Avoidant-Insecure Attachment Style: Definition & 10 Examples

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The avoidant-insecure attachment style is characterized by a tendency to avoid intimate relationships with others.

They tend to not trust people and begin to feel distressed as a relationship progresses into the realm of deeper emotional connections.

Traits of people with avoidant-insecure attachment are listed below:

  • Adults with this style of attachment may be quite confident and independent. They may be viewed by others as a kind of “lone wolf” type of person, which makes it difficult for them to form healthy, long-lasting relationships.  
  • Parents that are emotionally distant, cold, and rejecting usually have children that develop an avoidant attachment style.

Because this type of parent usually rejects their baby’s attempt to get close during times of distress, the child develops an inner working model of people as unreliable.

Examples of Avoidant-Insecure Attachment Style

1. Very Little Base-touching

You can see an example of the avoidant attachment style when a young child and caregiver enter an unfamiliar room. The child will express little interest in exploring the surroundings and come across as disinterested. They seem to be in a state of emotional neutrality.

When and if exploration does occur, there are no outward signs of distress that usually occur when in a new environment. The child will not engage in “base-touching” to restore their sense of safety and security even if they feel apprehensive.

This makes perfect sense because they have already learned in their early states of attachment that the caregiver is unlikely to try to satisfy their emotional needs.  

Because they seem so calm on the outside, it might be easy to classify them as secure. However, they feel distressed inside, just like securely attached babies, but they have learned to suppress those feelings.

2. Indifference Towards Caregivers

Another example of avoidant attachment can be seen by observing how the baby reacts when a mother leaves and then returns to an unfamiliar environment. For example, if the mother or primary caregiver were to leave an unfamiliar room so that the child is alone, the baby may show some signs of distress, but those expressions are minimal.

However, when the mother returns, they will not seek her out or greet her warmly and affectionately. There is an obvious sense of indifference.

If the mother does try to engage the child by picking them up, the child will neither cling or resist. They simply follow along. Most likely, they will avoid contact with the caregiver by turning away, moving, or walking past them.

3. Unresponsive Parenting

The way that the caregiver interacts with the child provides an excellent example of the avoidant attachment style. These caregivers may be physically present when their child needs them, but they are emotionally distant.

As the emotional dynamics become more intense, the caregiver may begin to feel overwhelmed and want to escape. The feelings are too strong, and they will often have difficulty coping with both their emotions and their child’s emotions.

This pattern of behavior from the caregiver is often the result of being raised by an avoidant caregiver. So, they have learned their parenting style from their parents and are not passing that pattern of behavior to their children as well.

(This can also cause ambivalent-insecure attachment.)

4. Tough Love

Another example of this attachment style can be seen in parents that exhibit a “tough love” approach to parenting. Although instead of implementing this philosophy when children are a little older, it starts with infancy.

These parents are highly intolerant of emotional displays, whether positive or negative. They might even show signs of anger when their child exhibits strong emotions and will immediately act to disrupt the display.

This can include the removal of a toy that brings too much joy or telling the child to “toughen up” when they are crying or showing signs of weakness.

5. Shyness

For children that have an avoidant attachment style, forming friendships can be quite difficult. In addition to having trust issues, they often enter middle childhood extremely shy.

Although they want friends and desire to have close personal connections with others, they feel too shy to take action.

This kind of behavior can be seen on the playground. An avoidant child will observe other children playing on a playground and obviously want to join in. However, they are locked in a state of fear.

They wait to be invited instead of jumping in confidently. This is because they have learned that others are unresponsive. This is why some refer to this as the fearful attachment style.  

6. The Isolated Colleague

One can see adult attachment styles manifest themselves in how people act in the workplace, including in meetings and around the office water cooler. For the colleague with an avoidant attachment style, they are likely to be highly resistant to forming social bonds with their coworkers.

This coworker might prefer to work alone and independently. If others reach out to them in an attempt to establish an emotional connection, they will most likely reject those overtures. This can be very off-putting and lead to even more isolation at work.  

7. The Workaholic

The workaholic is an example of someone that may have an avoidant attachment style. Because they perceive others as unreliable sources of friendships, they throw themselves into their work.

By continuously striving for success, they avoid the need to form long-lasting, deep personal connections. Work is used to avoid relationship needs.

This can be quite effective. When invited to social gathers with colleagues or friends, the readily-available excuse of “I need to work” provides an excellent escape from social commitments. 

The workaholic can receive the approval of others through the praise of being accomplished. Their self-worth can be maintained by receiving accolades or other acknowledgments of their success.

8. Struggles with Intimacy

Being the romantic partner of a person with an avoidant attachment style can sometimes be a bit frustrating. It can be exceptionally difficult to get them to open up and share their innermost fears and dreams.

Furthermore, if they choose to receive approval by becoming a workaholic, it can mean that they devote most of their time to their career.

This means long hours at the office or extensive traveling for work. Either way, this takes away time from their family commitments and responsibilities.

For these reasons, sometimes a romantic relationship with an avoidant personality can be disappointing.

9. Strong Boundaries

Adults with an avoidant attachment style use boundaries to create a sense of emotional safety. Setting firm boundaries is a way of keeping people at a distance.

By establishing boundaries for other people in their lives, such as colleagues and romantic partners, they avoid being rejected.

These boundaries can be physical as well as emotional. For example, the avoidant personality may prefer to sleep alone, even while in a marital relationship.

So, they may set up a separate room to sleep in or make various excuses why the couple should sleep in different rooms (e.g., snoring, tossing and turning, room temperature preferences, etc.).

10. Promiscuity

Although promiscuous may be a strong term, there is research that indicates that adults with an avoidant attachment have more intimate partners than other styles (Favez & Tissot, 2019).

This may be due to the combination of a desire for intimacy but a fear of emotional closeness.

Therefore, one may seek intimate physical contact but then be resistant as the relationship becomes more serious.

Since the avoidant personality is fearful and untrusting of deep emotional connections, they prefer to maintain shallow relationships.

Therefore, having brief intimate encounters can satisfy their need for personal connections while being shallow enough to avoid the distress they feel when having to express their feelings.

Conclusion

The avoidant attachment style is a somewhat puzzling picture of a human being that desires emotional attachment, but at the same time is uncomfortable with feelings. They are stuck in a struggle of contrasting needs: the need for intimacy and the need to feel emotionally safe.

This quandary can lead to a personality profile that seems inconsistent on the outside. On the one hand, it may lead to a person immersing themselves into work to the point of becoming a workaholic. On the other hand, a person may resort to engaging in frequent sexual activity that offers physical intimacy while at the same time maintaining emotional distance.  

References

Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A  psychological study of the strange situation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Bowlby J. (1958). The nature of the child’s tie to his mother. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 39, 350-371.

Favez, N., & Tissot, H. (2019). Fearful-avoidant attachment: A specific impact on sexuality? Journal of Marital Therapy, 45(6), 510-523. https://doi.org/10.1080/0092623X.2019.1566946

Shorey, H. S., & Chaffin, J. S. (2018). Leader–follower attachment: Implications for personality assessment in organizational contexts. Journal of Personality Assessment, 100(1), 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1080/00223891.2018.1472100

Carvallo, M., & Gabriel, S. (2006). No man is an island: The need to belong and dismissing avoidant attachment style. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 32(5), 697–709. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167205285451

Wilson, C. L., Rholes, W. S., Simpson, J. A., & Tran, S. (2007). Labor, delivery, and early parenthood: An attachment theory perspective. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 33(4), 505–518. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167206296952

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