Attachment styles are more than a buzzword in psychology. In fact, yours could reveal a lot about how you interact in your day-to-day relationships. For example, if you have an avoidant attachment, you may actively avoid emotional closeness, struggle to ask for help, and withdraw from your partner. If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. Here’s how you can understand and actually heal issues in your relationship with a few strategies for avoidant attachment.
What Is Avoidant Attachment?
According to John Bowlby, a British psychologist who introduced attachment theory, avoidant attachment is one of three styles that illustrate how we connect with others based on our childhood. When babies have access to consistent love and attention, they are likely to develop a secure attachment and have more confidence and stronger emotional regulation. Yet avoidant attachment forms when the parents or caregivers are emotionally unavailable. Children quickly learn to suppress their emotions and become self-reliant to meet their needs. They fear rejection and avoid emotional closeness to protect themselves.
What Are the Symptoms of Avoidant Attachment?
A child with avoidant attachment can continue to show signs until adulthood. Some of the symptoms and signs are;
- Discomfort with physical touch
- Believing their partners are too clingy
- Suppresses emotions
- Fears rejection
- Strong sense of independence
- Overly focused on their needs compared to the needs of others
- Avoids emotional closeness in relationships
- Fears strong emotional bonds will lead to more pain
- Prefers to cope with difficult situations in isolation
- Sulks or complains instead of asking for support
What Causes Avoidant Attachment?
Attachment theory is based on our interactions with our parents or caregivers. Therefore, the love and attention we received or didn’t receive as a child creates our attachment style. For example, with avoidant attachment, parents often become overwhelmed by the emotional needs of their children. They may also have an avoidant attachment, withdraw from their child’s needs, or are neglectful when their child is sad, scared, or sick. They also struggle to process emotions and have unrealistic expectations of how their children should behave. As a result, they might shame a child for displaying emotion or become angry when their child is upset. The child learns to withdraw emotionally to protect themselves from rejection, pain, and punishment, even well into their adulthood. However, it is possible to reverse this attachment style and learn to heal your emotional wounds.
7 Self Help Strategies for Avoidant Attachment
1. Retreat when you need to
Improving your emotional regulation involves taking space when you need to. Instead of staying in a heated argument, prioritize your self-care and retreat to gather your thoughts. For example, you could say, “I understand it’s important to discuss this topic, but I need time to clear my head. When I do, I’ll be in a better mindset to resolve our argument”. When you’re calm, you’re more likely to communicate logically and work through issues with empathy and compassion rather than anger.
2. Improve your communication
Someone with an avoidant-attachment style fears expressing strong emotions. They need breaks in communication to allow them to feel less overwhelmed by their feelings. Therefore, having the space to discuss things honestly will strengthen your relationships and help co-regulate your feelings. For example, state your needs by using “I feel” messages to help your partner become more aware of your needs.
3. Strengthen your self-awareness
One of the best strategies for avoidant attachment is strengthening your self-awareness. When you know more about yourself, your particular attachment style, and your needs, it will be easier to grow and make effective change. Spend time reflecting internally about your current or past relationships. What made you upset? What situations caused you pain? As you reflect on these wounds, take a compassionate approach towards loving yourself. While we all have emotional wounds we’re battling, it doesn’t make you less worthy of love.
4. Understand your triggers
We all have triggers that cause a painful memory or experience to resurface. But discovering what these triggers are can be a challenge. If you’re currently in a relationship, explore what makes you unhappy or irritable. You can do this by journaling and analyzing your current or past relationship patterns. For example, you might write, “I get angry when my partner is too clingy“. This statement helps you fortify a connection between your emotions and triggers, leading to increased self-awareness.
5. Define the root cause
Now that you know more about your triggers, identify what they represent. What themes and patterns do they reveal? For example, you may notice you consistently become angry when your partner wants more of your time. This theme might convey a defense mechanism that keeps you feeling protected against possible rejection. Since you’re not accustomed to emotional closeness, it can cause your nervous system to activate your fight-or-flight response. But becoming more aware of your emotional wounds and their root causes will help you retrain your body and mind to accept new patterns.
6. Establish boundaries
When you learn to communicate your needs, it also helps to establish and set boundaries within your relationships. For example, if you don’t like how often your partner calls you, you could say, “I feel overwhelmed by how much you call me. I need more breaks throughout the day so I can be more present with you when we’re together”. This “I feed/I need” method relays your needs while establishing your boundaries and gives your partner a concise template to follow.
7. Build closeness
Building closeness with someone does not have to be with a partner. You can choose a friend or therapist to help you lower your emotional walls. For example, during your friendship, pay attention to how you feel when they discuss something difficult or emotional. How do you feel as a result? Anxiety, fear, or anger? Connect these emotional states to yourself and reflect on your thoughts. It will help you build more awareness while slowly connecting to another person. When you feel ready, start sharing vulnerable details about yourself.
When to Seek Help
If you consistently struggle to maintain relationships and communicate your feelings, it’s worth speaking to a therapist. Therapy will help you understand what your triggers are and how your childhood played a role in adapting this attachment style. For example, you will analyze childhood memories to identify patterns that no longer serve you today. Through consistent sessions, you’ll develop a new plan to rewire those patterns, improve your emotional regulation, and receive strategies for avoidant attachment that will lead to healthy and conscious-loving relationships. Change is possible.