Life's Alright

Attachment: Can an avoidant become more secure?

indepentand-traveller When we are independant we can push away those close to use and become lonely.

It used to fascinate me how so many of us can bravely go out in the world and live life without any hindrances, no need to address others concerns or needs. The famous movie, Forrest Gump is a real pioneer to this. In the movie Forrest has strong ideologies and principle motivations as he travels the world solo. Much like those with the avoidant attachment style. Maybe being independent means we avoid emotional closeness and depression.

From an outside perspective many of us will view individuals like this as lonesome travellers on their own journey. Usually people with an avoidant attachment style love the idea of a life of being self sufficient, often not accepting help or depending on others. When avoidant dependency we lose out on life as life experiences gain meaning when we share them with others. Not only does it create meaning it is also the key to our own happiness.

I want you to ask yourself, are you flying solo? If you said yes this is exactly how an avoidant act and behaves. It doesn’t matter if you are single or in a relationship you will find some way to keep love at arms length. Not close, yet just far enough to be at arm's length. While a more secure or anxiously attached individual may want to keep love closer an avoidant may look at the need to be close to their partner as a sign of weakness and they may, in fact look down on the individual who wants this. Avoidants are quick to think of closeness as clingy or needy and will often see their partner as too dependant yet they will avoid their own needs. Avoidants are not very open with their feelings and they tend to repress their thoughts and feelings as oppose to openly display or communicate.

While avoidants my look down on dependency they still want romantic relationships, they are still vulnerable to any threat of separation be it a break up or death. Earlier in the article I mentioned we may look at these individuals as free spirited, brave and living the world they aren’t all that free spirited. It is, instead, the individual’s defensive nature that makes them seem this way. In times of trauma such a divorce, death, and stressful life events they may behave just like those with anxious needs.

All too often individuals with an avoidant attachment style may feel extreme loneliness, even while in a relationship. On the contrary individuals with a secure attachment style will find it significantly easier to accept their partners flaw and will be able to depend on them easier. Being avoidant is hard and you may always keep your lover just at arm's length. Finding that place in your heart to find or call someone home is something you may find difficult to maintain.

Deactivating Strategies

All too often individuals with an avoidant attachment style may feel extreme loneliness, even while in a relationship. On the contrary individuals with a secure attachment style will find it significantly easier to accept their partners flaw and will be able to depend on them easier. Being avoidant is hard and you may always keep your lover just at arm's length. Finding that place in your heart to find or call someone home is something you may find difficult to maintain.

  • Thinking: “I’m not ready to commit” or, “I never thought I was good enough for a family” – but staying together nonetheless.
  • Focusing on the small imperfections- finding ways to turn words in how your partner talks, how they eat or dress and allowing it to ruin romanticism.
  • Flirting with others
  • Implying feelings towards your significant other - yet you never say, “I love you”.
  • Pulling Away- When things aren’t going well you pull away and need more space than needed.
  • Limited details – you keep secrets and leave things foggy to satisfy your need to maintain independence.
  • Avoid Physical Closeness- you don’t want sex, to share the bed or you walk several strides away from your partner.

Many of these are common ways you may push your partner away, yet these is so much more. This list is really the tip of the iceberg. There’s so many characteristics that may be getting in the way of your relationships and happiness you want in your life. Using the above deactivating strategies force you to look at your partner's behavior in a way of cognitive distortion and you may overlook the greatness that your partner actually has. It is important for us to be able to function as individuals in today's society yet if we if place too much importance on being self reliant we are cutting ourselves off from important lifelines that way may need at other parts in our lives. By focusing on the, “self” part, you lose the ability to focus on you and your partner and thus you lose the feeling of being something larger than yourself.

Case Study: Dawn and Joseph.

Dawn and Joseph have been dating for about six months. At first, they got along great but as time went by Dawn started feeling increasingly unhappy. Dawn thought she was in the wrong relationship and started seeing the bad and being very ungrateful for the things Joseph. She started thinking that maybe Joseph wasn’t intellectually equal to her, some times more and some times less equal, he was too need and lacked sophistication. She didn’t like how he dressed, or interacted with people. Even though Joseph was a secure individual going through a hard time he was always there to support her like no other man would. She simply never experienced the love and support he gave. Joseph did everything he could to make her feel safe, and secure and dealt with her mood swings and ever scorned her. Dawn used cognitive distortion to twist phrases to push them away and was adamant to leave Joseph. She kept saying to herself that this relationship would never work. Finally, after slowly distancing herself she broke up with him. Months later she started feeling depressed and lonely. She mourned the relationship as the best relationship she ever had.

In the above case study Dawn displayed behaviour that is common with those who have an avoidant attachment style. She looked at the glass as empty and failed to see the good qualities that Joseph displayed and instead looked at him as needy. A study from the Israeli, Bar-Ilan University asked individuals to journal their daily experiences with their partner. Out of all the attachment styles those who are avoidant failed to see their partners as positively as those with other attachment styles. The study and shows that avoidants dismiss their partners supporting behavior and instead they would dismiss them and start focusing on their countless flaws. Later on, Dawn started to recognize the countless supporting behaviors Joseph displayed as her defensive strategies diminished.

Case Study: Damien and Megan

Damien and Megan have been in a relationship for 11 months. Damien has lost his job and mother due to cancer and Megan was studying to be a lawyer. Damien was showing signs of depression and anxiety. And Megan worked very hard at her education. As a result, this behavior was getting the best to Damien. He would yell, lash out and tell Megan that she was not supporting him enough. A lot his behavior has been viewed as anger by Megan. This caused fights in their relationship. Damien broke down crying one day as he tried to plead his innocence. After many arguments he was ready to stomp out of the house and leave the relationship until Megan stopped him, “Stop! Don’t leave.” She told him. She held him by the arm and said “I need you the most, I am tired and haven’t slept in days”. Damien went to Megan and held her. Damien stayed and later he revealed that it was the first time at fully gave Megan what she needed.

This is a peculiar case as both Megan and Damien are preoccupied. Megan is in university and studying hard to be a lawyer and Damien is preoccupied in bereavement. During times of stress our attachment styles may change form one type to another. What brought the relationship back together was Megan no longer pushing away Damien and Damien letting go of his bereavement and anxiety to really communicate their needs. Damien could be viewed as stable but needing someone to help overcome his bereavement whereas Megan could be preoccupied and detached to the intimacy of the relationship. It takes a big step for someone looking out for their own needs to reach out and say, “I need you”. This simple action helped moved Megan from an avoidant to a more secure mindset.

In a study with the University of Minnesota and A&M University where they examined different attachment types, they were able to show that avoidants displayed less emotional literacy and where unable to fully interpret their partners feelings. An avoidant has to really look and read the signs. Emotional distress may not be lashing out when it may be the other saying, “I need you”.

How can an avoidant become more stable?

Often those who are avoidant will look externally and blame others for their struggles in relationships and they may think it’s not themselves. Maybe they are meeting the wrong people or finding the wrong ones. While rarely looking to themselves for the answers of their dissatisfaction and more rarely looking to their partner for help. The beginning steps to healing is looking in towards one’s self and maybe even seeking counselling. It is usually, only, when avoidants reach their lowest points of extreme loneliness that they look inwards. Getting to learn your true authentic self is the first steps to growth and becoming more secure.

  1. Identify your emotions and triggers - If you haven’t already read the article about identifying emotional triggers read it and complete the worksheet. Getting into a new relationship is exciting yet one action can go wrong and you may think, “Are they right for me?”. Learning to identify your deactivating strategies goes a long way into becoming more secure. If you thought they were great and supportive you have a lot to lose by pushing them away.
  2. De-emphasize self-reliance and focus on support- when you stop focus on self reliance and grow together you can do your own thing and grow a secure relationship.
  3. Forget about finding the one - I am not disputing that there may or not be soul mates but we also have to work in relationships. Love doesn’t come easy, it needs to be worked and built upon to grow. Having that perfect checklist may skew your opinions about people. Sometimes living life and letting things fall into place is the best for you and the relationship. Grow the relationship, get close, make them apart of you. Don’t push them away, it’s their choice if they love you or not, not yours, just as it’s your choice to push people away or not.
  4. Build gratitude – I am a big proponent of gratitude and journaling. Those who journal has been proven to have happier lives. Start by reminding yourself every day of ten good qualities about your partner. This may not be easy but could but it gets better over time. Try doing this in the morning and in the evening try thinking about the single best thing about them today.
  5. Distraction Strategies – Some times we can deactivate our emotions by simply being distracted of them. When we focus on other things and do activities and play it may make it easier to let your guard down. Use this to promote closeness. Go for a hike, sailing, prepare a meal or have a good night out.
  6. Be aware – Negative views about your partner come easy to you and create bad vibes about your relationships. Remind yourself that you may be better off trusting your partner and it may be plausible that your deactivating strategies are hard at work. Be aware and mindful of your actions. Knowing your cognition is distorted can lead you to correct your actions that may be harmful to your self.

Conclusion

While many of us may view being independent as a source of power it may lead to greater loneliness, depression and struggle. Many avoidants will look outwards, rather than inwards. When they becoming to know their thought patterns that deny them the ability to get truly close, they have completed the hardest step in becoming more secure. Employing attitudes of gratitude and embarking on a voyage of change can help an avoidant become more secure. When we stop pushing life and relationships away, we can realize that maybe life, and our relationships are alright. If you found this article helpful please share it with a friend. Let’s create a culture of love, sharing and growth.

What are cognitive distortions?
Adult Attachment: Secure attachment types.