Early in life, we develop attachment styles that significantly influence how satisfied we are in our relationships and how we relate to others. Dismissive avoidant attachment is one attachment style that causes someone to avoid emotional intimacy. People with this attachment style are typically self-reliant and tend to withdraw from relationships.
Keep reading to learn more about signs and causes, triggers, and how to overcome a dismissive avoidant attachment style that might be interfering in your relationships.
Signs of Dismissive Avoidant Attachment
Humans have an innate desire for social connection, but people with a dismissive avoidant attachment style are uncomfortable in an intimate relationship. While they can be charismatic and friendly in social settings, they keep an emotional distance. They may withdraw from a romantic relationship when someone gets too close.
Signs of this attachment style include:
- Self-reliance: People with this attachment pattern are highly independent and prefer not to turn to others for help. They may respond negatively when other people ask for support.
- Secretive behavior: When someone is dismissive avoidant, they may be reluctant to share information with others. It’s common to hide feelings or plans, even when they have no reason to keep something secret.
- Conflict avoidance: Most people with this attachment style are conflict-averse. They may shut down or end a close relationship at the first sign of conflict.
- Suppressing emotions: Dismissive avoidant people tend to conceal their feelings. In addition to hiding feelings or emotions from others, they may struggle to understand their feelings.
- Difficulty trusting others: A general distrust of others is common in people living with this attachment style. They may believe that it’s unsafe to rely on other people.
“Also known as avoidant dismissive insecure attachment style, dismissive avoidant attachment is often indicative of a robust sense of self, a preference for independence, and an intolerance for emotional vulnerability.”– Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, LICSW, LCSW
Causes of Dismissive Avoidant Attachment
Most experts subscribe to attachment theory. What is attachment theory? The theory maintains that attachment styles form in infancy and early childhood. From birth, children look to caregivers to meet their emotional needs. Children develop assumptions about relationships based on how caregivers respond to their needs.
If caregivers fail to meet a child’s needs or respond negatively when the child is in distress, the child will learn they can’t depend on others to meet their needs. Unfortunately, many children who develop a dismissive avoidant attachment style have caregivers that are unresponsive to their needs or discourage them from expressing their emotions.
To cope with the stress of an unavailable caregiver, children may learn to shut down their feelings rather than seek comfort and emotional closeness from others. This coping mechanism often forces them to become independent at an early age. Research suggests that attachment styles during childhood usually continue into adulthood, although they can be altered with work.
While researchers widely believe that a child’s relationships with caregivers primarily determine attachment styles, some studies indicate that there may also be a genetic component. For example, twin studies suggest that some people may be predisposed to avoidant attachment styles. More research is needed to determine how genetics contribute to attachment styles.
“Causes of dismissive avoidant attachment are not decisively clear. It’s often theorized that we develop our attachment styles very early in life based on the type of styles nurtured by our caregivers or parents. Dismissive avoidant attachment typically has its roots in a lack of affection from strict, rigid, or emotionally distant caregivers.”– Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, LICSW, LCSW
What Triggers Dismissive Avoidant Attachment?
Certain events and interactions likely trigger avoidant behavior in people with this attachment style. These triggers can cause discomfort and may result in someone who’s dismissive avoidant withdrawing from relationships.
Dismissive avoidant attachment triggers include:
- Criticism: While people with this attachment style often respond positively to constructive criticism in the workplace, it can be hard for them to handle negative feedback from partners. They may see criticism as evidence that others don’t care about their needs.
- Emotional volatility: Dismissive avoidants want to feel like they’re in control. Unpredictability and inconsistent communication can cause significant stress.
- Boundary crossing: It’s common for a dismissive avoidant individual to set boundaries to protect themselves. When others ignore their boundaries, they may feel unsafe.
- Vulnerability: Showing vulnerability can make a dismissive avoidant person feel weak. They may fear that showing vulnerability will allow others to control them.
- Lack of validation: It can be very difficult for people with this attachment style to open up to others or let them know they need help. They often react negatively if they’re not validated when they put themselves in a vulnerable position.
- High expectations: It can be challenging for many people with this attachment style to cope with a partner’s expectations. They may feel overwhelmed by demands for time or attention.
“If you’re dismissive avoidant, you rest on predictability and routine, things you know and can count on for sure. With that, emotional vulnerability and signs of weakness can be particularly triggering, especially if they’re reminiscent of the space and inability to be independent or self-assured.”– Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, LICSW, LCSW
How to Overcome Dismissive Avoidant Attachment
While it can be difficult for people with a dismissive avoidant attachment style to form healthy relationships with others, change is possible. Studies show that negative attachment styles can become more secure as we age.
There are several ways to overcome dismissive avoidant attachment and build stronger bonds with others.
Reflect on your behavior
Becoming more aware of how your current attachment style impacts your behavior is the first step in changing. Next, it’s essential to learn more about dismissive avoidant attachment and take the time to assess your feelings. Over time, you’ll learn to correct destructive habits and replace them with healthier behaviors.
Find safe ways to express your feelings
It can be hard for dismissive avoidants to show vulnerability to others. Finding safe outlets for your feelings can make it easier to open up with others. One effective strategy is recording feelings and emotions in a journal. Journaling for mental health is just one of many proven stress management techniques that can help improve your mental health overall. It can also help identify patterns of unhealthy or unhelpful behavior, so you can start to modify your reactions to situations.
Strengthen your communication skills
Effective communication is key to any healthy relationship. To alter your attachment style, you’ll need to learn to improve how you communicate with others. One way to do this is by becoming aware. If you notice that you’re making assumptions about other people’s feelings, take the time to stop and ask open-ended questions. Set aside time to connect and have constructive conversations with others. There are also communication exercises for couples that you two can learn as well and strengthen communication skills together.
People with this attachment style often struggle to understand their feelings and behaviors. Mindfulness is a practice that can make you more aware of your emotions. Studies demonstrate that mindfulness and meditation for stress help you learn to regulate emotions and tolerate distress without shutting down.
Get professional help with Talkspace
Reaching out for support can be tough if you have a dismissive avoidant attachment style. While asking for help isn’t easy, it might be the most effective way for you to overcome and change your attachment style. Talkspace is an online therapy platform that can help.
When you seek relationship counseling through Talkspace, you’ll be connected with an experienced, qualified therapist who understands how attachment styles impact your life and well-being. With their help, you’ll be able to understand your behavior and make positive, lasting changes. Over time, you’ll learn to build deep and meaningful connections with others.
- Bélanger JJ, Collier KE, Nisa CF, Schumpe BM. Crimes of passion: When romantic obsession leads to abusive relationships. Journal of Personality. 2021;89(6):1159-1175. doi:10.1111/jopy.12642. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1002/per.666. Accessed October 20, 2022.
- Martino J, Pegg J, Frates EP. The connection prescription: Using the power of social interactions and the deep desire for connectedness to empower health and Wellness. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 2015;11(6):466-475. doi:10.1177/1559827615608788. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6125010/. Accessed October 20, 2022.
- Benoit D. Infant-parent attachment: Definition, types, antecedents, measurement and outcome. Paediatrics & Child Health. 2004;9(8):541-545. doi:10.1093/pch/9.8.541. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2724160/. Accessed October 20, 2022.
- Dozier M, Kobak RR. Psychophysiology in attachment interviews: Converging evidence for deactivating strategies. Child Development. 1992;63(6):1473-1480. doi:10.2307/1131569. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1131569?origin=crossref. Accessed October 20, 2022.
- Waters E, Merrick S, Treboux D, Crowell J, Albersheim L. Attachment security in infancy and early adulthood: A twenty‐year longitudinal study. Child Development. 2000;71(3):684-689. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00176. https://srcd.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-8624.00176. Accessed October 20, 2022.
- Erkoreka L, Zumarraga M, Arrue A, et al. Genetics of Adult Attachment: An updated review of the literature. World Journal of Psychiatry. 2021;11(9):530-542. doi:10.5498/wjp.v11.i9.530. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8474999/. Accessed October 20, 2022.
- Chopik WJ, Edelstein RS, Grimm KJ. Longitudinal changes in attachment orientation over a 59-year period. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2019;116(4):598-611. doi:10.1037/pspp0000167. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28771022/. Accessed October 20, 2022.
- Guendelman S, Medeiros S, Rampes H. Mindfulness and emotion regulation: Insights from neurobiological, psychological, and clinical studies. Frontiers in Psychology. 2017;8:220. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00220. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5337506/. Accessed October 20, 2022.