What Is Avoidant Attachment?

An attachment style is the attitude or pattern of behavior you tend towards when connecting with others. Your earliest interactions with your parents or other main caretakers shape your attachment style throughout life. Depending on how close and responsive these caregivers were, your attachment style could be secure, anxious, avoidant, disorganized, or another type. 

What Does Avoidant Attachment Mean?

Avoidant attachment is an attachment style a child develops when their parent or main caretaker doesn’t show care or responsiveness past providing essentials like food and shelter. The child disregards their own struggles and needs in order to maintain peace and keep their caregiver close by. They still struggle and feel anxiety or sadness, but do so alone, and deny the importance of those feelings.

This attachment style often stays with a person through adulthood, potentially impacting their romantic relationships, friendships, and other connections. Today, roughly 30 percent of people show avoidant attachment patterns.

Causes of Avoidant Attachment

When a child wants support, avoidant parents and caregivers may downplay or ignore their problems, encouraging them to develop an avoidant attachment style. These parental behaviors include:

  • Not responding when a baby or child cries
  • Actively discouraging crying.
  • Not outwardly showing emotional reactions to issues or achievements
  • Making fun of a child’s problems
  • Showing annoyance at a child experiencing a problem
  • Not addressing medical issues or nutritional needs
  • Avoiding touch or physical contact

Parents are more likely to show these behaviors if they are very young or inexperienced, or have a mental illness. Children can also develop avoidant attachment styles due to adoption or parents’ illness, divorce, or death.

Signs of Avoidant Attachment

People of any age who have avoidant attachment styles may show symptoms of depression and anxiety. Children of avoidant parents or caretakers may not outwardly express need for affection or care. 

They are likely to:

  • Avoid physical touch 
  • Avoid eye contact
  • Never or rarely ask for help
  • Eat in abnormal or disordered ways.

As children with avoidant attachment grow up, they may show signs in later relationships and behaviors, including:

  • Trouble showing or feeling their emotions
  • Discomfort with physical closeness and touch
  • Accusing their partner of being too clingy or overly attached
  • Refusing help or emotional support from others 
  • Fear that closeness to a partner will cause them to get hurt
  • Sense of personal independence and freedom is more important than partnership 
  • Not relying on their partner during times of stress, and not letting their partner rely on them
  • Seem calm and cool in typically high-emotion situations

Continued

Treatments for Avoidant Attachment

Avoidant attachment can prevent healthy, fulfilling relationships between individuals and their partners, family, and friends. You can make the transition from avoidant to secure attachment styles through therapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) works by identifying harmful thought patterns and behaviors, understanding why and when they happen, and undoing them through role-playing, problem-solving, and building self-confidence. For avoidant attachment, CBT can address avoidant thoughts and beliefs, and work to build secure attachment thought patterns in their place.

Finding the right therapist is an important part of treating avoidant attachment. You should feel comfortable with your therapist and be able to rely on them. With therapy, consistency is key, even if you feel that your thoughts and behaviors quickly improve.

Preventing Avoidant Attachment

As a parent, you can encourage your child to develop a secure attachment style instead of avoidant attachment by:

  • Being mindful of your own emotions and how you present them in front of your child. Show your emotions on your face and through body language — as long as you are not hurting yourself or anyone else.
  • Getting enough sleep. Finding time to sleep as a parent can be difficult, but lack of sleep can make you more irritable and less able to manage your own emotions. Ask your spouse, friends, and family to help with chores and other responsibilities, so you have time to get a good night’s rest.
  • Paying attention to the sounds, facial expressions, and movements your baby makes in different situations. For example, your baby’s crying may sound different when they’re hungry versus when they’re tired.
  • Spend quality time with your baby. Talk to them, play peek-a-boo, smile at them, touch them, and show that you care and want to spend time together.

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be a “perfect” parent. No single interaction will make or break your child’s attachment style. Striving to connect with your child and doing your best to be available to them will put you on the right track towards building healthy attachment patterns.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 09, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

The American Journal of Psychotherapy: “The Talking Cure of Avoidant Personality Disorder: Remission through Earned-Secure Attachment.”

American Psychological Association: “What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?”

Center for Family Development: “Recognizing Attachment Concerns in Children.”

Evergreen Psychotherapy Center: “Four styles of adult attachment.”

Greater Good Magazine: “How to Cultivate a Secure Attachment with Your Child.”

HelpGuide: “Building A Secure Attachment Bond With Your Baby.”

HelpGuide: “How Attachment Styles Affect Adult Relationships.”

Michael Hilgers, LPC: “Avoidant Attachment Style.”

Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology: "Insecure Attachment, Dysfunctional Attitudes, and Low Self-Esteem Predicting Prospective Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety During Adolescence.”

Journal of Family Psychology: “Mothers’ Emotional Reactions to Crying Pose Risk for Subsequent Attachment Insecurity.”

Paediatrics & Child Health: “Infant-parent attachment: Definition, types, antecedents, measurement and outcome.”

PsychAlive: “Avoidant Attachment: Understanding Insecure Avoidant Attachment.”

Psychology Today: “Do You or Your Partner Have An Avoidant Attachment Pattern?”

Psychotherapy Research: “Improvement in adult anxious and avoidant attachment during cognitive behavioral therapy for panic disorder.”

Simply Psychology: “Secure Attachment and Other Attachment Styles.”

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