June 27, 2024

Understanding Dismissively Avoidant Attachment

By Xavier Durrant
Identity Development

Our attachment styles serve as the threads that weave together our emotional connections. The quality of these interpersonal and intrapersonal connections can be traced back to the language of emotion learned during our formative years. Among the spectrum of attachment patterns, the dismissively avoidant attachment style stands out as a fascinating yet often misunderstood aspect of human behavior. Imagine a person who appears self-reliant, aloof, and emotionally distant, seemingly untouched by the bonds of intimacy. They may excel at maintaining a façade of independence, yet beneath the surface lie unmet emotional needs and guarded vulnerabilities. This is the essence of dismissively avoidant attachment—a coping mechanism learned from early life experiences where emotional closeness was met with rejection or inconsistency. In this blog, I’ll address the complexities of dismissively avoidant attachment, delving into its origins, manifestations, implications for personal and interpersonal well-being, and pathways toward healing and growth.

The Impact of Caregiver Emotional Unavailability

Dismissively Avoidant (DA) individuals often emerge from environments where parents or primary caregivers are emotionally unavailable. A caregiver’s ability to attune to their infant’s emotional and physical needs plays a crucial role in the development of secure attachments later in life. Attunement is not solely being raised in a home where shelter, food, clothing, and intellectual needs are met. Attunement means more times than not, my caregivers are interested in my vulnerability. In a home where attunement was done well, we would expect there to be opportunities for vulnerability to be explored without judgment. In cases of a dismissively avoidant person, caregivers or parents tend to distance themselves emotionally, rendering them unable and sometimes unwilling to respond to their child’s emotional cues.

For example, when a child cries and reaches out to their parent, an avoidant caregiver might either disregard the child’s distress or respond dismissively with phrases like, “Stop crying!” or “That’s enough!” This misattunement leads to a growing sense of isolation in the child, teaching them that they cannot rely on others to meet their emotional needs and that self-reliance is their only recourse. Often, this also leads to a core belief of “I am unlovable,” “I am broken,” or, “I am unworthy.” Because children do not have the cognitive capabilities to widen their conceptualization of perceived rejection, they interpret it to mean they are the reason for it. Rather than feeling rejected and bringing another into this experience with them, they learn to gradually diminish their capacity to experience or connect with their own emotions or others—whether pleasant or distressing. It is important to note that although, on the outside, it can appear that DAs “have it all together” because of their seemingly outer confidence, they tend to struggle internally with an innate desire to be known by others AND a deep mistrust of others. It is this dilemma that slows them or even stops them from risking any vulnerability.

Strategies for Embracing Vulnerability and Healing Core Beliefs

If you are a DA and desire to grow secure in your attachment, or perhaps you’re dating a DA and hope to learn new resources to enhance communication, here are some helpful strategies.

  1. GO SLOW. In any relationship, trust takes time to build yet only seconds to injure. For the DA this rings even more true! Remember, DA’s do not have many hardwired positive associations when it comes to vulnerability. In fact they’ve learned that vulnerability  = rejection. Deep down there is a belief of when I am vulnerable, this will ultimately lead to abandonment or rejection.
  2. Acknowledge Small Steps. When a DA begins their journey toward Secure Attachment, they will make small attempts at first. They need to feel a sense of safety in the river of emotions before diving head-on. Whenever you notice your DA partner making small gestures and attempts, acknowledge them without overwhelming them.
  3. Interoception. It is important for DAs to go through their healing journey with a licensed counselor or trusted friend who can help identify limited beliefs and core wounds. To get there, somatic work, like being able to locate (interoception) and name sensations and feelings, is a great place to begin this work.
  4. Identify Limiting and Core Beliefs. Once you’ve named the negative emotion, write down what thoughts surface when you’re feeling this emotion and what you believe these thoughts say about you. For example, walking into a room of strangers feels like a weight pulling down on my lower abdomen. When I feel this sensation given this context, I immediately begin to doubt my likeability and begin to wonder whether I’ll say the right things or if people will find me funny. The next thing I want to think about is what if people don’t find me funny or like me. What is the belief I have about me if these thoughts are true? In this case, my belief would be “I am unlovable” or “I am defective.” These are just a few examples of how this particular sensation triggers these thoughts.
  5. Counter-belief. Now that you’ve identified your limiting and core beliefs, find 12-15 pieces of evidence that align with the opposite of that negative core belief. It is important in this step to not only imagine the positive core belief but to also incorporate my senses in the process. For example, if my core belief is I am unlovable, I want to look for examples when people have complimented parts of my character or times when I have made others smile or laugh or have been called funny. As I rehash these memories it is critical that I am also holding the positive sensations and emotions in my mind while bringing up these memories. Research shows that neurons that fire together, wire together, and with each firing of this positive sensation, emotions, thoughts, and beliefs, new neural pathways are created while old ones atrophy.
  6. Reprogramming. Each day for the next 21 – 60 days find 15 pieces of evidence for the new positive core belief you desire to believe moving forward. As you take the time to slow down and imagine each piece of evidence, bring as many of your senses online to this experience. Imagine the sounds, smells, what you touched, etc. This process of reprogramming is the same blueprint we used as children to learn and believe our core negative beliefs that we now use to reprogram with new beliefs and positive associations.

A Pathway to Healing and Connection

Our attachment styles profoundly shape the way we navigate and experience relationships, echoing the emotional language learned in our earliest interactions. Among these styles, the dismissively avoidant attachment stands as a testament to the complexity of human behavior, often stemming from early environments lacking emotional attunement. Understanding the roots and manifestations of dismissively avoidant attachment is crucial for fostering personal growth and cultivating healthier connections. By recognizing the deep-seated fears and vulnerabilities underlying this attachment style, individuals can embark on a journey towards healing and secure attachment. Through patience, acknowledgment of small steps, introspection, and intentional reprogramming of core beliefs, it’s possible to break free from the patterns of emotional distancing and cultivate deeper, more fulfilling relationships built on trust, vulnerability, and connection.

Written By

Xavier Durrant

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