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dismissive avoidant attachment style

Understanding the Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style in People

by Martha Simmonds

You’ve probably met this type of person before — the more intimacy you seek from them, the more they pull away from you. Because of that, you always feel like you’re chasing them around, never quite satisfied with your relationship. And yet they give you just enough to keep you from leaving. Before you start blaming either one of you for this state of affairs, let me introduce you to something called the dismissive-avoidant attachment style.

What Are Attachment Styles?

Back in the 1950s, psychologists introduced attachment theory, which aimed to explain the nature of emotional attachments between people. According to this theory, all your relationships in life are influenced by a single, most important one — the relationship with your parents in childhood.

Based on this theory, psychologists then recognized four different attachment styles: secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant. These styles don’t determine with absolute certainty what your relationships will be like. However, they do explain why you’re drawn to some people as opposed to others, and why similar issues keep popping up over and over.

What Is the Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style?

There are two avoidant attachment styles — dismissive and fearful. Both of these involve a lack of intimacy and closeness, but there are some key differences between the two. Fearful avoidants steer clear of meaningful relationships out of fear of rejection. Meanwhile, dismissive avoidants do so because they believe they don’t need to rely on anyone but themselves.

People with this attachment style are quite independent in every sense, including emotionally. But they usually push this self-sufficiency too far, thinking that sharing emotions and thoughts with others is a weakness. In a way, bonds with other people feel to them like chains that hold them down and limit their freedom.

That doesn’t mean that they form no relationships with other people whatsoever. Dismissive avoidants do have friends, families, and romantic partners. However, these bonds tend to be shallow and often unfulfilling for the other side. They are more likely to engage in one-night stands and meaningless sexual relationships than in genuine, committed ones.

Still, since dismissive avoidants don’t particularly care for physical contact either, more extreme cases might steer clear of all kinds of intimate relationships.

How to Recognize a Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style

If you’re reading this article, you likely suspect someone in your life has this attachment style. Maybe you’re even wondering if you are actually a dismissive avoidant yourself. If that’s the case, here are a few telltale signs you should keep an eye out for.

1. All Their Relationships Are Surface-Level

If you notice that you’re hitting a brick wall every time you try to build a more intimate relationship with someone, pay attention to how they interact with others. Are they pleasant but distant and unwilling to discuss their feelings only with you, or is it a general trend? If they keep everyone at arm’s length, then they’re likely an avoidant.

However, that won’t be quite enough to determine if they’re dismissive or fearful. You’ll need more clues than just this to tell the two apart — and finding them can be incredibly hard when they’re not letting you get to know them.

2. “Hot and Cold” Behavior

With this person, you feel like you’re on a roller coaster. Sometimes, they act friendly and caring enough to make you realize you’re important to them. Then, all of a sudden, they’re gone. When you ask them to hang out, they give you excuses or straight up tell you that they don’t feel like spending time with you.

It’s awfully confusing and surely frustrating, but this kind of behavior is typical of dismissive avoidants. And though you may not have noticed a pattern yet, believe me — it’s not random.

Dismissive avoidants may like your company, but as soon as they sense that things are getting too intimate, they’ll turn cold. Not answering your calls and declining invitations usually means you’re dangerously close to overstepping their firmly drawn boundaries — so they need to push you back.

3. Comparing Others to “the One That Got Away”

Maybe they’ve told you about this one person — their former partner or friend — who was so perfect for them and so ideal that no one can ever compare. The more you hear about them, the more you curse your bad luck for coming after such a person. After all, nothing you do will now be good enough.

That is a common trick that people with the dismissive-avoidant attachment style use when they want to distance themselves from you. It’s unlikely that their past relationship was really that much different from the one they have with you. But by idealizing the person who left them and comparing them to plain old you, they push you away.

Eventually, you’ll realize that you can’t compete with “the one that got away” for a spot in this person’s heart, and you’ll leave of your own accord.

4. High Self-Esteem

The main difference between dismissive avoidants and fearful avoidants is in their self-esteem. Fearful avoidants often feel like they’re not good enough, and that they will be rejected if they open up to others. In contrast, dismissive avoidants are quite confident in themselves. In fact, they put a lot of faith in their own abilities.

So it’s not that dismissive avoidants feel awkward or fear rejection — they genuinely value themselves and their independence above all else. They don’t put themselves beneath other people like fearful avoidants but instead often believe they are above others.

5. Keeping Things Vague

Perhaps you’ve been in a relationship with this person for a while, and yet you still feel like you don’t actually know them. You also don’t know where you stand with them, how much you mean to them — all of it is vague and unclear. Even when you ask for clarifications, all you get in return are non-answers that leave you even more confused.

Dismissive avoidants need to keep things vague and foggy because it allows them to retain some form of independence. They don’t necessarily keep secrets from you because they deem you untrustworthy. It’s simply another way to create a distance between you two.

6. Inability to Express Their Feelings

Some avoidants refuse to talk about how they feel, and some actually can’t talk about it. It’s not that they don’t have feelings — they do, but for the most part, they lack the language to describe them.

Because of that, their ability to recognize them is also compromised. For many dismissive avoidants, only negative emotions are accessible.

In most cases, they recognize those feelings through somatic changes — increased heart rate, agitation, loss of sleep, and general discomfort. However, worse cases can express these negative feelings through tantrums and rage. It’s not something they do on purpose — they simply have no other resources to deal with the feelings they barely understand.

What Causes the Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style?

Dismissive avoidants don’t act the way they do because they just woke up one day and decided that they need no one. Their parents brought them up to believe that — not consciously, of course, but that was the message they were sending.

Usually, dismissive avoidants come from families with emotionally unavailable or unresponsive parents. That doesn’t mean they were abused as children — on the contrary, the family might be a perfectly stable one. However, their emotional needs in childhood were not met, and they were likely not encouraged to share their feelings. In the end, avoidants learned to rely only on themselves because there was no one else to turn to.

Interestingly, when dismissive avoidants are asked to describe their parents, they never have many bad things to say. In fact, they are often grateful to their parents for raising them the way they did.

Perhaps that isn’t so strange — after all, children don’t usually question their parents’ actions until they grow up. And by then, it’s sometimes too late.

How to Change Your Attachment Style

Attachment styles are hard to change, but they aren’t set in stone. If you recognize that you’re a person with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style, there are things you can do to make life easier for both yourself and those around you.

1. Therapy

Okay, therapy is a tough step for someone who refuses to open up because it does require introspection and sharing feelings. But maybe that’s precisely why it’s one of the most effective and crucial steps. A good therapist will know how to approach you in a way that doesn’t feel too intrusive. Besides, learning to open up to a therapist is the first step toward letting other people in.

2. Journaling

If expressing feelings is what you find the most difficult, journaling can be incredibly helpful. It’s a safe space to express yourself and work through what you’re feeling without anyone else’s input. And if you do it regularly, you’ll eventually get much better at recognizing your emotions and talking about them.

3. Seek Out a Relationship with a Secure Attachment Style

The secure attachment style is the healthiest of the bunch — people with this style are good communicators, avoid manipulation, and feel comfortable with closeness. So if you want to learn to communicate in a healthy way, these are the people who can teach you.

However, that doesn’t mean you should just sit back and let them work through all the problems that will inevitably arise in your relationship. Remember, people with a secure attachment style won’t just grin and bear it. If you show no effort to eliminate your dismissive and avoidant behavior, they will eventually decide you’re not worth the trouble.

4. One Vulnerable Action a Day

No one expects you to open up or change your behavior immediately. Even if you’re aware of what you’re doing, the dismissive-avoidant attachment style is your natural state of being, and that is hard to shake off. So start slowly — for example, by showing that you’re vulnerable at least once every day.

It doesn’t have to be a big thing in the beginning — you can just ask your partner or friend for help with something. Once you get used to that, start admitting to a weakness each day, or find different ways to open up to your partner. It will be hard, no doubt, but with each passing day, it will become a little easier.

How to Approach a Dismissive-Avoidant Person

If you’ve read all of this carefully, you might be thinking that it’s best to completely avoid such people. After all, it can be exhausting — hot and cold behavior, vagueness and uncertainty, walls, and pushbacks.

If you feel like you can’t handle that, that’s perfectly fine, and you have nothing to be ashamed of. But if you would still like to try and have a relationship with a dismissive avoidant, keep one thing in mind — they’re not trying to hurt you on purpose.

This type of behavior has little to do with you and much more to do with their own nature. Usually, they’re not even aware of what they’re doing until someone points it out!

Now, remember — no matter how much you want to be close to that person, don’t push it. The more you insist on taking it to the next level, the more they will resist. If you push too far, they might even disappear from your life completely. So instead, as hard as it is, have patience and wait for them to come to you.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set any boundaries. Let your dismissive-avoidant partner or friend know that there are behaviors you won’t tolerate, and stick to it. If they care, they’re likely to respect those boundaries, even if they can’t quite give you what you need.

And most importantly, don’t make a huge fuss every time they do open up to you. No matter how excited you may be about this huge breakthrough, keep cool and respond in a way that you would to anyone else. It’s already hard enough for a dismissive-avoidant person to compromise their independence — you making a big deal out of it will only make it worse.

Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style — Conclusion

Having a friend or a partner with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style isn’t easy. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a proper relationship. In order for it to work, though, you both need to make some compromises. You should try to understand their attachment style while they need to be willing to start opening up and relying on you. It’s not easy to do either, but ultimately, it’s absolutely worth it.

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