Avoidant Attachment

"We can grow up in homes in which the food finds the table, the money finds the college funds, and the family even finds the church each Sunday; but somehow our hearts remain undiscovered by the two people we most need to know us—our parents."  Curt Thompson

When the child’s caregiver is often unavailable, dismissive, or rejecting, the child will develop an avoidant attachment—i.e, the child will become avoidant of attachment. Remember, attachment is about feeling like your caregiver is there for you and responsive to you when you feel distressed (afraid, sad, mad, etc).

In the case of avoidant attachment, when the child becomes distressed, his caregiver does not provide sufficient comfort, care and connection. When the child tries to communicate his distress, his attempts have little to no effect on the parent.

So the child is forced to try to calm himself and regulate his own emotions. 

On Your Own

An avoidantly attached child reasons that it is easier to try to regulate his own anxiety than to seek comfort from his unavailable or unresponsive caregiver. The reasoning goes like this: “Mom is either not going to understand me—or worse, dismiss me. So I guess I’m on my own.”

The child’s decision to “go it alone” is his desperate attempt to avoid further evidence that no one is there for him. The thinking is, “If I don’t ask for help, then they can’t dismiss me.” Remember, from an attachment perspective, nothing is more frightening than realizing that your parent is not attuned and responsive to you.

I'll Just Avoid Depending On Anyone

Eventually, the child learns that it is fruitless to rely upon others to meet his needs. Since his needs and wants rarely seem to matter to his caregiver, he soon stops even trying to express what he needs and wants.

His core narrative becomes “I am alone and on my own. I don't need you to be there for me. I’m fine whatever you do.”

He becomes self-reliant and develops a view of himself as independent and strong because, after all, he does not really need anyone.   

The child adapts to his environment by avoiding closeness and emotional connection to his caregiver. He begins to avoid attachment because it is too painful to hope that his caregiver will suddenly become available, accepting, and responsive. He tries to numb his desire for deep emotional connection. He shuts down his longing for attachment.

Disconnected From Desires and Emotions

Since what the child wants does not seem to matter to his caregiver, he becomes disconnected from his desires. He fails to develop a robust sense of his hopes, dreams, desires, and longings. It is simply too painful to hold onto these longings, so he becomes detached from them. 

Finally, the child often becomes disconnected from his emotions. Mothers of avoidant children are often disconnected from their own emotions. The dilemma with this is that a child develops an inner emotional world through emotional exchanges with his mother—if Mom does not have a rich inner emotional life, the child cannot develop one either.  

How To Know If You're Avoidantly Attached

As avoidantly attached children mature into adulthood, they will tend to:

  • feel more comfortable with distance and separateness
  • enjoy relationships at times, but never really need others 
  • focus on the cerebral and analytical, so that they can avoid the pain and longing of missed emotional connections with others  
  • recall facts about their life (such as where they lived, what school they attended, the model of their first car, etc) but have great difficulty recalling memories of family experiences where there was authentic emotional engagement
  • idealize their parents (to avoid connecting with how bad it really was)
  • minimize or downplay hurtful attachment experiences
  • believe that family life has little to no effect on how they developed 
  • insist that the past has little to no influence on their present life.

Attachment In A Nutshell

The three attachment styles can be summarized as follows:

Secure attachment—Mom was often attuned to you and responsive to your needs/wants. 

Avoidant attachment—Mom was rarely attuned to you and responsive to your needs/wants.

Ambivalent attachment—Mom was sometimes attuned to you and responsive to your needs/wants and sometimes she was preoccupied with her own anxiety, emotions, and moods.

 

copyright © 2016 Adam Young

For additional reading about attachment, check out 
Attachment: What It Is and Why It Matters and Ambivalent Attachment