Dismissive Avoidant Attachment in Adults

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If you’ve read the previous posts in this series on secure attachment and anxious attachment, then you’ll quickly see how dismissive avoidant attachment is, in many ways, the polar opposite of anxious attachment.

But don’t let dismissive avoidant attachment fool you.

Even though those with dismissive avoidant attachment can look fiercely independent, even to the point of narcissism, their problems frequently stem from low self-esteem just like someone with an anxious attachment. Throughout this post, I’ll refer to dismissive-avoidant attachers as “dismissive attachers” to separate them from fearful-avoidant attachers, who we’ll discuss in another post.

What does dismissive attachment behavior look like?

  • Highly self-sufficient. This is the #1 characteristic of someone with a dismissive avoidant attachment style. They don’t want to depend on you and they don’t want you to depend on them. They want their freedom and independence and want (or at least think that they want) you to be the same way.
  • A tendency to avoid displays of feelings. This can range from avoidance of PDA to avoidance of verbal expressions of affection.
  • Can sometimes act narcissistically. Dismissive attachers often tend to have a high opinion of themselves and overly critical views of others. This is often a front, though, for a fragile ego that has a hard time dealing with slights or criticisms.
  • A tendency to not prioritize romantic relationships. To a person with a dismissive avoidant attachment style, putting a romantic relationship first is likely to make it too intense and more important in their lives than they want it to be, so they prioritize it lower than something else, like work or favorite hobbies.
  • Deliberately aggravating a partner so the partner won’t want to get too close. For instance, a dismissive attacher might be prone to flirting with someone else, ignoring their partner’s texts or calls, or making decisions without their partner in order to push the partner away.
  • A tendency to be overly concerned about being controlled. Just like an anxious attacher is always on the lookout for ways that their partner might be losing interest in them, and often makes up such signs where they don’t exist, a dismissive attacher is always on the lookout for signs that their partner is trying to control them or limit their freedom. Healthy, ordinary relationship behavior will often come across to them this way.

How is it originate?

Attachment experts Dr. Lisa Firestone and Dr. Daniel Siegel explain that dismissive attachers are usually people whose caregivers encouraged a strong sense of independence at a prematurely early age. For instance, a child who was regularly told not to cry if he hurt himself starting at age 5 might be a likely candidate for dismissive attachments. Caregivers that reward the repression of feelings, especially any kind of pain, very often create dismissive attachers. These caregivers themselves are usually uncomfortable with expressing feelings and think of that as a strength to be cultivated in their children.

What can I do about my dismissive attachment?

Dismissive attachment can be particularly difficult to change because if you have this style then you’ve probably led yourself to believe that it’s one of your strengths, which will make you more resistant to change. Therefore, the first and most important step for any dismissive attacher is…

  • Realize that your style of relating to a partner actually is unhealthy, and is likely causing your partner a lot of pain. It’s not wrong to want independence and selfhood. It is unhealthy to seek absolutely no dependence at all and to want someone to have absolutely no dependence on you at all. In a healthy relationship, both partners trust each other and give each other room to explore their own interests and needs, but feel sure that they’re there for one another when needed.
  • Realize that your sense of what counts as “clingy” or “needy” might not be accurate. If you’re a dismissive attacher, then just because you think your partner is being clingy or needy doesn’t mean that’s an objective fact. You’ve programmed yourself to see these traits in everything. Seek an outside opinion – from a therapist, if there’s no one else you feel you could trust making a judgment call – to get a perspective other than your own on your partner’s behavior.
  • Try to form relationships with secure attachers, not anxious attachers. Attachment style experts agree that one of the best ways for insecure attachers to change their style is to experience a relationship with a secure attacher. It’s not a guaranteed success and it doesn’t mean you won’t have to work at the relationship, but it will be easier for you to change if you’re interacting with someone who’s on a secure home base.

What can I do if my partner has this attachment style?

First of all, ask yourself if you’re an anxious attacher. Anxious attachers and dismissive attachers are often drawn to each other. Anxious attachers get their suspicions that they’re not worth love confirmed by dismissive attachers, and dismissive attachers get their suspicions that all partners are annoyingly clingy confirmed by anxious attachers. So even though they might think they’re not looking for each other, they can subconsciously seek each other to confirm their views of how relationships work. If you are an anxious attacher, then you have just as much work to do on yourself than you have to do with your partner. But nevertheless, there are some strategies to keep in mind if you’re dealing with a dismissive attacher:

  • Try to avoid certain kinds of ultimatums. If you just say, “Completely change yourself or it’s over,” you probably won’t get what you want from your partner. He or she almost definitely will not be able to just flip a switch for you; their behavior and thinking patterns are far too ingrained for that. Instead, you could try saying something like, “Unless you seek out professional help for the way you think about relationships, I can’t continue to be with you because it’s too painful for me.”
  • Try to discuss objective facts rather than personal opinions. Dismissive attachers, as discussed above, are often very sensitive to criticisms and will flare up into an argument if you say something like, “You don’t care about me and my needs at all!” Instead, try mentioning an objective fact, such as, “We’ve been dating for a year and you won’t agree to meet my family.”
  • Try to consider all relevant factors when deciding whether or not to leave the relationship. There’s no one right answer to whether you should leave a dismissive attacher or not. You have to consider a lot of things: How much time and effort have you already put into the relationship? Do you have any obligations together as a couple, like children or finances? Does your dismissive partner seem open to working on their behavior at all?

Darlene Lancer, in an article for Pysch Central, says, “We can be more independent when we’re dependent on someone else — provided it’s a secure attachment.” This is the principle that dismissive attachers have such a hard time realizing, but it’s not impossible! Just like any of the insecure attachment styles, there is always hope for change as long as you’re willing to try.

If you think you or your partner has an insecure attachment style and you’d like to talk more about changing that, you can call us at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 20-minute Clarity Consult .

Envision Wellness is a private practice that offers psychotherapy, psychological testing, and life coaching in Miami, FL.  Our team has a passion for helping others achieve happy, fulfilling, and change-making lives that make the world a better place.  Each therapist has their areas of expertise.  Not sure who you’d like to work with?  Click here to schedule a free 20-minute phone consult to help you decide.

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