Troubled Relationships – Dismissive Avoidant Attachment
An earlier piece, Anxiety of Troubled Relationships: 4 styles of relationships, 5 Ways to overcome a troubled relationship, outlined all attachment types seen in loving relationships. Here we detail Dismissive Avoidant Attachment. Previous readers will remember it all begins in our infancy and ultimately manifests itself in adulthood- especially in our intimate relationships.
Attachment theory began with Bowlby and Ainsworth who independently found that the nature in which infants get their needs met by their parents will determine their “attachment strategy” throughout their lives. Your attachment strategy probably explains a great deal of why your relationships have succeeded/failed in the manner they did, why you’re attracted to the people you are attracted to, and the nature of the relationship problems that come up again and again for you. (Ainsworth, M. S., & Bowlby, J. (1991). An ethological approach to personality development. American Psychologist, 46(4), 333. Cited by Mark Manson.net)
In the Beginning; Dismissive Avoidant Attachment
The avoidant attached child learns early in life to suppress the natural desire to seek out a parent for comfort when frightened, distressed, or in pain. Attachment researcher Jude Cassidy describes how these children cope: “During many frustrating and painful interactions with rejecting attachment figures, they have learned that acknowledging and displaying distress leads to rejection or punishment.” By not crying or outwardly expressing their feelings, they are often able to partially gratify at least one of their attachment needs; that of remaining physically close to a parent.
Many children identified as being avoidantly attached learn to rely heavily on self-soothing, self-nurturing behaviors in trying to cope with the pain of being rejected and with troubling emotions. They develop a pseudo-independent orientation to life and maintain the illusion that they can take complete care of themselves. As a result, they have little desire or motivation to seek out other people for help or support.
People who formed an avoidant attachment to their parent or parents while growing up try to steer clear of emotional closeness and intimacy in their new relationships. They tend to feel uncomfortable with physical contact and attempt to limit affectionate and sexual exchanges with their partner in order to maintain a more comfortable or “safe” distance in the relationship. They value the friendship aspects of a relationship, but look down on romantic love, passion, commitment, and satisfaction. Other adults identified as “avoidant/dismissing” are loners; they prefer isolation and are primarily interested in practical matters.
When faced with threats of separation or loss, many “dismissing” men and women are able to focus their attention on other issues and goals. Others tend to withdraw and attempt to cope with the threat on their own. They deny their vulnerability and use repression to manage emotions that are aroused in situations that activate their attachment needs. When they do seek support from a partner during a crisis, they are likely to use indirect strategies such as hinting, complaining, and sulking.
According to attachment researchers, Fraley and Brumbaugh, many dismissing adults use “pre-emptive” strategies to deactivate the attachment system, for example, they may choose not to get involved in a close relationship for fear of rejection; they may avert their gaze from unpleasant sights, or they may “tune out” a conversation related to attachment issues. A second strategy is to suppress memories of negative attachment events, such as a breakup. In fact, adults categorized as dismissing report very few memories of their early relationship with parents. Others may describe their childhood as happy and their parents as loving, but are unable to give specific examples to support these positive evaluations.
People with this type of attachment style tend to be overly focused on themselves and their own creature comforts, and largely disregard the feelings and interests of other people. They also find it difficult to disclose their thoughts and feelings to their partner. Their typical response to an argument, conflict, and other stressful situation is to become distant and aloof.
Dismissing adults often have an overly positive view of themselves and a negative, cynical attitude toward other people. In many cases, this high self-esteem is defensive and protects a fragile self that is highly vulnerable to slights, rejections, and other narcissistic wounds. It exists usually as a compensation for low self-esteem and feelings of self-hatred. According to adult attachment experts, Phil Shaver and Mario Mikulincer, avoidant partners often react angrily to perceived slights or other threats to their self-esteem, for example, whenever the other person fails to support or affirm their inflated self-image.
The good news is that, failing to find a supportive partner, and not being one yourself, your relationship can improve toward a highly satisfying one… with a bit of effort and tenacity.
This is why online www.counselingondemand.com is here for you. Our counselors understand that marriage is a relationship that requires effort and we know how to employ Attachment Theory to repair and/or enhance your relationship.
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