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, discarding, 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.

What’s YOUR friendship attachment style? Take the quiz and find out!

Sources:

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

https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/avoidant-attachment#what-does-it-look-like

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© 2020 Gina Davis, PsyD. All rights reserved.

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