About a quarter of the population can be identified as gravitating towards an avoidant relational style. It’s an adaptation to experiences of overwhelm and intrusion as a child, often by an overbearing or needy caregiver, as well as other experiences of insecurity with caregivers. Dissociation (numbing and ‘spacing out’) is used to cope with and avoid relational distress. All of us have used this form of protection at various times and in varying degrees. It’s adaptive in that we can ‘cut-off’ from pain as a way to ‘deal’ with life. Dissociation is a primitive form of coping with a high cost; restricted feeling and vitality, loss of connection to self, and chronic distancing from others. If overly relied upon, it becomes wired into our interpersonal attachment system as adults. Relationships are experienced as too stressful to manage, and deeper interpersonal intimacy is avoided.
When relating with someone avoidantly attached, pulling for contact typically entrenches defenses. Alternative strategies focus on softening defenses. These include cultivating compassion and patience towards these compulsive tendencies to distance, not taking the dismissal personally, taking care not to trigger high levels of internal shame, and by not pushing to access feeling too quickly. What’s the latest thing you’ve done that’s scared away someone with an avoidant attachment?