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Are you anxious avoidant, or are you just dating an asshole?

“How do you know if your attachment style is the problem in your relationship, and not your partner’s sucky behaviour?”

Most of us want to find our person; that special someone who will support us through life’s many ups and downs. We want someone who will make us laugh, give us the warmest hugs and will back us unconditionally.

Of course, not every relationship is this lovely. Sometimes, your search for the perfect person could lead you to start a relationship with an absolute asshole. You know how it goes – things start off rosy and then, after a while, when you try telling them you’re unhappy, they tell you you’re overreacting.

You ask them for more quality time, but they say you’re being too needy. You tell them the relationship feels one-sided, and they tell you that you only feel that way because of your anxious-avoidant attachment style.

Attachment theory has been a hot topic of conversation, especially on psychology TikTok, for a while now. It’s led many people to learn what their specific attachment style is and how it influences their approach to romantic relationships.

The anxious-avoidant attachment style is probably the most complex attachment style there is, but how do you know if your attachment style is the problem in your relationship, and not your partner’s sucky behaviour?

To help me figure this out, I reached out to psychologist, author and the host of the Psych for Life podcast Dr Amanda Ferguson, who was happy to give me the full lowdown on the anxious-avoidant attachment style and how it affects romantic relationships.

What is anxious-avoidant attachment?

Someone with an anxious-avoidant attachment style can be afraid of intimacy, and find it very difficult to trust anyone who tries to get close to them. This is because they automatically assume that someday, everyone who gets close to them will leave.

This isn’t because they don’t want connection – they definitely do. They crave love and support just as much as anyone else but they push people away because they’re afraid of getting hurt. It’s a constant cycle that Dr Ferguson says can give people a very negative view of people’s intentions.

“These people generally have a less positive outlook on life, and avoid intimacy, or suppress their feelings. You may see that in friendships as well… they would tend to have fewer close friends, but you definitely see it in romantic relationships.”

Can a bad partner make you anxious avoidant?

According to Dr Ferguson, attachment styles are generally developed in early childhood. If someone develops an anxious-avoidant attachment style when they’re young, it may not always improve with age.

“If you start off with a [anxious] child and they’ve got traumatic things happening to them, that may worsen as they get older… If you’ve got a securely attached child, they’re more likely to become more resilient, less fearful and geared towards more successful networking and relationships.”

If you have an anxious-avoidant attachment style, Dr Ferguson says that a bad relationship can trigger anxious avoidant behaviours that someone may not have realised they had within them.

“People don’t fundamentally change in personality [and] this includes attachment. You can become more anxious by a relationship if you’re already anxious internally. That anxious avoidant person will always become worse when they’re in a damaging relationship.

“If there was a narcissist who loves the fact they’ve got someone who’s [anxious avoidant] because it makes them feel strong and together, and they just enjoy provoking them, then that’s a recipe for disaster.”

On the flip side, if you’re in a healthy relationship, any anxious avoidant behaviours could improve over time, and you could start to develop a more secure attachment style. “You can become more securely attached; you can heal. In a relationship with an emotionally intelligent person, you could actually become more secure, because the relationship makes you feel more secure.”

How to address an anxious-avoidant attachment style

If you think you may have an anxious-avoidant attachment style and it’s causing a few issues in your relationship, Dr Ferguson says the best way to address it is to understand it. “Understanding ourselves is the best security in any romantic relationship. If you know or suspect you’ve got an anxious-avoidant attachment style, investigate it.

“You could go to therapy, read up on this attachment style and learn how to manage this anxiety when it comes up. You could address the feeling of needing to withdraw when it comes up, address it and tell your partner [when] you’re feeling triggered.”

She also suggests taking note of how your partner reacts when you tell them about your anxious avoidant triggers. How they deal with them could tell you whether or not they’re part of the problem.

“A secure partner would say they’re happy you’re taking care of yourself and would possibly ask you if there was anything they could do to help. On the flip side, when a partner’s belittling your emotions, anxiety and avoidance, and telling you you’re the problem, that’s abusive. It’s dysfunction and really, what does it say about that person? You can’t use these things as a cop-out.”

At the end of the day, when it comes to dating and romantic attachment, things can get a bit complicated. Emotions run high, and there will be bumps in the road that you and your partner have to deal with.

If you have an anxious-avoidant attachment style, learning more about it and how it affects your relationship could make dealing with any bumps in the road a hell of a lot easier.

Alternatively, if you’ve discovered you’re more in the secure attachment category, but your partner is telling you you’re anxious-avoidant, then it might be time to investigate whether they’re using attachment theory to excuse their bad behaviour. After all, life’s too short to be dating assholes.


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