Ahhh..the avoidant relational style. This is the opposite extreme of the Anxious. The Anxious style needs to be close and needs to be in relationship. The Avoidant is, well, opposite. The avoidant pushes away, looks away. This relational style is relatively easy to identify simply because Avoidant’s don’t do emotions and feelings very well, their own or another’s.
Attachment theory suggests toddlers/children who show no preference for who provides nurturing are avoidant relational style. When the parents left the room, the child did not become distressed, instead, the child simply noticed his parents weren’t there and went back to what he was doing. Furthermore, the child had no preference and was able to be consoled by ‘anyone.’
There are two rules of thought of what may contribute to the Avoidant relational style. Some children may enjoy playing alone and some children adapt to playing alone. For a child to find themselves playing often alone, makes me wonder. I wonder does the child have anyone else to play with, and I wonder how engaged are the parents? Are the parents reading and spending time with their child or are they making their child take care of his/her own emotional/play needs? Were ‘I Love you’s,’ hugs, physical comforting expressed consistently and freely, or were they sparse? A consistent lack in these areas can contribute to a child’s avoidant style.
Because adult Avoidant’s don’t do well with emotions, as a child, he may have had to suppress his emotions or have had to be responsible at a young age. For example, a child that has been beaten and abused may not have had the protection and comforting of another family member. So, how did the child take care of his emotions? Who did she go to for comfort if there was no-one to go to? How does a child survive and adapt to such a situation? He finds solace within his own company and stuff’s/shut’s off his emotions. To adapt further, he performs. Performs by doing anything and everything that would prevent him from being beaten again, such as becoming the perfect child. Another example would be the child has taken on responsibility at a young age, becoming her parent’s confidant or surrogate spouse. Maybe she has had to protect her dad from her mother’s verbal abuse and console her dad, becoming a surrogate spouse to her father, filling the emotional void vacated by her father’s wife (her mother). This experience is a lot of responsibility for a child.
How does the above translate to adult Avoidant relational style? Avoidant’s push away, look away in relationship, they enjoy their time alone, control or controlling behavior may be an issue, they may take more time alone or withdraw when feeling overwhelmed, preferring to take care of themselves rather than reach out, so trust and trusting others is also an issue. They may often prefer time alone, rather than be with other people, which can include family. What is interesting about this relational style, is Avoidant’s often don’t present as avoidant in the early stages of relationship. Avoidant’s can start out strong in the beginning of a relationship because of the newness and excitement. He/she will want to be with you, call you, make all the time for you. The avoidant may present and appear as Anxious style, wanting to spend a lot of time with you, courting you, while you’re thinking, “This is great! She’s open, present, and emotionally available.” However, once the newness and masks fall off, the avoidant is left with the realness of their partner and the beginnings of intimacy which equal to ‘your demands and the demands of the relationship.’ This is uncomfortable because connection (relationship) requires the Avoidant to be present, open and engaged with her partner.
Avoidants often become uncomfortable with emotions, so if you’re dealing with a situation that is emotional (positive or negative) for you, such as a loss of family member, loss/change of job, birth of a child etc, he will most likely have difficulty offering emotional support because he doesn’t know how to deal with his own emotions. Some avoidants just don’t know what to do and other avoidants don’t have much empathy. As such, emotional situations can be a catalyst for the avoidant to check out of the relationship.
The avoidant will subtly create some distance between himself and his partner. Distance often looks like using work, alcohol, drugs, spending more time with friends, having multiple partners (affairs), getting lost in tv/phone/games- anything that will take him away from the relationship. Intimacy becomes a threat to the avoidant. The avoidant would be perfectly happy living under the same roof with his partner, yet living separately, that way he still feels secure WITHOUT having to be present emotionally or providing emotional support for his partner. Needless to say, his partner will often feel lonely within the relationship unless he’s paired up with another avoidant. That could be bliss, a meeting of the minds and practicality.
The homework for the avoidant: To engage, or re-engage in relationship on a consistent basis without becoming overwhelmed. Meaning, you re-engage to the point right before you feel overwhelmed (you want to push away) then you take a break (disengage) but come back into the relationship. This can be done through communication (with eye contact) or physical touch such as hand holding, cuddling, or hugs.
FYI: If you think just because someone habitually posts stuff on Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter doesn’t make them not Avoidant, think again. Many individuals find solace in displaying their lives on social media, yet struggle with connecting in real life.
As always, I hope this helps.