A few years ago while engaging in the online dating scene, one intriguing man —a big guy with a blue-collar job and an intellectual mind— brought the term avoidant attachment style to my attention. He and I had one or two dates and several emails filled with interesting and meaningful conversation. We both were huge readers fascinated by personal development and humanity. We chatted extensively about introversion. I enjoyed his individuality and unique perspective.
Why didn’t the relationship go anywhere?
At the time, he had a lot of drama going on in his life including struggles with his children and run ins with the police. He was not a criminal but his past and current relationships were quite volatile. I could not invite that kind of turbulence into my life or my children’s lives.
Once I told him I was not interested, he sent me an email telling me I have an avoidant attachment style. I Googled the phrase. I read information on parent/infant attachment styles. Parents of avoidant children tend to be minimally available physically and/or emotionally, causing their kids to be unnaturally independent and self-sufficient. I found out avoidant attachment styles value independence and fear dependency. I got the gist. Avoidants resist intimacy. I assumed he took my introverted nature and my lack of willingness to take on his personal issues, as signs confirming an inability to be in a relationship. And I wondered if he was right. After all, one of my post popular posts is, Introvert Relationships: Love Me or Leave Me but Please Don’t Need Me Too Much.
“People with this type of attachment style tend to be overly focused on themselves and their own creature comforts, and largely disregard the feelings and interests of other people. They also find it difficult to disclose their thoughts and feelings to their partner. Their typical response to an argument, conflict, and other stressful situation is to become distant and aloof.” — Understanding Anxious/Avoidant Attachment
How your childhood relationships affect your adult relationships
Thinking back to my childhood, I have mostly happy memories. I had two parents, although divorced, they were both involved in my life. My mom was always there to take care of my basic needs. I always knew I could count on her to provide a good meal, buy me nice clothing and get me to my friend’s house if I needed a ride. I don’t remember her playing games with us (my sister and me), hugging us much or asking us about our feelings or friendships. My mom always said I was easy to raise. I entertained myself. I did everything I was supposed to.
My dad was fun and curious and loving when he took the time. Often, he was busy working or going to car races.
My sister and I fought and competed a lot — at least to my sensitive heart and mind. We knew each other’s Achilles heels and both wanted the attention of our parents. As a child, I didn’t feel a lot of emotional safety. It wasn’t safe to be tender-hearted, but I was. It wasn’t admired to be more quiet, but I was. I spent a lot of time alone in my room.
As an adult going through the strife of an unhappy marriage, I sought and received the emotional support I always wanted from my parents. My relationship with my sister has healed and is healthy now too. Both of these experiences made a huge difference in my security levels.
The introverted avoidant? parent
After learning the description of the parent of someone with an avoidant attachment style, I questioned my own introverted parenting. Avoidant attachment styles tend to focus inward. They see dependency as an encroachment on their autonomy. That sounds a lot like introversion to me. There were many days when my three kids were young, under ten years old, that I felt like I was drowning. I could manage to dress, feed and care for their basic needs but the crying, discipline, sickness and clinginess drove me down some low-energy, dark and anxiety-filled paths. There was no family in the area to help with childcare. I desperately sought out ways to escape — working out, hiring a nanny and volunteering outside the house.
Aaaaahhh! I screwed up my kids. I truly worry about this. The only confusing thing is I was also extremely in tune with my kids emotionally. Despite being away from them here and there throughout the week, I also spent a lot of quality time with them, more than the average parent. So while demonstrating characteristics of introversion and avoidance I also demonstrated traits of the anxious attachment style — being more sensitive to changes in others’ emotional expression, wanting intimate connections.
Now my children are teenagers. I do my best to let them know they are supported and loved. I strive to keep the quality time at a maximum. I fail sometimes. I really need time to myself. Is it introversion or avoidance or both? I’m not sure.
Introverts and attachment styles in relationships
“…if you’re currently in a relationship with an introvert: Don’t worry. On its own, your partner’s (or your own) preference for quiet reflection and alone time won’t interfere with your relationship satisfaction. However, if your partner is also higher in neuroticism as well, this could create problems. It can also be difficult to negotiate relationships with partners who are anxiously attached to the point of being clingy. Similarly, partners who are both introverted and high on avoidant attachment may be particularly resistant to efforts to achieve intimacy.” — How to Date an Introvert, Psychology Today
I am a little neurotic about being avoidant. 😉
According to the book, Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find — and Keep — Love, individuals with secure attachment styles are warm and loving. They are reliable and consistent. They attune to their partner’s emotional and physical cues and respond to them.
A secure relationship allows the partners to be something greater than if they were on their own. There is a positive interdependence. Each person gets to do his or her own thing and then return to the secure home base that is their relationship.
I think my former husband and I had a fairly secure attachment for the first ten years of our 15- year marriage. There were not a lot of emotional needs to be met. We were busy moving around the country and having children. Around year eight or nine of our marriage, his job security became unstable. I thought I was being strong by not worrying about the financial implications and not focusing on the potential job loss. I carried on doing my normal housewife duties. He needed my emotional support. I didn’t give it to him. Around year twelve, I figured out I was an introvert. I was having anxiety attacks about all the obligations and energy required to run a household, entertain and raise healthy children. I craved emotional connection. I wanted desperately to be validated and understood. Instead, he often made me feel like I was wrong and inferior. I pulled away from him and found validation and emotional support elsewhere.
Since childhood, emotional security has been vital to me.
Hope for avoidant types
It is possible to graduate from an avoidant or anxious attachment style to a secure one.
- It takes awareness of attachment styles. If you know you have insecure tendencies, you can work to stop them before they get out of hand. You and your partner can identify and diffuse your insecurities from the past.
- According to psychiatrist, Dr. Dan Siegel, forming coherent narratives that explain how your childhood relationships affect you now, can help you transcend insecurity.
- A secure attachment style can also be earned by forming relationships with secure people. According to Attached, over 50% of the population has a secure attachment style. Secure individuals will ease your physical and emotional worries. They will teach you how to use effective communication to get your needs met without putting others on the defensive.
- Finding a supportive therapist and creating a secure relationship with them can also help you hone a secure attachment style.
- Taking note of and emulating other secure relationships in your circles can also help prime your attachment skills.
What is your attachment style? Do you think there is a correlation between introversion and avoidant attachment style? Have you been in a relationship with an avoidant attachment style individual?
If you’d like help moving from an insecure attachment style to a more secure and healthy one, please contact me here for relationship coaching.