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The Adult Attachment Series: On Being Fearful-Avoidant

If you haven't read my previous post called Understanding Adult Attachment, check it out. It gives a broad overview of how attachment is developed and how anxiety and avoidance combine to create four adult attachment styles: secure, anxious-preoccupied, fearful-avoidant, and dismissive. While secure attachment is the most desirable (due to the benefits and positive relationships typically experienced by securely attached adults), many adults are not fully secure. Instead, many adults either fit into one of the three insecure attachment style categories, are mostly secure with some insecure attachment tendencies, or are mostly one of the insecure attachment styles with some secure tendencies.

In this three-part series (The Adult Attachment Series), I plan to provide more in-depth explanations of each of the three insecure adult attachment styles. The other two parts of the series were about being Anxious-Preoccupied and Dismissive. This last installment is about being Fearful-Avoidant.

Experiencing high anxiety and high avoidance, fearful (sometimes labeled "fearful avoidant") adults typically want intimacy in romantic relationships, but tend to have a difficult time trusting others. This dissonance can cause significant stress in an individual. Their desire for intimacy and their fear of sharing emotions work against each other; making it difficult for fearful-avoidants to form healthy relationships with others. They tend to have negative opinions of themselves and negative opinions of others. Fearful individuals are typically hypersensitive to social approval and might actually avoid some social situations because the fear that others are negatively judging them is so strong. When in relationships, fearful individuals might emotionally retreat (especially during difficult conversations), self-deprecate (as they view themselves as unworthy), express jealousy (due to their trust issues), experience separation anxiety, become consumed with a serious relationship partner, and worry about getting hurt off they get too close.

What to Do
- Educate yourself about fearful attachment
- Have open discussions about other successful relationships that you admire
- Express an interest in reading books and articles about improving romantic relationships
- Understand that giving your partner emotional disclosure space is sometimes necessary
- Understand that your own behaviors generally have little to do with your partner's anxiety or avoidance
- Listen actively to your partner's relationship needs
- Try to empathize with their experience; put yourself in your partner's shoes; think about how it must feel to feel their anxiety
- Accept that your partner will likely feel anxiety about things you have little or no control over

What to Say
- Be accountable, "We've both made mistakes. It's not all on you or all on me. We're in this together."
- Express your trust, "You can count on me" & follow through with those claims
- Remind them of the times when they did the right thing, when they made good choices, when they helped you, and when they made you feel loved and secure
-Offer commitment assurances, "I'm not going anywhere," "I can't wait to see what the future holds for us."
- Build up their self-esteem, "You're the greatest thing that ever happened to me," "I love how caring you are," & "You're really good at ___________."
- Convey love, "You are my person," "I'm proud of you," & "I love you."
- Express empathy by acknowledging and validating feelings, "It's okay for you to feel angry. I would be angry too. I just don't want you to hold onto that anger for too long because I love you."

What to Avoid
- Using humor/sarcasm, combative language, and ultimatums; especially during conflict
- Minimizing their feelings
- Hiding experiences or parts of your life from your partner
- Using your partner's anxiety against them to hurt them
- Getting defensive if/when your partner becomes jealous or accusatory
- Using absolutist language ("always" or "never") to describe your partner's behavior, as your could take your statements as not true

What to Do
- Educate yourself about fearful-avoidant attachment.
- Be self-aware. After you've experienced an anxious or avoidant thought or moment, think carefully about what might have caused it.
- Reflect on your past experiences. Contemplate how your past has molded your current feelings.
- Be open to talk about your attachment style/tendencies with others.
- Realize that most people have good intentions and that the world is generally a safe place to be.
- Try to be more positive by actively incorporating some positive habits into your daily life.
- Give people second and third chances.
- Understand that everyone is not out to judge/hurt/manipulate you.
- Give up some of your desire for approval from others. Be the best version of yourself and try not to worry about the opinion of others.
- Recognize that your partner typically has little to do with your feelings of anxiety.
- Regularly make lists about things you're good at, things people like about you, positive things happening in your life, and things you are grateful for.
- Seek professional help if you have the means to do so.

What to Say
- Express what you're afraid of, "It all comes down to my fear of being alone. And not being loved."
- Practice positive self-affirmations, "I'm worthy of love," "I'm enough," "I'm a good person," & "I deserve to be happy."
- Express that you're feeling anxiety when you feel it.
- Tell your partner what you're triggers entail, "When people I care about don't text me back right away, I take it very personally," "I can't help but think that people don't like me if they pause after I ask them to do something with me."
- Talk about ways to cope with your anxiety and/or avoidance.
- Tell your partner when their actions made you feel anxious or avoidant, "I feel anxious when you do that," "When this happens, I want to avoid everyone."

What to Avoid
- Giving up on a relationship too soon.
- Listening to your own self-deprecating thoughts.
- Focusing and dwelling on a bad experience.
- Second-guessing your decisions or your self-concept.
- Making blanket statements about relationships or groups of people.
- Jumping to conclusions or exaggerating your own or other people's negative qualities.
- Feeling completely defeated based on a few experiences.
- Worrying about what other people think about you or your life.


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