Close relationships can be very difficult because they leave us emotionally vulnerable. We never truly know if our bids for connection will be well-received or if we might be rejected. This vulnerability is so intimidating for some people that they prefer to avoid close relationships altogether.
Are you someone who often finds yourself pushing people away or feeling suffocated in relationships? If so, you might be struggling with avoidant attachment.
This common attachment style begins in early childhood and can make it difficult to form and maintain healthy relationships. This article will provide practical strategies to help you heal and build the fulfilling, loving relationships you deserve.
What is Avoidant Attachment
An avoidant attachment style, also referred to as a dismissive-avoidant attachment style, is characterized by a tendency to avoid emotional intimacy and to prioritize independence and self-sufficiency. An avoidant person may feel uncomfortable with displays of emotion and may struggle to form close, connected relationships with others.
Avoidant attachment typically develops in childhood as a response to a lack of consistent emotional support and validation from caregivers. Children who experience neglect or emotional distance from their primary caregivers may learn to rely on themselves for emotional regulation and to avoid forming close emotional bonds with others. Over time, these patterns of avoidance can become ingrained, leading to difficulties in forming close relationships in adulthood.
Can an avoidant attachment style be healed?
An avoidantly attached person may feel as though their patterns of avoidance are permanent and cannot be changed. However, the good news is that avoidant attachment can be healed, and individuals can develop more secure, fulfilling attachment styles through effort and support.
People who heal from being avoidantly attached achieve something called earned secure attachment. The term “earned secure attachment” was first introduced by Mary Main and Judith Solomon in their research on adult attachment styles. Main and Solomon proposed that individuals who had experienced insecure attachment in childhood could still become securely attached in adulthood through a process of reflection, self-awareness, and conscious effort. This process, they argued, could lead to an “earned secure attachment.”
While the process of becoming securely attached may require time, effort, and support, it is important to remember that change is possible and that anyone can develop more secure attachment patterns. By taking the time to understand your attachment style and working to overcome patterns of avoidance, you can create a more fulfilling, connected life and experience the emotional and relational well-being you truly deserve.
Benefits of healing an avoidant attachment
Improved relationships: Developing a more secure attachment style can lead to improved ability to live in relationship with others. By learning to express your emotions and needs in a healthy way, and by developing stronger emotional bonds with others, you can form deeper, more meaningful connections with other people.
Increased emotional well-being: An avoidant person may experience feelings of loneliness, isolation, and disconnection. Developing a more secure attachment style can help you improve your emotional well-being and feel more fulfilled and connected in your relationships.
Enhanced self-awareness: Healing from avoidant attachment can help you better to understand your emotions, needs, and tendencies. This increased self-awareness can help you to make more intentional choices in your relationships.
Improved parenting: Parents who become less avoidantly attached can also improve your ability to form close, connected connections with your children. This can lead to better emotional regulation in your children and help them grow into more securely attached people.
Improved emotional regulation: Individuals who heal from avoidant attachment can develop a greater ability to regulate strong emotions and cope with emotional challenges in a way that does not disrupt their relationship with other people.
Increased sense of self-worth: Healing from avoidant attachment can help individuals to develop a stronger sense of self-worth and self-esteem. By learning to recognize and value their own emotions and needs, individuals can cultivate greater self-respect and self-love, and can reduce feelings of shame or self-doubt.
Enhanced ability to form secure attachments: Healing from avoidant attachment can help individuals to form more secure, fulfilling connections with others. This can lead to greater intimacy, connection, and emotional closeness in personal relationships, as well as improved social support and a greater sense of belonging.
Improved communication skills: Individuals who heal from avoidant attachment can develop improved communication skills, including the ability to express emotions and needs more effectively, listen actively, and respond to others’ emotions in a healthy way. Open communication can lead to greater emotional intelligence and prevent relationship issues.
How to heal avoidant attachment style
To understand how to heal an avoidant attachment style, it is essential to understand what you are aiming to change. The key to healing is not just to change behaviour, as this alone will almost inevitably result in compensatory behaviours. Your goal should be to change the unconscious beliefs and expectations that old patterns of avoidant behaviours are meant to address.
The unconscious fear of an avoidantly attached person is that their emotional needs are weaknesses that will result in rejection. The main task in helping someone with an avoidant attachment to heal is to challenge these expectations by having new experiences that correct their early childhood experiences. Through these experiences, we may slowly adopt a new perception of the world. There are several methods of changing this belief.
Seek therapy from an attachment-informed therapist
Avoidant attachment can only be healed through corrective experiences that occur within the context of a healthy relationship. To achieve this, you will need to be emotionally vulnerable in an environment where you can be relatively confident that you will not be shut down or dismissed. For example, an intimate relationship with a securely attached individual who cares for you can provide the necessary support and safety for healing. However, not everyone is in such a relationship, and this is where therapy can be beneficial.
In therapy, you can have these corrective experiences that you may not have had the opportunity to have in your personal relationships. Therapy provides a safe and supportive environment where you can work on your attachment style and develop more secure relationships.
Even if you are in a secure relationship, therapy can provide an added layer of support and a place where you can feel safe being vulnerable. You can honestly explore your emotions and work on your attachment style with your therapist without worrying about hurting their feelings or offending them.
Understand and process the origins of your attachment style
Your attachment style is a consequence of your early childhood experiences, many of which occurred before you had the capacity to even speak. This is one reason why your fears remain unconscious. Exploring early childhood memories can help you understand where these unconscious ideas came from. When you can articulate and be aware of your unconscious beliefs, you are empowered to change them.
Therapy can be a powerful tool in this regard. A skilled therapist can help to uncover and process the root of your attachment style and can guide you through the process of developing a secure, fulfilling style of relationship.
Develop trust and vulnerability
Developing trust and vulnerability can be a powerful healing tool. This must be done within the context of a safe relationship. Ideally, you can explore this with a securely attached partner. It needs to be a place where you can reasonably assume it will be safe to be vulnerable. Although this will be uncomfortable, it will get less uncomfortable as you get used to positive responses.
Alternatively, you can explore this with the help of a therapist. In that case, try to find a therapist trained to work with emotions. For instance, a therapist trained in emotion-focused therapy can help you express emotions.
Cultivate healthy communication
Healthy communication is a crucial aspect of overcoming avoidant attachment, as it enables individuals to communicate their emotions and needs in a lucid and effective manner, leading to deeper and more meaningful connections with others. To cultivate healthy communication, there are several common steps that can be taken, including:
- Developing active listening skills, which involve fully engaging with the speaker and reflecting back on what they have said using your own words, thereby ensuring that you have correctly understood their message, which can prevent any misunderstandings. Active listening is also an effective tool to establish trust and emotional connection in a relationship, although it may require a certain level of concentration and focus, especially when dealing with complex messages.
- Practicing assertiveness, which involves communicating your emotions and needs in a direct and clear manner, while also respecting the other person’s boundaries and emotions. Practicing assertiveness can be incredibly helpful in preventing avoidance of difficult or emotional conversations, while also promoting emotional intimacy and mutual respect in a relationship. This can be challenging at times, as you must learn to balance expressing your needs while being mindful of the other person’s feelings.
- Communicating with empathy, which requires an understanding and validation of the other person’s emotions and experiences, while also expressing your own. This is an important skill to cultivate as it can create a safe and supportive environment in which emotional intimacy can thrive.
- Setting boundaries, which involves establishing clear limits and expectations for what you are willing to tolerate in a relationship, while also respecting the other person’s boundaries. Setting boundaries is essential to prevent emotional overwhelm or burnout, while also promoting emotional safety and trust in a relationship. This can be difficult to navigate, especially in situations where the boundaries are not clearly defined.
- Practicing conflict resolution, which requires working through disagreements and challenges in a respectful and effective way, while also validating each other’s emotions and needs. This skill can help to prevent emotional disconnection or avoidance in a relationship, while also promoting emotional intimacy and connection. Conflict resolution can be challenging at times, as it requires the ability to manage emotions, communicate clearly, and work collaboratively towards a common goal.
By taking these steps to cultivate healthy communication, individuals can develop more fulfilling connections with others and can overcome avoidant attachment.
Challenge your self-critical thoughts
Challenging negative thoughts and beliefs can prove to be a major hurdle in the journey toward recovery from avoidant attachment. Such negative patterns of thought may manifest in the form of self-defeating beliefs such as “I’m not good enough” or “no one will ever understand me.” Negative convictions about romantic relationships may also arise, such as “intimacy is scary” or “I’m better off alone.”
Overcoming these negative thoughts and beliefs is crucial to the healing process for those with avoidant attachment, as it empowers individuals to develop more positive and self-affirming relationship thought patterns and beliefs. The process of challenging negative thoughts and beliefs involves various steps, including:
- Identifying negative thought patterns: The first step involves identifying the precise patterns of negative thoughts that contribute to emotional distress. This may require the use of a journal to record and increase self-awareness about negative thoughts.
- Examining evidence: The next step entails examining the supporting and opposing evidence to the negative thought patterns. For example, if the belief is “no one will ever understand me,” analyzing specific examples where someone has demonstrated understanding or empathy can be helpful in challenging the belief.
- Developing more balanced thoughts: After reviewing the evidence, it is necessary to develop more balanced and accurate thoughts that consider both the positive and negative evidence. This may involve reframing negative thoughts in a positive light or creating realistic beliefs about oneself and a relationship.
- Practicing self-compassion: Challenging negative thoughts and beliefs can be a difficult and challenging process, thus practicing self-compassion throughout the process is vital. This may involve treating oneself with kindness and understanding, acknowledging that negative thoughts and beliefs are normal, and reframing self-talk in a positive way.
By implementing these steps to challenge negative thoughts and beliefs, individuals can develop a more positive and self-affirming mindset and establish fulfilling and secure relationships with others. For more information, consult a guide on identifying negative thought patterns.
Healing from avoidant attachment can be a challenging, but ultimately rewarding journey. By recognizing the need for change, challenging negative thoughts and beliefs, and cultivating healthy communication, individuals can develop a more secure, fulfilling relationship and improve their emotional well-being.
While the process of healing from avoidant attachment may be difficult, the benefits of more intimate, emotionally fulfilling relationships and greater self-awareness and self-esteem are well worth the journey. Remember, change is possible, and with the right tools and support, you can create a more secure, fulfilling attachment style and experience greater emotional and relational well-being.