What Is Fearful Avoidant Attachment?

In attachment theory, fearful avoidant attachment is one of the types. Attachment theory is a theory about bonding and relationships. Its focus is primarily on parents or caregivers and children. However, it also focuses on bonds between romantic relationships in adulthood. The theory provides explanations for emotional bonds and uses psychological reasoning to distinguish several attachment styles.

According to the theory, people have an innate need to create bonds when they are children. The bonding or attachment styles they form may affect their bonds or attachments later in life as well. For example, a child who forms healthy bonds with parents may have healthier romantic relationships later. However, a child who forms unhealthy bonds early in life may not have healthy romantic relationships later. To better understand fearful avoidant attachment, it also helps to understand the other attachment styles.

History of Attachment Theory

fearful avoidant attachmentJohn Bowlby was the first documented psychologist to define and use attachment theory. As someone who was interested in understanding childhood and why children felt stressed or anxious away from their parents, Bowlby developed a description of attachment. He described it as lasting human psychological connectedness. Unlike Freud who believed that infants and children sought pleasure sources, Bowlby did not focus on that.

Early behavior theories treated attachment as a behavior that was learned. The earlier theories viewed attachment as a bond children developed with mothers or those who provided their nourishment. Today, therapists use earlier theoretical influences to address childhood and adulthood attachment issues.

Understanding Adult Attachment Styles and Their Effects

There are four main types or styles of attachment that are evident in adults. Each one has its own distinct characteristics. Understanding the different styles can help people better understand themselves or others in their lives. Although they are related, the attachment styles have different names for childhood and adulthood phases of life.

Attachment styles are identified by child behavior, and the behaviors are connected to parenting styles. Those behavior patterns often remain and affect people in different ways as they become adults. These are the four attachment styles, how they develop and their effects on adults.

Although there are varying estimates from different sources, about 50% or more of the population may develop this style. Secure attachment typically comes from a positive childhood. Children with this attachment style have mothers who meet their emotional needs when they are infants. Kids whose emotional needs are met can feel safer exploring their surroundings.

Since their mothers or caregivers are their safety sources, they feel less distressed when they are left alone. When their primary caregivers return, kids with secure attachment seek contact with them.

People with secure attachment during childhood usually show signs of autonomous attachment as adults. As a result, they have a more positive view of others and themselves. These adults tend to be more open about communicating their thoughts and feelings. They can experience negative events and maintain the same attachment style.

This is because they can still identify positive aspects of relationships. From their perspective, their relationships tend to be trusting and happy. These adults may overlook and forgive the faults of their romantic partners, and their relationships often last longer. They are also comfortable having others depend on them for help and depending on others.

About 30% of people today demonstrate signs of avoidant attachment. When a child’s main caregiver is unresponsive or caring, this type of attachment develops. A parent may meet the child’s basic needs for shelter and food. However, the lack of additional care can lead children to disregard their own needs and strive to gain the caregiver’s attention.

They feel alone and anxious but do not think their own feelings are important. When a primary caregiver leaves, an avoidant child is not distressed. Also, the child is not eager to seek contact when the caregiver returns and may not show emotion. Ignoring emotional needs of infants can contribute to this attachment style.

As adults, people with avoidant or dismissive attachment may have difficulty showing their emotions. They may still have difficulty feeling them as well. Dismissive adults usually have a positive image of self and a negative image of others. Physical touch or closeness may make them feel uncomfortable, and they may accuse partners of being clingy. Also, they may fear physical closeness and the possibility of getting hurt. They often have difficulty accepting or asking for help. In times of distress, they may not rely on their partners. They may also seem distant when partners need help. Their freedom is typically more important to them than close relationships.

As an uncommon style, this one may affect more than 7% of people. It is also referred to as anxious ambivalent or anxious attachment in kids. Children who develop this attachment style may not trust their primary caregivers or view them as dependable. They tend to be clingy and fearful of being left alone. As a result, they are extremely distressed when the primary caregiver or parent leaves the room. When primary caregivers return, these kids seek contact and seem happy to see the adult. However, they are still upset and difficult to console.

When these children become adults, they tend to view others positively. However, they usually have a negative perception of themselves. They tend to require high levels of intimacy or physical contact in relationships. Also, they need the approval of a romantic partner to increase their self-acceptance. As adults, people with preoccupied attachment often still strive for parental approval. They usually fear that partners will be unable to provide them with the affection or intimacy they need. Independence can also cause them to feel anxious.

This style was identified later after the other three. It may also be called unresolved attachment in adults. Children who develop this attachment style display disorganized behavior. When a caregiver returns after leaving, a disorganized child may seem happy at first. However, the child may quickly lose interest or act out instead. Children with this style of attachment tend to be untrusting of caregivers. This attachment style can come from many potential causes, which will be discussed in the next section.

As adults, those with fearful avoidant attachment are poorly adjusted. About 7% of adults demonstrate this attachment style. They tend to hold negative views of themselves and others. Also, they may lack boundaries since they feel that their boundaries are unimportant based on childhood experiences. In adulthood, people with fearful avoidant attachment may avoid deep or committed relationships. Although they may desire those relationships, they often feel anxious or needy about a partner’s love.

Many of these adults stay in the dating phase of a relationship longer since it is more comfortable. While they tend to fear emotional closeness, they often compensate by seeking physical closeness instead. They may have more sexual partners than adults with other attachment styles.

Potential Causes of Fearful Avoidant Attachment

Experts do not fully understand all the reasons people develop this attachment style. In many cases, it involves behavior patterns that continue from childhood. These are some possible causes of a child developing disorganized attachment that lingers into adulthood:

  • Broken trust
  • Trauma
  • Abuse
  • Emotionally needy caregivers
  • Threats from caregivers
  • Fearful avoidant caregivers

Signs of Fearful Avoidant Attachment in Adults

You may already know a few signs from the earlier section about adult relationships. However, there may be some others. These are additional signs to watch for in yourself or a loved one:

  • Always feeling unsafe or unsure
  • Difficulty regulating emotions
  • Heavier focus on career than people
  • Passive or cold behavior
  • Strong need for control
  • Strives to please others
  • Difficulty maintaining friendships
  • Hypervigilance and anxiety
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty coping or self-soothing
  • Holds grudges

Building a Healthier Mindset: Why Therapy Is Important

signs of fearful avoidant attachmentWhile other attachment styles come with a positive view of self, others or both, the fearful avoidant style does not. People who view themselves and others negatively experience a heavy psychological burden that they do not deserve. The other effects of this attachment style can take a toll on every aspect of life. Although people with fearful avoidant attachment desire good relationships, they may not know how to build and maintain them.

Overcoming the damaging effects of the attachment style is important to live a happier life. Professional therapy can help, and talk therapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is a common approach. This approach involves sharing issues with a therapist, identifying behavior causes and creating solutions. By making the necessary changes, people can communicate better, feel more secure and create healthier relationships. They can create healthy boundaries and learn to see themselves and others positively. Therapy is the key to building a healthier mindset that lasts.

Therapy for Fearful Avoidant Attachment in Indiana

If you or a loved one may have fearful avoidant attachment, First City Recovery Center in Kokomo can help. We offer a variety of mental health treatment programs that utilize evidence-based approaches. Our therapists help people discover the causes of their attachment style and develop actionable solutions. These solutions can help people feel more confident in their careers, personal relationships, romantic relationships, and more. To learn more about our therapy for fearful avoidant attachment, please contact us.

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