Avoidant

  • Infants can turn away and move away in a cold manner, but their hearts are pumping hot: Avoidant infants who turn or move away from their parents on reunion in the Strange Situation, exhibit physiological arousal (elevated heart rate) rather than inhibition (Biobehavioral organization in securely and insecurely attached infants).
  • Avoidants idealize parents, but can’t recall relevant memories – a suppression of realizations that would cause anxiety: “Idealization is coded when respondents provide glowing adjectives about their relationships with parents in childhood, but are unable or unwilling to recall relevant memories. This is consistent with Bowlby’s notion that defensive exclusion (??), followed by partial or complete deactivation of the systems mediating attachment, results in conflicting conscious and unconscious working models of self with attachment figures. Dismissiveness is coded when the respondents recall negative attachment episodes while answering direct questions about separation, rejection and other untoward situations, but render them emotionally “harmless” by discounting their affective importance and influence. We hypothesize that what are being regulated or supressed in such cases are affective components of otherwise relatively accessible working models that might create anxiety if they became full conscious. (Handbook of Attachment Theory. Second Edition. P. 117)
  • Withdrawal: Avoidants exhibit both fewer approach behaviours and more withdrawal behaviours. Avoidant attachment and hemispheric lateralisation of the processing of attachment- and emotion-related words
  • Disengage positive emotions: “They [avoidants] can disengage from positive emotions with effective cognitive resources and were harder to get rid of negative emotions with insufficient resource.” Attention Bias of Avoidant Individuals to Attachment Emotion Pictures
  • Avoidance dimension associated with lower inclination to be involved in long-term relationships:Jackson and Kirkpatrick (2007) argued that avoidance dimension was specifically associated with a lower inclination to be involved in long-term relationship due to their inner motivation to avoid intimacy and perceive close relationships as less gratifying, which led them fly when affective comfort ability diminishes. An indication of this could be grasped in stronger links of avoidance dimension of attachment, as compared to anxiety, with relationship dissatisfaction (Brassard et al., 2009Molero et al., 2017). Avoidantly attached individuals’ partners, instead, may not perceive the relationship quality as worsened because they have become acquainted with their relational dynamics; thus, avoidant individuals’ relationships are shorter because they themselves put an end to it (Jang et al., 2002).”Avoidant Attachment, Withdrawal-Aggression Conflict Pattern, and Relationship Satisfaction: A Mediational Dyadic Model
  • Withdrawal elicits negative emotional reactions from the other partner: “…results show that withdrawal deployed by one individual may elicit a negative emotional reaction in his/her partner (Miga et al., 2010Feeney and Karantzas, 2017), which, in turn, would explain the demand/aggression response since withdrawal is understood as a defensive strategy of depreciative nature (Creasey and Ladd, 2004).” Avoidant Attachment, Withdrawal-Aggression Conflict Pattern, and Relationship Satisfaction: A Mediational Dyadic Model
  • Avoidant withdrawal causes partner demand and then leads to both members perceiving the relationship as of diminished quality: “An unexplored but relevant question to the topic under study regards how highly avoidant individuals’ use of withdrawal conflict strategies is associated with the behavior displayed by their partners (i.e., demand strategy). Instances from the clinical work with couples point out to the relationship between actor’s withdrawal and partner’s demand strategy; specifically, Johnson (2004) observed that individuals’ withdrawal and/or silence during conflict (stonewalling), as response instances of conflict withdrawal, provoked their partners’ response of excessive criticism and demand/aggression. Indeed, conflict withdrawal is perceived by his/her partner as more harmful (Overall et al., 2013Prager et al., 2019) and may cause him/her increased frustration (Johnson, 2004Feeney and Karantzas, 2017). Consequently, his/her partner may react in a more aggressive way, which would lead both members to perceive the relationship as of a diminished quality. Eventually, this situation would bring both partners’ needs to be unmet, causing relational distress (Gottman, 1994). Avoidant Attachment, Withdrawal-Aggression Conflict Pattern, and Relationship Satisfaction: A Mediational Dyadic Model
  • Conflict-resolution strategies, specifically withdrawal, may be the missing puzzle piece to grasp the mechanisms underlying highly avoidant individuals’ (and their partners’) low relationship satisfaction. Avoidant Attachment, Withdrawal-Aggression Conflict Pattern, and Relationship Satisfaction: A Mediational Dyadic Model
  • The consequence of avoidant withdraw/deactivation is a demand/aggression resolution-strategy from the impacted partner: Furthermore, it is not only that avoidant individuals’ biased interpretation makes them feel uncomfortable in situations of high intimacy, which leads to the avoidance behavior (Collins and Read, 1990),but also, they perceive that their partners are unable to adequately respond to their (avoidant people’s) needs, which in turn exerts a negative effect in their relationship satisfaction levels (Collins, 1996). Therefore, a partner’s perceived behaviors would be the response to one’s own behavior (Collins, 1996), the demand/aggression resolution-strategy being the consequence of one’s withdrawal of conflict. Avoidant individuals’ perception of a pressure to engage and getting close to their partner would lead them to using emotion regulation techniques of deactivation, which translates into avoiding the conflict to a higher extent, as shown in Bretaña et al. (20192020) studies on perception of partners. Nevertheless, despite its demonstrated relevance in understanding conflict resolution and relationship satisfaction, the avoidant dimension of attachment has not received enough attention as a key variable, as claimed by Bretaña et al. (2020). Moreover, to the best of our knowledge, the dyadic analysis of both partners’ interrelated links between avoidance attachment orientation and negative conflict strategies has not been conducted so far. Avoidant Attachment, Withdrawal-Aggression Conflict Pattern, and Relationship Satisfaction: A Mediational Dyadic Model
  • It is possible for an individual to deactivate attachment, even as he activates other behavioral systems (caregiving behavioral system, the affiliative system, the sexual system, and the exploratory system). Activation of other behavioral systems may be used in order to deactivate attachment: “In considering individuals who are avoidant of attachment, it is helpful to keep in mind these different behavioral systems. Doing so allows us to explain why individuals who are avoidant in one domain of experience may appear so very different in another, why, for example, those who avoid attachment may very well be socially active, sexually passionate, or intellectually deep. In other words, deactivation of attachment does not necessarily mean deactivation of the other behavioral systems. In fact, in therapy we often see passionate, socially engaged, or otherwise deep individuals who will go to great lengths to avoid discussing or thinking about their personal, relational lives.
    Thus, it is possible for an individual to deactivate attachment, even as he activates other behavioral systems. Taking the issue one step further, we can see that activation of other behavioral systems may actually be used in order to deactivate attachment. That is, the individual may make attempts to substitute another behavioral system for attachment. Consider, for example, the client who avoids the development of meaningful intimate relationships by throwing himself into work (exploratory system) over the course of many years. The primary purpose of such diversion is the avoidance of painful attachment-related memories and the feelings arising from the prospect of intimacy, but on the surface, such diversion has the advantage of social acceptability, achievement, and success, all of which tend to eclipse the avoidance.” (Robert T. Muller. Trauma and the Avoidant client. 2010.)
  • Avoidants have poor memory collection of adverse childhood experiences/trauma. If present, there is a minimization of negative attachment-related experiences. Deactivation forms as a relationship preserving strategy: “By deactivating attachment, the client shifts attention away from memories of potentially painful relationship episodes with caregivers (George & West, 2001, 2004), thereby avoiding possible threat to the relationship or to the individual’s view of the relationship. In Bowlby’s (1988) view, this was “avoidance in the service of proximity.” Because attachment behavior has as its aim the maintenance of proximity, the function of this avoidance is to disable feelings and ideas that threaten the real or perceived relationship…”

    “…forgetting certain kinds of betrayal experiences can be necessary for the individual’s adaptation within a traumatic or emotionally damaging environment. Thus, early on, when Sandra was asked to recount her childhood experiences with her parents, she had great difficulty with the task, stating that she “couldn’t remember a thing from way back then,” a position that was consistent with her general tendency to deactivate attachment. Such instances of inability to recall childhood events are quite common for individuals who are avoidant of attachment (D. Pederson, personal communication, June 2005), with large blocks of time often unaccounted.”(Trauma and the Avoidant Client)
  • Avoidants may seek therapy less than preoccupied clients: “While private consulting rooms and National Health Service psychological therapy services (especially the higher intensity provision under the Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies programme) attract preoccupied clients and those with unresolved trauma, dismissing individuals are not necessarily beating their way to our consulting room doors. There are a number of reasons for this, including the tendency to minimise distress.I have already explored why disdain or contempt are used as defences against a certain kind of intimacy that exists in the consulting room. Avoidant individuals experience depression, anxiety, loss, stress,and all of the life struggles that therapy can be helpful for, but the highly defended individual looks for other options. In general, self help is more acceptable and in keeping with the injunction to be self-sufficient. There are many resources available on the internet, as well as apps and books that address symptom relief and promote well being(see also Cundy, 2015).”

    (page 91, from Attachment and the Defence against Intimacy by Linda Cundy)
  • Avoidant individuals do not provide caregiving behavior when relationship partners are distressed or upset: “Although there may be negative effects of avoidant individuals’ chronic reliance on deactivating and distancing strategies, these effects may not always be apparent, especially in the short-term. More readily apparent are the negative effects of these strategies on the avoidant person’s close relationships and relationship partners. Avoidant individuals’ tendencies to distance themselves from others, affirm their independence, and suppress negative emotion may lead relationship partners to become dissatisfied and relationship quality to deteriorate. For instance, as discussed earlier, a growing body of research suggests that avoidance is negatively related to caregiving behavior, particularly when relationship partners are distressed or upset (B. Feeney & Collins, 2001; Fraley & Shaver, 1998; Simpson et al., 1992). Perhaps as a way to distance themselves from expressions of negative emotion and others’ distress, avoidant individuals seem to be unresponsive precisely when their partners most need their support.(Avoidant Attachment: Exploration of an Oxymoron. Robin S. Edelstein and Phillip R. Shaver.)
  • Avoidant individuals use work as a defensive strategy: “Moreover, avoidant behavior may preclude even the initial formation of close relationships. Avoidant individuals prefer to work alone (Hazan & Shaver, 1990), use work or other solitary activities to avoid social interactions (Hazan & Shaver, 1990; Mikulincer, 1997), and find themselves attracted to potential relationship partners who do not reciprocate their feelings (Aron, Aron, & Allen, 1998). After completing tasks (e.g., self-disclosure exercises) designed to foster closeness in previously unacquainted dyads, avoidant individuals report feeling less close to their partners than do nonavoidant individuals (Aron, Melinat, Aron, Vallone, & Bator, 1997).”
    (Avoidant Attachment: Exploration of an Oxymoron. Robin S. Edelstein and Phillip R. Shaver.)
  • Avoidants must use suppressive strategies to regulate their internal emotional states: “In addition, attachment avoidance is associated with a preferential use of (expressive) suppression to regulate emotions (Mikulincer and Shaver, 2007), allowing the individual to keep the attachment system in a low activation state and to prevent others of perceiving their internal emotional states (Vrticka et al., 2012a).” (Neuroscience of human social interactions and adult attachment style)
  • Avoidant individuals can have more favorable views of consensual non-monogamy and reported a stronger willingness to engage in such relationships in the future. “Among individuals who had never engaged in CNM, avoidance was robustly linked to more positive attitudes and greater willingness to engage in CNM. However, avoidant individuals were less likely to engage in CNM than in monogamous relationships. Understanding attachment in multiple partner relationships can provide new avenues for exploring the complexities of relationships.” (Attached to monogamy? Avoidance predicts willingness to engage (but not actual engagement) in consensual non-monogamy)
  • Avoidant individuals’ distance if their partners appear upset and seek less support when they are anxious themselves: “When fear/anxiety is experimentally induced, for example, highly avoidant individuals who are more distressed seek less comfort/support from their romantic partners, and their highly avoidant partners (who are engaged in a different, non-stressful task) offer less comfort/support if their romantic partners appear more upset [20,21]. “
    Jeffry A. Simpson. Adult Attachment, Stress, and Romantic Relationships. 2018

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