AVOIDANT ATTACHMENT:

BREAKUPS

Carole had been with Bob for nine months and had been feeling increasingly unhappy. She felt Bob was the wrong guy for her, and gave a multitude of reasons: He wasn’t her intellectual equal, he lacked sophistication, he was too needy, and she didn’t like the way he dressed or interacted with people. Yet, at the same time, there was a tenderness about him that she’d never experienced with another man. He made her feel safe and accepted, he lavished gifts on her, and he had endless patience to deal with her silences, moods, and scorn. Still, Carole was adamant about her need to leave Bob. “It will never work,” she said time and again. Finally, she broke up with him. Months later she was surprised by just how difficult she was finding things without him. Lonely, depressed, and heartbroken, she mourned their lost relationship as the best she’d ever had.

Carole’s experience is typical of people with an avoidant attachment style. They tend to see the glass half-empty instead of half full when it comes to their partner. In one study couples were asked to recount their daily experiences in a diary. The researchers found that people with an avoidant attachment style rated their partner less positively than did non-avoidants. What’s more, they found they did so even on days in which their accounts of their partners’ behavior indicated supportiveness, warmth, and caring. This pattern of behavior is driven by avoidants’ generally dismissive attitude toward connectedness. When something occurs that contradicts this perspective—such as their spouse behaving in a genuinely caring and loving manner—they are prone to ignoring the behavior, or at least diminishing its value.

 

When they were together, Carole used many deactivating strategies, tending to focus on Bob’s negative attributes. Although she was aware of her boyfriend’s strengths, she couldn’t keep her mind off what she perceived to be his countless flaws. Only after they broke up, and she no longer felt threatened by the high level of intimacy, did her defense strategies lift. She was then able to get in touch with the underlying feelings of attachment that were there all along and to accurately assess Bob’s pluses.

If we are unconsciously taught the mandate "don’t have feelings, don’t show feelings, don’t need anything from anyone, ever" - then running away is the best way we can safely accomplish that mandate.

Relationships are stressful to someone with an avoidant attachment style. They want connection like everyone else, but their deepest fear is that love and closeness come at the cost of personal freedom. They will worry that the other person is investing in the relationship more than they are and begin to feel engulfed. While they want a relationship, because it's hard to express their needs they fear being controlled or told who they should be, and fear disappointment and instability. Inherently if someone likes them and starts to lean on them, they don't believe they will be able to live up to their partner's needs or expectations. As a result relationships quickly become obligating, guilt-ridden and burdensome. For a while they may pretend to be in the relationship while secretly hoping their partner will leave them.

 

Relationships involve interdependence, but avoidants would prefer everyone take responsibility for their own emotional needs - it feels wrong to be burdening their needs and desires on another and engulfing to be on the receiving end. Intimacy can make them feel inadequate and unworthy, and concern for the emotional well-being of their partner can produce a fear of failure so great it is easier to retreat to what they do know - being alone. Their core beliefs tell them they're not good enough, so they often run from love, because ultimately, unconsciously, they don’t feel they deserve it. Love and affection incite feelings of vulnerability so are threats - avoidants avoid love to avoid hurt, and when they encounter reliable love are drawn to try to spoil it to prove to themselves it can’t be real. They will hurt the people who show they care about them the most.

To be happy in a relationship is to be comfortable being who we truly are and knowing that will be respected by our parter. But avoidants often feel great shame over their natural avoidant impulses, so it is very difficult for them to do this. This instinctive need to hide themselves can produce anxiety and depression, and a feeling of the need to escapeIronically the deep assumption of rejection and instability on revealing their true selves, and the resulting protectiveness and discomfort around getting closer, make that very rejection and relationship breakdown more likely. In doing so the avoidant unconsciously seeks confirmation of a deep-rooted belief: that relationships are by nature unreliable and cause pain, in a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

 

Avoidants are afraid of and incapable of tolerating true intimacy. Since they were brought up not to depend on anyone or reveal feelings that might not be acceptable to caregivers, their first instinct when someone gets really close is to run away. Ultimately, avoidants would like their needs for connection and companionship satisfied, but they're often reluctant, afraid or unwilling to satisfy a partner's needs for safety, support and deeper connection in return. And they must run from any strong emotions because they are too associated with pain and trauma. Avoidants will use many justifications (to themselves as well as others) to avoid exposing these basic truths. They have fewer break-up regrets and feel relieved at leaving their partner, but will then seek out someone the same. They’re generally not loyal to stay through the tough times and are likely to leave when you need them most (until they develop enjoyment in the sense of value and purpose that caregiving can provide, avoidants are more likely to leave when there are new children or when their partner has a serious illness, for example). Being the one to leave allows them to keep their self-image of self-sufficiency, control and independence intact.

 

WHY & HOW

When a secure person is considering leaving their partner, they may have been either initially less attracted to them or large problems came between them, which, appreciating their investment, they stay the course to try to work through first. An avoidant doesn’t need significant problems, able to drift away as gradually their need for space will dominate, and the prospect of distance or a new partner is more attractive than the work their relationship requires. It's far more appealing to get carried away with fantasies of a new, seemingly perfect relationship, than it is to sit down and deal with the messy, stressful process of facing any inadequacies, building on and improving what they already have. For an avoidant it often feels safer not to try than to fail. This is not their fault - during a relationship their anxiety is constantly being triggered by closeness, which quickly becomes exhausting.

 

  • Exiting from difficulty 

So avoidants are often dissatisfied in relationships and ready to exit as soon as they experience relationship difficulty - once the distance they require is threatened they can take the first opportunity to leave that is presented. It is interesting that while avoidants perceive themselves to be often the ones exiting relationships (and may even secretly feel superior because of it, in their over-valuation of self-reliance failing to appreciate that letting oneself be vulnerable enough to attach to someone and working through difficulties is the braver position than running), it is often because a partner has in some way put down their limits, boundaries for avoidant behaviour they won't tolerate, needs/requirements, called them up on something which requires facing an emotionally difficult issue, or simply been emotionally open, all of which avoidants retreat from. The decision can often 'happen' to coincide with partners wanting a demonstration of more commitment, or a relationship challenge to be faced - this makes avoidants feel trapped and exit is typically a fear-based response, not a logical one. Without understanding themselves, avoidants are highly dependent on use of these strategies to regulate their anxiety. If these are questioned or called up and they are forced to confront them, they often just exit.

 

An avoidant's normal strategy in conflict is to shut down and retain control of the power balance by not compromising and forcing their partner to cave. If this is not possible - if, for example, their partner does not back down or the avoidant is unequivocally at fault, they have no strategy left for protecting themselves within the relationship. So avoidants in fact feel a desire to leave because they may not be ready to confront and take responsibility for their own behaviour, although they will not normally recognise this is why they are pulling away - they will find another reason. In that sense the duration of their relationships, like other insecure styles, may be less to do with the specific qualities they believe they are (not) finding than they realise, and more to do with who can handle/acquiesce to avoidant tactics.  Some avoidants, however, may sit in relationships unhappily for a long time, not understanding what is in their power to change within it.

It becomes very difficult for avoidants to put a relationship first when feeling rejected or inadequate, so it is often during times of distress, when their partners show they need them most, that avoidants can be triggered to leave. If someone shows a serious emotional need then avoidants tend to unconsciously assume they cannot meet it, things are going to fail and they must at all costs avoid repetition of childhood abandonment - so this immediately initiates major doubts about the relationship and an instinct to protect themselves. They feel out of control - of the situation, of their emotions - and an avoidant must have control of these at all times. And they can struggle to take responsibility for avoidant behaviours, because they have been programmed to avoid at all costs the vulnerability it would necessitate - vulnerability creates an instinctive feeling of needing to push away from their partner rather than to head towards them to resolve things. Avoidants can at heart be so terrified of criticism, that it may unearth a shameful internal truth or uncontrollable emotions, that they would often rather end a relationship as not right than do the necessary introspection required to solve things. Pushing away from and penalising any distress or suffering allows them to keep their own emotional suppression systems intact.

However, even when feeling this way, not all avoidants instigate breakups with the emotional labour that entails. Some may just emotionally check out of the relationship and allow their behaviour to drift until their partner has no choice but to call it. Uncomfortable with a positive image of themselves, they may push away and force a partner to look at their faults until such a point as this image becomes irreperable - confirming the avoidant's greatest fear as well as their belief that their partner must be unreliable.

This often operates at a deeply unconscious level. We all want to think of ourselves as moral people. Trained to be hyper-socially conscious, some avoidants subscribe to a strong moral code. When their avoidant protective instincts and actions start to conflict with their value system it can be deeply confusing and destabilising for avoidants' sense of self. Without looking compassionately inside (and avoidants have little self-compassion), the only way they can square this is by whoever they are with at the time not being 'right' for them - no matter how much this pattern repeats.

 

  • Inconsistency of feeling 

The avoidant person has a lack of emotional connection to memories which allows for an inconsistency of feeling that is hard for others to understand. Not conscious of a remembered landscape of feeling, they are able to change their feelings from wanting to rejecting seemingly at random. So when their trigger systems become activated, avoidants feel the urge to end relationships without a reasonable explanation and enact breakups without warning, often without answers, simply as they don’t have the access to their emotions to understand it themselves, which can give them a reputation for being cruel or flaky but is equally confusing for them. They don't have words to explain why they have changed from enjoying time with their partner to suddenly finding them stifling - because it's a primal trigger, not a rational choice. In that moment they may not appreciate that they feel differently when triggered to the rest of the time.

 

When a partner expresses distress, upset or anger at the breakup, which of course they would be expected to, this only confirms to the avoidant that the partner is emotionally overwhelming, that staying with them would be too much of a drain of guilt, and they double down on their decision. Subconsciously this amounts to the control of putting a partner in a situation where they are most likely to show they need them, to issue distress signals, and then rejecting them for that very need. Hurting their partner may be upsetting but, unlike other styles, perversely for avoidants it can sometimes unconsciously also feel good and what they need - hurting their partner pushes them away, they feel the more powerful one, and back in control. Unchecked this can be a damaging impulse to both relationships and people. As breaking up reactions often come out of instinct for space and freedom following a period of pressure rather than a logical, thought-through decision around compatibility, secretly avoidants may then prefer their partner to continue pursuing them after a breakup, but they are unable to express this.

  • Escaping system overwhelm

Avoidants get a bad rap for breakups, but in their situation it makes complete sense. The fear of being stifled by someone is very valid - if you’re not able to connect strongly with what your needs are and/or express them, or effectively respond to and limit your guilt over someone else's, then you are in constant danger of being overwhelmed by another's needs (particularly if a partner can be forthright expressing their own), and a situation can quickly become draining, unpleasant or threatening. Plus as they become increasingly emotional your system is in danger of going into regular and debilitating physiological shut-down, which can be terrifying. Your instincts tell you the only sensible course of action is to get out of there. And because avoidants are often unable to connect with their loving feelings in real time, the dominating force is the need to escape conflict and pressure until after the fact (sometimes long after).  Under those conditions it looks like a logical self-preserving response. Very deep down, the closer they get to a real person the more afraid they also are of loss, and apparently rationalizing their exit as due to their partner’s flaws is less painful than they subconsciously imagine being rejected by their partner would be.

Their difficulty resolving things and tendency towards breakups is also a direct consequence of the avoidant's self-reliance. Wheras secure couples look to each other as well as themselves to work positively on mutual solutions when they experience relationship distress, this is not the avoidant's way. Their natural disposition is always to assume they should look only to themselves for a solution rather than outside, not asking anything of their partner. Particularly when their attachment systems are activated, they must self-protect and resist operating as a team. Other people are inherently seen as the cause of stress, not the solution. The idea of raising and resolving by working together is often anathema, so when an avoidant feels relationship stress the obvious solutions that present themselves individually are either to distance oneself or leave.

 

Attempting to fix things by necessity involves engaging with a form of open conflict - and for avoidants open conflict (unlike silent conflict) must be avoided at all costs. Because they can have difficulty understanding what to do about it when they feel guilt towards their partner, or how to fix problems, their relationships can get to the stage where they feel so bad about their avoidant feelings and behaviours that, rather than trying to address them, deal with any distress or difficult emotions and rectify the situation, it can feel easier and safer for them just to abandon ship and look to restart from scratch with someone new, around whom they initially won't need to feel bad about anything. To others this might feel like mistreatment, cowardice, even an abrogation of moral responsibility, and in a sense it can be - but it is also a very understandable response to pain and a terrifying feeling of being out of control. Unable to separate any mistakes from their core wound they are inherently 'bad,' avoidants may simply not understand how to enact responsibility without feeling engulfed by it and consequently too vulnerable to someone else's control.

  • Post-rationalisation

 

Once a breakup is enacted, the avoidant person must justify it to themselves and others. Central to the dismissive's subconscious worldview is to expect partners to be too demanding and troublesome, so they will look out for anything that can justify this, regardless of how accurate it really is. By recharacterising their partner each time as problematic or just not 'the one', the avoidant has a ready-made excuse to avoid introspection and looking too closely at their own actions, seeking painful solutions or attempting the hard work of reconciliation. It could feel too internally shaming and disempowering to change their mind, so they generally stick to their decision. By being the one to leave they can also maintain the illusion of confidence in themselves and their own self-reliance. But untold to others they sometimes exist in a state of some confusion about what they've done - often coming as it did from a place of instinct rather than a logical, thought through decision to part.

 

So superficially they are likely to pin blame for the demise of a relationship on their partners (of course occasionally this can actually be true, and when relationships fail there can be a problematic dynamic for which both take responsibility). But underneath there is such low self-esteem that at the core they do not feel their true self is worthy of love and attention. Should a partner penetrate their armour, they retreat to the safety of companionship with others who do not realise they are not what they appear to be on the surface. While doing so they suppress their feelings and tell themselves they do not need the partner who they may, in fact, miss greatly, even while they can be very unhappy alone.

 

There can be a great sadness in the lengths avoidants must go to suppress their natural attachments and convince themselves they are better off alone throughout their lives, forgoing the self-belief and compromises that give the opportunity for long, meaningful and deep partnerships. They tell themselves they are just waiting for the right partner, resist addressing that it is typically their rejection of the feelings of themselves and others, learned difficulty with closeness and expressing who they truly are that has left them alone, through no fault of their own. Through their lives they push away those who care about them most. And believing everything is a problem to be solved only by themselves, they may not then connect their depressive and existential symptoms with the absence of cultivating such deeper, stable connections.


It is important to understand that when an avoidant person leaves, it is from feelings of necessity and compulsion - not something they always really want to do. Survival instinct prevails over any feelings for the other person - the sense of overwhelm and panic can create a biological imperative, and in that sense it is not their fault. Ultimately it is the pain they are running from, not the person. Rather than rejecting someone else, they are actually rejecting themselves, the painful reckoning with their inner conflict facing it would require, and the option for working through these with another with total honesty, because of their overwhelming shame. Ironically, the avoidant may run from someone they have strong emotions for and even love - because the engulfment of those emotions is exactly what gives them pain. While they can be riddled with guilt over the relationships they dismantle, it is much safer for them to destroy what they have built and have feelings for someone from a distance than stay to battle their own traumas. This is something some people repeat until they are dead in the ground. The self-preserving urge to run is too strong, and no relationship can end their internal struggles unless and until they are ready to face them.

 

 
 
 
 
 
On This Page

(select):

  1. Why & How (exiting difficulty, inconsistency of feeling, escaping overwhelm, post-rationalisation)

  2. Post-Breakup (repression & depression, avoiding loss, longing, contact & reuniting)

 

 Why & How

 Disbelief in love & relationships

 Disbelief in love & relationships

 Disbelief in love & relationships

 Disbelief in love & relationships

 
POST-BREAKUP

 

  • Repression, rebounds & depression

 

After a relationship ends, people with an avoidant attachment style tend not to show much anxiety or distress, often feeling an initial sense of relief at the relinquishing of obligations and the sense that they are regaining their self-identity. While entertaining interaction with another they are anxious as that person could always hurt them. But once someone is discarded the avoidant no longer feels emotionally dysregulated from closeness, they are back in control and in a safe space, which provides relief. Experts in repressing emotions, they do not feel much initially, typically appear to recover quickly after relationships and can move on fast, more comfortable seeking a new pursuit situation. They envisage that a new person could be the solution to their woes. Unable to healthily hold space for their own needs and effectively process guilt, with a new person they once again feel temporarily safe from being overwhelmed by someone else's and so better able to enjoy connection. They can be relieved to feel free of the perceived strain of their ex's needs and move quickly onto a new partner, as long as and while the new situation is not too demanding. And with someone new there is a subconscious a sense they can again once more 'get away' with with avoidant strategies that feel necessary for protection for a while.

 

But they can have a depressive episode from 2-4 months after a breakup, manifested in feeling numb, disconnected and meaningless, which they may try to repress. Everybody needs deeper connection, but often avoidants don’t recognise they need their partners until the partner actually loses interest and leaves, through separation, divorce, also death, illness, or something else. Then, when they finally realise nobody is "in the house", that’s when the crisis hits. It’s then that a very deep depression can happen, because they actually want connection and ultimately a safe, secure attachment like anybody else. This can also often come after initial rebounds, when the avoidant's suppressed feelings of absent connection may finally catch up with them. They tend to turn less to friends and family after a break-up, and are more likely to use drugs or alcohol as a means of coping. It can be easier for avoidants to interchange relationships as they tend to receive more caregiving than they provide. But overall they tend to spend much longer out of relationships than other attachment styles, as they are comfortable (if not always happy) being on their own and connection is dysregulating.

Avoidants tend to look always to the future and avoid looking at present relationship conflicts, trying to understand past relationships or looking at their childhood. Their mantra is "that's in the past" - with the implication that rehashing history would be pointless (in fact, they are trying to avoid any emotions). Avoidants often idealise or demonise the past and are unable to call up specifics: "I don't remember", "it doesn't matter" etc.

  • Denying loss

Avoidants may keep pushing people away but be shocked when they finally leave. As a child their caregiver may have been neglectful or overbearing and given rise to a feeling of emotional abandonment, but they were still physically present. So avoidants exist in a state of not consciously fearing real loss, only engulfment, and by initiating a breakup they may in fact subconsciously be trying to access that fear of loss - often the only way they can truly appreciate what their partner means them (and just as strategies they use within a relationship to create space allow them to better appreciate their partner). 

Avoidant defences can in fact make an individual quite emotionally blind to how their partner is feeling. It is often a complete surprise if a partner gets fed up and finally leaves, complete was their assumption that the other would continue to be there pestering for attention.

Yet even when they end things with someone, in their head they typically still retain the illusion of attachment permanence - that their ex-partner may still be available to them at some level, which is what for them makes it safe to do so. They need this to remain a possibility to stay balanced. Deep down they may not fully appreciate the detachment process that partners will undergo post-breakup (secure individuals usually faster, but everyone eventually), the loss of trust and change in character assessments such actions initiate and thus the irreversible impact their actions may have. Very unconsciously they can expect that the test of a true attachment figure is they should remain through all bad treatment - when, unlike the parent-child bond, love in healthy adult relationships is conditional on treating each other well. 

 

It is only when avoidants are broken up with, or otherwise their ex becomes truly unavailable, that they must truly face the reality of loss. It is only here that they can appreciate the truth about mutuality - that someone did not in fact just need things from them, so perhaps truly cared for them, and to allow themselves to see what they otherwise regularly suppress: there are things they wanted and needed in return. Protecting themselves from the repetition of childhood trauma in the loss of control, subconsciously it is very important to avoidants to be the one doing the abandoning rather than the one who is abandoned, so is especially traumatising when they are on the receiving end. In such a situation they can go to great lengths to avoid seeing or interacting with their ex, sometimes going so far as to change jobs or location, consistent with the inclination to suppress distressing thoughts or any reminders of their former relationship.

  • Longing for an ex 

Avoidants are free to long for an ex once that person is unavailable out of the relationship, and typically out of contact so they are untouched by actual engagement and their deactivation systems aren’t triggered, revealing their long-suppressed attachment and switching their operating attachment wound from the fear of engulfment to fear of abandonment. With every interaction a low-level disruption to the avoidant auto-regulatory system with the potential to bring up uncomfortable emotions or guilt, the less engaged in contact someone is, the more 'missable' they may in fact be (conversely keeping in contact may keep the idea the ex is on the back-burner, and the avoidant can continue to deny the loss of an attachment figure). Without the danger of reciprocity (so particularly after an ex has moved on), liberation from the fear of engulfment finally gives free reign to an avoidant's latent romanticism. An ex being truly unavailable may even produce a perverse enjoyment - they are at liberty to fully miss and think wistfully of them while it also confirms their self-belief people won't stick around them (sometimes in relationships they may imagine their partner with another to trigger this). This post-relationship longing is often after they fail to find an emotional bond with new prospects (as is likely) and long after the original relationship has gone stale.

 

 Post-Breakup

 Contact & reuniting with ex-parters

Longing for an ex

Denying loss

 Disbelief in love & relationships

But often avoidants won’t initiate contact with their exes, and they rarely unilaterally initiate reuniting because it creates uncomfortable feelings of vulnerability, and they can feel they don't know how go about fixing things. Reuniting with with someone where there had been substantial hurt so they must somehow make amends also risks them not feeling independent or in control in the relationship initially, which are avoidant fundamentals for them to feel safe and desiring. Avoidance comes out of a learned belief in non-mutuality, that our partners do not genuinely have our best interests at heart. Therefore if they gave someone the power of calling the shots, avoidants instinctively assume they could take advantage. And to care about someone is a drain - it's easier to feel desire just starting off again with someone new they don't have to care too much about.

 

Existing in a state of assumed rejection and distance (particularly if they are the one controlling that rejection) feels more comfortable, and in line with their internal belief system. And unless they are truly made to feel the loss (which is difficult until, ironically, reuniting is impossible), then not being very connected with their emotions avoidants also may not know what they want anyway, so prefer this is led by their ex. They are used to just sublimating their desires for those of others.

 

So subconsciously, space from someone rather than any complicated engagement is always preferred. Even if conflicted or regretting, they often would rather be lonely than admit they might be wrong (stubbornness is another passive-aggressive expression that stems from fear of vulnerability and confronting difficult emotions - one's own or someone else's). And because they are often not adept at effectively processing guilt into actionable solutions that might have the potential to repair things, then until they work on this themselves the guilt over what they enacted may for them become an insurmountable barrier to making up. If given the opportunity, however, they may re-enter relationships with ex-partners, creating toxic hot and cold relationship patterns unless/until the underlying problems are addressed.

Avoidants' in-built defensiveness and difficulty with the vulnerability of emotional openness also makes them less likely to apologise to people they hurt, in spite of the guilt they may feel. They will cut off contact with anyone perceived as a source of emotional turmoil - avoidants may tell themselves and believe they are saving the other pain (which possibly can be the case), but ultimately it is simply less stressful to disengage and ultimately safer to feel 'hated' or disliked at a distance than become emotionally embroiled trying to rectify things, and make amends to improve the dynamic, which to those on the receiving end can feel cowardly. And once someone is being emotionally direct about the pain they have experienced (in attempt to receive acknowledgement in the first step to repairing a positive connection), this is experienced boy the avoidant as a form of conflict, and so they can become a drag - the "needy" ex. Avoidants end relationships because they are uncomfortable feeling beholden to someone else, so they can be cut-throat with contact for this reason too. By not initiating contact, the avoidant hopes to repress unpleasant emotions, avoids any possible conflict and stays in control, and pushing someone away to that extent can even be an unconscious strategy.

 

So it's rare that an avoidant would want to be friends after a breakup. But occasional contact with exes with whom they have a good dynamic (usually this would mean interaction that is light and non-emotionally open), can retain a comforting relationship bond for them, a feeling of genuine connection and support, and much needed boost for the low ego without too much investment or the engulfment of overdependence in the present (as well as sometimes helping them to keep one foot out the door as a deactivating strategy with their next partner – occasional contact with exes in relationships is common for variety of non-threatening reasons, but those in very regular contact tend to be less committed to their partners and viewing the ex as backup). From childhood, a sense of reliable attachment gives us the safety to explore. But while exploring new possible relationships, if our attachment needs are somewhat catered for already we protect ourselves from needing to fully attach elsewhere - so for avoidants this can be another defensive strategy to avoid fully investing.

 

With the end of a relationship, avoidants may have eschewed their needs for close connection and emotional support, but on a fundamental level they still require it (and often for avoidants it may be only with partners that they have been able to be emotionally vulnerable. It is also difficult to find someone to provide such support who is accepting that they may not receive it back reciprocally) - so a compliant ex can be very soothing, provided the avoidant does not feel too obligated to them. This is particularly important for avoidants because they struggle to access or express such needs unilaterally (and are often not in touch with what are actually feelings of abandonment). They can be much more reliant on those who are able to reconnect them with small opportunities for intimacy from a state of abandonment than they often realise or admit to.

PSYCHOBABBLE:

The Fantasy of Omnipresence & Denial of Loss

The avoidant wants to feel securely attached, but tends to form attachments that are pseudosecure. The avoidant wants to know a primary attachment figure is around, but does not want to be approached unless invited. This is because approach by the other is experienced as a threat, something that does not occur when the avoidant makes the approach himself or herself. This particular feature generally does not appear during the courtship phase of romantic relationships. However, as the relationship begins to appear more permanent and settled, approach issues become evident in areas concerning time (interaction), space (proximity), and sex (libido).

The avoidant’s pseudosecurity is rooted in a fantasy of omnipresence and permanence. This fantasy allows the avoidant to spend extended time away from the primary figure, without awareness of separation or loss. In the avoidant’s mind, the other partner is always there, is always around, and will never leave them. This notion of omnipresence, while comforting in one sense, is smothering and intrusive in another, which then leads to more avoidant behaviour and devaluation of the partner, who may feel very taken for granted.

The avoidant’s fantasy of omnipresence is yet another challenge to the therapist because the avoidant partner is unaware of his or her extreme dependence on the other. The therapist may not see the extent of this dependency until after the avoidant has been left, unequivocally, by the partner. When this occurs, the avoidant may collapse in an anaclitic depression unlike any he or she ever experienced before. This is because, in childhood as in adulthood, neglect does not equal abandonment for the avoidant. Although the avoidant’s early caregiver may have been neglectful, insensitive, or disappointing, the caregiver was always there. The same is true for the adult relationship: no matter how disappointing the partner may be, he or she is experienced as always there. This is why the incontestable departure of a partner can come as an unexpected blow to the avoidant.

Therapeutic interventions should be aimed at penetrating the fantasy of omnipresence and permanence. Only through the dissolution of this defence can the avoidant truly appreciate, value, and move toward his or her primary attachment figure. In this case, healthy fear of realistic loss helps counteract the avoidant’s pseudosecure strategies. Therapists may use death and dying suggestions and exercises to facilitate the awareness of impending loss through illness, death, or other unexpected conditions that would result in the loss of the other. Still, in severe cases of avoidance even the most potent attempts to interrupt the avoidant’s fantasy of omnipresence and permanence will be thwarted by the avoidant’s denial of loss.

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