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If you have trouble expressing emotions or asking for help, you may have an avoidant attachment style

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 2022-01-20

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Avoiding emotional closeness in relationships is one of the hallmarks of an avoidant attachment style.
  • People with an avoidant attachment style may have had parents who made them feel neglected.
  • This attachment style can also develop if parents were emotionally unavailable or withdrawn.
  • People with avoidant attachment styles might have difficulty asking for help or expressing emotion.
  • Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice.

Although we may not be able to consciously remember all the details of our upbringing, the interactions we have with our caregivers — typically our parents — set the stage for how we approach relationships later in life. This is known as attachment theory , coined by British psychologist John Bowlby.

"Since most of our time is generally spent with our caregiver, that dynamic sets the stage for what we can expect from others," says Michael Wusik, PhD , clinical psychologist at Dynamic State Behavioral Health . These patterns can repeat themselves in adulthood, whether that's in platonic, professional, or romantic relationships, Wusik says.

One type of attachment style is avoidant attachment. Here's what it means to have an avoidant attachment style, the causes of it, and how to deal with it.

What does it mean to have an avoidant attachment style?

This attachment style manifests in various ways in both childhood and adulthood.

Wusik says some characteristics in childhood include:

  • Having a low desire to be physically close with their parent
  • Experiencing little to no distress if the caregiver leaves the child with a stranger (such as a new babysitter)
  • Having a tendency to avoid a parent when they get picked up (such as avoiding eye contact or avoiding being touched or comforted by their parent)
  • Being easily angered by other children
  • Showing a limited display of emotions
  • Being unlikely to seek help

According to Jessica January Behr, PsyD , licensed psychologist and the founder and director of Behr Psychology , some characteristics in adulthood are:

  • Having trouble feeling and expressing emotions
  • Avoiding emotional closeness in relationships (whether consciously or unconsciously)
  • Not expressing needs for affection or care
  • Tending to withdraw from others and cope with difficult situations or feelings alone
  • Avoiding physical touch, eye contact, or verbal communication
  • Having difficulty asking for help or receiving help
  • Prioritizing independence over partnerships
  • Feeling like their partner is clingy when they try to get emotionally closer
  • Feeling smothered or claustrophobic in relationships
  • Having symptoms of anxiety, depression, or disordered eating

Based on all of these characteristics, it can be difficult for someone with an avoidant attachment style to form healthy relationships.

A 2015 study found that attachment style has a direct impact on daily life in general, too. Researchers found that compared to those with a secure attachment style, people with an avoidant attachment style had a more negative sense of self, felt less cared for by others, and had a greater desire to be alone.

Causes of an avoidant attachment

"Avoidant attachment style develops when a child's main caregiver does not show care/responsiveness past providing necessities such as food and shelter," says Behr.

Someone with an avoidant attachment type may have experienced parents who:

  • Didn't meet physical needs like hunger, safety, or touch
  • Didn't meet emotional needs like providing compassion, affection, or respecting boundaries
  • Didn't show empathy when parenting
  • Discouraged the child from expressing emotions like sadness and anger
  • Were emotionally unavailable or unresponsive
  • Showed rejection or neglect
  • Were severely depressed or antisocial
  • Had an avoidant attachment style as well

How to deal with an avoidant attachment style

The first step in dealing with an avoidant attachment style is to identify and understand it, says Wusik. It may be hard to identify that this is something you deal with since it's likely been how you've approached relationships your whole life, making your attachment style a lifelong habit.

Once you've identified your attachment style and how it may be negatively affecting your relationships and life overall, you can work towards making changes. Therapy is a great place to start.

Many types of therapy practices are available. Behr says some types of therapy that can help you cope with avoidant attachment and make positive changes are:

  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy
  • Attachment-oriented psychotherapy
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Internal family systems (inner child) therapy
  • Mindfulness-based therapy

Any of these types of therapy can help you better understand your attachment style, your version of attachment trauma, the way your past has influenced your current state, and more, Behr says.

On top of this, if you're currently in a relationship, couples therapy can be beneficial. "Because attachment wounds are often triggered in the context of a relationship it can be helpful to have a therapist assist you to process and communicate effectively as a couple," says Behr.

Insider's takeaway

While we can't change the way we were raised, it's absolutely possible to take action to make proactive changes later in life to have a more healthy sense of self and be able to have positive interpersonal relationships. If you think that you might have an avoidant attachment style that's interfering with your quality of life, don't hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional for help.

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