Among insecure attachment styles, dismissive-avoidant attachment can be especially hard to spot. At first sight, you appear to have high self-esteem and you’re surrounded by people.
You appear independent and as someone who doesn’t rely on others for emotional support. In reality, all of your relationships are superficial and you don’t form deep bonds with others.
Self-sufficiency is praised and the lack of emotional outbursts is considered a strength, so it can be hard to realize that there is a problem. You and others believe that this is just your personality and not something that should be dealt with.
This kind of attachment pattern has low self-esteem at its core. If, for example, your partner does something that places demands on you and you don’t know how to respond, your thoughts and feelings can spiral and lead you to unhealthy behaviors.
However, it’s possible to develop a more secure attachment style. Being able to recognize, understand and manage avoidant attachment triggers can help you achieve a healthy relationship with yourself and your romantic partner.
How Avoidant Attachment Triggers Affect You
Avoidant attachment style develops when a parent or a caregiver doesn’t meet a child’s needs, but instead leaves them to care for themselves and be independent. The child is discouraged from seeking emotional support and learns to push away their caregiver even when they want to be close.
As an adult, the dismissive avoidant is emotionally unavailable, overly self-sufficient, has a fear of intimacy and needs to be in control. They don’t understand their needs and feelings, so they suppress them.
If this is your attachment style, when you’re triggered, your beliefs about yourself and your relationship come to the surface, leading to avoidant thoughts and behaviours.
The core wound of the dismissive avoidant is the feeling of not being good enough. You fear that, if your partner sees the real you, they will find you lacking and leave you, so you never learned how to open up and express vulnerability. Emotional intimacy seems impossible and building meaningful relationships is difficult.
Understanding what your triggers are and how you respond to them is key to learning how to manage your feelings and become capable of having a healthy relationship. Examples of avoidant reactions to being triggered are:
• Becoming distant. Acting cold and uninterested in your partner and shutting down.
• Unhealthy coping strategies, such as indulging in distractions, spending hours on social media or playing games, excessive drinking, etc.
• Avoiding your loved ones. You prefer to stay away rather than facing them, hoping things will go away on their own.
• Repressing your feelings and pretending to be strong.
• Focusing on something you can control, such as work.
• Sulking. Withdrawing and refusing to communicate while making it clear that you were wronged.
• Trying to provoke your partner into proving your faulty beliefs by such behaviors as being passive-aggressive.
• Lashing out. The inability to handle your feelings can make you angry and confused, so you try to hurt them right back.
• Ending the relationship. This excessive response can happen when you feel the need to abandon your partner before they abandon you.
It can be difficult to understand your emotional reactions to your triggers, so learning to notice your behaviors can be helpful. The path to understanding your triggers is identifying what you’re like when you’re triggered.
You might recognize yourself in some of the above behaviors or you already know how you act when you don’t like a certain situation. Once you’re able to recognize how you behave, you can start paying attention to how you feel during and after being triggered and examining your feelings.
8 Patterns Of Avoidant Attachment Triggers
Even though insecure attachment styles in adults start during childhood, it’s still possible to change how you feel and act in a relationship.
Learning how to recognize, understand and manage avoidant attachment triggers helps you replace a damaging set of thoughts, feelings and behaviors with a healthy one.
It’s important to understand that every individual has their own triggers, even though they may be reactions to the same feelings. For instance, your partner asking you to do an activity with them that you don’t want to do might be okay, while for another person with avoidant attachment it might cause a negative reaction.
The following list will give you a general idea of what to look out for, but it’s important to identify how all of these triggers look in your particular situation.
No one likes to be criticized, but for the dismissive avoidant, personal criticism is proof of their greatest fears. Being criticized by anyone, but especially by your partner, feels like proof that you’re defective and not good enough. This cuts deep and makes you feel ashamed, so you shut down.
You couldn’t rely on your caregivers as a child, so you have a deep need to rely on your partner. You need to feel safe and to know what to expect. When you feel insecure in your relationship, it’s not uncommon that you want to or even try to end it, believing that if you leave them first, they can’t leave you.
3. Having to depend on someone
Because your caregivers didn’t give you emotional support when you needed it, you feel like your needs don’t matter. This is the reason why you feel like you must do everything on your own and the source of your self-reliance. If you don’t need anything from anyone, you feel like it’s okay when you don’t get it.
4. Pressure to open up
Because you fear rejection, you build walls to keep everyone out. Emotional distance is a way to protect yourself from exposing your innermost self that you feel deeply ashamed of. Your deepest wound is your sense of not being good enough, and you’re terrified of your partner seeing it if you open up to them.
You’re used to being independent, so when your partner demands that you do something, it can make you feel controlled. This often leads to lashing out because you’re used to doing things your way and you’ll insist on your independence.
When your partner places expectations on you, it makes you feel trapped because you don’t know how to respond. You learned that everyone is responsible for meeting their own needs, so when you’re expected to provide something you don’t know how to give, you feel confused and withdraw.
7. Feeling like your efforts don’t matter
When you go out of your way to be closer to your partner and they don’t acknowledge it in the way you need them to, you might shut down and give up entirely. This is caused by your need for validation to disprove your feelings of inadequacy. If what you have to offer isn’t enough, it confirms that you’re not enough, so what’s the point in trying?
8. Intense emotions
Being faced with intense emotions makes you panic because you were taught that they’re unwanted. Regardless whether these feelings are yours or someone else’s, you don’t know how to handle them. You don’t feel equipped to respond to your partner’s feelings, and if you’re the one who is intensely emotional, you’re afraid of being judged for it.
5 Ways Of Coping With Avoidant Attachment Triggers
Try to recall situations in which you felt like you wanted to get away from your partner or lash out at them for not being able to understand you. Working backward from your behavior, try to identify what caused it.
This way, you can try to react in a more constructive way the next time you’re faced with a similar situation. The process of dealing with your attachment issues can take a long period of time, but the first step is always willingness to change.
Here’s how to start managing your emotions.
1. Write down your feelings
When you’re feeling like you want to disconnect, writing down how you feel can be immensely helpful. Use this method to clarify what you’re feeling.
You might have trouble finding the right words to describe your feelings, so instead of trying to be specific, just take the pen and write whatever comes to mind. As you keep writing, your real feelings will come up.
This method is useful, but it’s difficult to see through. You might feel the need to give up as soon as your real fears come to the surface, but if you persist and face them, it will get easier until you can accept them and deal with them. Once you become able to be open with yourself, you can try being open with others.
2. Connect to your emotions
As a child, when you needed emotional support from your caregivers, it wasn’t available and you had to learn to somehow deal with your feelings on your own. One of your coping mechanisms is to ignore your feelings.
You’ve tried to learn not to feel, but this is impossible. So, instead of getting rid of your emotions, you became disconnected from them. In a way, you feel more deeply than someone who’s in touch with their emotions – you don’t know how to manage your feelings, so they control your thoughts and actions.
This is why you must learn to explore your feelings, connect to them and accept them.
3. Recognize negative thinking
When your partner asks something of you that you don’t know how to give them, your inner voice might tell you that, because you can’t do it, you’re worthless, your relationship is doomed and they will reject you sooner or later. So instead of discussing it with your partner, you shut down.
This is an example of automatic negative thoughts that might arise because you don’t know how to respond to your feelings.
The way to stop negative thinking is to choose to challenge it. Whenever you notice that you’re interpreting a situation beyond what’s happening on the surface, try to think of how you can prove these thoughts wrong.
4. Communicate with your loved ones
This seems difficult because you’re afraid of being rejected if you show your feelings to your partner, but it can be made easier if you take it one step at a time. You don’t need to bare your soul when communicating, only be honest about how you’re feeling at the moment.
There’s no need to approach communication as some big gesture of revealing your deepest soul, only stop bottling up your feelings. This means letting your partner know when they trigger you in some way, making them aware of your boundaries and choosing not to hide how you feel.
5. Seek therapy
Someone with an avoidant attachment style can get significant benefits from insight that therapy can provide. Therapy can improve your well-being, provided you approach it with determination.
Opening up is what you’re most afraid of, so it will take an enormous amount of willingness to change. It’s hard work, but the assistance you get from your therapist can help you learn to manage your feelings, accept yourself and stop running from emotional connections.
Dealing With Avoidant Attachment In A Partner
A relationship with an avoidant partner might be challenging because of their difficulty to be emotionally intimate. Their reluctance to open up doesn’t mean that they don’t want to do it or that they don’t love you, but it’s related to their fear that they’re not good enough.
Here are some strategies to connect to an avoidant partner.
• Make them feel safe. If they’re feeling accepted and understood, they won’t feel the need to hide and withdraw.
• Be patient. Try to understand their point of view and give them space to express themselves.
• Validate their feelings. Avoidants have trouble expressing their feelings and their needs, so when they do, make sure that you listen and accept how they feel.
• Avoid criticism. When enforcing boundaries, instead of making statements that feel like you’re criticizing them, try to point out a specific behavior that you don’t like.
• Communicate clearly. Don’t give them ultimatums, because they will immediately withdraw. Don’t expect them to understand anything that’s implied, but instead, spell out exactly what you want to say.
• Don’t make demands. An avoidant’s knee-jerk reaction will be to shut you out if they don’t know how to fulfill what you asked for.
• Be understanding if they don’t know how to meet your needs. They learned that everyone is responsible for their own needs, so they have trouble asking to have their own met by another person and responding to someone else’s needs.
What Is Attachment Theory?
Attachment theory is a psychological theory concerned with human relationships.
It was originally developed by psychiatrist John Bowlby to examine how babies are attached to their caregivers.
Developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth classified attachment patterns found in young children as either secure or insecure, depending on whether the baby believed they could rely on their caregivers to provide them with love and support.
Children develop secure attachment if they have a close relationship with a caregiver and feel confident that the caregiver will be available when the baby needs them. Insecure attachment styles – anxious-ambivalent, anxious-avoidant or disorganized – develop if the child is uncertain, faced rejection or their caregivers were unpredictable, respectively.
Children’s attachment styles extend into adult relationships as they grow up. The attachment to their caregivers is mirrored in the attachment to their partners in romantic relationships.
In the same way as with children, adult attachment styles develop as secure or insecure attachment types, even though childhood experience isn’t the only factor in their development.
• Secure attachment style: Securely attached adults understand their own and their partner’s feelings and needs and know how to communicate with their partners. They’re capable of forming meaningful connections.
• Anxious-preoccupied attachment style: People with an anxious attachment style have a fear of abandonment and low self-esteem, so they seek validation in the relationship. They believe they’re not good enough for their partners, so they act clingy .
• Dismissive-avoidant attachment style: Avoidant people can’t rely on anyone, so the image they present is one of self-sufficiency. Emotional intimacy and depending on other people terrify them.
• Fearful-avoidant attachment style: The fearful avoidant wants intimate relationships, but withdraws when they get serious out of fear. Their relationships are unstable.
Your attachment style reflects your beliefs about relationships – it influences how you pick a partner and your behavioral patterns in a relationship. People who are securely attached develop healthy relationships more easily than someone with an insecure attachment style.
Break The Cycle
Once you’re aware of avoidant attachment triggers, you can begin noticing them and working on dealing with your feelings in a healthier way. Understanding what makes you behave in an avoidant way and how to deal with it is the first step away from toxic relationships to healthy ones.
If you want to change your attachment style, you must realize that emotional intimacy is necessary. To build deep relationships with others, you must first face your feelings yourself and stop running away from showing vulnerability.
The main challenges are your feelings of being unlovable and inadequate, so working on your self-esteem and self-love will greatly influence your ability to open up. Individual and couples therapy can do a lot for the success of your relationships and your personal mental health.