Our attachment styles are shaped in early childhood and are typically reinforced throughout life. Our attachment styles shape how we attach or connect to others. They shape how we interact in our closest relationships, especially romantic relationships.
There are two main types of attachment styles: Secure and Insecure.
A securely attached person tends to form healthy close relationships with others.
Someone with an insecure attachment style experiences difficulty forming healthy relationships with people.
Insecure attachment style is of two types:
Anxiously attached individuals experience a high degree of anxiety in relationships. They have an intense fear of losing their partner.
Avoidants fear getting close to their relationship partners. As soon as the relationship starts getting serious, they tend to pull away from their partner.
Avoidant attachment style has two sub-types:
- Dismissive avoidant
- Fearful avoidant
Dismissive avoidants tend to dismiss their emotions and the emotions of their partner. They push their partner away as soon as they start getting emotionally close. They have a fear of commitment.
Fearful avoidants desire and fear close relationships simultaneously. They engage in a cyclical pattern of behavior where they get close to their partner, pull away, get close again, and so on.
Walking away from an avoidant
It’s hard to be in a relationship with an avoidant because they seem to sabotage your attempts to get closer.
On one hand, they want connection. They want to be with you or they wouldn’t have entered the relationship. On the other hand, something in their psyche pulls them in the opposite direction.
This something is their subconscious abandonment wound that they probably experienced in childhood.
Deep down, they have a fear of getting abandoned in close relationships. So, they pre-emptively ‘protect’ themselves by avoiding closeness.
When avoidants avoid you, it doesn’t mean they don’t love you. It means they haven’t healed their wounds. Of course, if you don’t understand this, you’re likely to get hurt when they avoid you. Their avoidance creates uncertainty and anxiety in you.
If this happens consistently, you may decide to walk away from your avoidant partner to relieve yourself of the uncertainty and anxiety. This is especially true for those with anxious attachment styles.
What happens when you pull away from an avoidant?
Since avoidants have the core subconscious wound of “I am abandoned”, you’ll trigger this wound when you walk away from them. Their deepest fears will come true. They’ll be like:
“I knew it! I knew they would abandon me.”
This is assuming they still have feelings for you. If they’ve lost feelings for you, they’ll experience relief when you break up with them. They no longer have to fear getting hurt.
1. When they still have feelings for you:
Desire for closeness > Avoidance of closeness
2. When they lose feelings for you:
Desire for closeness < Avoidance of closeness
When they’ve lost feelings for you, it’s probably over. They’re unlikely to come back.
If they still have feelings for you, they’ll be torn apart by the battle raging in their minds- the battle between wanting you and avoiding you.
Since you triggered their wound, they’ll lean more toward avoiding you as a defense mechanism. They’ll pull away from you hard when you walk away from them.
Over time, however, their desire to be with you may overcome their fears and want to get back with you.
So far, we’ve looked at how avoidants generally react to being abandoned. Let’s look at how dismissive avoidants and fearful avoidants react, specifically.
Walking away from a dismissive-avoidant
Dismissive-avoidants have strong independence and space needs. They find it extremely hard to need or rely on others. Since a healthy relationship requires interdependence, a relationship with a dismissive avoidant can be challenging.
The courtship stage with a dismissive avoidant can be exciting and pleasant, but as soon as commitment nears, dismissive avoidants pull away.
Dismissive avoidants tend to be emotionally unavailable to their partners because they’re emotionally unavailable to themselves. As a result, it can be hard to form an emotional bond with them. They don’t open up easily.
Getting dismissed regularly in a relationship with a dismissive avoidant may lead you to contemplate leaving them. No one likes to be constantly dismissed, invalidated, and pushed away. Especially not by a romantic partner.
What happens when you walk away from a dismissive avoidant?
You’ll trigger their abandonment wound, and they’ll tell themselves their fears were justified. Dismissive-avoidants are highly sensitive to rejection. It’s part of why they reject others pre-emptively.
But their need for independence is often more potent than their fear of rejection.
As a result, dismissive avoidants will likely feel relief when you leave them, regardless of whether they still have feelings for you.
When you leave them, they’ll weigh the pros and cons of being with you. They tend to be very analytical and look at everything in life analytically.
After their post-breakup analysis, if they conclude you’re not a worthwhile partner, they’ll leave you for good. You likely infringed on their need for space more than they could handle.
If they conclude you’re worthwhile, it’ll still be hard for them to reach out to you because they hate coming across as needy.
So, they’ll give you tiny bits of attention (breadcrumbing) just to see where you’re with them emotionally. They’ll test if you still care.
If their analysis tells them you’re worthwhile, they’ll do what they can to keep you in their life, even if it’s just as friends.
Walking away from a fearful-avoidant
Fearful-avoidants experience a mix of anxiety and avoidance in relationships. Some of them may lean more toward the anxious side while others lean more toward the avoidant side.
Those who lean more towards the avoidant side will behave like dismissive avoidants when you walk away from them.
Those who lean more toward the anxious side will behave more like the anxious-preoccupied attachment style.
Those who lean more towards the anxious side will experience anxiety in addition to experiencing abandonment when you leave them.
To get rid of the anxiety, they’ll reach out to you as soon as possible if they still have feelings for you.
They’ll blame themselves for the relationship going bad and apologize profusely. They’ll often take extreme measures to win back the relationship, like traveling hundreds of miles to see you or saying, “I’ll do anything you want”.
They’re primarily emotions-driven. The fear of losing their romantic partner takes over their entire life, and they find themselves doing the silliest things.
They’ll even admit how silly they acted when they have fleeting moments of rationality later.
Hi, I’m Hanan Parvez (MBA, MA Psychology), founder and author of PsychMechanics. PsychMechanics has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, and Entrepreneur. Feel free to contact me if you have a query.