SWISS MEDICAL EXPERTISE: ZURICH, MALLORCA, LONDON, NEW YORK

10 Minutes

Edited & clinically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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“What was your childhood like?” is probably the most stereotypical question therapists often ask their clients. While it’s easy to laugh at or disregard this question, the truth is that it matters a great deal. The situations you face and the circumstances you go through during your childhood significantly shape the type of attachment style you develop and practice for the rest of your life.

An attachment style describes how an individual relates to others based on how secure they feel. Fear-avoidant attachment seems to be the rarest of the four identified attachment styles. Also known as disorganised attachment, it includes a combination of behaviours that range from clinginess to avoidance. Maintaining relationships becomes a nightmare for such people, and without help, their life is expected to collapse in multiple domains. Luckily, it is possible to get over a fearful avoidant attachment style with the right combination of self-help tips and therapy.

The behaviour of fearful avoidant children is generally quite disorganised. Following are some of the symptoms that such children usually manifest:

  • Lacking a sense of safety
  • Constantly feeling like something is wrong
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Poor self-regulation of emotions 
  • Hypervigilance, i.e. always looking out for signs of danger
  • Fidgety behaviours
  • Finding it hard to self-soothe
  • Lacking the skill to set personal boundaries
  • Finding it hard to keep friends 
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • A bossy behaviour to regain control
  • Cutting off emotions through dissociation

Most children with a fearful avoidant attachment style carry these behaviours into adolescence and adulthood if they do not get enough support to overcome the issue. They may struggle to form secure relationships, and the case may persist for life without adequate treatment.

Fearful avoidant attachment can linger on into adulthood if nothing is done to address it. Most people carry the same traits from childhood into adulthood, such as difficulty trusting others and high anxiety levels. Others may pick up additional symptoms on the way.

Some common manifestations of a fearful avoidant attachment style in adults include:

Emotional dysregulation

Fearful avoidant people face many problems regulating their emotions in adult relationships. Most of their relationships are highly emotional, and they make it worse by responding poorly to negative emotions.

 

Conflicting feelings about relationships

A person with a fearful avoidant attachment may not be sure what to feel about their relationships with romantic partners and friends. They do crave a relationship but are afraid of getting hurt at the same time. Once a relationship becomes too emotional or intimate, such people often withdraw or end it.

Negative self-view

A common symptom of a fearful avoidant attachment style in adults is a negative self-view. Such individuals are not too sure of themselves, forcing them to withdraw from social contact.

Avoiding intimacy

A fearful-avoidant person wishes to minimise the eventual disappointment from a relationship, and they practice this by avoiding close involvement with others. They may prioritise other things, such as their career, over their partners, who they believe will disappoint them sooner or later.

Unhelpful social behaviours 

It is common for fearful avoidant people to be cold or passive during social interactions. This behaviour acts as a shield to protect them from rejection or hurt.

While the cause of acquiring a fearful avoidant attachment style may not always be clear, parents or caregivers play an essential role in its development. Some of the ways in which parenting styles can induce this attachment to include the following:

Trauma or abuse

A fearful avoidant attachment style commonly develops in people who have experienced trauma or abuse in their childhood. In response to abuse, the child becomes stuck between deactivation and hyperactivation and desperately searches for comfort, despite knowing that their caregivers cannot provide it.

Broken Trust

Having untrustworthy caregivers is also a critical factor that leads to fearful avoidant attachment. Due to inconsistent parenting, i.e., being loving one moment and becoming emotionally distant the next, can make it difficult for a child to predict how their parents will react at any given moment. Such behaviours force them to develop insecure feelings, which form the basis of a fearful avoidant attachment style.

Threatening language 

Using toxic language by a caregiver, including making threats of physical violence, can reduce the sense of security in a child’s mind. When the child starts feeling scared of their caregivers, they also learn that they cannot establish healthy communication with them.

Emotionally needy caregivers

Parents who use their children to fulfil their emotional needs are also why their children grow up with a fearful avoidant attachment style. Such caregivers may constantly express their wants and needs to their children and expect them to carry this burden or fix their issues. In this process, the caregivers may completely ignore the child’s needs, forcing them to believe their needs do not matter much.

Fearful avoidant caregivers

Living with fearful avoidant caregivers puts the child at a high risk of adopting the same traits with time. This does not confirm a genetic component to attachment styles but indicates a continuation of behavioural patterns repeated throughout generations. Without addressing these attachment issues, the child may also pass them on to their own children.

Overcoming fearful avoidant attachment style is possible, and plenty of tips support the process. These tips are explained below in detail:

Educate yourself about your attachment style

The first step to recovering from a problem is to educate yourself about it. Find out what attachment style you feel you might have and what its signs are. Think about your behaviour in all your relationships with your family, friends, and others. Consider looking back into the past to explore the nature of your relationship with your caregiver when you were a child. All this information can help you understand your attachment style better, and you can easily overcome it with a better understanding.

Practice self-awareness

Try to become more aware of what triggers your fearful-avoidant style. Is it because of an automatic thought that your partner is rejecting you or being disloyal? Or does it happen when you pick up on a tiny change in your partner? Find out all your triggers and write them down somewhere for your remembrance.

Ponder each of the triggers you noticed and think about why they make you feel this way. Also, think about a healthier thought that can replace this negative thinking. For instance, if you notice a change in your partner’s body language, consider that they might be tired instead of thinking they are hiding something from you.

It is essential to be mindful of all your automatic thoughts so that you can challenge them as soon as they come to the surface. Achieving this can help you respond to situations in a much healthy way.

Improve your communication skills

Learn to communicate in a way that delivers your needs to your partner in a non-confrontational and healthy way. Try expressing your feelings instead of from a place of criticism and blaming. You can begin your statements with “I”, such as “ I feel stressed when you X.” These statements can make your partner feel less threatened and attacked and reduce misunderstandings.

Make it a habit of expressing your needs in a straightforward way while practising compassion and kindness. For example, practice saying, “I need to feel supported when I X”, instead of blaming your partner for not being supportive enough.

Set healthy boundaries

Many individuals with a fearful avoidant attachment style find it difficult to set boundaries. The origin of this problem goes back to their childhood when they might have had their boundaries broken, giving them a distorted view of boundary setting.

Invest some time considering your limits and what you are comfortable with. Sometimes, you may need help from a therapist or a trusted friend to establish boundaries, so do not hesitate to ask them for help.

Consider therapy 

If you feel difficult to manage your attachment style on your own and require extra support, consider enrolling in therapy. Using evidence-based therapeutic methods, you can learn about recognising your attachment style, assess your feelings about yourself, and learn how to approach relationships healthily.

Most people with fearful avoidant attachment styles benefit the most from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which aims to identify and challenge unwanted emotions, behaviours, and thoughts. This therapy can be beneficial for someone with insecure feelings and unhealthy behaviours stemming from their attachment style. Another type of therapy used for managing this attachment style is interpersonal therapy which allows patients to improve their social interactions and relationships. People who wish to change their attachment style and gain more security in their relations may benefit from it.

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