Are you someone who finds it difficult to open up to others or form intimate relationships? Do you often feel uncomfortable expressing your emotions or being vulnerable? If so, you might have a dismissive-avoidant attachment style, a common but often misunderstood aspect of human psychology.
Attachment styles are patterns of behaviour and thought that we develop based on our early life experiences, particularly with our caregivers. A dismissive-avoidant attachment style is an insecure attachment style characterized by a strong desire for independence, self-reliance, and discomfort with emotional intimacy and vulnerability.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the dismissive-avoidant attachment style, exploring its defining characteristics and its effects on adult relationships and our lives.
What is an Attachment Style?
Attachment theory is a psychological framework that explains the way people form relationships and bonds with others. It was first introduced by psychologist John Bowlby in the 1950s and later expanded upon by his colleague, Mary Ainsworth.
The attachment theory states that a person’s attachment style is formed during their early childhood through experiences with their primary caregiver and subsequently influences their behaviour in close relationships.
Attachment styles are developed based on the emotional bonds people develop with their caretakers in their early childhood. Children require their parents as a matter of survival. If the parent leaves, the child is unable to protect themself. As a consequence, as part of their child development they will adaptively develop an attachment that best maintains the healthy relationship made with the caregivers.
These styles are largely determined by how your needs were met as a child.
- Secure attachment: Secure attachment is the most adaptive and healthy attachment style. People with this style tend to have positive beliefs about themselves and others and feel comfortable being both independent and emotionally close to others. They can easily form and maintain close, meaningful relationships, and they are able to communicate their needs and emotions effectively. Securely attached individuals are also more likely to be resilient in the face of adversity and can bounce back from difficult experiences.
- Anxious-preoccupied attachment: An anxious attachment style is a form of insecure attachment. Anxious-preoccupied attachment is characterized by a strong desire for closeness and emotional connection, often accompanied by a fear of rejection or abandonment. People with this attachment style may be overly dependent on their partners, seeking constant reassurance and validation. They may seek excessive reassurance from their partner and be overly focused on the relationship, often experiencing high levels of anxiety and emotional distress. This attachment style is thought to develop in response to inconsistent or unpredictable caregiving in early childhood.
- Dismissive avoidant attachment: The dismissive-avoidant attachment style, often referred to as simply avoidant attachment, involves maintaining emotional distance from others and prioritizing independence and self-reliance. Individuals with this attachment style often have difficulty forming and maintaining close relationships due to a deep-rooted fear of vulnerability. They may avoid emotional intimacy, be uncomfortable sharing their feelings, and have a dismissive attitude toward relationships in general.
- Fearful-avoidant attachment: Fearful-avoidant attachment, sometimes referred to as disorganized attachment, is characterized by a combination of both anxious and avoidant behaviors. People with this attachment style desire closeness and emotional connection but also fear intimacy and vulnerability. They may struggle with trusting others and often have a negative view of themselves and their relationships. This attachment style is typically a result of experiences with caregivers who were both a source of comfort and fear, creating confusion and insecurity in the child.
What is a Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style?
The dismissive-avoidant attachment style is an insecure attachment style characterized by a tendency to avoid emotional closeness, intimacy, and dependence on others.
Individuals with this attachment style often have difficulty forming and maintaining close relationships due to a deep-rooted fear of vulnerability and a reluctance to rely on others for support.
People with dismissive avoidant attachment often have a strong desire for independence and self-sufficiency and tend to prioritize self-reliance over meaningful connections. They may have difficulty expressing their emotions and receiving or responding to the emotions of others, leading to strained or distant relationships.
What Causes Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style?
The development of dismissive-avoidant adult attachment styles is related to having early relationships with caregivers who regularly invalidated or dismissed the importance of emotional needs and avoided meaningful emotional connections. When a child’s attempts to seek comfort or support from a caregiver are consistently met with rejection or neglect, the child learns that their emotions and needs are not important and that they cannot rely on others for comfort or support.
The child may come to associate their expression of emotions with the withdrawal or disappointment of their caregivers. Over time, the child internalizes this and develops a self-protective strategy of minimizing their emotional expression to avoid being hurt or rejected.
They also adopt the belief that love is conditional on how well they can control themselves and achieve. Consequently, they repress their attachment needs in favour of focusing on achievement and self-control.
In summary, the child adopts the belief that love is conditional on performance and that emotional vulnerability makes them weak and unlovable. The vulnerability required for a genuine emotional connection becomes impossible because the child associates vulnerability with rejection and abandonment. Thus, the avoidant child learns that they can only depend on themselves and that relying on others is unsafe.
While early experiences play a critical role in the development of avoidant and insecure attachment styles, it is also important to note that other factors, such as temperament, negative life events and genetics may also contribute to the development of different attachment styles.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Avoidant Attachment
A range of common symptoms and signs of dismissive avoidant attachment have been identified, including the following:
Difficulty with emotional intimacy
A dismissive-avoidant person will often experience difficulty in forming close social and personal relationships with others. The expression of vulnerability may evoke discomfort within them, leading to a preference for maintaining emotional disconnection from others and preserving a sense of independence.
In more extreme examples, people with this attachment may manifest as frequently ending romantic relationships if they develop feelings or believe they are getting too close.
Fear of rejection
As a result of maintaining emotional disconnection, people with this attachment style may experience an intense fear of rejection. This fear may stem from a belief that they are not good enough, or that others may not accept them for who they are. This is especially apparent when it comes to showing emotional needs or weakness.
Tendency to keep people at a distance
The inclination to keep others at arm’s length and maintain emotional distance is another common tendency observed in individuals with an insecure attachment style. This may manifest as an aversion to physical or emotional closeness and may lead to difficulties in sharing thoughts and feelings openly with others.
Preference for and idealization of independence
Due to their discomfort with meaningful connection, dismissive-avoidant individuals may prioritize their own needs over the needs of others and prefer to operate independently. They may idealize independence and view dependence on others and emotional closeness as weakness.
Difficulty with emotional regulation
Expressing emotions in a healthy and constructive manner can be a challenge for dismissive-avoidant individuals, leading to difficulties in regulating emotions and managing intense feelings. The difficulty arises from their inability to rely on others for emotional support or reassurance.
Discomfort with physical touch
As a result of their aversion to emotional closeness, individuals with an avoidant attachment may also experience discomfort with physical touch, avoiding activities in their romantic relationship such as hugging, holding hands, and other forms of physical touch.
Lack of emotional warmth
Individuals with an avoidant attachment style may struggle to express emotional warmth and support to others. They may come across as emotionally distant or cold, which can lead to confusion and feelings of rejection for their partners.
Tendency to withdraw
Individuals with an avoidant attachment style may be prone to withdrawing from relationships when feeling overwhelmed or stressed, seeking solace in solitude and struggling to seek support or assistance from others.
Avoidance of Conflict
An avoidant person will find it difficult to assert boundaries because boundaries imply emotional needs, which are experienced as a weakness. Rather than assert a boundary or say they dislike something, they may prefer to end a relationship altogether.
How It Affects Relationships
Individuals with an avoidant attachment style may also have a tendency to engage in behaviours that can undermine the health and stability of their intimate relationships and prevent them from forming lasting romantic relationships. These behaviours may include:
- Communication Issues: Dismissive-avoidants tend to be uncomfortable with expressing emotions or discussing them with their partners. This can lead to difficulties in communication, as they may be unwilling or unable to discuss their feelings, needs, or concerns with their partners. This can make it difficult for their partners to understand them and can cause misunderstandings and conflicts. Individuals with an avoidant attachment style may avoid emotional conversations or shut down emotionally in order to protect themselves from vulnerability. This can make it difficult to resolve conflicts or to deepen the emotional connection in the relationship.
- Trust and Intimacy: Dismissive-avoidants may struggle with trust and intimacy in their relationships. They may be reluctant to share personal information or vulnerabilities with their partners, which can create a sense of emotional distance and make it difficult to form a deep connection. This can lead to a lack of emotional intimacy and may cause their partners to feel neglected or unimportant.
- Conflict Resolution: Dismissive-avoidants tend to avoid conflict, which can cause problems when disagreements arise in their relationships. They may be unwilling to engage in conflict resolution or may simply shut down and withdraw from the situation, which can leave their partners feeling frustrated and unheard. This can make it difficult to resolve conflicts and can cause ongoing issues in the relationship.
- Emotional Labour: Dismissive-avoidants may be less willing to take on emotional labour in their relationships, such as providing emotional support or being there for their partners when they need them. This can create a sense of emotional inequality in the relationship, which can lead to feelings of resentment or frustration.
Effect of Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment on Parenting
Avoidant attachment can significantly affect parenting and the parent-child relationship. Parents who struggle with avoidant attachment may encounter various challenges in forming close, connected and healthy relationships with their children. Some common ways in which this insecure attachment style can impact parenting include:
Lack of emotional warmth
Avoidant parents may find it challenging to express emotional warmth or support to their children. They may feel uneasy with displays of affection or emotion, leading to a lack of emotional connection in the parent-child relationship.
Difficulty with emotional regulation
The struggle with emotional regulation may hinder parents with an avoidant attachment style from responding appropriately to their children’s emotional needs. They may be unable to provide their young child with comfort or support in times of distress. They may ignore their child when in distress, resulting in their children feeling unsupported or neglected. Alternatively, they may punish or chastise the child for being “weak.”
Struggles with vulnerability:
Avoidant parents may have difficulty sharing personal information or experiences with their children due to their struggle with vulnerability. This can create a sense of distance or emotional disconnection in the parent-child relationship.
As a consequence, even though they may spend a lot of time with their child, there may still be a sense that they do not really know each other.
Tendency to prioritize independence:
Avoidant parents may prioritize their own needs over those of their children. As a result, they may struggle to form close emotional bonds with their children, affecting their ability to provide emotional support and guidance.
Difficulty with trust:
The difficulty with trust may cause avoidant parents to be hesitant in relying on their children for support or trusting their children’s emotional needs. This can create tension and conflict in the parent-child relationship.
Challenges with emotional communication:
Parents with an avoidant dismissive attachment style may find it challenging to communicate effectively with their children about emotions. They may avoid emotional discussions or not possess the tools to support their children in managing intense emotions.
This can result in the child’s awareness of their own emotions remaining undeveloped, which may lead to emotional dysregulation.
Perpetuating the attachment style:
Parents with avoidant or insecure attachment styles may inadvertently perpetuate the attachment style in their children. This can occur by modelling avoidant behaviours and creating a home environment that lacks emotional warmth and support.
It is essential to recognize that not all parents with an avoidant dismissive attachment style attachment pattern will exhibit these behaviours and that individuals with avoidant attachment can still be loving, supportive parents. However, if you identify these patterns in your own parenting style, it may be beneficial to seek support from a mental health professional. A psychotherapist can help you to enhance your capacity for more secure and fulfilling relationships with your children.
How Do Dismissive-Avoidants Show Love?
Dismissive-avoidants may struggle with showing love in traditional ways due to their tendency to avoid emotional intimacy and vulnerability. However, avoidant people are still capable of loving others. They certainly have the capacity to form close and meaningful relationships.
Instead, dismissive-avoidant people may show love through actions rather than words. They may express their love by doing things for their partner, such as cooking their favourite meal, fixing something around the house, or running errands. These acts of service can be seen as an expression of love, even if they are not verbalized as such.
Dismissive-avoidants may also show their love through physical touch, such as holding hands, hugging, or cuddling. While they may not be comfortable expressing their emotions verbally, physical touch can convey a sense of closeness and connection that they may find easier to express.
What Triggers an Avoidant Person?
Avoidant adults may experience a range of triggers that can exacerbate their tendency to withdraw or become emotionally detached in relationships. Some of the most common triggers for an avoidant adult attachment style include:
For more information, check out our article on coping with avoidant attachment triggers.
Can a Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style Be Healed?
Yes! A dismissive-avoidant attachment style can be healed with therapy and self-awareness. While attachment styles are often developed in childhood, they are not set in stone. A person can develop a more secure attachment style with effort and practice.
People with dismissive avoidant attachment styles can achieve healing through a process called earned secure attachment. This involves developing new ways of relating to others, particularly in close relationships, that allow for greater emotional intimacy, attachment security and connection.
Secure attachment can be “earned” through long-term secure relationships in which you can gradually change your expectations and behaviours, such as romantic or intimate relationship like a marriage or becoming a member of a new community. A more secure attachment style can also occur in the context of a relationship with a therapist.
Check out our article on how to heal avoidant attachment style for more information.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the characteristics of a dismissive avoidant?
Some key characteristics of a dismissive-avoidant attachment style include maintaining emotional distance from others, valuing independence and self-sufficiency, difficulty expressing emotions, discomfort with emotional intimacy, and a dismissive attitude towards relationships. These individuals often struggle to form and maintain deep, meaningful connections with others due to their fear of vulnerability and desire for independence.
Can a dismissive avoidant fall in love?
Yes, dismissive-avoidant individuals can fall in love, but they may experience challenges in forming and maintaining close, emotionally intimate relationships. Their fear of vulnerability and reluctance to depend on others can make it difficult for them to open up and share their feelings, even with someone they love. However, with self-awareness, personal growth, and a willingness to address their attachment patterns, dismissive-avoidant individuals can build healthier, more satisfying relationships.
How do dismissive avoidants show love?
Dismissive-avoidant individuals may show love in subtle or unconventional ways, as they tend to avoid overt displays of affection or emotional vulnerability. They might express love through practical acts of support, such as helping their partner with tasks or offering advice, rather than through verbal affirmations or physical touch. It is important for their partners to recognize and appreciate these unique expressions of love and to communicate openly about their own emotional needs.
What is the cause of dismissive avoidant attachment?
Dismissive-avoidant attachment typically develops as a result of early childhood experiences, particularly those involving caregivers who were emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, or dismissive of their child’s emotional needs. This can lead the child to develop a coping mechanism that involves prioritizing independence and self-reliance while avoiding emotional vulnerability. Genetic predispositions and social and environmental factors can also contribute to the development of this attachment style.
Do dismissive avoidants crave intimacy?
Dismissive-avoidant individuals may crave intimacy on some level, as humans are inherently social beings with a natural desire for connection. However, their fear of vulnerability and need for independence can make it difficult for them to acknowledge and pursue this desire. It may take time, self-awareness, and therapeutic support for dismissive-avoidant individuals to recognize and address their need for intimacy and develop healthier, more secure attachment patterns.