What is Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style?
Dismissive Avoidants have apparently high self-esteem and low assessments of others in a relationship. Unreliable caretakers in childhood have left them with a deep subconscious fear of intimacy, and close attachments are seen as unneeded. The more a dismissive’s partner asks for intimacy and attention, the more rejecting the dismissive becomes. Dismissives are more likely to end relationships and make poor relationship partners, and they find it difficult to maintain supportive relationships with children and close friends.
Much of what follows also applies to the fearful-avoidant, who can be thought of as the avoidant who haven’t given up. So when we talk about “the avoidant”, it is about characteristics shared by both the dismissive-avoidant and the fearful-avoidant.
Dismissive-avoidant individuals have completed a mental transformation that says: “I am good, I don’t need others, and they aren’t really important to me. I am fine as I am,” while the fearful-avoidant are still consciously craving an intimacy which scares them when it actually happens. Both types were trained not to rely on caregivers, but the Dismissive has dealt with this by deciding he doesn’t need others much at all, and so has little apparent reason to participate in the emotional signaling of a close relationship.
Dismissives are rarely so open about declaring themselves. They think highly of themselves and will tell you they value their self-sufficiency and independence—needing others is weak, feelings of attachment are strings that hold you down, empathy and sympathy are for lesser creatures.
A Dismissive often has a story of a previous relationship which was never fully realized or ended when his partner left—early in his romantic life, or perhaps long-distance. The memory of this idealized previous partner is used as a weapon when the Dismissive tires—as they quickly do—of a real relationship and its demands; no one could measure up to the one that got away. This is another distancing trick to keep real intimacy at bay.
Dismissives have poor access to early emotional memories, having built a defensive shield of self-esteem and self-sufficiency that requires negative memories to be suppressed:
Adults characterized as “dismissing of attachment” seemed unable or unwilling to take attachment issues seriously. They answered questions in a guarded way, without much elaboration, and often had trouble remembering their childhoods. They seemed to dislike and distrust looking inward. Some exhibited an underlying animosity that seemed to imply: “Why are you asking me to dredge up this stuff?” or “The whole point of this interview is stupid!” The dismissing adults spoke vaguely about their parents, frequently describing them in idealized terms. But when pressed for incidents that might illustrate such descriptions, their memories contradicted their assessments, as negative facts leaked into their narratives. Thus, one parent called his mother “nice” but eventually revealed that she was often drunk and swore at him. When asked if that bothered him, he replied, “Not at all. That’s what made me the strong person I am today. I’m not like those people at work who have to hold [each other’s] hands before making a decision.”
This stalwart, anti-sniveling response was typical of the way dismissing subjects played down the affect of early hurts or embraced them as having built their character. Another dismissing father described his mother as “loving,” “caring,” “the world’s most affectionate person,” “invariably available to her children,” “an institution.” But pressed for details, he could not recall a single instance of his mother’s warmth or nurturance. –Karen, p. 365
Fellow students recognized the hostility and mistrust of the dismissive:
The dismissing freshmen—who had trouble remembering early experiences with their parents and played down the importance of attachments issues in their interviews—“were seen by their peers as more hostile, more condescending, more distant.” –Karen, p. 383
The buried need for emotional attachment is not consciously felt by dismissives, but their need for others can show itself unconsciously:
If a spouse is away for a period of time, it is natural to miss him. If a move is made to a new place, it is natural to feel a loss over friends and family who have been left behind and to work assiduously to create new ties to replace the old. But with separations, too, anxious attachment can deform the process. Clinical work suggests that people with what appears to be an avoidant or dismissive psychology often fail to recognize that separations have an emotional impact in them. […] When a spouse is away, a person with this psychology may become obsessively focused on work, may even celebrate the separation as an opportunity to get more work done, but then be strangely, perhaps even cruelly distant from the spouse when he or she returns. –Karen, p. 384
Dismissives will learn to get their needs for attention, sex, and community met through less demanding partners who fail to require real reciprocation or intimacy (often the anxious-preoccupied!):
An avoidantly attached boy […] will probably learn to disguise his care seeking, He may become adept at using various forms of control to get another person to be there for him; he may seek out people whose needs are more apparent and who give without having to be asked. –Karen, p. 399
Avoidants “were most likely to be workaholics and most inclined to allow work to interfere with social life. Some said they worked too hard to have time for socializing, others that they preferred to work alone. Not surprisingly, their incomes were as high as the secures, but their satisfaction was as low as [the preoccupied.]” Because of their ability to focus on work and act independently, dismissives can be phenomenal explorers and individual contributors. In fields where performance is not based on group efforts, and a lack of concern for others’ feelings can actually be beneficial, the dismissive can be a star player—for example, in some types of litigation, or some scientific fields.
In dating, avoidants can be charming and have learned all the social graces—they often know how they are expected to act in courtship and can play the role well for a time. But lacking a positive view of attached others, they expect relationships to fulfill a romantic ideal which no real human being can create for them, so all fall short and are discarded when it becomes inconvenient to continue. Typically as the relationship ages, avoidants will begin to find fault and focus on petty shortcomings of their partner. Because they are not really aware of their feelings, they can’t talk about them in a meaningful way, and often the first clue the about-to-be-dumped have that something is wrong is the avoidant’s move to break up with them. Once you have read this book, you will likely be aware of the missing signals and the many small clues that the avoidant is not committing to you or anyone any time soon, but those who are unaware of this type will usually soldier on, not trusting their own feeling that something about Prince Charming is not quite right.
The dismissive-avoidant is afraid of and incapable of tolerating true intimacy. Since he was brought up not to depend on anyone or reveal feelings that might not be acceptable to caregivers, his first instinct when someone gets really close to him is to run away. Superficially the dismissive (as opposed to the fearful-avoidant) thinks very highly of himself, and is likely to pin any blame for relationship troubles on his partners; but underneath (especially in the extreme form we label narcissism), there is such low self esteem that at his core he does not feel his true self is worthy of love and attention. Should a partner penetrate his armor, unconscious alarm bells go off and he retreats to either aloneness or the safety of companionship with others who do not realize he is not what he appears to be on the surface.
The dismissive attempts to limit his level of exposure to partners by manipulating his response, commonly by failing to respond to messages requesting assurance. In big and small ways, dismissives let you know that you are low on their priority list, and your inner emotional state is your problem—when you are with one, you are really still alone, in an attachment sense. By only partly participating in the normal message-response of the attached, they subconsciously limit the threat another poses to their independence. This behavior is called distancing, and all of us do it to limit our intimacy with others when we don’t want to be as close as they do, but for the dismissive it’s a tool to be used on the most important people in their lives.
Levine and Heller have a useful list of distancing behaviors (also called deactivating strategies):
• Saying (or thinking) “I’m not ready to commit”—but staying together nonetheless, sometimes for years.
• Focusing on small imperfections in your partner: the way s/ he talks, dresses, eats, or (fill in the blank) and allowing it to get in the way of your romantic feelings.
• Pining after an ex-girlfriend/ boyfriend—( the “phantom ex”— more on this later).
• Flirting with others—a hurtful way to introduce insecurity into the relationship.
• Not saying “I love you”—while implying that you do have feelings toward the other person.
• Pulling away when things are going well (e.g., not calling for several days after an intimate date).
• Forming relationships with an impossible future, such as with someone who is married.
• “Checking out mentally” when your partner is talking to you.
• Keeping secrets and leaving things foggy—to maintain your feeling of independence.
• Avoiding physical closeness—e.g., not wanting to share the same bed, not wanting to have sex, walking several strides ahead of your partner.
The more extreme avoidants are almost incapable of talking about their feelings; whatever feelings they do have access to are primarily negative and they have great difficulty describing them verbally. This syndrome is called alexithymia, the roots of the word literally meaning “having no words for feelings,” which is not quite the same thing as not having feelings. The worst cases can only express themselves with inchoate rages and tantrums, or unexplained physical symptoms like stomach pains and adrenalin rushes.
The most compelling theory of how consciousness arose has between-person communication (primitive language) giving rise to internal communication, so that what we see as a stream of consciousness is actually internal dialogue, talking to yourself. Noting this, you might say that an inability to name and talk about feelings cripples a person’s ability to be consciously aware of them. If one is very poor at doing this, one would tend to note feelings only as manifested in somatic symptoms like fast heart rate, discomfort, loss of energy, nervousness, etc.
This is why talking to someone about how you feel (or writing about it) is also training for being conscious of feelings internally. The more you talk about it to others, the more you can talk about it to yourself. Even for those not suffering from alexithymia, talking or writing about feelings can clarify understanding of them, which is one of the reasons talk therapy is effective.
[Note: if you arrived here looking for insight into a dismissive spouse or lover, I’ve just published a book on the topic: Avoidant: How to Love (or Leave) a Dismissive Partner. Right now available from Amazon Kindle for $3.99, and a trade paperback is also available.]
Other relevant posts:
Dismissive-Avoidants as Parents
Why We Are Attracted to Bad Partners (Who Resemble a Parent)
Avoidant: Emotions Repressed Beneath Conscious Level
Dismissive-Avoidants: Gay and Lesbian Cases
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
Attachment Type Combinations in Relationships
Serial Monogamy: the Fearful-Avoidant Do It Faster
Limerence vs. Love
Rules for Relationships: Realism and Empathy
Perfect Soulmates or Fellow Travelers: Being Happy Depends on Perspective
Mate-Seeking: The Science of Finding Your Best Partner
For more on the other attachment types:
My first book on attachment, Bad Boyfriends: Using Attachment Theory to Avoid Mr. (or Ms.) Wrong and Make You a Better Partner, goes into greater detail on how the Dismissive can work on being positive and learn to value good partners, and how the partners of a Dismissive might cope with their distancing.
For more insight into a dismissive spouse or lover, I’ve just published a book on the topic: Avoidant: How to Love (or Leave) a Dismissive Partner. Right now available only from Amazon Kindle for $3.99 (or local currency equivalent), but by Oct. 15th a paperback should also be available.
Dr. John Gottman’s book (The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work) is a great guide on how to strive for secure attachment with your partner when you are dismissive-avoidant, and how to be more secure in any relationship.
For more discussion of dismissives, go to Jeb Kinnison Boards: Dismissive-Avoidant.
Note: Because there are already too many comments on this page, if you want to comment, I’d recommend you start a thread at the dismissive-avoidant forum instead of commenting on this page.
The premise of this article is based on the idea that every single person secretly wants some sort of emotional attachment or is somehow “suppressing” their feelings. That has always been my quibble with psychology. Instead of painting avoidant/dismissive types (and other types) as somehow broken or needing fixing, how about accepting them for who they actually are? Isn’t the whole “point” to accept people and not try to change them to how you would want them to be? I call that manipulation…and a false relationship. Some people simply are anti-social and d not want to be bothered with other people…they call them anti-social for a reason. At least they’re honest about being anti-social…unlike most overly emotional, dependent types that psychology wants us all to be like.
Spoken like a “true” dismissive, eh?
Being a dismissive type is normal, and the independence of dismissives can be a valuable trait that enables them to successfully operate alone. Almost everyone feels dismissive sometime. That said, this piece addresses whether dismissives make good partners for other types of people, and we know statistically that it’s very rare for dismissives to have a relationship with another dismissive.
What’s bad is that dismissives do have relationships with types who expect a responsive and loyal partner, and these often go very badly. So recognizing that this seemingly interested person is only getting into a relationship with you because it’s expected, his or her family is pressuring them, he or she has been trained since childhood to see a marriage as important, etc.
It’s fine for dismissives to look down on others and stay alone in life. The honestly anti-social are not harming others. The pretend-social, the charming, and those who allow someone to think they are part of a partnership when they have no inclination or intention to do their part are the real disasters waiting to happen, and it’s those this piece is warning others to avoid.
Totally forgot I posted here! Thank you, email!
A dismissive who misleads others in a relationship sounds kind of like a psychopath, borderline, narcissist, or whatever other personality disorder fits the description……Wouldn’t a user dismissive fall into one of these types of categories? Perhaps dismissive should be split into two groups..the users and the avoidants?
I would think a true dismissive would know whether or not they are not meant for relationships… and avoid them. I certainly know I am not…I cannot connect on the emotional level required, nor do I want to….Emotions ew…
I’d think someone who manipulated a relationship for whatever reason would not be a true dismissive…if they felt the need to manipulate someone, then they FEEL some sort of need to have a person around to manipulate..they NEED another person to fulfill their needs…I wouldn’t think a true dismissive would need any person to fulfill their needs…I certainly don’t…it’s far too draining and far too much effort for me. Avoiding is so much easier.
Then again, I could be cooking up my own theories based on myself or I’m even weirder than I thought I was…Lol
There are people who are aware they don’t want to be close to others and take a conscious lone-wolf stance, like you, but I don’t think that’s as common as buying all the programming that tells people they are supposed to have a partner, and all the expectations and training from their family that they feel they have to try to live up to. It may take a few failed attempts before they know consciously that they simply don’t care much for having a deeply intimate relationship.
You’re fine and an asset to the world as a singleton. The trouble comes from those without that level of insight into themselves.
What happens when two dismissives are in a relationship? I have a long-term handsome boyfriend, with whom we sleep in different rooms and share little time together, but have a functioning home with two dogs together and I’m happy with this level of intimacy. However I avoid having sex with him and have another guy for that, with whom I have had a long-distance relationship for a few years. They both tell me they don’t mind the current arrangement. Is this a ‘successful’ dismissive union?! Is this how it’s supposed to be?
Outsiders keep criticising each of us for being ‘weird’ in our personal life even though no one knows of the three way situation. This seems (to me) to be the source of any trouble we ever have.
If both of you are reasonably happy with your arrangement, then congratulations — you’ve found a rare equilibrium. It won’t work for bringing up children, but dismissives who can be happy with minimal intimacy are better off finding each other and accepting that kind of arrangement. It’s rare because there were few models, and even most dismissives imagine that it is their partner who prevents them from enjoying more closeness, and if only they had the right partner, they would suddenly get and give affection more easily.
Ignore the busybodies and critics. Your arrangement is none of their business.
I agree. That is what my ex was doing, charming, kind and pretending to be in mini relationships. Although, he said, mine and his was the hardest he tried with someone and the closest he came to love and marriage. Very sad.
I am similar to this, and so was my ex. BUT he had strung along 3 women prior to meeting me. And still on occasion would see them in other states. This was his way of not connecting to anyone and keeping his distance, but getting the sex, affection, companionship in these fake one day a month or every other month trysts. Then, he met me. He was falling in love and he was terrified. Child abuse in both our backgrounds. Well, it all blew up and now, he sits alone thinking how he can do a committed relationship, but chooses to work 12-16 hours a day instead and drown in work.
This is abnormal, not just someone who isn’t a people person. He has never had a real relationship since college and he is in his 40s. And never been in love until me. He is terrified that he can’t open up and get close, so I sit broken hearted and he works until he drops. Been two months now. Sometimes we must confront our pain from childhood abuse and make peace with it and he has not.
After reading Attached, I came across your books and wanted to know what it may hold for someone who considers them self avoidant. Id like to learn more about what is ideal for my self and how I can make my situation work better as I believe I am with someone who is very good to me but I still have trouble connecting with.
The book Avoidant goes into depth about dismissive and fearful-avoidants, more from the point of view of those trying to live with them than trying to help them understand themselves, but quite a few people have told me they did find it useful in understanding their own avoidant behaviors. It would probably give you some insight into both you and your partner’s reactions.
Is it at all possible for an anxious attachment (me) to have a lasting relationship with a dismissive avoidant (my partner)? I keep reading that they never last or work out, but if I can recognise our attachment styles is there anything that can be done to help or is it best to just give up and move on? can dissmissive avoidants change or will it always be a one sided thing? I have never mentioned anything about attachments to him so he is unaware.
Aplogies for the long essay and poor grammer but I thought it would help if I give you an insight!
We have been together 4 years, Im 31 and he is 27 we have a house which we bought together 3 years ago and have 2 dogs. He has pretty much all the signs of a dissmissive avoidant but can also be quite affectionate. He always says I love you and always says it first and always goes to hold my hand when we are out together, and does quite a lot of things for me which I thought dissmissive avoidants didnt do, but also uses some of the distancing techniques that you have listed.
• Flirting with other girls when out socialising with friends, but also messaging them and girls he used to date, and flirting with them on facebook implying in the messages that he wants to take things further ie have sex with them but never actually going through with it or meeting them. Is this just an ego boost for his self esteem or does he actually want this to happen?
He thinks very highly of himself and is very sociable always wanting to be the centre of attention in everything especially when he is out with people. He doesnt go out as much as he did because he knows I dont like it after I caught him out and confronted him on the messages which he still continued to do for a bit but not anymore (that I know of anyway). When I asked him why he said he didnt know why he did it. If he gets invited out and desperately wants to go he will ask me if we have plans and if not if he can go, otherwise he doesnt bother to ask me because he says it will just end in an argument so just says no to his friends, i think he feels like he has to clock in with me otherwise i will get mad. (which in most cases I do because i feel he will meet someone else and cheat on me (my anxious attachment coming out) he also tells lies sometimes about little things because he knows i will read into it and make something out of it. Wouldnt a dissmissive avoidant just leave me and move on to someone else? if im stopping him from doing what he wants why doesnt he leave or is it just convenient for him?
Is there a way this could ever work out or am I just clutching at straws and prolonging the inevitiable?
Your thoughts opinions would be very helpful and appreciated.
First, if you haven’t read my Avoidant book, I highly recommend that. 🙂
But my opinion from the limited sketch you’re provided is that he is only a bit dismissive, and there’s evidence (as you yourself are aware) that some of that is in reaction to your anxiety and vigilance. If he is flirting and wants to be on his own a bit, that is far from disloyal to your relationship — if he does not neglect you or treat you shabbily on the whole, or start committing to someone else, you have a playful free spirit on your hands. Listen to his affection and not your anxieties. It sounds like he cares for you and values you in the relationship, and it’s your controlling him that is creating most of the issues.
As I said, I’m not there and I shouldn’t judge. But you almost answer your own question.
My counselor steered me toward some literature about dismissive-avoidant attachment disorder, suggesting I may be in-line with many of the characteristics.. There was not an item in this post that did not describe me to a “T”.
I used to believe I was just too good at being single to be successful in a relationship, but I’ve been finding I just tire of it all too quickly. I don’t like being physical, I don’t enjoy cuddling or sharing secrets. I like not having to depend on others, and not having others depend on me. I do have friends (from childhood) that I do genuinely enjoy being around, but I find forming and maintaing new relationships with others increasingly difficult because.. honestly.. I just don’t care. I may feel like I’m missing out a little when I see others so happy in love, but that feeling is almost immediately replaced with a mental “nose scrunch” at the thought of such interdependence and inter-reliance.
I understand that many people are comfortable being a lone-wolf, but I want to embrace others and I want to be able to think about being in love without feeling like I just tasted something awful.. So i guess my question to you is where do I go from here? You have insight into how the loved ones of Dismissives may cope, but does it get better for the Dismissive himself? Is there a way to allow myself to make attachments?
I fear I’ll be alone forever, and that is not a life I want.
Well, the kind of person that could be happy with you without being close or triggering your “ick” reaction is going to be rare. To some extent you can actively work against your tendency — practicing being supportive and responsive until it becomes a habit. While you might never be Ms. Intimate, you do have enough feeling for wanting to be near someone on your terms to make something work, if you are very honest with them about your nature and successfully overcome it when it really matters — your tendency will be to see an expression of need from you partner and to immediately be turned off; to respond and assist requires overcoming that, but the more often you do it and the reward is a calmer and less needy partner, the easier it will become.
So, yes, it’s hard, but if you are conscious of what is going on, you can do it. The fact that you see yourself in this piece and don’t immediately dismiss it is a sign that you have the will.
Very informative! I’m not going crazy after all…
Hi Jeb-I find this article very interesting, as I believe it describes my ex boyfriend to a ‘T’. We dated for a little over a year. He’d travel often (which I saw as a way to avoid being in our home city), he would say he wanted to see me but really seemed indifferent to seeing me or not. If we were traveling and didn’t see each other for a few weeks, he wouldn’t seem to sincerely miss me–almost seemed like a vacation from him of the responsibilities of our relationship. He kept his ex-girlfriend in the picture, despite knowing it bothered me, he never once got angry/upset/sad in the relationship–was just totally indifferent and aloof. He did however express that he loved me (the only person he ever loved) and didn’t want to lose me. But his actions and words, just didn’t match. However, I eventually had enough and broke up with him. He seemed indifferent and expressed to me that he even was relieved that he could be selfish and do what he wanted to do. Do dismissive-avoidants just not have any form of emotion for those they once loved?
My concern is that when I entered the relationship, I was at a point with myself where I was confident, secure, and had a take-it-or-leave it attitude about relationships. I simply didn’t feel the need for one, but I was ready. However, after so many times of him flaking out, breaking promises, not calling me when he says he’s going to, talking to his ex behind my back, yet expressing (with words and some gestures) that he loves me…I felt that it kind of drove me crazy. I became anxious, paranoid, and totally insecure. Is it common for partners of dismissive-avoidants to grow angst over time? I felt secure for a few months in the relationship, until he betrayed my trust. After that though, it was pretty much constant angst..that I’m sure in some regard pushed him away. I do wonder though, if this is a chicken or the egg thing..like if I somehow ’caused’ him to be this way? Or, if he somehow moved me into the more anxious attachment style? I was (happily) single for a few years before I met him, so I don’t feel that i’m necessarily in line with the anxious-avoidance, but feel like I certainly became that.
More than likely he is dismissive-avoidant, and will almost always take this aloof stance which protects him from conscious pain with relationships. Most people who are reasonably secure will end up feeling anxious after being with a dismissive for long enough to react, and it can take some time to build up your trust and confidence in yourself after such a relationship. And you shouldn’t blame yourself for not seeing the signs at first, because commonly the dismissive will be attentive and moderately responsive at first — they can be charming and enjoy the thrill of the hunt. But when they have grasped the object of interest, they don’t want to be dependent on the relationship and will not consciously be very concerned when it runs into trouble. Give yourself recovery time, and look for someone who demonstrates deep feeling for you, and a willingness to work hard for you when you really need it….
I appreciate your response Jeb. I’m worried that I will keep missing the early signs–I mean, are there any? He really seemed too good to be true. He literally doesn’t care that we’re over, which does kind of give me the feeling of ‘what did I do that was so bad that this man that ‘loved’ me literally feels happier and relief that I’m no longer in the picture’. But he has nothing bad to say about me. Is this typical behavior of a dismissive-avoidant? Will he be the same way with the next girl?
Fairly typical. A well-practiced Dismissive can emulate concern and be quite responsive in the hunt phase. So there’s no foolproof way of telling until the novelty fades and you are left with their behavior motivated by limited real affection. One tip is to restrain yourself from relying too much on a new relationship until it’s no longer new… and as for attitudes toward exes, they will often romanticize them and try to return after a long separation when no one else is giving them attention. Don’t fall for that; remember there is no true loyalty in them. Be thankful that you found out before building a whole life around him. Remember that their fear of intimacy is irrational and makes no sense.
Is it possible for the Dismissive-Avoidant type to be in a year+ relationship though? I feel a little stuck in the thought that I somehow caused him to pull away/distance himself. The fact that he’s happier now/relieved has me thinking like ‘wow, what did I do for someone to have pure excitement back in their lives now that they’re done with me’. I’ve really been blaming myself for the breakup and his indifference–it’s like he feels no pain or ill feelings what-so-ever. Meanwhile, I’m struggling. He admitted to still having my things I left at his place at the same spot I left them..months ago. Seems totally unphased and has no real reason to mourn my loss because after all, he doesn’t see it as a loss. Does it ever catch up to these guys? Is it common for breakups with men like this to be incredibly painful? I’ve been reading your book, so I’m hoping that helps me learn more and more.
Most dismissives are socially intelligent. They know how they’re supposed to behave in a relationship — they can model caring and attention for quite a long time before their lack of true affection becomes apparent in their failure to signal. It’s often a conscious goal to get into a good respectable relationship to get the benefits and satisfy relatives. But they rarely know it’s an act until they feel the relief of ending it — when they can stop pretending to care. And that can be a year or more in. So if you started to act more needy as a result of his failure to respond, and that drove him out faster, that was not something you did. Ideally you won’t let someone else’s lack of support make you insecure, but it’s completely human and not your fault.
I’ve just read your article, and I find it very insightful for me at this time. I think my boyfriend or ex- (I’m not sure we’re still together, it’s been kind of bumpy recently), has an avoidant attachment style, dismissive-avoidant. He works a lot, and says he doesn’t have time to spend with me. I wondered whether he could decrease his hours, just a little bit, so he’d have more time to spend with me and his friends, but I never suggested it. He expects me to read his mind, and is pleased when I do something that is in accordance with how he feels, yet he has failed to express how he fails, almost 100% of the time, so that leaves it to chance whether or not I do something that helps meet his needs. He would miss scheduled dates, and fail to text or call that he wasn’t coming – over ten times. He also says he doesn’t care to use the phone. He has often prized his friends over me, although I know it is important to him and that he absolutely should spend intimate time with them too, he only spends intimate time with them, and none with me. He infact pushes me away if I am not “complying” what whatever it is he wants in the moment. Recently, he moved to Maine. He chose to take on two jobs and was becoming obsessed with his family, and I was having a hard time understanding it. I was feeling stressed that week from work, so I broke down, and started accusing him of not caring about our relationship or being responsible in it, and that pushed him away further, as you’ve said. He basically avoided talking to me on the phone for nearly two weeks, then finally I caught him one day on the phone, and he said he wanted to break up. I was shocked because two weeks earlier, he had said he was satisfied being intimate with me. He thought he had the right not to call, or if he was really busy, at least say, hey, I might be away from the phone for a week because I have a lot of hours – or something like that. But basically, he did not care about the fact that what he did had an impact on me, and often times would hurt me, and create a lack of intimacy and open communication in the relationship. When I would ask him about it, he’d get defensive, and self-righteous, acting like he was entitled to be in a committed relationship with me, but do none of the work to maintain it. And also, that it was my fault. I care about him, but I am really lost as to what to do with all of this nonsensical behavior. His father died when he was in middle school I think, so it obviously had a huge impact on him. I think his attachment problems stem from that. I would want to stay with him, but if he is in fact avoidant, and is not open to getting help and working on it, then I will have to leave for good. I’m confused as to what to do or how to think about it, and I’m tired of feeling so hurt by him, but having him never take responsibility for his actions when I tell him how I feel.
Annie — I am sorry to hear of your problems. Ask yourself if a reasonable person would tolerate the lack of respect for your feelings that he has shown. Since you’ve included so many details, I can say it is unlikely he will take any action to improve things, and your best course is to look for someone who values you more and can be relied on. Best of luck.
Jeb, among others this quote by M.E. Connors (1997) portrays the avoidant type pretty well:
“Because these individuals tend to invest in work rather than in relationships and may be very successful in professional endeavors, most avoidant individuals probably never come to the attention of clinicians. Although it is likely that insecure attachment is a factor in much adult psychopathology, the autonomy of the dismissing style tends to be admired in our culture, unlike the obsessive clinging that may characterize the ambivalent individual in adulthood. As we might expect from the elevated heart rate noted in avoidant infants, these individuals are prone to increased somaticizing when under stress (Mikulincer, Florian, & Weller, 1993). They may be vulnerable to sequelae such as muscular tension, high blood pressure, cardiac difficulties, or anxiety disorders. Avoidant individuals also have been found to use alcohol to reduce tension (Brennan & Shaver, 1995). When such individuals seek treatment, it may be due to such symptoms rather than from a wish to learn to trust others.”
I have thoughtfully read the entire entry, as well as the discussion, and I have a few thoughts I’d like to share.
Firstly, most of what is stated in this piece is theoretically true, and I know that having to cope with an avoidant or dismissive attachment style is very emotionally exhaustively overwhelming. However, it is also emotionally exhaustively overwhelming to be and attachment avoidant (borderline dismissive type), like myself…
As with everyone else, I had some childhood traumas… But unfortunately, mine included parental abandonment (physically by my mother and emotionally by my father). — Although I don’t consciously carry these traumas around in the forefront of my mind, I do think, upon serious examination of my unhealthy attachment style, my attachment behavior can and must be traced back to those pretty awful precipitating events… Interestingly enough, I have a very secure attachment style with all of my friends and most of my family (and even now, my mother and father) my intimate relationships have always suffered because of me either by: 1) Attaching myself to someone who is physically or emotionally more unavailable to me, or than me, or; 2) Begininng a relationship with the best of feelings and intentions only to literally feel as if the life is being suffocated out of me when the other person has a more secure attachment style than myself.
These two options have been my life pattern and it is absolutely awful. I feel like I am a broken person with a broken soul. When I feel trapped (which is usually pretty early on) I immediately end it, tell them I obviously have a serious problem for pushing away someone who is genuine and who just wants to love me, and then I feel guilty (as much as I feel relief) and then feel like a horrible person…
What I’m trying to say is you have made it sound as if all of us avoidant/dismissive types are preying on the souls of others… I can’t speak for everyone who has this problem, but I can say that it is truly so frustrating and sad for me to feel this way and to do these things. I have been to therapy, I’ve made amends, and read many books, I’ve learned mindfulness and have a strong awareness on how my attachment style affects my partners, and it literally breaks my heart… Somehow, I’ve managed to stay friends with those whom I have hurt because I am not a bad person and I actually really do have feelings and I really do (and did) care for these people.– I just have an overwhelming visceral emotional reaction that takes over me when someone begins to get too close to me intimately. I literally get and feel physically ill, nauseous, and feel like I need to jump out of my skin and run far, far away, as if I am in mortal danger. You cannot imagine having to reconcile those intense feelings vs your brain, which is also telling me that either I am crazy for feeling that way, or encourages these feelings. I think it is important for you to know the emotional turmoil some have with these attachment styles.
When I was reading your responses, it just came across to me that some of your statements were coming from a more personal place rather than clinical. And maybe I am wrong, but, people with my type of attachment problem are, I think, maybe too sensitive at times and are afraid of many things, including hurting the other person. I just think that is important for you to know.
I recently came across adult attachment theory. It’s such a relief to put a name to my relationship patterns and internal experiences. Unfortunately the majority of the information on dismissive attachment style (which I have) is very negative with little treatment recommendations nor hope for improvement. It’s pretty bleak and the more I read the more I feel hopeless. Its horrible to feel trapped and suffocated in a relationship, it’s doesn’t make it easier even when I know the person I’m dating isn’t intentionally making me feel this way. While dating someone I often feel desperate to run away, then guilty for disappointing him.
Its embarrassing to tell friends I broke up with another suitable guy – and I don’t have a real reason. I liked him he liked me, then all of a sudden I felt like I was locked in a coffin and air is getting sucked out, so I ended to breath again.
Is there a fix for this? If there were a secure attachment my pill I would take it!
There’s no easy way to change. The idea of a pill is actually not completely ridiculous — there are intriguing studies on oxytocin, MDMA, and other drugs that might have the effect of unblocking your “desire to affiliate” more. But nothing concrete or especially practical as yet.
Practice being the secure person you’d like to be. When the next guy sends you a message indicating he wants a response, respond even when it feels safer not to. Practice being supportive even when you don’t feel it, and it eventually becomes part of you. And look around for the guy who’s self-contained enough not to need you all that much; who understands when you need to be alone or at work. Work on yourself some and find the right partner, and you can be happy in a relationship, even if it is a little bit more independent than most….
Is it possible that I’m a Dismissive-Avoidant if my parents were normal, secure caregivers? I’m not delusional, I remember my childhood and it was good, my parents were kind and loving and they still are. The rest of the characteristics of Dismissives applies to me perfectly, I just don’t see myself in this part. Does that still make me Dismissive-Avoidant, or is it mutually exclusive (if you had reliable caregivers, you can’t be Dismissive). Is it possible that I am the way I am because of what other people did to me when I was younger? (I don’t mean any kind of abuse, I just had shitty friends growing up and basically all friendships since then have been disappointing for both parties involved, and I haven’t been able to maintain romantic relationships for longer than a few weeks.)
Yes, you are probably dismissive-avoidant if you behave and feel like one, even if your parents seemed supportive and secure themselves. While the most common cause of growing up with insecure attachment tendencies is poor parental treatment, peers and any other encounters one has when young can affect this, plus there is almost certainly a genetic component, as there is with other personality-type issues. People who are teased and abused by others as some of their first peer encounters often react this way, as a self-defense strategy.
The good news here is that you can assist yourself in overcoming insecurities (and the dismissive’s attitude that close friends and partners aren’t that important) by recalling parental love and attention. If they made you feel safe without smothering you, consciously evoking those feelings will help you in dealing with others.
I suppose I live with a “dismissive” spouse as what this topic describes. My question is at what point does the behavior of the dismissive allowed to be tolerated any further? I’ve spent the last 6 years of him not wanting to share the same bed (we sleep in separate bedrooms), sexlessness, no touching, kissing, holding hands, no intimacy whatsoever! Although, it hasn’t always been this way, the first 3 yrs were pretty “normal” as far as normal goes. Am I really just baring him in love like I want to believe? Or have I became an enabler to his destructive behavior? At some point I thought he may out grow what I refer to this “selfish” behavior. But he has not. And BC I am one who places high value on marriage I am not one to run to the divorce court. But the truth is, he is constantly shutting me out, finding fault with my appearance, and calling me curse words all the time, even though I refuse to disrespect him or call him names in return. He constantly violates me, and then blames me as the cause of this behavior. The worse part about it is, that we have a child who is being raised in this abnormal environment. When I was growing up, I saw mom and dad loving each other, kissing, hugging, holding hands etc. No, like all relationships they weren’t “perfect” but there was a certain level of humility present, and “I’m sorry” when one over-stepped the other’s boundary. And to me this is what I consider: Love. My son doesn’t get to see that “normalcy” in our marriage, and how husband and wife shld both be unified, not divided. Anytime I try to speak to him about this or bring this up he makes me talk to him through his room door… Which is where he resides most of the time, unless he steps in to be a “parent” if u can even call it that, to interact with our son. When he does interact with him, he makes it about “himself” as if no one can out-do him. This troubles me in so many ways, and I feel that I have “allowed” him to bully me, and have even enabled him to be who he is today. He constantly disrespects me in front of our child, and there is no reprieve. No matter how much I tell him it hurts my feelings, he says he doesn’t care about my feelings, that I am nothing to him. When I ask him why is he staying in a marriage with someone he doesn’t care about, he says it is for our son… Which I dont quite believe to be true. Cld it be bc I am the “submissive” wife, generous, kind, loving, sensitive, forgiving regardless of how he treats me and that I have given him these very reasons to walk all over me? Will he ever change? I do wonder… Reading some of these comments and how ppl have said, “you shouldn’t ask someone to change” I dont think that is fair. I believe if I wld have set my boundaries in the beginning none of this wld be like this today. I have no problem divorcing if it is something he initiates, bc ultimately I desire to be loved, intimate, desirable, and above all: Respected. I have shared these thoughts with him too, but I feel there is some level of “fear” of being alone or failing to be a better person on his end, bc he knows what he is doing is wrong. Idk… But, I leave it to God to sort out. That’s what makes my burden lighter to carry. Who has a beneficial answer for me?
It does take two to tango, and your failure to act to set boundaries and preserve your dignity in the relationship has indeed enabled him. If you’re thinking he might have honored your boundaries had you been more diligent in setting them and reacting to his violations, I suspect not — it’s not impossible, but more likely if you had done so, he would have continued and increased his abuse of you. And at that point you would quite sensibly have left him.
After so many years you are not going to change this pattern, or him. There is no “answer,” just some paths you might take — live your life fully and stay with him while ignoring his failures; or leave him. Is he worse than being alone? Only you can answer that.
I do appreciate your feed-back. And I understand choice that I have to make is my own. My beliefs keep me in my marriage, so in order to be “divorced” it wld have to be something that he initiates and not me… My hope is that he will either change, and overcome himself, or overcome himself and opt to leave the marriage seeing that he is incapable overcoming, and realizing that he will be doing the family justice by allowing us the freedom to pursue happiness. Ultimately, I feel it is my duty as a wife to love him “for better or for worse” whether I “feel” like it or not to honor the vows of marriage. Marriage is honorable. I do love him, and it does hurt… But, in my heart of heart I see that he is the one truly hurting… He has no peace, no joy, no remorse, and unwilling to change. Humility and honesty of oneself does hurt to an extent, but then it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness… I pray for him, and I show him I love him by my actions. It is entirely up to him to change and step outside of himself and recognize his behavior is unacceptable. So… Through genuine love and forgiveness is how I survive from day to day, knowing that I am not “perfect” myself. May the Lord bring healing, peace, restoration, forgiveness, and unity. Until then, I have chosen to do my part, even of that means I must suffer the consequences… That will I do, BC love always wins!
I had a husband much like yours. When I read your post, I felt like I was looking in the mirror. My husband left me and I am sure he did not shed a tear in the process. Soon after our divorce, he had another serious girlfriend. I stayed with him for 15 years and we have one daughter. I would leave because eventually the image he has created of you (not what you are) will justify his actions. I think my husband was having an affair even though he denies it. I am alone now which is hard, but the longer you stay the more abused you will become and it will be harder to recover once it ends, and usually it does end. I agree that he would not have respected any boundaries you had set. Boundaries can mean some type of confrontation and dismissives hate confrontation; they will use your desire to set boundaries as evidence of your “controlling” personality. I am sorry for your pain. Dismissives look for kind-hearted people to use. Get out before he steals more of your life. People love what they sacrifice for. He doesn’t sacrifice for you; thus, there will never be love. I wish I would have left years ago. I am grieving now for my marriage but also for youth and everything i gave up to make him happy. For instance, I wanted another child and he never did. So, we didn’t have another child. Now, i am too old for a second child. You need to love yourself. Save yourself and your son.
Thank you for empathizing with me. I do appreciate your words of encouragement. I can relate to similar things that you are saying… I wonder if it is possible throughout this process to “cultivate” dismissive characteristics? I have no “feelings” for him in general, other than the occasional bursts of joy when he might buy something for the house or buy certain food that I like. (He decided to take full control of our finances, about 1yr or so ago) I don’t work as of now, I am waiting for my school benefits to kick in (used to be military) and I just got out of the service April of this year. I don’t need much, or require much either, but for some reason he seems to think he shld be placed on a pedestal BC he “provides” for our family. Mind you, I have no allowance, or access to our once joint account. Another way he tries to dominate his “power” over my emotions in this relationship. But the truth is, I stopped caring what he thought about me years ago. While he is continually finding “fault” with my appearance, and various other things that “I never do right”… I regularly get compliments (uninvited) from other men outside of my marriage, saying that I am an attractive woman with a head on my shoulders. I know that I can “do better” but that is not what my heart strives for. I honestly believe that if he ever did initiate a divorce I wld feel a “sense” of relief, so I wonder if this makes me partially “dismissive” or a person so heavily wounded by a man unwilling to change his ways? I have pondered in my heart what it wld be like to be “free” from this burden, and can honestly say for me to be intimate with my husband (which has been less than I can count on both hands in the last 6yrs, and we have been married for almost 10) wld be very difficult for me to “enjoy” it, since for me to feel loved is the idea that I am desired, cherished, and valued. But, BC those things have been so manipulated and trampled on all these years, intamcy is no longer something I crave or desire from him, it just becomes ritualistic “sex” and in the process of it, (although my body craves it) I am detached “emotionally” and can’t wait for the session to expire. Does this make me a dismissive as well? Is this a learned, or developed behavior I have attained to throughout this process of time? Or am I simply responding to his nature of coldness? At any rate, staying in a constant emotionally abusive marriage has taken a toll on me, and my son alike. I feel a sense of obligation to “make everything all better” but I know I am only deceiving myself… No one can do his part, ultimately he has to do his part, whether he evolves into this new person, or declares he has no intentions of changing and decides to depart from this marriage… But either way, I feel it is out of my “place” as a woman of faith to pressure him into getting a divorce. If he pursues one on his own, that is quite the different story. It has to be something self-motivated, not provoked or induced by me, no matter what “feelings” I may have… BC, at the end of it all, I do not wish to harbor any regrets nor violate my conscience in the process and think to myself: “If only I wld have fought harder, if only I wld have showed him I loved him more”…. I dont want that on my heart or conscience. There are some things that you just have to live by faith, and for me I know in this trial of my life God is expecting certain things from me, and if I do them… He will avenge me! I can either grow weary in well doing, or I can allow the things that we all consider “weaknesses” to become motives to build strength, to show my son the art of suffering and still give my best in return. Most ppl call this being “gullible”, but I call it love. It is easy to want justice when the cost of it isn’t at price of oneself. We all seek to be justified, satisfied, loved, appreciated, respected in some form or fashion… Even the one who opposes all of these things, which I think it is quite the revelation when u can see beyond someone’s hatred and realize they are the ones who are truly hurt. You can now place more emphasis on being compassionate versus being angry, resentful or bitter… Knowing they are incapable of showing love, BC they don’t feel they deserve it themselves. My personal ambition is to give him an example of who he is not, and pray that he comes to the understanding and realization of this. I do not seek for “pleasure” outside of my marriage and have become accustomed to rejoicing and being thankful for the small victories in my life, and giving my burdens, faults, and shortcomings to the One I know who loves me unconditionally: JESUS. I am constantly working (inwardly) on myself and will humble myself accordingly when I recognize a fault. I want to “be” the change I want to see I my husband, if for nothing else for a clear conscience if he decides to go the route of “divorce”… We will cross that bridge if it comes to that. So, thank u so much for your understanding Anne… There are just some things I know are beyond my control, so I have decided to let go, and let God…
Was I married to a dismissive? Please respond with any advice or ideas. Before we got married my ex had only one serious relationship and he ver much disliked his old girlfriend. When my ex and I got married, I was a virgin (I was from a religious background). On our wedding night my husband was not that excited about sex which surprised me because he was 23, heterosexual male. After our marriage, my husband became addicting to rock climbing and was never home. I tried hard to make it work; we had a child. Then, some bad things,stressful things happened in our life while I was in grad school. I admit I was stressed out,and probably not a picnic to live with. My husband only worked part time and spent most his free time climbing which meant I was working full-time, going to grad school, and trying to take care of child mostly by myself. I admit I was probably suffering from anxiety trying to deal with work, school, motherhood and the other unexpected, troubled things that come everyone’s way. My husband was very aloof; he would not touch or talk to me during this time. I felt like by just asking him how his day was, I was being intrusive. Then one day he told me he didn’t love me and wanted out of the marriage. I asked him over and over again what I could to do make the marriage work, what I had done wrong. His response would be, i just want out. Or he sometimes would say something like we don’t have the same interests or you are not supportive of my rock climbing.I admit it wasn’t my favorite thing. We got divorced and quickly (four months later) he had another serious relationship with a single mom. When he talks about her it is like he is talking about a Goddess and he doesn’t understand why I am still grieving the divorce. Just get over it and move on he tells me. I have moved on, he continues.He also has told me that he was so relieved when we got divorced. I am sure he did not shed a single tear during the divorce process. His new girlfriend lives five hours away. They met at work while we were still married. (we moved to a different city right before the divorce). He claims there was no affair then. And now claims our divorce was do to poor communication. I will freely admit when we talked about serious matters during our marriage, I felt like nothing was ever delved into. He would never give me specific information and his responses were often short or opaque . Could he have dismissive personality disorder? From what I have read I feel he also could be a covert narcissist. Since I am now divorced and money is tight, I guess I am looking for some free or inexpensive resources. Any advice would be appreciated.
I can’t label your husband from a distance, but I can say his behavior is consistent with being dismissive-avoidant (which, BTW, is not the same as “avoidant personality disorder,” which refers to people who are dysfunctional because they are overly wihdrawn and anxious with people. Dismissive avoidants don’t have a disorder, they’re just assholes. (kidding!) But really they are to be pitied, because they fail to feel the attraction of true intimacy. A man who would neglect his wife and child for a serious rockclimbing habit is not someone who truly wants a family at all.
Describing his ex-gf as awful and lionizing the new one far away is typical. Meanwhile, he is telling others that you were nagging, resentful, unsupportive, etc. The disinterest and inability to talk about serious issues and emotions is also typical. You have a good chance to find a much more supportive partner, and I hope you and your daughter can forgive that he was not a great partner — I’m sure he had no idea at the start that he wouldn’t be good at it.
I don’t know whether to cry, run or just pick my jaw off the floor. I am not a psychologist but this article just described my spouse so dead on I am in utter awe. I have seriously thought I was losing my mind. We have several young children and no intimacy at all. Typical counseling I feel she is very intelligent and plays the game and they haven’t picked up on this. They did pick up that the way all former relationships ended that I would have been her first “serious”one. I have tried endlessly to express the feeling of never being a priority, the lack of intimacy, the constant impression that if after almost 20 years if I left tomorrow it would be fine. Is there ever hope because I have one foot out the door.
I know the parents didn’t show any physical love as children because I have asked. She is always vague to all childhood questions. When I brought my children over to kiss grandma and grandpa goodnight you could see the grandparents pull away and their discomfort in physical affection.
One of the typical differences with a female dismissive is a better ability to hide it — men’s stereotypical tendencies to minimize emotion and “go it alone” are societally more acceptable, whereas a dismissive woman tends to be under pressure to hide her lack of interest in closeness. So it’s no surprise that in talk therapy, she is able to play-act a concerned partner — she’s had practice.
Is there hope? She is unlikely to see a need to change to be more there for you. So you have to decide whether keeping things stable for your children is the highest priority; and if it is, accept that you have to find a way to be happy while lacking the warmth of a supportive partner. Children grow up, and it’s not a life sentence to keep the family together until they have. The opposing argument is that your children are learning to model their own feelings on your relationship, so if it’s cold or even worse combative, you do them no favors by pretending it’s okay.
You are right to feel slighted and devalued in your own home, but there is a big downside in breaking up a family. Demanding shared custody if it comes to divorce is important; alternatively, find a way to be a little happier yourself if you decide to stick it out.
It’s like you know me… Seriously described me to the tee.
I just got out of a 3-year relationship with an avoidant and I’m anxious. He’s off traveling the world and 3 months out already told me he had a fling. He said ‘what you don’t seem to quite grasp even now is that my goal is not to be in a relationship, it’s to do what I want.’ But then a couple emails later says ‘I love you and you mean so much to me. I hope we can still be in each other’s lives.’ Why does he constantly email me and say he loves me if he’s so happy being alone? Am I boosting his ego to know his ex and he are still friends? I feel a little broken and like I’m piecing my life back together after 3 years of investing in a painful relationship where if I pushed too hard to work through conflict he’d tell me ‘FU’ or call me a selfish b***. He says that he always made it clear he never wanted commitment yet he’d introduce me to his family and once asked me which style of engagement ring I liked then we fought and he left me on the side of the road all in the same day. He’s making it out like it was my fault for not heeding the warnings he gave of not wanting a relationship. His telling me about the fling felt like a knife in my gut and I told him never to email me again. That I wanted nothing to do with him.
I feel broken and sad. To invest that much in a relationship. I loved him so much and wanted to build a life with him and create this secure unit to face the world together. And now I have to let that go. I’m 35 and afraid no one will want me.
35 is young — trust me. Lots of quality partner material in the dating pool, and with what you know now, you’ll be able to weed out guys like this more quickly.
This “push-pull” behavior is not unusual. He may have some feelings for you, but usually wants to establish that he doesn’t need you at all. But doing something loving from time to time keeps you orbiting him — he wants to feel he controls how close you are. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s one reason why dismissives make trrible partners for most of us.
Glad you asserted yourself. You deserve better and you will find someone better.
Okay, thank you. I’m using books like yours and ‘Attached’ to try to detect the signs of an avoidant, yet like you said, sometimes it takes a little while of dating to see it come out. Dating an avoidant is one of the most painful experiences because you get glimpses of such closeness and intimacy only to have it disappear. I’m afraid I’ll find another avoidant so I’m going through counseling to try and develop more of a secure style. I’ve felt that secures can tell if someone is anxious and it makes them avoid dating them or end it sooner. I’ve found I rule out secures because I feel they won’t want to be with me which is something I am working on. Thank you for this blog and the books you write.
Thanks so much for the article, reading it finally allowed me to see what’s been going on with my life and my behaviour since high school (I’m now 42!). I’ve run away from so many relationships in my life that seemed to be going well only for me to either find some insignificant fault that I managed to blow up in my mind, or to find myself feeling ambivalent out of the blue or deciding someone doesn’t measure up to a former partner who broke up with me and I had since idealised and beyond that spending years being (or thinking) I was still ‘in love’ with ex-partners and sometimes being in on and off again relationships with them that were pretty messy.
I guess the difference I have with some other dismissive-avoidant types is that I don’t feel like this is natural for me. I don’t like being closed off and I’d like to change and start a healthy relationship where I can be more open, loving and caring. Is there any hope? Do you know of anything dismissive-avoidants can do/read to change if they feel like I do?
You’re beginning to change just by being more aware of how your past relationships ended badly, knowing that there’s a pattern of emotional dismissiveness you fall into that you can work against. It’s notoriously resistant to change mostly because the dismissive don’t tend to want to change, but if you do, you can. Explaining your reactions to partners is a way of getting their help to overcome it, and while talk therapy is expensive and takes a long time, it can also be helpful if you can find someone who understands the issues.
This article and all the comments below have been extremely enlightening and have reassured my year-long suspicions that I’m completely blameless for what a particular individual in my life has been putting me through. I know someone who fits the Avoidant/Dismissive type almost to perfection. ..minus the personal criticism/blame game, because he simply wouldnt dare. But still I’ve spent a year wondering why I’m at the bottom of his priority list: now I guess I know and that will give me the strength to walk away. I believe I’m an Anxious Preoccupied type and he brings out the very worse of me, only I dont show it because he laughs and makes me feel like a child having a tantrum. He smiles and charms his way out of every row. This person has a family, and says that his ex froze him out and dedicated all her time to their kids. I know virtually nothing about his parents except that both had demanding jobs. My question is can an Avoidant/Dismissive be pushed into becoming an Anxious Attachment Type but inflicts the way he was treated on later relationships he has with others? Would love your insight on this. Thanks in advance.
I’m 40 years old, Black and have HSV 1. Dating (because of these factors), for me, is nearly impossible. I get little to no interest from anyone (other than first date – push for sex – never contact again). Maybe I’m asked out once every three or four months.
I met a man at 31 years old. We have been off and on for years, mainly because I leave after cyclical distancing from him leading to raging/anger/crying from me. It wasn’t until I was 38 did I read the book “Attached” and understood about Dismissive-Avoidant and Anxious attachment. I sent him links to the book and articles, told him I can’t contribute to the roller coaster anymore, asked him to go no contact and walked away. Except… every year, like clockwork, I reach out to him. He always answers. He always wants me back in.
We’ve talked extensively about our behavior toward one another in the past, which was mainly each of hitting each other’s triggers. And, as I read everyone else’s comments I see so many stories of people treating people wrong or badly. My problem is this man never treated me badly or wrong. We’ve had our emotional discussions (mainly me, the emotional one, being the anxious partner), but we’re best friends. I love him dearly. It took years, but one evening he said he loves me. We’re two peas in a pod and thoroughly enjoy one another’s company and talk, for hours until early morning, when together. He cuddles me in bed. He helps me when I need. Except for one arguement that got out of hand, we’ve been good to one another except for the instances his avoidant personality distances and my anxious personality responds.
But, he said he made a choice long ago never to have a wife. But, when I ask if he’d father a child with me, he doesn’t miss a beat when he answers “yes.” But, each time we reconnect, it takes him nearly a month to communicate. It’s a constant yo-yo. And in the nearly 10 years I’ve attempted to meet someone or date outside of him, no one even comes close to who he is as a person to me or the great communication and conversations we have (despite our Anxious-Avoidant patterns). He’s a good man… broken from early familial discord that led to his avoidant nature (with everyone in his life, not just the women he gets involved with which, I should mention outside of me there really aren’t any). He doesn’t sleep around. He doesn’t date. He just opens himself to and for me. And, even more difficult, I him.
I try to and look at it subjectively and honestly. I know I have my anxious preoccupation with him and I do my best to focus on me, go no contact and not react in a harsh way when he distances or uses his regularly used distancing strategies. They do, of course, irritate, anger and hurt me. But, I also adore and respect him greatly. He’s my best friend. He’s my best lover. And, with the dismal results online dating brings I swing from either abject loneliness or missing/loving him year after year after year.
My two choices are keep searching for, quite possibly, years with online dating and going on four or so dates a year that, less than likely, do not move to a second date (quite possibly with Avoidants since the dating scene is full of Avoidants in the 40-plus zone) or continue our talks about attachment and ask my guy if I begin therapy if he’d routinely be open to joining me me to try and work on healthier attachment systems, come to compromises, learn to respect his need for autonomy and teach him to respect my need for greater intimacy and see if we can make it work better for a future together. So much advice on these sorts of relationships say leave, get out and/or avoid relationships with Avoidants. I’ve tried, many times, but my heart always brings me back to him.
I’d even give up marriage for him. It’s just a paper. Him by my side and him open to having children with me I’d certainly be alright with that sort of commitment from the both of us, I don’t think I’d need the nuptials or certificate to cement my relationship with him.But, I also have to wonder if I’d regret that decision and be upset with him down the line if I made that choice…
I”m lost every day trying to determine what I should do. If he was a man who’d treated me unkindly or I didn’t feel cared for and loved me, I’d walk away easily as I have with others. I have exhibited secure attachment in the past. With him, he’s so extremely avoidant it brings out my extreme anxious patterns and it’s hard to handle. But, I also love, enjoy and deeply like him more than I’ve loved any man I’ve ever met. How do you let that go to no dating and quite possibly no chance of finding another partner ever?
Every day I’m overwhelmed and pained at this decision. I need a therapist to help me, but, for now I use books like “Attached” and your books and websites to help guide me.
Very interesting article. My partner of nine years fits this description. He has a very traumatic past filled with abandonment, war-time survival fears, and loss. His life surpasses fiction in many instances.
We have a daughter together and he is a great Dad, even after everything he went through. He is a great employee, too, working in the helping field. He often falls short in his relationship with me though. He is easily hurt and will give me various forms of silent treatment, sometimes for days. I often do not feel supported emotionally as his capacity for empathy is somewhat difficult to access. I am a very emotional person: it is what attracted him to me and what now sends him into hiding. He can tell me that he doesn’t need anyone in life, that he can survive anything… He is superficially charming with others around him, but aside from his children (he as two older kids as well) and myself, he lets no one in.
My main preoccupation lately is that he seems to respond very negatively when I ask for help. He will often make comments about how he doesn’t ask me for help, he will take care of what needs to be done. He is especially reactive when it is because there is something wrong with me (e.g., I am not feeling well when I ask for help). He is not a lazy man nor is he against helping me when he volunteers or if it is something that the judges that I can’t do. It is particular to his reading me as needy or not self-sufficient. I understand that he values self-sufficiency in himself but to have such a strong reaction in someone else asking for help confuses me… Can you share your take on this? Thank you.
That’s the reflex of the dismissive — a call for support is resented and results in both him feeling threatened and wanting to get further away from his partner. Since he is good for you in many ways and conscientious when this reflex isn’t triggered, I’d do two things: tell him what you have observed and that you understand it’s a defense mechanism he developed to deal with his difficult early experiences. Then do your best to not let it bother you — and when you do need his help, try to let him see it for himself and decide to come to your aid. Which you’ve seen he will. It will never make sense to you, but just imagine the resentful/hurt child in him wanting to avoid getting “sucked in” to situations beyond his ability to feel sympathy.
Also, the forum is a good resource — I prefer to answer questions over there because this page is getting too long. See http://jebkinnison.boards.net.
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