Avoidant Attachment Style: Signs, Causes & How to Cope

What triggers avoidant attachment?
Read time: 10 mins

Understanding your partner’s attachment style is essential to cultivating a healthy relationship.

Avoidant attachment style is a type of insecure attachment, defined by withdrawal, emotional distance, and self-reliance. Even though these independent behaviors come from a place of self-preservation, they can have a big impact on intimate relationships. 

Recognizing, and understanding why you display avoidant behaviors is key to learning how to foster romantic connections. While loving someone with an avoidant attachment may require more patience — good things come to those who wait. (And who are supportive along the way!) 

What is an avoidant attachment style? 

According to the attachment theory, which was put forth by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, there are a number of different secure and insecure attachment styles to be aware of. 

This theory puts forth that our experiences as young children shape our attachment patterns in later life. While those with secure attachments likely had a stable early childhood, people who didn’t have healthy, close relationships with their primary caregiver can struggle with connection in adult relationships. 

Avoidant attachment style is a type of insecure attachment that is formed by these childhood experiences, leading to an inability or difficulty to trust others and attachment issues in adult relationships. 

“Avoidant attachment is a consistent strategy learned in early adulthood to respond to a caregiver who prefers that the child be autonomous and low-need,” says Dr. Krista Jordan, a psychotherapist at Choosing Therapy.

“Consequently, in adulthood, these people unconsciously tend toward emotional distance and a lack of interdependency with romantic partners.” 

This kind of attachment style can also be known as dismissive-avoidant attachment, fearful-avoidant attachment, insecure-avoidant attachment, or as a variant of anxious attachment style. 

Avoidant adults can struggle with emotional closeness in intimate relationships due to inbuilt low self-esteem and therefore protect themselves by being self-sufficient. However, this avoidant attachment comes across as a lack of interest, with this withdrawal impacting romantic relationships. 

Signs of avoidant attachment style

There are a number of signs of this dismissive attachment style, with certain behaviors signaling an avoidant partner. While these behaviors can signal an avoidant person, it’s more difficult to spot these indicators in yourself. 

“Spotting signs of avoidant attachment in oneself is very difficult because of self-serving bias,” says Dr. Jordan.

“The only true way to find out one's attachment style is to undergo an interactive testing procedure with a qualified health professional.” 

Loving someone with an avoidant attachment style can be a strange situation, especially if you have a secure attachment style. However, it can be easier to identify these behaviors in your loved one. 

“Identifying an avoidantly attached partner may be easier than correctly classifying one’s own style,” says Dr. Jordan. 

“It’s important to note that everyone at times wants to be alone, finds other people stressful, may prefer not to have deep discussions, or may shy away from sharing vulnerable feelings. The avoidantly attached person distinguishes themselves by the magnitude of these issues.” 

Therefore, just because your partner craves some privacy and alone time, does not mean they have an avoidant attachment style. 

“The observable behaviors of this style in adulthood include a preference for being alone much of the time, feeling stress with interpersonal interaction especially if prolonged or emotionally laden, difficulty connecting to vulnerable emotions, and sensitivity to being judged,” says Dr. Jordan. 

“Other traits include a disinterest in sex as the relationship advances, secrecy, discomfort with probing conversations or being questioned too much, difficulty with sustained eye contact (in most but not all), and a tendency to dismiss or minimize the importance of a partner’s requests for emotional or physical connection.” 

If you feel that your partner may be anxious-avoidant, these are some signs to look out for: 

They criticize your need for connection
An inability to emphasize 
Turns inwards with their emotions
Does not seek to process emotions with others as an initial comfort
Aloofness or disinterest 
Preference for autoregulation 
Hesitant to build trust
Lack of emotional closeness
Feeling like there are barriers to intimacy 
Prefers to deal with things by themselves

Causes of avoidant attachment style

As Dr. Jordan pointed out, avoidant attachment is caused by a lack of emotional intimacy from parental figures in early childhood. 

“Avoidant attachment style is caused when a caregiver is unable to respond quickly, sensitively, successfully, and without repercussions when a child is distressed,” says Dr. Jordan. 

“If a caregiver fails to provide the four essentials of a secure response often enough, the child may develop an avoidant attachment.” 

Therefore, having an avoidant attachment style as a parent is likely to affect your child’s attachment style. However, it’s important not to pressure yourself to be the perfect parent as no single interaction will affect your child’s attachment development. 

“There are many reasons why parents are not able to offer the ideal response often enough to children,” says Dr. Jordan. 

“This includes working multiple jobs, suffering from depression or other mental illnesses, living in secure poverty or physically unsafe surroundings, substance abuse, or having had an insecurely attached parent themselves.” 

As a person matures, childhood experiences formulate adult attachment styles which play a significant part in psychological development. Once these are set in place, it’s very hard to shift them later in life. 

“The critical period for consolidating the attachment style is 0-3 with some ability for modification until the age of 13. After that attachment styles can change but it requires considerable effort,” says Dr. Jordan. 

What triggers avoidant attachment?

In the early stages of a relationship, there can be no signs of avoidant behavior — with both partners catering to each other's emotional needs and wants without any obvious discomfort.

During this honeymoon period, you feel like you can rely on your partner for emotional support and intimacy and that you’re in a healthy relationship. Until one day — there’s a sudden switch. 

“Like all types of attachment, the patterns will be most visible after the initial limerance phase of courtship (12-18 months),” says Dr. Jordan. 

As your partner withdraws during your time of need, it can feel like they have simply lost interest in the relationship. However, it may be that you’ve triggered an avoidant response that wasn’t visible in the early stages of dating. 

“You can also see a doubling-down on the dismissing and avoidant defenses when you approach these patterns for contact, display dependency needs (even healthy ones) or do things that they perceive as attempts to control or intrude on them,” says Dr. Jordan. 

How do I fix an avoidant attachment?

Attachment styles are not fixed; they can evolve throughout your life as your relationships potentially become more secure. Moving from avoidant behavior to more secure can be a complex process that requires self-reflection, self-awareness, effort, and the stable support of your partner. 

While working on yourself is an important phase of this process, it should be overseen by a mental health professional, with psychotherapy providing the safe space that you need to move forward. 

“Working on your own avoidant attachment is similar to changing any other quality you may have,” says Dr. Jordan. 

“First you need to be aware of it, then you need to monitor yourself in situations to see if you can catch the avoidant style showing up. In those moments, when you can, you need to work against your own avoidant defaults.” 

Attachment styles are formed during our early years and therefore these learned behaviors can’t be expected to disappear overnight. Reflecting on your past experiences helps you to develop the self-awareness needed to seek support from your partner. 

With patience and persistence, it will become easier to practice emotional intimacy and refrain from autoregulation and other avoidant tendencies. 

“If you continue to monitor yourself when around your romantic partner or children, you will see avoidant defenses come into play, and you can essentially do, in small doses, the things you’re uncomfortable with,” says Dr. Jordan. 

“This retrains your brain to have other responses available in emotionally or physically intimate situations.” 

While avoidants can have a hard time with connection, it doesn’t mean that they can’t love. If you’re in a relationship with an avoidant, you can be involved in their journey as a supportive partner — with your understanding fundamental in the process! 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do avoidant-style relationships work?

    Even though they are more complex, avoidant-style relationships can work — as long as both partners approach connection with the same level of patience and understanding. If avoidant behaviors aren’t addressed, withdrawal can look like a lack of interest and can affect the stability of a relationship. However, once avoidant attachment is identified, it’s easier to move forward toward a healthier relationship dynamic.
  • What are examples of avoidant attachment in adults?

    Avoidant behavior can manifest in many different ways, such as aloofness, emotional distance, withdrawal, and coldness which looks like a lack of interest. From an avoidant's perspective, they may appreciate these behaviors as protective of themselves, seeing nothing wrong with these tendencies, only viewing them as indicators of their own self-sufficiency and independence. “When a partner shares their struggles with the avoidant behaviors, it is helpful if the couples discuss ways to create safe and healthy opportunities for connection,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Expert at Paired. “The same in not knowing how to organically turn for connection can be overwhelming for some to move past.”
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