Having strong connections with others is vital for our happiness and overall health. Our relationships with others have the power to deeply enrich our lives, as well as extend them. For some, emotional intimacy happens quite naturally. However, cultivating close relationships can be a struggle for many people.

One reason this might be the case is their attachment style. Attachment, in psychology, refers to the deep emotional bonds we form with others. People who are avoidantly attached may find it difficult to navigate relationships. Although you might face extra relationship hurdles because of an avoidant attachment style, it is still possible to cultivate a happy, healthy, loving relationship. 

Read on to learn more about avoidant attachment, the ways it can affect your relationships, and how you can overcome avoidant behaviors to have stronger connections in your life.

What is Attachment Style?

Attachment theory was proposed in the 1960s by psychologist John Bowlby. Originally conceived as a two-part explanation of infant and child behavior, the model was expanded upon several times to paint a fuller picture of attachment throughout both childhood and adulthood.

Our first attachments were formed as infants to our caregivers. These are parents, grandparents, or anyone who is consistently responsible for an infant/child’s well-being. 

A child’s attachment to their caregiver is a major factor in several areas of their cognitive, social, and emotional development. It forms the basis of their early coping skills, and it can have lifelong effects on their ability to have stable relationships with others.

Your attachment style describes how you form emotional bonds with people and how you behave in relationships long after childhood. It has to do with the way you were cared for early in life, but it’s not set in stone. Your life experiences as you grow into adulthood and throughout your life can also shape your attachment style in adult romantic relationships.

Attachment styles can be sorted into two basic categories—secure and insecure. 

Secure Attachment

Secure attachment helps children grow into well-adjusted adults. When a child is securely attached to their parent/caregiver, they trust that they can depend on their caregiver for protection and comfort. They know they can rely on their caregiver to have their basic needs met. 

These children see their caregiver as a “secure base” from which they can explore the world. They feel safe leaving their base because they trust their caregiver will be there when they return. They may be upset when their parent or caregiver leaves them, but they can compose themselves and are not upset or angry with their parent when reunited.

Securely attached adults behave similarly. They might miss their partner when they’re away, but they can cope well with their feelings. They trust that they can rely on their partner for support and companionship, and they are easily able to create and respect healthy boundaries.

Insecure Attachment

Someone with an insecure attachment style might have difficulty trusting others in relationships. For any number of reasons, they weren’t able to view their caregivers as a “secure base” in early childhood. This could be because they had emotionally unavailable parents, or they were raised by someone who was unable to care for them well. 

Insecure attachment can be further broken down into two groups: anxious and avoidant. Some struggle with disorganized attachment, which includes traits of both insecure attachment styles.

When a child is anxiously attached, they may stick close to their caregiver. If they’re separated, the child will often become inconsolable, even after their caregiver returns. They may also have trouble with regulating negative emotions in general, as well. 

In adulthood, these anxious patterns can appear as a strong need for closeness and intimacy in a relationship. Anxiously attached adults may need frequent reassurance that others like them. They may fear abandonment and worry that their partner will leave them. 

Insecure attachment styles have been linked to a higher likelihood of mental illness, such as depression and anxiety disorders. People who form insecure attachments often also struggle with low self-esteem. They may find intimacy difficult and have a hard time trusting others.

What is Avoidant Attachment? 

Children may develop avoidant attachment as a result of their needs and/or emotions being dismissed or downplayed by their caregivers. This can lead children to believe that their needs are not as important as others’, and they may learn to disregard them instead of asking for help. Avoidantly attached children learn that they must rely on themselves for comfort and support.

In adulthood, this can be further broken down into fearful-avoidant attachment and dismissive-avoidant attachment.

People with dismissive-avoidant attachment style tend to overlook the value of intimacy and closeness. This can make vulnerability very difficult, thus dismissively attached people are prone to isolation. They often have short, casual relationships that don’t carry the risk of emotional intimacy. Anything deeper is likely to cause distress, and thus to be avoided. This is due to a lack of trust in others.

As Dr. Morgan Anderson, psychologist, attachment expert, and author of Love Magnet: Get Off the Dating Rollercoaster and Attract the Love You Deserve says, 

“If your brain has associated intimacy, closeness, dating, or relationships with pain, then it wants to keep you the hell away from it. . . . This is often why people take two steps toward love and then three steps back. Their brain sends out the message of ‘Alert! Alert! Intimacy is near! Must exit immediately or do something stupid to mess this up!’’

People who form fearful-avoidant attachments may be more likely to start leaning on others for comfort, and then withdraw. These individuals tend to isolate more out of a fear of rejection than their dismissive counterparts. This leads them to seek out intimate relationships but to jump ship when it’s time for a deeper commitment.

How to Heal Avoidant Attachment Style

Avoidant behaviors can get in the way of your relationship truly flourishing, or they might stop it in its tracks before it even begins. 

If avoidant attachment has caused issues in your past relationships, there is hope for your current and future connections. You can learn new coping mechanisms and disrupt old patterns of thinking. Secure attachment can become second nature to you with time and effort.

If You Form Fearful-Avoidant Attachments

Learning to overcome avoidant attachment is a journey that simply can’t take place overnight. Part of this is getting more comfortable expressing vulnerability in your relationships. However, much of the work that comes with healing fearful-avoidant attachment is going to be on your relationship with yourself. 

For this, Dr. Morgan has some tough love:

“The truth is that your lack of self-worth is causing your poor habits, and your poor habits are maintaining your low self-worth.”

According to Dr. Morgan, having high self-worth is the foundation for attracting the loving connections you deserve. She says the journey to restoring your self-worth begins with establishing good self-care practices.

When you’re forming new habits, Dr. Morgan stresses the importance of doing things that are genuinely beneficial to your well-being. While taking a bubble bath every night can be fun and relaxing, warm water can’t do all the heavy lifting here. To get to the root of what you need, Dr. Morgan recommends asking yourself this question: 

“What habits, boundaries, and methods of communication do I need in order to be the version of me that kicks ass, takes names, and feels at peace?”

She says that one of the most effective ways to rebuild your self-worth is by changing your day-to-day actions. When you practice good self-care and allow those habits to affect different areas of your life, it has the power to change you on a fundamental level.

Your new habits will allow you to behave like someone who loves themself unapologetically. When you start behaving this way, according to Dr. Morgan, your thoughts and beliefs about yourself will eventually follow suit. 

If You Form Dismissive-Avoidant Attachments

Many dismissively attached people are perfectly happy being self-reliant. However, being hyperindependent can be incredibly lonely. When you’re trying to build your capacity for intimacy, it might be hard to know where to begin. Looking more closely at your need for total independence is the first step.

One way to start chipping away at your walls is to start saying “yes” to things that are a bit outside your comfort zone. For example, if you have difficulty showing emotion in front of others, try watching a sappy movie with someone you trust. This will let you safely allow yourself to shed a few tears without getting too deep just yet.

Being vulnerable is scary for folks who form dismissive attachments. However, over time, you can teach yourself to trust intimacy from your loved ones. This allows the people you love to support you through life’s struggles, and it lets them fully celebrate your wins as well.

Final Thoughts

Some of us tend to avoid closeness because we fear we’re not good enough. Others have gotten used to handling things on their own. Whatever the reason, avoidant attachment can make relationships hard to navigate. 

You don’t have to do it alone. Talking to a professional, whether a licensed therapist or a certified dating coach, can help you understand your attachment issues. Knowledge is power, so consider doing your own reading as well. Dr. Morgan Anderson’s Love Magnet is a great place to start.

With patience and time, you can learn to heal your avoidant attachment. You can face your fears and learn to let people in. And by doing that, you can enjoy deeper connections and a more fulfilling life.