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Navigating a Breakup with the Avoidant Attachment

Posted July 13, 2023 | Written by Stephanie Underwood, RSW

A black and white image of a woman looking sad holding a phone off the hook

KEY POINTS

  • Part Three of the Understanding Avoidant Attachment mini-series.

  • Due to their deeply embedded fear of intimacy, people with avoidant attachment styles might exhibit strong reactions or defence mechanisms (also known as deactivating strategies)

  • The painful and abrupt ending of a relationship can be quite distressing for anyone, but it can be especially challenging for individuals with anxious attachment styles.

  • "No contact" emerged as a strategy to encourage individuals to focus on personal growth and self-improvement.

  • Never forget that you are deserving of a relationship where you're treated with the highest level of respect and care.


 

Navigating a Breakup with the Avoidant Attachment


Welcome to the third and final chapter of our three-part series, "Understanding Avoidant Attachment". If you've journeyed through a relationship with someone who has an avoidant attachment style, and later experienced the end of that relationship, you're no stranger to the unique challenges that it can present. Navigating the aftermath of such a breakup can often feel like trying to find your way out of a dense forest without a compass.


In this concluding instalment, we'll discuss navigating a breakup with the avoidant attachment. We'll focus on shedding light on this complex path, providing you with tools and insights to help you find your footing after a breakup with the avoidant attachment. We'll explore the benefits and misconceptions of going "no contact", and the meaning of "healing" post-breakup with an avoidantly attached individual.


The Avoidant Attachment & Defense Mechanisms


Due to their deeply embedded fear of intimacy, people with avoidant attachment styles might exhibit strong reactions or defence mechanisms (also known as deactivating strategies) when they perceive threats to their autonomy. Individuals with an avoidant attachment style commonly employ a variety of deactivating strategies to downplay their need for intimacy and to sustain distance in relationships. They often navigate around situations that could lead to emotional closeness, maintaining a focus on independence and self-reliance instead of seeking help or support from others. They may keep themselves engrossed in work, hobbies, or other activities as a form of distraction from intimate or emotional interactions.These reactions can often create emotional distress for their partners.


Relationship Endings with the Avoidant Attachment


When an individual with avoidant attachment abruptly ends a relationship with a partner who has an anxious attachment, they’re often employing extreme deactivating strategies. This action could stem from a desire to regain self-perceived independence and reestablish control. These individuals might perceive the anxious partner’s need for reassurance and closeness as overwhelming or intrusive, triggering a need to retreat. They may rationalize the breakup by focusing on the partner’s flaws or small disagreements, using these as reasons for ending the relationship. Another tactic could involve downplaying the depth or significance of the relationship, reinforcing their narrative that they don’t need others for emotional support, that they are better off on their own. In this process, they might suppress their feelings of loss or sadness, which can lead to emotional isolation.


Painful Endings


The painful and abrupt ending of a relationship can be quite distressing for anyone, but it can be especially challenging for individuals with anxious attachment styles. If you've ever experienced a relationship with an avoidant coming to an abrupt halt when things were going seemingly well between the two of you, you can most likely attest to experiencing distressing emotional turmoil and confusion.


Here are some emotional responses that a person can experience when the relationship with an avoidant attachment comes to end.


  1. Intense Grief: An anxiously attached individual might experience profound sorrow and emotional pain, often feeling the loss more acutely than others might.

  2. Heightened Anxiety: Their pre-existing worries and anxieties can become magnified. They might experience panic attacks, sleep disturbances, or constant worrying.

  3. Fear of Abandonment: They may feel a strong sense of being abandoned or rejected, which can exacerbate feelings of insecurity and vulnerability.

  4. Obsessive Thoughts: Anxiously attached individuals may obsess over the breakup, constantly replaying scenarios in their mind, trying to figure out what went wrong.

  5. Low Self-Esteem: They may blame themselves for the end of the relationship, which can lead to feelings of unworthiness or believing they are unlovable.

  6. Depressive Symptoms: The emotional toll of the breakup can potentially lead to symptoms of depression, such as feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, and changes in appetite or weight.

  7. Emotional Dependency: The anxiously attached person might attempt to maintain contact with their ex-partner, seeking reassurance, closure, or even hoping for a rekindling of the relationship.


Going "No Contact" Post-Breakup


The "no contact" rule has been popularized recently as a method for individuals to heal after a breakup. Rooted in the principles of psychology and self-help literature, this concept advises individuals to completely cut off communication with their ex for a specific period, often suggested as 30 days.


Breaking up with an avoidant partner can often leave the anxiously attached person feeling rejected, insecure, or questioning their self-worth due to the avoidant's tendency to maintain emotional distance or abruptly end relationships. The advice for the anxious attachment to go "no contact" emerged as a strategy to counter these feelings, encouraging individuals to focus on personal growth and self-improvement instead of dwelling on past relationships. The intention behind this concept is positive—it's about self-care, emotional healing, growth, and preparing oneself for healthier relationships in the future. It promotes introspection to understand one's attachment style, identify potential areas of improvement, and break down unhealthy patterns. However, it's important to remember that this concept is not about fixing yourself because something is "wrong" with you. You're reaction is a result of the avoidant's use of deactivating strategies which most likely triggered your unhealed abandonment/rejections wounds. However, once again, this does not imply that you are broken or that you need to fix yourself.


It's important to understand that the purpose of no contact is not to manipulate the avoidant ex into missing you or provoking them to reach out. It is not a countdown to when you should contact them again. Instead, it's a personal journey, a period of introspection and growth that allows you to understand and process the end of the relationship, heal, and start moving towards healthier relationships. It's about establishing boundaries for personal well-being and investing in self-care during a vulnerable period. No contact should always focus on oneself, not on the ex-partner's response or lack thereof.


The most important thing for the anxiously attached person to comprehend is that these deactivating strategies used by the avoidant attachment is not a reflection of your worth. Their avoidant attachment drives this behaviour, not you. You are not at fault, and this situation should not be interpreted as a signal that you need to 'work on yourself' due to some inherent flaw. Everyone has room for growth and improvement, but it's important to understand that the end of this relationship is not an indictment of your worth or a sign of something 'wrong' with you.


Unless the avoidantly attached partner is willing to work on themselves in order to gain awareness into their patterns, the individual will continue to use deactivating strategies in the relationship which will continue to impact your core abandonment wounds.


The Challenges of "No Contact"


Implementing the "no contact" rule, however, is challenging. It requires a strong commitment and can be emotionally taxing, especially during the early days post-breakup. Feelings of loneliness, the temptation to reach out, or second-guessing the decision to go no contact might creep in. Remembering these feelings is natural, and part of the healing process is important. To help manage these challenges, seeking support from trusted friends or a mental health professional can be beneficial.


Additionally, using this period to engage in activities that promote well-being and self-esteem, such as exercise, hobbies, meditation, or reading, can be incredibly helpful. At the end of the day, the "no contact" period is a personal journey toward healing and growth, and it's perfectly okay to seek help and take care of yourself throughout this process.


The Importance of Not Suppressing Your Needs and Emotions


On a more personal note, I want to tell you that going no contact should not be seen as a mechanism to suppress your needs or feelings. If you feel a strong urge or need to communicate your feelings, attain closure, or express the pain caused by the breakup, you have every right to do so. This could be a crucial part of your healing process.


In such scenarios, it's important to approach the conversation clearly, knowing that the aim is not to rekindle the relationship but to express your emotions and seek closure. Be prepared for any outcome, as the avoidant ex-partner's response may not necessarily provide the comfort or answers you hope for. Consider seeking support from a trusted friend or mental health professional to navigate this conversation.


Remember, the journey of healing and growth post-breakup is highly personal and unique to each individual. Strategies like 'no contact' are merely tools that can aid the process but are not mandated. It's essential to listen to your needs, respect your feelings, and choose the path that best supports your healing and well-being.


Conclusion


Wrapping up our discussion on avoidant attachment, it's important to acknowledge that managing its implications or navigating the aftermath of a relationship with an avoidantly attached individual can be a roller coaster of emotions. However, keep in mind that attachment styles aren't imprinted in permanent ink. They're flexible, constantly evolving, and capable of change.


An individual with an avoidant attachment style is not fated to perpetually grapple with emotional detachment or avoidance. Self-awareness, persistent effort, and potentially some professional guidance can pave the way towards a more secure attachment style.

Yet, it's crucial to remember that change must stem from within. Only when a person acknowledges the impact of their behaviour on others, and desires to initiate change for their own betterment, will they escape the recurring patterns of using deactivating strategies in their relationships.


Lastly, never forget that you are deserving of a relationship where you're treated with the highest level of respect and care. The manner in which an avoidantly attached individual behaves towards you is never a measure of your worth or value. Your inherent worth remains unshaken, and it is important that you nurture a relationship that acknowledges, respects, and uplifts this.



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