Emotional vulnerability can be hard, and cultivating meaningful relationships isn’t always easy either. However, for some people, close attachments to others are so scary that they’d rather just avoid them altogether.
Do you or someone you love have difficulty talking about emotions and forming connections with others? Do you or they get uncomfortable in close relationships, perhaps to the point of acting self-destructively? These symptoms point to having a dismissive-avoidant attachment style.
Dismissive-avoidant attachment is a pattern that starts in early childhood, so its development isn’t something one has control over. People with dismissive-avoidant attachment might not always know why they struggle in relationships and pull away from intimacy. However, there are ways to overcome it.
What Is Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment?
Dismissive-avoidant attachment is a kind of attachment style characterized by someone avoiding vulnerability, closeness, and intimate attachment to others. A dismissive-avoidant person may avoid relationships and crave independence.
Attachment styles are based on the care you received or bonds you created as a small child. They affect how you act in relationships with others, whether it be family, friends, or significant others. Not all of them are considered unhealthy, but some can certainly cause damage to your relationships and hinder your ability to get your needs met.
Dismissive-avoidant is one of four types of attachment styles:
- Secure attachment: You are okay with being alone, but also thrive in relationships. Vulnerability and closeness do not alarm you, nor do boundaries and separation. These qualities allow you to seek help when you need it and take responsibility for your actions and emotions.
- Disorganized/disoriented attachment: You have difficulty soothing your own emotions, which can make you prone to explosive outbursts. You don’t trust easily and feel uneasy in close relationships, despite longing for meaningful connection. Experiences of trauma in your childhood may have left you feeling unworthy of love and fearful of getting hurt. This is also referred to as fearful-avoidant attachment.
- Ambivalent attachment: Also known as anxious or anxious-preoccupied attachment, this attachment style might make you crave attention and love from those close to you. You may look “needy,” but you are actually insecure that your partner doesn’t really love you, causing you not to fully trust them. Anything you see as a threat to the relationship causes you to overreact or manipulate your partner into staying with you.
- Dismissive-avoidant attachment: You are extremely independent and feel most comfortable on your own. You are uncomfortable with intimacy and vulnerability with others, so you avoid it by keeping people at arm’s length. You are very wary of feeling controlled, so you might create distance and try to maintain independence by keeping secrets or invalidating your partner’s concerns about your relationship, calling them “clingy” or ending the relationship entirely.
Attachment styles are influenced by the bond or connection you formed with a primary caregiver when you were a baby. Depending on what type of bonds you experienced as an infant, your response to attachment or closeness with those around you may differ.
If your caregiver was able to successfully interpret your nonverbal emotional cues (or keep trying until they did), then they likely made you feel heard and safe, causing you to form a secure attachment style.
However, inconsistent or startling responses to those needs often lead to insecure attachment styles, such as dismissive-avoidant, ambivalent, or disorganized attachment.
Dismissive-avoidant attachment specifically can be caused by many different kinds of separation or withdrawal from your primary caregiver. They may have been depressed, or perhaps had health issues when you were a baby, causing them to be less present and unable to consistently meet your care needs. You also may have experienced neglect or abuse, either physically or emotionally. Even numerous moves from environment to environment can cause dismissive-avoidant attachment.
In short, you learn as a child that support and care were not consistent when they came from others. Because of this, you decided you could only depend on yourself for those things, and that relying on others was not safe, which is what causes you to be so wary of connection as an adult.
What Are the Characteristics of a Dismissive-Avoidant?
The most prominent characteristic of dismissive-avoidant attachment is extreme self-sufficiency. People with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style do not want to rely on anyone, and in turn, do not want anyone relying on them. They value their freedom highly, believing that they function at their best by themselves. They have no need for support or reassurance, so they may seem very confident.
However, this need for independence comes from deep-seated inner fragility. Dismissive avoidants are fearful of rejection, so they believe that it’s easier to protect themselves from hurt if no one can get close enough to reject them.
Dismissive-avoidants also tend to put on a front of superiority to hide these vulnerabilities, acting like they are better than everyone else and frequently criticizing others. This can be more subtle as well, like high amounts of confidence or comfort with who they are, or putting a large amount of value in their professional success.
They will often withdraw as soon as they feel needed or too close to someone, claiming that they feel “trapped” or “controlled.” This can lead to them ignoring attempts to contact them, keeping secrets, or making plans without their partner in order to put distance between them.
Despite how they act in relationships, though, dismissive-avoidants can be fun friends to have. They tend to be social and outgoing, and can also have large friend groups, depending on the person. These friend groups are likely full of acquaintances or casual friends—impermanent people with little personal attachment to them.
What Is the Difference Between a Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style and Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
These two conditions are two separate diagnoses, and though their traits may seem similar, there are some fundamental differences in how they operate.
First, while both may cause people to come off as confident, narcissists love to receive praise. Those with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style, though, might feel uncomfortable with praise, since they might perceive it as an attempt to bond or express closeness.
People with dismissive-avoidant attachment are also more likely to be empathetic. Though dismissive-avoidants don’t desire connection, they still value the feelings of others and might find ways not to hurt them. They might go so far as to seek help and figure out why they act the way they do. However, narcissists will rarely take ownership of their abusive behavior or mistakes, often blaming the issues on someone else, and likely won’t seek to change in any way.
The dismissive-avoidant attachment style is also often compared to avoidant personality disorder, though they are also quite different. Those with avoidant personality disorder are more afraid of socialization in general, whereas most people with dismissive-avoidant attachment have no problem with interacting with others—it’s the emotional side they have issues with.
Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style in Relationships
Despite their aversion to intimacy, dismissive-avoidant people can still find themselves in relationships. However, there are many patterns that can cause disruption within the relationship if they are not changed or dealt with.
As people get closer to them, whether they’re in a relationship with them or are simply becoming closer friends, they can start to seem more emotionally distant. Their discomfort with emotional intimacy becomes more clear, and they may start looking for a way out.
Their inability to open up can leave their partner feeling alone and ignored. However, if this subject is broached, it can cause the dismissive-avoidant person to feel trapped and called-out, leading them to find reasons to end things. They might start acting rude or trying to find flaws in their partner so that they have an excuse to break up with them.
Dismissive-avoidants believe that they don’t need emotional connection and use this behavior as a defense mechanism. However, the isolation that it causes can affect their overall happiness in the long term.
Can a Dismissive-Avoidant Fall in Love?
They are certainly capable of feeling and falling in love. However, depending on how deep their avoidance of their emotions goes, they may not admit it to anyone, including themselves. They might also try to ignore it and abandon it instead of recognizing and acting on it.
How Do Dismissive-Avoidants Show Love?
They mostly don’t, since it might signal to their partner that they desire a closer bond, but they might in indirect ways. It can be tough to recognize, since there’s a constant barrier guarding their emotions and keeping things from getting too deep.
They likely won’t show their love through words or touch, but they might start to spend more time around you. Even if they feel themselves getting closer to someone, though, they will still have a hard time hearing about any negative emotions.
What Triggers the Dismissive-Avoidant?
Any situation that makes you feel out of control can feel extremely triggering if you have dismissive-avoidant attachment. Conflict is often very uncomfortable, especially if you feel criticized or if the circumstance feels emotionally volatile.
If you feel like someone has become dependent on you, you might start feeling controlled, which is a big trigger for dismissive avoidants. Their expectations for your relationship, especially vulnerability, can make you feel very uncomfortable and start to look for ways to distance yourself.
Insistence on talking about your emotions can put too much pressure on dismissive-avoidants. Instead of this, it can be best to spend time simply asking each other questions. This way, the expectation of vulnerability isn’t so prominent, which helps to create a safe space.
Is Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style Toxic?
Emotional intimacy is an integral part of forging close relationships, so avoiding it can present serious challenges. At first, it can seem like staying away from emotionality is protective, since no conflict or difficult emotions have to be dealt with. However, every human needs connection with other people in some form or another, so continuing on a dismissive-avoidant path can cause toxicity for all parties in the relationship.
That being said, this attachment style won’t necessarily be toxic, especially in relationships that don’t require a lot of openness or intense emotion, like a casual friendship.
Though these behaviors often seem like a conscious choice, the reasoning behind them is initially rooted in the subconscious. People with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style may not know that the reason they push people away stems from their early childhood experiences. This is why identifying your attachment style can be so helpful and important for emotional growth.
What Can I Do?
If you believe that you might have a dismissive-avoidant or another insecure attachment style, consider talking to a mental health professional. They can help you dissect your behaviors and patterns, work with you to identify your insecurities, and give you tools to help you develop a more secure attachment style.
However, if you don’t have access to adequate mental health services, there are other ways for you to develop a more secure attachment style. Working on aspects of yourself like improving your communication skills and making friends with people who already have secure attachment styles will open the door for closer connections and help show you what healthy and secure relationships look like. Increasing your emotional intelligence by expressing your emotions and needs and listening to those close to you when they do the same is another way to better your relationships with others.
Everyone deserves to experience the joy that meaningful connection and healthy, intimate relationships can bring. Learning to let down some of your defenses and committing to trying new modes of connection are excellent ways to move into a more secure attachment style.