[Note: If you’re looking for information on your dismissive or fearful-avoidant spouse or lover, I’ve just published a book on the topic: Avoidant: How to Love (or Leave) a Dismissive Partner.]
Avoidants are known to be viscerally effected by events that would normally trigger conscious emotions — such events are often reflected in a racing heart, disturbed digestion, and poor sleep even when the Dismissive-Avoidant especially consciously feels nothing — and will tell you he or she doesn’t really mind that their partner is gone since it’s such a great opportunity to get more work done away from the partner’s demands for attention.
This blockade on attachment-related emotions is a defense mechanism; it was necessary in childhood to survive a caregiver’s inattention or abuse. The feelings of being unloved and unwanted that might otherwise have destroyed the child’s will to live are shunted aside and never reach a conscious level; avoidants tend to have poor memories of emotional events and report unreliably when asked about their childhoods.
An interesting post on the blog StopTheStorm discusses this phenomenon:
When it comes to thinking about, describing and feeling emotions, I always have a sideline running in the background concerning my father. I think about the dismissive-avoidant insecure attachment disorder patterns as researchers are now being able to actually see them operate through visually watching the brains of such people.
Researchers can watch how some brains create in effect a firewall that leaves actual emotions as they ARE triggered in the body completely out of conscious awareness. Researchers can see the emotion being experienced in the brain AND at the same time be screened from a person so that they do not know they are even there — AT ALL. The brain is consuming massive amounts of energy during this screening process, and these ‘brain-holders’ never know it.
There are specific early caregiver-to-infant interactions that create these brains from birth to age one. These changed brains are intimately connected to the changed nervous system and body of their ‘holders’. Being cared for by unresponsive, unemotional, cold, depressed and ‘blank-faced’ caregivers are some of the ways these dismissive-avoidant brains are created in infants from the beginning.
These same infants, had they been interacted with by securely attached and appropriate-adequate early caregivers would have developed entirely different brains. My father was an unwanted infant born to an unwilling and depressed mother, raised by his teenage sister primarily who was not caring or nurturing. In the end, my father’s dismissive-avoidant insecurely attached brain worked very well on his behalf as he could NOT FEEL — did not HAVE to feel — and hence could ignore what he NEEDED to pay attention to and react to appropriately.
I have an important person I care deeply about who I believe also has a dismissive-avoidant insecure attachment disorder, and I can see how easily this pattern fits with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Very nicely indeed. The fact is that people who fit into this range can most often manage to get along just fine — but have extremely limited (if any) ability to FEEL and therefore to CARE how others feel, either. It would be easy to call them ‘intimacy disabled’.
One of the better studies of brain activation in avoidants concluded:
As a whole, these brain imaging data support but also extend the notion put forward by AT (Mikulincer and Shaver, 2007) that attachment avoidance is associated with a preferential use of emotion suppression in interpersonal/social contexts. Furthermore, they reveal that reappraisal may not work for these individuals, leading to impaired down-regulation of amygdala reactivity. This pattern may help understand why avoidantly attached individuals tend to become highly emotional when their preferred regulation strategies fail or cannot be employed.
Translated, when deactivating strategies (intended to reduce the importance of an attachment relationship to the avoidant) fail to work or can’t be used, the avoidant can be overwhelmed by unprocessed feelings that are normally blocked or avoided. The avoidant strategy is to never be put into a position where deep feelings of loss might break out by distancing anyone who gets too close and minimizing the importance of attached others.
Other posts on this topic:
Dismissive-Avoidants as Parents
Subconscious Positivity Predicts Marriage Success…
Anxious-Preoccupied / Dismissive-Avoidant Couples: the Silent Treatment
Anxious-Preoccupied: Stuck on the Dismissive?
“Bad Boyfriends” – Useful for Improving Current Relationships
Asian Culture and Avoidant Attachment
“The Science of Happily Ever After” – Couples Communications
Attachment Type Combinations in Relationships
Serial Monogamy: the Fearful-Avoidant Do It Faster
Type: Fearful-Avoidant (aka Anxious-Avoidant)