Have you ever heard someone say that their significant other is “afraid of commitment?” It’s a common issue among couples in movies and television. The person is aloof or puts off taking the plunge, even when they are tied down to their significant other. If they are paired up with someone who is more “clingy” or needs validation, things don’t always go well.
Clinginess, fear of commitment, and many other common relationship issues may come from how a person was raised. Psychologists have done decades of work observing and studying how people form attachment styles when they are younger. These attachment styles heavily influence how the person approaches romantic relationships.
There are four types of attachment styles: secure, anxious, avoidant, and disorganized. Commitment-phobes fall under the avoidant category. If you identify with this attachment style, don’t be ashamed. There are ways to become more secure and open to relationships, but it may take time and inner work.
Where Does an Avoidant Attachment Come From?
When you are a child, you look to your parents to fulfill your needs. After all, you don’t know how to cook your own food. You may not understand all of your emotions. Without your parent present, you may not feel safe or secure.
Some parents are excellent at providing the child with everything they need. Other parents struggle with this. They may not be “bad” parents. Hectic work schedules, emotional distress, or cultural factors may prevent the parent from being a loving, doting figure in the child’s life. But while the parent’s intentions may be good, the result is that the child is left with unfulfilled needs.
What does the child do? They learn to suppress their needs and emotions. The child does not believe that they will receive what they want when they ask, so they don’t ask for anything at all. To cope, they learn to disconnect from themselves.
These behaviors tend to carry over until the child’s adulthood.
Characteristics of Avoidant Attachment in Strange Situation Procedure
When psychologist Mary Ainsworth developed the Strange Situation Procedure, she only meant to observe a child’s behavior and attachment style. But her findings reflect how adults treat their partners as well. 15% of children in the Strange Situation procedure acted in the Avoidant Attachment style:
They displayed no separation anxiety when the mother left the room
The children did not display stranger anxiety, even when alone with the stranger
When the mother returned, the child did not appear to be overly excited or relieved
The child treated the mother and stranger with the same amount of emotion or attachment
Signs of Avoidant Attachment in Adults
Avoids conflict with partner
Disengages instead of talking through issues
Maintains or creates distance
These signs may pop up before a person enters a relationship or as they are getting ready to “take the next steps.” It may be very hard for a person with this attachment style to “make the first move.” After all, they had spent their childhood suppressing their desire to ask for things.
Avoidant attachment styles may also appear as “going with the flow.” When the person comes across a decision or behavior they don’t like, they don’t try to fix or solve the situation. They simply keep their concerns hidden. While this may not be a big deal at first, eventually the person may “snap” and walk away from the relationship altogether. The relationship may have been able to be fixed if the person made their needs known.
Acknowledging and Adjusting Anxious Attachment
There is no reason to be ashamed or upset if these behaviors sound like you. Attachment styles are usually formed without the child’s knowledge. Even the parent may not realize how their behavior is influencing their child, or the impact they can have on their child’s adult relationships.
If you would like to see a change in how you approach relationships, you can turn an insecure attachment style into a secure one.
The first step is acknowledging that this attachment style exists and may influence your mindset and behavior when you are in a relationship. Do you think your partner will laugh at your concerns, needs, or wants? Does conflict make you extremely nervous? Are you worried that making a commitment will only disappoint you in the end?
Acknowledge these fears. Tell your partner about them, even if it means facing your fears head-on. When you open the door to dialogue, you may learn something that you didn’t know before.
When your needs are not met as a child, you may develop the idea that your needs shouldn’t be met. That asking for what you want is not only setting yourself up for disappointment, but also unnecessary or selfish behavior.
It’s time to change those beliefs. Have compassion for yourself and remind yourself that your needs are important. There are people who want to help you feel supported, satisfied, and safe. But they won’t know exactly what you need until you ask or communicate your feelings.
Asking for help is not something associated with the avoidant attachment style. In fact, people who identify with this style tend to do the opposite. But asking for help may be the key in overcoming avoidant behaviors and getting what you want. Reach out to a therapist or mental health professional. Since attachment styles start at such a young age, unraveling these behaviors and fears may take a lot of inner work. This work is best done with a professional.
Becoming more secure and open to commitment is not an easy process, but you’ve already taken some steps to learning about your attachment style. Take baby steps and you’ll soon feel more secure and safe to ask for the things you want from your romantic partner.