Dismissive-Avoidant attachment. Very impressive sounding words right there.
So let’s be impressive and start this whole thing off with a few facts. Love a fact.
Firstly, we’re all humans and we’re all built to relate to other people. But this can get complicated.
Secondly, let’s agree that people need each other. Sometimes as much, or more, than we need ourselves. I’ve tried to fight it. Don’t bother. People need people. Most of what we feel, and learn, can only happen in relationships.
Lastly, it really doesn’t matter if you’re introverted or extroverted – we all still need people. So – your personality type has nothing to do with how many relationships you want. Maybe the types of relationships may change – but not the quantity.
We all crave acceptance from others. That’s why, when someone tells us, “I like being around you,” our heart jumps a little extra beat in happiness because (a) wow I’m not alone here on earth after all!! And (b) oh my goodness somebody likes me enough to tell me about their feelings!!!
Our need to belong, while nice and warm and fuzzy, can push us into relationships super-fast. It’s also why we’re almost always reluctant to end them – even when we know they’re not right. Damn that ‘need to belong’. I know – right?
At birth, we’re all wired with a desire to create and keep relationships. In fact, we’re born totally relying on other people, and with complete trust that they’ll meet all our needs. Let that sink in. We completely trust that we’ll have everything we need.
Trouble is, any time after birth, this can start to go a bit pear-shaped.
Mostly because – our parents are humans too. And they have their own pasts.
Hiccoughs, (or major burps), can happen during our childhood. These profoundly change our beliefs around relationships and other people.
No big surprise – the title of the blog post might have given it away. Today, we’re talking about the times that these “burps” result in a child developing the Attachment Style called “Dismissive-Avoidant.” Ta-Da.
Adults with Avoidant Attachment often struggle to use words to describe how they feel. And – they HATE asking for any of their emotional needs to be met by someone else.
If you’re the partner of a Dismissive, you’ll know that the more you ask for intimacy and affection, the more you’ll be rejected.
The more direct you are about what you need, the greater the rejection. This is the opposite of what we’re told in Relationship Self-help books. “Be clear with what you need” – they say. “Tell them exactly how you feel”. Trying this with a Dismissive-Avoidant will not be a pretty thing. No wonder you’re confused.
Dismissives are usually the ones who end relationships. Their relationships with friends and family often suffer.
This might all sound very harsh – but – yup, that’s how it looks to most people looking on. Even though this behaviour usually comes from a place of huge insecurity – it looks the opposite. Like they think they’re too good to need anyone.
Let’s look at how this all starts?
Bets are on that someone in their childhood has left them with a huge fear of intimacy and the idea that connection with anyone is scary. They will honestly believe that connection with people isn’t necessary.
When their inner needs for connection and physical closeness weren’t met – the kids with Avoidant-Attachment stopped seeking closeness, and/or stopped showing emotion. BOOM. Major burp.
Here are some things their parents might have done when they were babies or young children, (usually not on purpose), that lead to Avoidant Attachment.
- refusing to acknowledge their child’s cries or other shows of distress or fear.
- discouraging their child’s displays of emotion by telling them to stop crying, grow up, or toughen up. (HTFU)
- becoming angry or leaving a child alone when they show signs of fear or distress.
- shaming a child for showing emotion.
- having unrealistic expectations about how emotionally and physically independent a child should be.
- being uncomfortable with expressing feelings themselves.
- seeing a lack of emotional expression as being a strength. Both in themselves, their kids, and other people.
How does this look when the person is an adult?
- They don’t want to depend on you, and they don’t want you to depend on them. They want their freedom and independence and want (or at least think that they want) you to be the same way.
- They avoid displays of feelings. This can range from PDAs to saying anything in the least bit affectionate.
- They sometimes act Narcissistically. But – they aren’t always actual Narcissists. Dismissive-Attachers often seem to have a high opinion of themselves and are really critical of other people. This is often a big act to try and avoid being criticised themselves.
- They don’t make romantic relationships number 1. A person with a Dismissive-Avoidant attachment style would find that way too intense. The relationship/partner would be far more important in their lives than they want it to be. So, they rank it lower than something else, like work, mates, sport or hobbies.
- They purposely piss off a partner so the partner won’t want to get too close. A Dismissive-Attacher might flirt with someone else. Ignore their partner’s texts or calls and/or make decisions without their partner. All this is an effort to push their partner away.
- They tend to be paranoid that you’re trying to control them. An Anxious Attacher is always on the lookout for ways that their partner is losing interest in them. A Dismissive-Attacher is always on the lookout for signs that their partner is trying to control them or limit their freedom. Even healthy, “normal” relationship-type behaviour will come across as controlling to them. You’ll be fighting a losing battle trying to argue this one.
- They often say (or think) “I’m not ready to commit”—but they stay, nonetheless, sometimes for ages. Need I mention confusion again? I just did. ?
- They focus on tiny imperfections in their partner. Like the way they talk, dress, eat, breathe – you get my drift. Then they obsess about these things until it all gets in the way of any romantic feelings.
- They mention ex-partners as if they were the ultimate prize and no one else will ever be that amazing. Truth is – this person may not even actually exist. This is to keep you on your toes and lets them be half-in, half-out of the relationship AND make it your fault. You’re not living up to their ideal so – meh.
- They aren’t clear about how they feel. Leaving you guessing. They might say “Well – I’m here aren’t I?”. Um – yes – but…
- They pull away when things are going well or pick a fight for no reason.
- They chase relationships with unavailable people. Like married people. Yes.
- They “check out mentally” when their partner is talking to them. The blank stare.
- They keep secrets – often for no good reason other than to feel separate or superior to other people.
- They avoid physical closeness. Not wanting to sleep in the same bed, not wanting to have sex, walking ahead of their partner. The physical aspects of the relationship will be on their terms.
- They might say that needing others is weak. That being in a relationship is having “too many strings attached”. The old “ball and chain”.
- They often don’t have great recall about their childhood. This lets them forget a time when they needed other people. So they don’t need to process the pain of not getting what they needed when they were children.
- They’ll often say “Why do we need to dredge this stuff up” in therapy or arguments. “This whole thing is stupid”.
- They often talk about their parents in unclear terms and tend to make them sound amazing. To make it weirder, you might hear all about how amazing their mother was/is. Then – a bit later, or in a group conversation, hear that she got drunk often. And left them alone. What the?
- They’ll say all the negative things their parents did were actually good – because that built their character.
- They often don’t recognize that separations from people have an emotional impact on them. When their partner’s away, they might get obsessively focused on work. They may even celebrate the separation (publically – like on social media). Then be strangely, even cruelly distant, from the partner when they do come back.
- Dismissives learn to get their needs for attention, sex, and community met through less demanding partners (often the anxious-preoccupied!). No one will catch all the “feels” and wreck everything.
- They learn to disguise it when they do need care/help. They become good at using all sorts of control to get another person to be there for them. They usually seek out people who give without being asked.
- When you start dating, Avoidants can be charming and have learnt all the right things to say and do. They do this well – but only for a little while. They have an idea in their head of the “ultimate” romantic partner and no actual human can live up to this. When people don’t, they stop pretending and discard people as soon as they can.
- Because they aren’t really aware of their feelings, they can’t talk about them in a meaningful way. Often there are no real clues before they dump you. They won’t have had the hard conversations.
- The Dismissive-Avoidant is afraid of, and can’t tolerate true intimacy. They were raised to not depend on anyone, or reveal any feelings, so their first instinct when someone gets close to them – is to run away.
- They try to limit their exposure to their partners by manipulating their responses, usually by not responding to messages. Especially if their partners need any reassurance about how they feel.
- They let you know you’re low on their priority list. And, that your inner emotional state is your problem. This leaves their partner feeling really alone – but in a relationship. Again – confusion.
- In extreme cases, they can’t talk about their feelings at all. This syndrome is called alexithymia. This word means “having no words for feelings,” which is not quite the same thing as not having feelings. In the worst cases, they can only express themselves with intense anger and tantrums. Or unexplained physical symptoms like stomach pains, headaches…
But don’t let Dismissive-Avoidant attachment fool you.
People with Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment can look fiercely independent, or even like Narcissists. But – their problems are usually all about low self-esteem. The same as someone with an Anxious Attachment.
What can I do about my Dismissive-Attachment?
Dismissive-Attachment can be tough to change, because if you’ve got this attachment style – I’ll bet you believe that it’s a strength. This really doesn’t make change easy or even something you might want.
So – let’s look at the best place to start:
- Realize that your attachment style is unhealthy and probs causing people close to you a whole lotta pain. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not wrong to want independence. It’s just uncool to seek absolutely no dependence at all and to want someone to have absolutely no dependence on you at all. In a healthy relationship, both partners trust each other. They give each other room to explore their own interests and needs but know someone has their back.
- Realize that your idea of what is clingy or needy might be skew-whiff. Just because you think your partner is clingy and needy, doesn’t make it the truth. You have a super-sensitive radar for anything you think is even slightly clingy and it’s giving you some false readings. Trust me on that. Ask someone else, who’ll be honest with you, to give you a second opinion next time you think someone is being “too needy”.
- Try to form relationships with Secure Attachers, not Anxious Attachers. One of the best ways for Insecure Attachers to change their style is to hook up with a Secure Attacher. It doesn’t always work. It won’t be easy – it will feel weird – but it will be easier for you to change if you’re interacting with someone who’s Secure.
What can I do if my partner has this attachment style?
- My first question to you – “Are you an anxious attacher?” Anxious attachers and Dismissive Attachers are like relationship magnets. Anxious Attachers get their suspicions that they’re not worth loving confirmed by Dismissive Attachers. Dismissive-Attachers get their suspicions that all partners are clingy confirmed by Anxious Attachers. We’re all drawn to people who confirm what we believe is the truth. Eek.
- Don’t talk in absolutes. You know – “You always”, “You never” “Completely”. Be incredibly careful of ultimatums. If you say, “Everything you’re doing needs to change or it’s over”, you pretty much won’t get what you want from your partner. They can’t just change like that. You could try something like, “I need you to get some help to change some of the ways you react/act. If you don’t, I can’t stay in this relationship because it hurts me too much.”
- Use fact – no opinion. You might need some help from a therapist here. Dismissive Attachers are super-sensitive to criticism. They will let their ‘rage flag’ fly if you say something like, “You don’t care about me and my needs at all!” Boom – Tanty. Maybe – try mentioning a fact, such as, “We’ve been dating for a year and you won’t meet my family.” No emotional words.
- Think about the big picture before you leave. We all have attachment styles that react with other people. There’s no one right answer about whether you should leave a Dismissive Attacher or not.
I won’t even begin to get into it here – it’s too complex.
I always say that we all have our “sh$$t” – you just need to find someone who is taking care of their own “S$$t”. Also – someone who doesn’t set off all your insecurities and who is open to a truthful conversation about how they might be affecting you.
On that note – I’ll leave it here.