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Hostage negotiator and former police officer, Chris Voss, recently said in an interview that an important thing to remember is that all humans fear loss. The things we fear losing the most?  Autonomy, identity and a positive future. If you can help someone maintain their autonomy, identity and future, they will feel safer and more willing to collaborate.

I want to talk specifically about loss of autonomy in this post.

The avoidant style and autonomy

I have written about the avoidant attachment style. The avoidant’s biggest fear is loss of autonomy. They have grown up with unreliable and/or rejecting parents. It was dangerous, or at the very least, disappointing to count on these primary caregivers. They often did not offer comfort or care. To counteract the unreliability of their parents, avoidantly attached people become very self-sufficient, autonomous.

I have avoidant tendencies. My parents were overall quite strong and available, but divorce and a lack of extended family support, left them preoccupied with their own financial and emotional issues. They were stretched thin. My sister and I knew to develop our own strengths and not cause trouble.

Long-term relationships threaten autonomy

Long-term relationships can feel very threatening to autonomy, especially for those with insecure attachment. Whether the relationships are with our parents, our partners or our children, their dependent nature threatens independence.

In the last year, my stress levels rose dramatically. There was the hubbub of planning and paying for a wedding. All of the changes associated with combining households naturally took a toll, but I believe the real cause for the stress is a loss of autonomy.


Before my husband and his two sons moved in last May, I had one son off to college and two high school-aged children living with me half of the time. I worked from home and had two to four nights a week child free. I usually spent those nights with my now husband. We were free to have date nights and catch up on any work we needed to do. I also had occasional nights to myself where I read, wrote and watched shows of my choosing.

I relished the time when my kids were with me too. They are at a stage where they manage their time well, don’t need constant supervision, get food for themselves (I still make dinner) and can carry on conversations at an adult level. There was less laundry, less cooking and less monitoring. I had more time to focus on building stronger relationships with them, instead of preoccupying myself with basic child-care and household management. I still strived to nurture them and help with decision making, but they marched forward toward independence and interdependence. I made mistakes while raising them, like not addressing their feelings enough and putting my needs before theirs sometimes, but the last few years I was single mom, felt more positive than problematic.

Introvert, avoidant, human

Even before my husband and his adult sons moved in, my introverted, avoidant or just plain human need for autonomy kicked in. I had a visceral sense of imminent danger. As they moved in, space filled up in our house. There was more cooking, laundry, shopping and planning again. There were no more nights to myself.

Admittedly, my parenting map says adult children only live at home if they are saving money while going to college or working while saving money to get their own place. Either way the goal is for them to work toward their own place. It should be noted, Mark’s (husband) oldest son moved out a few months after they moved in. I believe his need for freedom pushed him to leave.

My freedom to work and create diminished. I should add that I also started working full time outside of the house. The new job eats into my time, although it gives me a sense of accomplishment and freedom as well.

Money feeds autonomy

Last year also brought several big financial hits. The wedding, hail damage to our roof and extra medical expenses wreaked havoc on the bank account.

Having a solid nest egg gave me a sense of safety and autonomy as well. Watching the nest egg dwindle feels like another dig at autonomy. The less money there is the less autonomy we have.

I look toward my husband to be the collaborator who eases the threat of loss of autonomy. That is difficult for him because he also feels a loss of his choices. He and his sons moved into our house. We already had many routines and rules in place. My husband’s parenting map includes caring for adult children for as long as they need it. His parenting style felt/feels threatened.

Negotiating interdependence

We know we have to lower the stress levels in our home. I love him. I believe he loves me. We need to work as collaborators who protect each other’s autonomy rather than challenge it. That said, a certain level of dependence exists in healthy relationships too. Interdependence. We have to negotiate a partnership that minimizes losses and fosters gains for both of us.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

If you see avoidant attachment traits in yourself or in your partner check out my online course – Attachment: Moving from Insecurity to Security in Partnership.  Find it at brendaknowles.teachable.com. 

couple on bench