What is avoidant attachment? If you want to be in love but then always walk away, or are in a relationship with someone who keeps pushing you back? Then it’s something you need to know about.
Attachment in psychology refers to the way we form relationships. How do we ‘attach’ to others, how do we create bonds?
Attachment theoryis a school of thought that states that from birth to at least the age of seven, we all need one caregiver we can rely on to give us unconditional love and safety. This allows us to feel secure, and to begin to venture out into the world, knowing we have that secure base waiting for us.
The different attachment disorders were named after a 1970s study carried out by psychologist Mary Ainsworth.
The study was called the ‘strange situation study’. In it, a parent was left with her one year-old child in the room. The child explored the room with the parent watching. Then a stranger was put into the room to talk to the parent before approaching the child. The parent was ordered to then leave the room quietly, to see how the child would react being left with the stranger. Finally, the parent was allowed to re-enter the room to comfort the child.
Ainsworth identified a group of children she then called ‘anxious-avoidant, insecure’. These infants did not show distress when the parent left or returned. And sometimes they even ignored the caregiver. Ainsworth’s research showed that these same children were often pushed away by their parents when seeking attention or to have their needs met.
It was theorised this was lack of emotion was the child’s mask for distress. This assumption was later proved in studies that measured the heart rate of such children, and found it to be elevated.
Why do I have avoidant attachment disorder?
What the above study proposes is that as a child you decided that it was pointless to communicate your needs as it had no effect on your caregiver. Your way to survive was to act as if you had no needs at all. This meant you could stay close to your caregiver, who you did need for survival, and not be pushed off.
A personality disorderis an entrenched way of seeing the world that starts in adolescence. If you have AvPD your lack of interest in relationships will seriously affect all areas of life. It means you struggle to understand how other people act and think. You might, for example, not pursue life goals or a big career, as the interaction required seems too overwhelming.
If you are in a relationship with an avoidant, pushing them to communicate and emote like you do is not helpful. Attachment issues don’t change overnight, and your partner will need to commit to a process of personal growth of their own volition.
But, often, so will you. Interestingly, it is those with a corresponding attachment issue, ‘anxious attachment‘, that are attracted to avoidants. This means you have your own issues with relating, and might be either too clingy and demanding, or tend to push and pull.
If you are pretty sure you are an avoidant, then you are on the right track by assessing your own ways of relating. There will need to be a lot more self reflecting, as well as a journey of learning to recognise your own needs and communicate them. And you’ll need to learn to accept other people for who they are, and navigate compromise in relationships.
Therapy is a great place to start to look at these patterns. A therapist not only helps you process the childhood experiences behind your ways of relating, but to try out new approaches in a safe, non-judgmental space.