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Fearful Avoidant Attachment Style: A Definition

Fearful avoidant attachment develops as a result of trauma in early life and presents as a simultaneous fear of closeness and connection and longing for these things. Fearful avoidance can manifest in an inability to form close relationships, but there are strategies for dealing with this attachment style.

What are Attachment Styles?

Early in life, everyone’s childhood experiences shape their view of the world and determine their attachment style. An attachment style is a way of interacting with or relating to other people within relationships. Your attachment style can impact your romantic partnerships, familial relationships, friendships, and more.

There are four types of attachment styles: secure attachment, anxious preoccupied attachment, dismissive avoidant attachment, and fearful avoidant attachment. Many people will have a secure attachment style, which is a sign of a healthy childhood and means that you can form close bonds with other people. However, negative early experiences or adverse childhood events can result in other attachment styles which can make it more challenging to form healthy adult relationships. No matter what your attachment style is, you can work within it and find more positive ways of being with other people, but it does take practice and self-awareness.

Defining Fearful Avoidant Attachment

Fearful avoidant attachment, sometimes also called disorganised attachment, is a seemingly contradictory style. People with fearful avoidant attachment will be afraid of developing close ties with other people but will simultaneously crave love and affection.

Unlike other attachment styles, fearful avoidant attachment is quite rare. It is also the most difficult to overcome and the attachment style most likely to have severe impacts on a person’s psychological health.

Fearful avoidant attachment combines elements of both anxious preoccupied attachment and dismissive avoidant attachment. People with this attachment style crave attention and praise like an anxious preoccupied person, and will often seem needy or desperate for affection. But they also push other people away and avoid intimacy, like a person with dismissive avoidant attachment. This combination is damaging, as they are constantly working against their own impulses.

All attachment styles are developed in early childhood. Unlike people with a secure attachment style, who experience consistent and safe care from their care giver people with other attachment styles have experienced care givers who may have been traumatised them self and didn’t know how to provide consistent and safe care. They may even have had parents or another caregiver who wasare emotionally or physically abusive. This kind of childhood does not foster good self worth and esteem, children can feel a desperation for love that is never or inconsistently shown, and an inability to predict the behaviour of people they are close to. These children need comfort and reassurance but have learnt that they cannot trust the person who gives it to them.

What Does Fearful Avoidant Attachment Style Look Like?

There are several signs or behaviours that present in people with a fearful avoidant attachment style. In childhood, these people will be very closed off and unwilling to engage with others at some times, and needy or desperate for attention at other times.

As people with fearful avoidant attachment enter adulthood, they will have difficulty regulating their emotions. They may respond with anger to what they perceive is a negative emotions and have difficulty managing their feelings of stress, sadness, disappointment and frustration.

People with a fearful avoidant attachment style have low self-esteem and elevated anxiety. They will be extremely hard on themselves and think that their inability to form close bonds is due to their own worthlessness or unattractiveness.

It is very difficult for these people to develop relationships, particularly romantic partnerships. Any support offered by another person will be viewed negatively. They fear intimacy and closeness and will push people away on an emotional level. On a physical level, however, they may appear needy. People with fearful avoidant attachment often have a high number of sexual partners and will be more sexually compliant. This puts them at risk of being taken advantage of or falling into abuse relationships.

People with a fearful avoidant attachment style will struggle to find satisfaction and happiness within romantic relationships and will often feel unsatisfied. They are also more likely to be violent or experience violence in relationships.

Strategies for Dealing with Fearful Avoidant Attachment

If you suspect that you have a fearful avoidant attachment style, it’s a good idea to consult a professional to learn more about this. An experienced psychotherapist can help to unpack your feelings and emotions and work out if you do have fearful avoidant attachment style, or if you perhaps have a different insecure attachment style instead.

Because fearful avoidant attachment is usually the result of childhood trauma, therapy is the best way to deal with it. Unresolved trauma can manifest in negative adult behaviours and severely impact your feelings of self-worth, as well as stopping you from forming healthy relationships. Therapy takes time and can be difficult, but it is the most successful way of changing for the better.

When you recognise your own attachment style, it’s a good idea to be honest with the people around you. Explaining why you act and feel the way you do can be more constructive that pushing people away or rejecting support. Additionally, it’s important to be kind to yourself. Recognise negative patterns and practice positivity and mindfulness.

What To Do if a Loved One Has Fearful Avoidant Attachment

If you are in a relationship with a person with fearful avoidant attachment, it can feel very difficult to maintain the relationship. You should encourage your loved one to seek therapy to deal with their trauma; don’t try to manage it all on your own. Some things you can do to help include being reassuring and understanding, encouraging clear lines of communication, and remembering your own self-worth. A person with fearful avoidant attachment may sometimes push you away and be hurtful towards you, but remember that this is a result of their trauma and not a reflection on you.

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