Avoidant Attachment in Friendship

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

There are four relationship attachment styles:

Anxious, Avoidant, Fearful, and Secure

In my last post, I wrote about anxious attachment in friendship. This week, I’ll discuss the avoidant attachment style and how it manifests within the context of friendship.

Avoidant Attachment in Friendship:

Have you ever been told you have “a wall up” been called “aloof” or “a lone wolf”?

Avoidant friends are very independent, self-reliant, and generally uncomfortable getting close to others. They tend to lead more with logic than their emotions, and may complain that their friends are “needy” or “clingy” when trying to get closer to them. 

This type of friendship attachment style can make it difficult for people to get close to you, causing you to lose or sabotage friendships that might otherwise have brought enjoyment and connection to both parties. Others may interpret your behavior as rejecting, dismissive, or taking their friendship for granted.

How Does an Avoidant Attachment Develop?

The concept of attachment styles comes from Attachment Theory, a psychological theory originated by psychoanalyst John Bowlby that examines the relationship between a child and their parent or primary caregiver, and explains how a child’s attachment to their parent or caregiver impacts the child’s behavior in other relationships in life, such as partnership or friendship.

A person may develop an avoidant attachment relationship style if their parent or caregiver struggled themselves to cope with or tolerate their child’s emotional needs and responded by closing themselves off emotionally from their child.

The parent in question may have ignored, shamed, rejected or otherwise communicated strong negative messages to their child when they showed emotions or expressed a desire for connection, given them too much space for independence and self-reliance, or failed to comfort and reassure the child when they experienced distress or fear.

As a result, the child tends to hide or suppress their need for relationships, often appearing outwardly independent. They have learned to rely primarily if not only on themselves for reassurance and emotional regulation, to repress their emotions and avoid reaching out for healthy interpersonal connections. In fact, they may actively work to avoid close relationships, due to the core belief that they don’t or shouldn’t need others.

If this sounds familiar, and you are ready to work on changing your avoidant attachment style, here are some suggestions for next steps:

  • Don’t completely lose your independent style, but try to focus more on mutual collaboration in your friendships. Reflect on how you can give support to your friends, and how you would like to receive support from them.
  • Recognize and challenge your tendency to interpret others’ behavior negatively. Unless your friends give you concrete evidence to the contrary, assume that they have positive intentions.
  • Remind yourself on a regular basis about why you chose your friends. What positive qualities drew you to them? Why are you grateful for them? It may feel easier to abandon ship when your desires to withdraw set in, but try to recognize this as part of the pattern your’re trying to break. Stay the course and give yourself time to learn about the advantages of secure friendships.
  • Practice mindfulness to help yourself recognize when the impulse to distance or avoid is getting activated. A great place to start is with mindfulness mediation. You can also practice mindfulness to help yourself identify when the inner voice that tells you to pull away or jumps to negative conclusions about closeness with others is speaking. Complete thought records to challenge these thoughts.
  • When people give you feedback that suggests that they feel can’t get close to you, try to listen with compassion for yourself and for them instead of putting up walls, engaging in toxic amounts of self-blame, or withdrawing further.

Do you have personal experience with an avoidant attachment style in friendships or other relationships? Feel free to share in the comments.

In my next post, I will discuss the fearful attachment style and how it manifests in friendships.

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Levine, A. & Heller, R. Attached (2010). New York, NY: Penguin.


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11 thoughts on “Avoidant Attachment in Friendship

  1. Thank you for posting this article. It’s helpful to read about an attachment style that is different than my own, and to understand more about tools that help folks navigate non-superficial friendships. Mindfulness about avoidance and using a chart to examine thoughts and feelings sound like very useful strategies.

    I was in an anxious-avoidant friendship and experienced some of these challenges; my anxious style was something I became aware of when my friend first pulled away and I reacted to their withdrawal. In efforts to fight for what (likely only) I perceived to be a meaningful and deep friendship, I continued to reach out. They seemed to retreat even more when I shared that I felt hurt by their behavior. Research has helped me understand more and feel more at peace with a different approach.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi J, thank you for your comment! I’m glad you found the information helpful. The “dance” between people with anxious attachment styles and people with avoidant attachment styles is a very common occurrence, and it makes sense that someone who is anxiously-attached would only cling tighter when they feel the person with avoidant attachment pulling away…which as you’ve experienced only results in further distancing.

      Regardless of your attachment style, being honest and compassionate with yourself about your needs in relationship can be a healthy first step.


  2. I’ve recently learned by experience that my avoidant friend “cycles”. In the 3 years we’ve been friends, we bonded quickly and strongly, and 3 times she has gone incognito and very independent olseemingky out of no where, for no reason. Being an anxious attachment person I thought the problem was me. That she changed her mind about being my friend or that I had done some things wrong or she just didn’t like me anymore et cetera. I deal intensely wintensely with abandonment fears so this has been extremely difficult for me. However this 3rd time that is happening now I’m beginning to see the pattern in her life in her life. Also getting to know her very well And the pain she has experienced in her early years I can see More clearly that I’m not the problem which I’m thankful for because it helps me deal better with my own abandonment phobias. I also understand that she is just trying to protect herself protect yourself by becoming becoming hyper independent.. I think that that because our friendship is so close it frightens her she may begin to feel like she’s becoming too dependent on someone Emotionally. She always comes back After a week or 2. But I’m grateful for finally noticing that she simply cycles and that I am not the problem. I value the friendship deeply deeply and am hopeful that as she heals from her avoidant and I heal from my anxious our friendship will thrive Going forward as it is now 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Mary! I like what you said about realizing you are not the problem. When talking about attachment, it best not to place all the blame on either the avoidant and/or anxious person (though it’s definitely tempting!). Instead, it’s better to recognize that the individual wiring on both sides creates a challenging relational dynamic. I believe it’s possible for people to heal together if both are committed to “cleaning up their side of the street” as they say in Al-Anon.


      1. Great article, thank you. I am struggling to connect with a friend who has an avoidant attachment style and wondering if you have advice on how to handle it? It’s preventing us from getting closer which is a real shame. I put in all the effort reaching out all the time, while she never does- she stays independent and busy. We have an amazing connection and she is the best friend I’ve ever had but then distances herself as soon as we feel like best friends. This article and others have given me a lot of insight. I understand her issues so don’t want to give up on her but it’s really hard. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks


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