Attachment Styles Part 4: Fearful-Avoidant

This article is the final installment in a four-part series about attachment styles. Each of these four styles is a component of a psychological model called attachment theory. The theory attempts to articulate how people connect with and relate to one another. Everyone’s individual attachment style begins to take shape in early childhood, based on the child-parent bond. An individual’s attachment style shapes and influences intimate relationships going forward. Read our previous articles on secure attachment, dismissive-avoidant attachment, and fearful-avoidant attachment to learn more.

Fearful-avoidant is one of three attachment styles that together comprise the category of insecure attachment. As opposed to secure attachment, wherein adults can form stable and loyal bonds with others, insecure attachment styles manifest a variety of problematic characteristics. Adults with fearful-avoidant attachment exhibit mixed feelings about relationships. They must constantly balance a fear of being too close with a fear of being too distant from other people. They fear close and intimate bonds, but they also fear abandonment and rejection. They desire emotionally close relationships, but are also fearful that closeness will inevitably lead to hurt.

Fearful-Avoidant Attachment in Childhood

Adults who exhibit fearful-avoidant attachment style display anxious-avoidant attachment in childhood. Dismissive-avoidant attachment style has the same origin. The two patterns differ because dismissive-avoidant adults develop a shield of high self-confidence and don’t seek close relationships  while fearful-avoidant individuals desire close relationships but lack the armour of high self-esteem and believe they must be flawed in some way that drives others away.

With anxious-avoidant attachment, the child avoids or ignores the caregiver, shows little emotion when the caregiver leaves, and shows little emotion when the caregiver returns. According to psychologist Mary Ainsworth’s findings, the parent of the avoidant child is distant, unresponsive, and often hostile to the affection and attachment needs of the infant. The child stays close enough to maintain protection, but keeps enough distance to avoid rejection. This is often a cycle that will repeat when the child grows to have children of his or her own.

Characteristics of Fearful-Avoidant Attachment

People who exhibit fearful-avoidant attachment often lack self-confidence and carry negative views about themselves. They believe they are not worthy of emotional closeness, and there must be something wrong with them that invites rejection and betrayal. They are also skeptical of their partners, anticipating hurt. Fearful-avoidant individuals are often closed off emotionally and have difficulty expressing their feelings and providing or receiving affection. They often have difficulty communicating.

Fearful-Avoidant Attachment in Adults

Adults with fearful-avoidant attachment often find themselves trapped between two competing beliefs. They recognize the value of emotionally close relationships, and desire such a bond. At the same time, they fear being emotionally hurt by their partners, and so shy away from developing emotionally close relationships.

These individuals often end up in dramatic and unstable relationships, fearing abandonment when they sense distance from their partner, but then feeling trapped when their partner is close. They often seek less intimacy from partners and often offer less affection as a way to shield themselves from hurt. These adults have difficulty communicating their feelings. Fearful-avoidant adults may end up in abusive relationships.

Fearful-avoidant attachment is a maladaptive attachment pattern, but it can be adjusted with mindfulness and work on yourself with the guidance of an Ottawa therapist. It starts with being aware of your attachment style, seeking out healthy and secure partners, and working together to form a new attachment pattern. Speak with your Ottawa therapist to learn more.