Fearful Avoidant Attachment Style: What Is It? Do You Have It?

If you want to understand yourself and your relationships better, learning about attachment styles should be on your “to do” list.

The reason is that the way you “attached” to your primary caregivers as a baby/child have a direct influence on your adult relationships.

And, when you learn your particular attachment style, or where you fall on the spectrum, you can begin to make necessary changes to enjoy better, healthier relationships.

Today, I’m going to discuss the:

FEARFRUL AVOIDANT ATTACHMENT STYLE

In This Article

What is Attachment Theory?
What is A Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Style?
How Fearful- Avoidant Attachment Develops
Signs of A Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Style As An Adult
The World Of Relationships With An Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Style
Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Triggers
How To Heal Anxious Avoidant Attachments

Almost Half The People You Meet Are Insecure

The next time you’re out walking around at the store, look around at the people. Think about them when they were a baby.  Ponder what kind of relationships they had with their primary caregivers.

What percentage do you think formed “secure” attachments to their parents?

How about “insecure”?

Well, research shows that about 40 percent of the population form “insecure” attachments to their primary caregiver.

What this means is that if they haven’t been doing their inner healing work, 4 out of 10 people are walking around feeling insecure and have some issues forming “secure attachments” with others.

I’ve written about Attachment Theory and how research shows that early childhood bonding impacts later adult ways of relationship relating.

To recap, according to John Bowlby’s work, there are 4 Attachment Styles readily recognized today.

  1. Anxious-Preoccupied (characterized by insecurity in relationships)
  2. Fearful-Avoidant (also known as Disorganized)
  3. Dismissive-Avoidant (characterized by emotional unavailability)
  4. Secure

Note that the first three styles are based on INSECURE attachments.

Essentially, you either formed a secure or insecure attachment to your primary caregiver as an infant/child, and that type has influenced you and your relationships throughout life.

But what does this mean?

Why should you care about attachment styles?

What is Attachment Theory?

You see, each style is characterized by three underlying dimensions that impact the quality of your relationships:

  1. Closeness – How comfortable you feel becoming emotionally close to others.
  2. Dependence – How comfortable you are depending on others to have needs met or how comfortable you are having them depend on you.
  3. Anxiety – Your level of anxiety wondering if others will reject or abandon you.

Can you relate to any of those?

What is A Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Style?

Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Style is relating to others in anxious AND avoidant ways. You may also hear it referred to as “disorganized”. Someone with this style of relating wants relationships, but is also afraid of vulnerability and deep intimacy.

It’s the “I want you, go away” dynamic.

The push and pull.

It’s the most unpredictable attachment style because the person has both avoidant and anxious sides.

One day they are wanting closeness and the next, they could feel like they are being smothered and retreat.

shadow work journal

Signs of A Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Style As An Adult

As with all the attachment styles, there are some characteristics that are more common than others. Think of a spectrum here. It’s not all or nothing. It’s seeing if you recognize yourself in some of the following to understand your style of relating better.

And please, don’t judge yourself. The way you are relating has more to do with what you learned (or didn’t learn) growing up.

The good news is that you can work toward healing and learning better, healthier ways to relate to others.

Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Characteristics:

  • Poor boundaries on all levels. Maybe the caregivers invaded they emotional, physical, or sexual boundaries. As a result, they learned to adapt to the lack of boundaries. They may not know how to have boundaries as an adult or recognize what they want and/or need. Or, speak it!
  • They have a deep desire for emotional connection. They want to feel like they matter, that they are worthy.
  • They may associate emotional closeness with pain. Therefore, they “avoid” being vulnerable. They think others aren’t trustable. Those that they trusted as a child may have caused them inner turmoil.
  • They want to express boundaries, but are afraid of the conflict that may ensue if they do.
  • The may use sex to side-step emotional vulnerability.
  • They can be over-givers. Not necessarily because they are generous (though they may be), but because they have a subconscious belief that they have to earn love. The figure they have to give in order to receive love.
  • Some tend to be high achievers. They are the “doers” and have to “do it right”. Again, this goes back to wanting to “earn” recognition, affirmation, love, etc.
  • Some are high achievers in social justice causes or volunteering, which may stem from that underlying belief that they have to earn their worth.
  • Others tend to underachieve. They struggle. These may be the ones who fell into addiction. Their outer life seems to always be in shambles. They do try at the best of their ability, but subconsciously, they believe they are not worthy to have the kind of security and peace they truly desire.
  • They can be far too open and trusting or not trust at all.
  • They feel inadequate in relationships, but always try to do better. They strive, plot, plan.
  • They feel deeply. Ultra-deep. They’re empathic. Maybe they don’t come across that way a lot, but they are feeling everything. This ultra-sensitivity causes some to “shut down” or disconnect from their feelings because it’s too much for them to handle.
  • This ultra-sensitivity can be a gift. They “read” others very well. They’re hyper attuned. They love to study human behavior. They make great healers, but some can’t hold that space and it may cause them to isolate or stay inside their own bubble. This protects them.
  • They want to have deep conversations with you, but the minute you become vulnerable with them, they may flip and push you away.
  • Sometimes they want to stay in the relationship. Other times they want to leave it. Their flipping and flopping creates inner stress.
  • They carry chronic guilt and shame. They’ve been repressing these feelings since childhood. They want to be fully seen and heard, but fear no one ever will. Or, they aren’t able to allow others in to even get heard and seen. As a child, they got the message that they didn’t matter that much. They internalized this and are still trying to feel like they matter.
  • The inner void they’re trying to fill with others never gets filled. It can’t, because they are trying to fill a void that only their primary caregivers could have filled back in childhood. (However, they can learn to “reparent” their inner child and begin healing).
  • They need people, but also need a lot of time alone. They don’t love to spend mega amounts of time with others. Why? They fear becoming engulfed or enmeshed. They want connection, but fear being swallowed up by another or completely giving themselves away.
  • They feel responsible for other people’s happiness levels. They started doing this as a child.
  • They don’t know how to cope with another’s traumatic situation. They may “freeze” or run, as they are already on “emotional overload”. The extra makes them feel like intense fear.
  • The tend to end up in relationships that have intense highs and then intense lows.
  • They feel like they will never be “enough” for their partner.
  • Commitments don’t come easy.
  • They fear abandonment.
  • They fear being trapped.
  • They fear rejection.
  • May struggle with social anxiety, depression.
  • Disconnected from authentic self, from their emotions.

Keep in mind that anyone who identifies with Fearful Avoidant Attachment Style is NOT just these characteristics.  These listed here are more on the negative side, but there are also plenty of positive characteristics too.  And, as they begin healing their subconscious “programming”, they can flip negatives to positives. They can become better at relating to themselves and others.

How Fearful- Avoidant Attachment Develops

As an adult, you are likely relating to others based on the kind of attachments or bonding you had with your primary caregivers as a baby/child. (Unless you have done your inner healing work, of course)

Fearful-Avoidant attachment style of relating starts as a baby. Those first few years, a baby is completely dependent on caregivers for their emotional and physiological needs. (food, shelter, love, care, soothing, etc.)

When the primary caregivers were not able to consistently respond when the baby was distressed, or they were unpredictable, the child’s source of safety becomes a source of fear.

They needed or wanted something and couldn’t trust that their parents could provide that for them, based on experiences.

Maybe their parents were struggling with addiction, mental health issues, codependency, depression, and so on.

The child can literally start feeling like their safety and survival is at stake, and their nervous system will be in “survival mode” often. This chronic survival mode may have helped them back then, but as an adult, it can cause problems.

Beyond not caring for the child’s needs consistently, parents could have also reacted in harsh ways.

For example, baby Jimmy is hungry and crying. Mom, who has a heap of problems and inner turmoil going on, screams at Jimmy. She’s frustrated and her yelling is threatening to little Jimmy. He needs food, security, and comfort, but his caregiver isn’t able to provide that.

So, little Jimmy begins forming the belief that “people aren’t safe”, “I am not worthy”, or “My needs don’t matter”.

You see, the roots of relating in the Fearful-Avoidant Style begin in childhood.

However, there is also research that indicates later life experiences can play a role in attachment styles too. Trauma at a later age can deeply impact someone.

The World Of Relationships With An Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Style

Those that identify as Fearful Avoidant don’t tend to do relationships well. Some may be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. The relationship may be marked with instability and storminess. When it’s good, it’s great. When it’s bad, it’s really bad.

The FA in a relationship can be both clingy and dismissive. That’s the instability part. One day they look to their partner for security and the next they think their partner is a source of pain.

They may fear rejection, getting hurt, or abandoned.

They want to connect. They want a relationship, but the underlying program runs the relationship.

The wounds are dictating their inner world, and thus, creating havoc in the relationship.

Now, the Fearful Avoidant is similar to the Dismissive Avoidant Style, but the difference is that FA wants to be in relationship. The Dismissive Avoidant not so much.

The FA may also have a tough time regulating their emotions, lack self-confidence, and sabotage the relationship.

They figure eventually their partner will reject them anyway, so they sabotage.

Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Triggers

Whether it’s you or someone you know that’s Fearful Avoidant, it’s helpful to get to know what may serve as triggers.  By triggered, I mean the person experiences something in the present, but because they have not “healed” unconscious trauma from the past, their emotional state/reaction will be quite strong!

The following are some of the common FA triggers:

  • Not being allowed or getting fussed for wanting/needing space. Understand that a FA fears being engulfed or having their sense of self obliterated. They spend a lot of energy protecting their “self” and need time and space to do so. This is their survival mechanism.
  • Being told that they are cold-hearted or don’t feel. This may seem like it’s true, but FA’s do feel. In fact, many overly feel, but have disconnected from their emotions because that’s how they learned to survive as a child.
  • Feeling the clinginess of another. They do not want to feel responsible for another’s happiness.
  • Needing help. This can trigger them because they don’t want to ask for help. They are sometimes hyper-independent because they learned this as a child in order to self-soothe and cope.

How To Heal Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Style

Those that identify as Fearful Avoidant might feel like they are playing a game where they have no ideas what the rules are. They just don’t understand!

They want to relate in healthy ways with others, but they’ve never been taught the rules.

They’ve never learned the most beneficial communication, coping, or relating skills.

They keep experiencing failed relationships and scratch their heads and wonder why.

But healing is possible.

And, it will help not only you, but those around you – especially if you’re parenting children.

After all, children that are raised by someone with this attachment style may end up with the exact same style when they grow up.

Good news is that you can make better sense of your relationship with your parents as a child, you can work toward healing and changing your attachment style toward a more secure one.

The first thing you can do to help work toward a more “secure” attachment style is to learn what kind you have now. As you come to understand better your ways of relating and why you react (or don’t react) the way you do, you can better learn new ways of coping, adapting, responding, and relating.

Professional Therapy

Yes, therapy can be helpful if you find a therapist who will help you make sense of what happened and provide tools and techniques to heal. To help you work through those underlying fears and core wounds.

Working with learning how to trust will be key. A therapist should be able to hold a safe space for you to open up and begin sharing what’s really going on in your head and heart. It’s a great space to learn to trust more fully.

Somatic Therapy

Many that have had some success at healing trauma state that they got the most out of Somatic Therapies.

The main reason is that the body-based awareness approach helps heal at the implicit memory and neural network levels. They report it’s the least re-traumatizing for them, as it works to keep the nervous system regulated while processing the trauma.

According to Good Therapy, “the sensations associated with past trauma may become trapped within the body and reflected in facial expressions, posture, muscular pain, or other forms of body language. Talk therapy can help address this trauma, but depending on the needs of the person in treatment, therapeutic body techniques can supplement more conventional approaches (such as talking therapy) to provide holistic healing.”

Examples of somatic therapies include:

Here is a great article on

10 Somatic Interventions Explained

Make Sense Of The Story: Witness The Subconscious Story

For me, making sense of my childhood story helps a lot.

Writing about your life experiences as a narrative can help you better understand why you have the attachment style you have. And, see how your childhood is still affecting you today.

Begin building a life narrative and start from the beginning. Write about your story from day one, so you can understand it in new ways. So you can really get familiar with “little you” that had a lot of experiences – some good and some quite painful.

So you can free yourself up to face, feel, and heal subconscious programs that have been dictating how your life goes.

Keep in mind journaling can evoke strong feelings. Reach out for help from a therapist if you need some assistance.

Couples Counseling

If you’re in a relationship, consider seeing a couple’s counselor and working on the way you relate to each other there. This is especially helpful if your relationship has become shaky and you’re not able to communicate when triggered.  You can learn better how to de-escalate, and resolve conflict with a mediator.

Learn Communication Skills

Fearful avoidants may have a really tough time verbalizing their emotions, wants, and needs. They want to be vulnerable. They want deep intimacy.

But it also scares the crap out of them.

One time I was in couples counseling trying to share some very deep emotions and I was literally shaking like a leaf. My whole body tensed up. I wanted to bawl my eyes out, yet was resisting. I wanted to shut down and run so badly.

A good therapist can help you learn how to communicate, even when it feels uncomfortable. They can help you learn how to respond in healthier ways too.

Spend Time Learning How To Set & Keep Boundaries

Chances are you didn’t learn great boundaries in childhood. Therefore, take some time to learn how to set and keep boundaries.  Get to know your true self better in terms of what you truly want and need.  Don’t be ashamed of what those thing are either.  Learn them and then confidently speak them. Practice setting your boundaries in a mature and healthy way.

Not everyone will love your new boundary setting behaviors. Set them anyway.

Join A Support Group

You may find a support group the right setting to share without fear of judgment and beginning to discover and heal core wounds.  There are many support groups available, such as Adult Children of Alcoholics or Codependent’s Anonymous.

Tell Your Partner About Your Attachment Style

It might help you to share your attachment style with your current partner. Let them know that you do desire a close, intimate relationship, but you’re also learning how to heal some deep-seated wounds that sometimes keep you from being emotionally present.

Let them know it’s not personal.  Be honest with them about what you truly desire, as well as your willingness to keep doing your “inner healing work”.  This may prompt them to find out what their attachment style is too, and the both of you can come to understand the dynamics of the relationship better.

Start A Mindfulness/Meditation Practice

Begin being mindful, or aware of the present as it arises.  Embark on a journey within, taking time each day for silent meditation too.  This can help you in various ways, including reprogramming your subconscious scripts that have been running the show.

Start with a few minutes a day and increase as you desire.

Become more aware of your body’s sensations too.  Learn about somatic healing and use some of the time-tested methods of healing found there.

As you become more self-aware, you’ll be better apt to regulate your emotions, relate more vulnerably without fear, and respond with self and other-compassion, rather than react abruptly from the wound.

In Conclusion

If you identify with a Fearful Avoidant Attachment Style, know that you’re not alone. There are many people who can relate – and many who have successfully moved toward a more “secure” attachment style.

As you continue to walk your trauma (or non-trauma) recovery journey, have faith that you can indeed work through those unhealed wounds and integrate the stuck energy.

Healing is a process, and it takes time.

Be gentle with yourself as you continue to dig and heal as you rediscover your sacred self.

As always, I am rooting for you.

To learn more about the Fearful Avoidant Attachment Style, see:

How Fearful Avoidant Attachment Affects Relationships

 

 

 

 

 

Dominica Applegate
Written by: Dominica Applegate

Dominica Applegate is an author, writer, and transpersonal spiritual teacher. Her teachings have helped millions of people experience emotional healing, relationship repair, and spiritual awakening. Earning her BA in Psychology and MA in Counseling, she worked 12 years in the mental health field before diving full-time into writing.

She runs Rediscovering Sacredness, an online portal that offers inspiration, essays, resources, and tools to help heal inner pain and experience more peace and joy.

Her books include:

Into The Wild Shadow Work Journal
Healing After a Breakup: A 50 Day Devotional & Guided Inner Work Journal
Goodbye Codependency: A 40-Day Devotional to Boost Self-Care
The Pain, It Shapes Her World {Poetry}