How to stop the Anxious-Avoidant Cycle
Are you in repetitive anxious-avoidant cycle – where one person pushes for more connection and the other pushes it away? If you’re anxiously attached and want to move towards a more secure attachment style, read on.
First, let’s clarify what the main difference between anxiously attached and avoidantly attached are.
What is Anxious Attachment
Anxiously attached individuals fear abandonment and are hypersensitive to cues of rejection. Their amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for detecting threats is constantly surveilling if the the connection to their romantic partner is in jeopardy. When they get triggered (either by a real or an imagined threat), this activates a fight/flight/freeze/fawn response. They may then engage in protest behaviour (calling non stop, punishing, etc).
what is AVoidant Attachment
Avoidantly attached individuals fear that when someone gets too close, they will get smothered or controlled. While they can get into relationships (and are often great at the beginning courtship/romance stage), once someone’s too close for comfort, they turn to deactivating strategies. These are tactics to squelch intimacy which include withdrawing, being ambiguous about the state of the relationship or in extreme cases, ghosting.
Attachment styles are not fixed categories, but rather exist on a continuum. The degree to which you deviate from a secure attachment style is influenced by various factors, including your present romantic partner, life circumstances, and even the level of safety /trust you feel in your immediate group of friends.
The Anxious Avoidant Cycle
The anxious-avoidant cycle often goes like this. The anxious person wants more connection, time, and validation from their partner. The avoidant partner feels uncomfortable but feels pressure to meet these demands/expectations. Since many love avoidants struggle with feelings of guilt (due to enmeshment as a child), they may give in and then resent their partner.
Or they may feel so suffocated and controlled that they pull away and withdraw, often without communicating what’s going on. The anxious feels the distance and takes more steps to close the gap. They might chase, ask for more affection, and pout or get angry if they don’t get their need for closeness met.
The avoidantly attached partner feels more pressure, perceives their partner as ‘too needy’ and pulls away further to create more space. When the anxious finally gives up and stops trying, the avoidant will often then re-engage, pulling the anxiously attached partner back in – and the cycle continues.
How to break the anxious avoidant cycle
The goal is not to be more like your partner, the goal is to become more secure in yourself. A lot of people (especially the anxiously attached) vilify avoidants. But what they don’t realize is, both anxious and avoidants are two sides of the same coin – they both do not feel safe with intimacy. They just express that lack of trust in different ways. The former fears intimacy is always beyond their grasp, the other fears intimacy will cause pain. Both feel unsafe with intimacy.
Becoming more securely attached is a process. It starts with awareness of your own style and changing how you react when triggered. Without awareness, you just keep blaming your partners. It also requires learning how to self-regulate and co-regulate.
Self-regulation refers to the ability to manage one’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in response to internal and external stressors. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found to be effective in helping individuals develop self-regulation skills by identifying and challenging negative thought patterns, learning coping strategies, and enhancing problem-solving abilities. Other evidence-based approaches to self-regulation include emotion regulation therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and acceptance and commitment therapy.
Co-regulation is the process of regulating your emotions with the help of your partner. This involves communicating your needs and emotions in a healthy way and being responsive to your partner’s needs as well. It’s possible to have a healthy relationship with someone who is avoidantly attached, but both partners must be willing to do the work.
Being securely attached is a life long journey
Building mindfulness habits by meditating and taking time to reflect so you can be more aware of what’s going on in your inner world are also crucial. This is also not a one and done event.
Lastly, if you veer extremely anxious on the continuum, dating someone on the opposite end of extreme avoidant is only going to keep retraumatizing you. It’s not impossible to date someone with a different attachment style, but you’d be better off dating someone who veers more securely attached.
If you’ve experienced multiple unsuccessful relationships or a recent breakup with an avoidant partner, a breakup retreat can provide a safe and supportive environment to heal and process your emotions. This can help you gain clarity and insights into your attachment style and patterns.