Attachment Styles Part 3: Dismissive-Avoidant

This is the third in a four-part series on attachment patterns. The four attachments are part of a psychological model known as attachment theory. This model describes how people relate to one another. We form attachment styles as infants, primarily through the child-parent relationship. Our childhood experiences  go on to shape and influence our intimate relationships as adults. Please read the previous sections on secure attachment, anxious-preoccupied attachment, and stay tuned for the following article on fearful-avoidant attachment.

Dismissive-avoidant attachment style is one of three observed forms of insecure attachment. Contrasted with secure attachment, where people are able to enjoy stable relationships, insecure attachment often leads to unhealthy and unfulfilling relationships. For instance, dismissive-avoidant individuals have an armour of high self-worth, value independence, and do not place a priority on forming close relationships. While many of these characteristics are generally seen as positive, dismissive-avoidant attachment is often maladaptive because these adults push away relationships, suppress their feelings, act defensively, and deny themselves a basic human need.

Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style in Childhood

Adults who exhibit dismissive-avoidant attachment style display anxious-avoidant attachment in childhood. Fearful-avoidant attachment style has the same origin. The two patterns differ because dismissive-avoidant adults have high self-confidence and don’t seek close relationships while fearful-avoidant individuals desire close relationships but have low self-confidence, believing there must be something wrong with them to cause abandonment and rejection.

According to research by pioneering psychologist Mary Ainsworth, the parent of the avoidant child is distant, withholds affection and is unresponsive to the emotional needs of the child. The child stays close enough to the parent to maintain protection, but maintains a safe emotional distance to avoid rejection. The child begins to see others as unreliable and views intimacy as dangerous. Anxious-avoidant children who transition to dismissive-avoidant attachment in adulthood develop high self-confidence and independent traits to compensate for the lack of responsiveness from the parent.

Characteristics of Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style

Dismissive-avoidant individuals are comfortable living independently and do not seek or desire close emotional relationships. They are often high achievers and enjoy professional success. Independence and self-sufficiency are normally admirable traits, especially when compared with maladaptive traits like co-dependency. However, dismissive-avoidant individuals often deny the basic human need for connection and intimacy with others to their own detriment. They view the natural need for human closeness as a weakness. The high self-esteem is often only armour to cover the belief he or she is not truly worthy of love and attention.

Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment in Adults

While dismissive-avoidant adults may get into romantic partnerships, they seek less intimacy and affection compared to other attachment styles. They often do not tend to the needs of their partners as required. They maintain an emotional distance and have the ability to shut off emotionally when their partners are distressed. They value independence and self-sufficiency above all else, and view dependency on others as a vulnerability.

Dismissive-avoidant attachment is a maladaptive attachment pattern, but it can be overcome with mindfulness and hard work under the guidance of your Ottawa therapist. By being aware of our own attachment patterns and making conscious choices to seek out partners with secure attachment styles, anyone can enjoy stable, secure, healthy, and fulfilling relationships. Speak with your Ottawa therapist to learn more.