Why is Avoidant Attachment So Hard to Stop?
Avoiding others and not attaching is designed to make us feel secure. Odd, isn’t it? We have to take a look at how avoiding attachment actually did serve us at one point, and how it no longer does.
Attachment theory has identified three basic kinds of attachment
Secure – this is the ideal where people remain together for life and have a supportive, well functioning relationship.
Anxious – the individuals are needy, anxious, clingy, and depend heavily on the partner.
Avoidant – Those with this kind of attachment style keep distance from the partner, and from others in his or her life.
Avoidant behaviors are on a continuum from somewhat separate from others all the way to living in isolation such as hermits. Very common in our culture are those who hold others away to a degree that allows relationship, but not to the possible level of intimate connection through life.
I grew up avoidantly attached in order to preserve myself from my mother’s perception of me as evil. I developed an identity as an alien in order to believe that I didn’t belong in this culture in which I was seen this way – according to her.
Avoidant attachment is effective for people who grow up abused or neglected as it is a buffer between the child and the harmful adults. It allowed me to create a powerful life.
But the price is high. The avoidant approach brings along with it feelings of isolation and alienation, even when highly involved in work and family. It is depriving of love and connection, and an ability to easily shift forward to what is needed. A part of the mind and heart are always focused elsewhere – work, the next drink, other people, a creative project.
So why is it difficult to stop?
Think about the reasons that you started avoiding in the first place. Until you have healed, or grieved out all the reasons for needing it, it feels as if the very dangers of the past exist now, as well.
I fell in love out of avoidant attachment, and I took care of my son during his surgery out of avoidance. Both were wonderful experiences, but were followed by intense grief and then fear.
Sometimes it is hard to welcome these emotions even though I understand that they are a natural phase in change.
Two mornings after leaving my son’s house, I woke with fear. Life seemed to have no meaning. I couldn’t think of anyone to call. I was upset that a new man I was interested in hadn’t emailed me during the night.
Now why on earth would I feel such a dreadful emotion when I had experienced perfection in my shift away from an Avoidant life style? The simple answer is, it’s just the way this works. We have “flash backs” of the past that are triggered by a change toward living fully in the present.
When I lived in Hawaii I tamed cats out of the jungle in order to get them fixed and reduce the number of reproducers. I came to understand the process of fear reduction. The first step was touching them. Once they felt my hand, a miraculous change set in. They wanted more! I went from being a predator who was between them and the cat food to being a fascinating object with something they really liked.
Each cat would look at me wide eyed, body tightened, ready to run as I bent down to pet. They would hold still for as long as possible. Next they would seek me out, standing away from me, listening to me talk to them. And get more petting. But then he or she would disappear for a week or two! Then on return, they were calmer, allowing more intimate petting, and purring with volume. It took years of this before each cat became as tame as those raised around people.
This is how we process fear, too. Back and forth. Get the reward, then run away from it for a while.
People are more complex, however. People feel shame, too. Love opens us to who we are, and to what we deserve. This can bring on all those voices from the past that say you don’t deserve, that you can’t love well enough, that this will fail.
So you can prepare yourself for love by anticipating that you will also encounter fear, and negative feelings about yourself. If you know this going in, then you will understand when these emotions show up. You can allow them to move through you, breathing to get them to keep moving on out. You won’t have to try to make sense of something that cannot be understood logically.
And the wonderful thing is that when it moves on out, you get another round of wonderful love and closeness.
And there’s more!