I sat in the chair. Tried to stare down the balding, tall and totally eccentric man casually bouncing one leg on the other. Shrank inside my oversized black corduroy bomber jacket (with a faux fur collar – swish I know).
And – I proceeded to silently fume (I had taken to not speaking at all in my “therapy” sessions).
And – I silently, resolutely and rebelliously counted every single thing I WAS attached to.
Exhibit A: My Kind Size Purple Mink Blanket (Blankie for short)
Exhibit B: The previously mentioned black jacket.
Exhibit C; My habit of buying things in threes – and then arranging them in threes.
Exhibit D: My Ferrari red KitchenAid Mixer.
Exhibit E: My cookbooks.
Exhibit F: The rest of my books.
Exhibit G: My independence and freedom.
Exhibit H: My absolute desire to never need anything from anyone…..
We could start with my attachment to inanimate objects. Especially considering at the time that I had three children and a husband.
But – truth be told. I didn’t allow myself to get attached because I believed anything you loved – you lost.
But – we can move on – and look at G & H Your Honour.
I was fiercely attached to two behaviours that meant I would never – or appear to be – attached to any other individual.
And there – the smug smile crept up the face of my therapist – and I could have smacked that self-satisfied s.o.b. right there and then.
You see – he had just spent the last 45 minutes explaining that he thought I had an attachment disorder.
This was circa 1996. Way, way before attachment theory became cool – and it wasn’t such a stigma to being a disconnected, apparently unemotional bitch.
My therapist – who was supposed to be in my corner and understand me – was saying I had an avoidant attachment. On top of that – he was suggesting that I found things wrong with people so I could leave relationships. AND – yes wait – there’s more – that I pushed perfectly good people away.
I won’t tell you the embarrassing number of years it took me to realise that this might be true. It took something that happened with my children to wake me up. But- that’s a story for another time
Anyways – a long story even longer…
Fairly recently I realised that I could use my professional skills and what I’ve learnt about Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment. And – my personal experience of what it feels like to be someone with a Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style.
And I wrote a little somethin’, somethin’.
Here’s part of it:
I present to you.
The ways Dismissive Avoidant Attachment can crap all over your relationships as an adult.
- They don’t want to depend on you, and they don’t want you to depend on them. They want their freedom and independence and want (or at least think that they want) you to be the same way.
- They avoid displays of feelings. This can range from PDAs to saying anything in the least bit affectionate.
- They sometimes act Narcissistically. But – they aren’t always actual Narcissists. Dismissive-Attachers often seem to have a high opinion of themselves and are really critical of other people. This is often a big act to try and avoid being criticised themselves.
- They don’t make romantic relationships number 1. A person with a Dismissive-Avoidant attachment style would find that way too intense. The relationship/partner would be far more important in their lives than they want it to be. So, they rank it lower than something else, like work, mates, sport or hobbies.
- They purposely piss off a partner so the partner won’t want to get too close. A Dismissive-Attacher might flirt with someone else. Ignore their partner’s texts or calls and/or make decisions without their partner. All this is an effort to push their partner away.
- They tend to be paranoid that you’re trying to control them. An Anxious Attacher is always on the lookout for ways that their partner is losing interest in them. A Dismissive-Attacher is always on the lookout for signs that their partner is trying to control them or limit their freedom. Even healthy, “normal” relationship-type behaviour will come across as controlling to them. You’ll be fighting a losing battle trying to argue this one.
- They often say (or think) “I’m not ready to commit”—but they stay, nonetheless, sometimes for ages. Need I mention confusion again? I just did. 😊
- They focus on tiny imperfections in their partner. Like the way they talk, dress, eat, breathe – you get my drift. Then they obsess about these things until it all gets in the way of any romantic feelings.
- They mention ex-partners as if they were the ultimate prize and no one else will ever be that amazing. Truth is – this person may not even actually exist. This is to keep you on your toes and lets them be half-in, half-out of the relationship AND make it your fault. You’re not living up to their ideal so – meh.
- They aren’t clear about how they feel. Leaving you guessing. They might say “Well – I’m here aren’t I?”. Um – yes – but…
- They pull away when things are going well or pick a fight for no reason.
- They chase relationships with unavailable people. Like married people. Yes.
- They “check out mentally” when their partner is talking to them. The blank stare.
- They keep secrets – often for no good reason other than to feel separate or superior to other people.
- They avoid physical closeness. Not wanting to sleep in the same bed, not wanting to have sex, walking ahead of their partner. The physical aspects of the relationship will be on their terms.
- They might say that needing others is weak. That being in a relationship is having “too many strings attached”. The old “ball and chain”.
- They often don’t have a great recall of their childhood. This lets them forget a time when they needed other people. So they don’t need to process the pain of not getting what they needed when they were children.
- They’ll often say “Why do we need to dredge this stuff up” in therapy or arguments. “This whole thing is stupid”.
- They often talk about their parents in unclear terms and tend to make them sound amazing. To make it weirder, you might hear all about how amazing their mother was/is. Then – a bit later, or in a group conversation, hear that she got drunk often. And left them alone. What the?
- They’ll say all the negative things their parents did were actually good – because that built their character.
- They often don’t recognize that separations from people have an emotional impact on them. When their partner’s away, they might get obsessively focused on work. They may even celebrate the separation (publically – like on social media). Then be strangely, even cruelly distant, from the partner when they do come back.
- Dismissives learn to get their needs for attention, sex, and community met through less demanding partners (often the anxious-preoccupied!). No one will catch all the “feels” and wreck everything.
- They learn to disguise it when they do need care/help. They become good at using all sorts of control to get another person to be there for them. They usually seek out people who give without being asked.
- When you start dating, Avoidants can be charming and have learnt all the right things to say and do. They do this well – but only for a little while. They have an idea in their head of the “ultimate” romantic partner and no actual human can live up to this. When people don’t, they stop pretending and discard people as soon as they can.
- Because they aren’t really aware of their feelings, they can’t talk about them in a meaningful way. Often there are no real clues before they dump you. They won’t have had the hard conversations.
- The Dismissive-Avoidant is afraid of, and can’t tolerate true intimacy. They were raised to not depend on anyone, or reveal any feelings, so their first instinct when someone gets close to them – is to run away.
- They try to limit their exposure to their partners by manipulating their responses, usually by not responding to messages. Especially if their partners need any reassurance about how they feel.
- They let you know you’re low on their priority list. And, that your inner emotional state is your problem. This leaves their partner feeling really alone – but in a relationship. Again – confusion.
- In extreme cases, they can’t talk about their feelings at all. This syndrome is called alexithymia. This word means “having no words for feelings,” which is not quite the same thing as not having feelings. In the worst cases, they can only express themselves with intense anger and tantrums. Or unexplained physical symptoms like stomach pains, headaches…
People with Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment can look fiercely independent, or even like Narcissists. But – their problems are usually all about low self-esteem. The same as someone with an Anxious Attachment.
So many of the people I work with are struggling with a Dismissive-Avoidant Partner. And it is tough as heck.
Years after my first divorce I actually wrote to my ex and apologised. I had been cruel and dismissive of him during our marriage.
It’s these skills I teach and more – all day long. Kind of like a translator for the language of marriage.
If you’ve tried many things that simply haven’t worked…
But most importantly, if you’ve been feeling the pull to have me by your side as your mentor and you’re ready for deep support as you find your way back to your truest self…click here to book your first session.
I can’t wait to be your wingman.