a quick and easy fix. Understanding your attachment style can help you to better understand the patterns through which you approach relationships and overtime, to replace them with healthier patterns. The next article in this series will introduce the last style, which is the secure attachment style, and will give more strategies on how to work towards being more securely attached in your relationship. For more information about the attachment styles discussed so far you can visit Kim Bartholomew’s social psychology profile, where you will find links to her research. She has recently retired and her prototype descriptions have been removed from the SFU website.
Bartholomew, K., & Horowitz, L. M. (1991). Attachment styles among young adults: A test of a four category model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 226-244.
This article was originally written for and posted on Liveabundantly.ca