Do you suspect that you have an avoidant attachment style? If so, congratulations on taking this step toward personal growth and healthy relationships. Avoidant attachment is a tricky phenomenon — it can make you believe that the problem is everybody else, when in fact, your relationship patterns are stemming from your own reluctance to get close to others. If you’re learning about avoidant attachment, you’re already taking a step in the right direction. I created this article to help you learn how to heal an avoidant attachment style, grow more comfortable with intimacy, and build truly satisfying relationships.
And, If you are here because you suspect that your partner has an avoidant attachment style, read on to learn about the signs of avoidant attachment and how to deal with avoidant attachment in relationships. Also, see another blog post and podcast episode I created recently on a related topic: When Anxious Meets Avoidant.
What Is an Avoidant Attachment Style?
The avoidant attachment style is a psychological pattern that can significantly impact your ability to create and maintain healthy relationships. This attachment style is characterized by an unconscious fear of emotional intimacy and vulnerability within relationships and a need to keep other people at arm’s length.
How Does Avoidant Attachment Develop?
Avoidant attachment styles develop because of early childhood experiences where the child’s emotional needs weren’t consistently met. These children learn that they can’t rely on others to meet their needs, so they stop trying. When caregivers are emotionally distant, inconsistently available, or emotionally unsafe, children may internalize the belief that there’s no point in sharing their feelings with others because they learn not to expect they will get the empathy, validation, and care they need. They learn to shut their feelings down and deal with them independently. This perception persists into adulthood, causing them to remain distant, aloof, and non-committal in romantic relationships.
These children grow into adults with avoidant attachment styles, which can create intimacy issues and other difficulties in their closest relationships.
Schedule a Free Consultation Today.
Why Learning How to Heal an Avoidant Attachment Style Is Important
People with avoidant attachment styles often come across as emotionally distant, prioritizing self-sufficiency and independence over deep connection. Their partners may describe them as “emotionally unavailable,” unempathetic, and uncaring. Because emotional connections rely on vulnerability and mutual support, their relationships can remain superficial and unfulfilling. They may have many short-term relationships that failed to progress (the avoidantly attached person often believes they “just haven’t met the right person yet”), and they are usually the ones to end relationships, often quite abruptly.
Signs of an Avoidant Attachment Style
Does this sound like you or someone you love? Here are more signs of an avoidant attachment style:
- Reluctance to rely on others
People who have avoidant attachment styles don’t like to depend on others for emotional support, or for practical support. They may not ask for help and not seek out emotional comfort from their partners. They may appear independent and self-sufficient, but it’s rooted in insecurity and mistrust rather than in genuine self-confidence.
- Discomfort with emotional expression
People with avoidant attachment styles may feel uncomfortable with difficult conversations that require expressions of emotion. They may downplay their feelings and deflect or invalidate those of others. They may not open up when they’re upset, and they may feel the urge to get away from their partners when they’re feeling emotionally vulnerable, rather than moving closer.
When their partner’s display strong emotions, avoidantly attached people may feel overwhelmed or even repulsed. Other avoidant attachment triggers include sharing about the past, talk about the future of the relationship, crying and other expressions of vulnerability, or being pushed to define the relationship. They often experience their partners as being “needy,” controlling, or overly emotional. People with avoidant attachment styles may not see their own role in provoking certain emotional responses from their partners by pushing them away.
- Emotional distance & literal distance
They might keep their partner at arm’s length emotionally and literally, making it challenging to form deep connections. Avoidantly attached people may limit how much time they spend with their partners, how much they communicate with them, and what they share. After a period of closeness, like an especially intimate conversation, they may feel the need to seek space from the relationship. Their partners may notice this push-pull dynamic and become anxious and confused, especially if they have an anxious attachment style.
- Low emotional awareness
People with avoidant attachment styles can struggle to identify and feel their own feelings. Not only did they learn not to rely on others for emotional support as small children, but they learned how to shut their feelings down because they didn’t have a good way to process them with the help of a safe caregiver. They may report being emotionally numb, and they may spend a lot of time doing things to distract themselves from their feelings, like remaining very busy and goal-oriented.
5. Negative perceptions of their partner
Avoidantly attached people often see their partners through a negative light, especially as relationships grow closer. They tend to have a specific ideal in mind of what a perfect partner and perfect relationship would look and feel like, and no mere mortal could possibly measure up to these ideals.
Avoidantly attached people are often the ones to call it quits in relationships, which requires less vulnerability than staying and working to make a relationship work. Being the one to reject their partners as being “not quite good enough” allows them to avoid looking inward and challenging their avoidant patterns.
6. A spotty relationship history
Ask an avoidantly attached person about why they’re still single, despite professing the desire for a relationship, and they’ll often tell you about many short-term relationships with people who they just didn’t quite feel enough of a connection with, or who weren’t quite good enough for them. They may also report rejecting past partners for reasons that seem pretty superficial and don’t make a lot of sense, like scheduling challenges or not sharing a certain hobby.
Still unsure about your attachment style? Take my attachment style quiz.
Avoidant Attachment and Lying
Is there a connection between avoidant attachment and lying?
The answer is yes and no. Because people with avoidant attachment styles struggle with emotional vulnerability and intimacy, they may conceal things from their partner as a coping mechanism to maintain distance and self-reliance. They may downplay their feelings, withhold information, or tell white lies to avoid confronting emotional closeness or potential conflicts. This is less about a manipulative attempt to deceive and more about protecting themselves from the perceived risks of intimacy. Unfortunately, not being authentic makes it difficult to build trusting relationships. It’s important to note that not all people with avoidant attachment styles struggle with authenticity or “lying” (in fact, many can be quite straight forward).
How to Deal with Avoidant Attachment
Healing an avoidant attachment style is an ongoing process, not something that happens overnight. It’s best undertaken with the help of a good individual therapist or couples counselor who understands attachment theory and has experience working with avoidant attachment in particular. But if you would like to begin this journey, these steps will get you started in learning how to fix avoidant attachment:
- Self-reflection and self-awareness
Reflect on your past relationships and take a hard look at your own role in how they played out. If the relationship failed to deepen or progress, how did you contribute to that? It can be hard to look at how you are showing up in relationships, but becoming more aware of your patterns is essential to healing avoidant attachment.
You also need to build your self-awareness about how you feel around intimacy, and how you feel in general. Practice journaling, tuning into the sensations in your body that accompany your thoughts, and talking with a therapist who can help you recognize and take guidance from your emotions.
2. Challenging negative beliefs
Examine and challenge the negative beliefs you hold about your partners. You may believe that they’re too needy, that you can’t really rely on them or trust them, or that they are in some way not quite right for you as a life partner. Remember that relationships are systems; we don’t find relationships, we create them based on the ingredients we put into them. The path to forming a healthy relationship is through empathy, trust, vulnerability, and appreciation for the partner you have — not judgment that holds that at arm’s length.
3. Enhancing empathy
One of the challenges of avoidant attachment is struggling to form empathetic relationships with others. When you aren’t in the habit of attaching deeply to romantic partners, relying on them to meet your needs, or expecting them to respond to your feelings in an empathetic way, it can be very difficult to show up for your partner in the way they need. Work to understand your partner’s emotional world, and recognize that their feelings are valid and important. A good couples counselor or emotional intelligence coach can be enormously helpful with this process.
4. Setting boundaries
Because people with avoidant attachment styles are often cut-off from their own feelings, they can’t easily take guidance from them, which makes it hard to set healthy boundaries in relationships. They may tolerate certain behaviors without realizing what’s bothering them, until it feels like their only option to resolve the issue is to distance themselves from their partner or abruptly end the relationship. Communicating about your boundaries will help you maintain balance and resolve problems before they threaten your connections with others.
- Communicate with your partner
If you have an avoidant attachment style or other “attachment issues,” it’s important that you communicate about it with your partner, especially when it’s affecting your ability to be close to them. You might need to say something like, “I’m feeling the need to take some space but I’ll be back.” If you do nothing else, being able to have difficult conversations about your avoidant tendencies will make a huge difference in how your partner feels. Being in a relationship with an avoidant person can make anyone feel anxious and insecure. If your partner doesn’t understand the dynamic, they may pursue you for reassurance, which will only lead you to distance further. (Read more about the pursuer-distancer pattern in relationships).
Support for Healing an Avoidant Attachment Style
Learning how to heal an avoidant attachment style will lead to deeper, more emotionally satisfying relationships. By understanding the origins of avoidant attachment, recognizing the signs, and actively working on self-improvement, you can rewrite your attachment narrative and learn how to heal avoidant attachment, so you can get more comfortable with getting close.
If you’d like to do this important work with a clinician on my team, I invite you to schedule a free consultation.
P.S. — For more advice on how to fix ‘attachment issues’ so you can build close, connected relationships, check out my “Growing Together” collection of articles and podcasts. I made it for you!
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self. She is a licensed psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified coach, as well as the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
Let’s Talk: Start With a Free Consultation
If you’re ready to grow, we’re here to help. Connect with us, and let us know your hopes and goals. We’ll follow up with recommendations, and will help you schedule a first, free consultation.