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Dismissive Avoidant: Symptoms, Causes, And Relationships

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Supportive relationships with friends and family make life more enjoyable. When those relationships are rocky, it has the opposite effect. Research even shows poor social connections make people 29% more1 at risk for coronary heart disease. Dismissive-avoidant attachments can contribute to that.

Learn more about the dismissive-avoidant attachment style to discover if it affects how you connect with people. By learning about its symptoms, causes, and potential treatment options, you could make healthier connections that improve your quality of life.

What Is Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style?

Dismissive-avoidant attachment style is a social connection that occurs when someone instinctively avoids becoming emotionally attached or close to others. This can happen when looking for a romantic partner, best friend, or a deeper connection with a family member. Some people also call it a dismissive-avoidant personality disorder if the attachment style occurs with more than one or two people in their lives.

What Are Dismissive-Avoidant Symptoms?

The dismissive-avoidant attachment style manifests in relationships in various ways. These are a few you might recognize if you have the disorder.

Remaining emotionally unavailable

A dismissive-avoidant person might not feel comfortable in emotionally vulnerable situations. They may have dreams about meeting a romantic partner, getting married, or starting a family, but connecting on a deeper level is more challenging.

They might avoid big displays of affection, like planning a grand proposal or providing emotional support when their partner struggles. Holding hands or kissing in public could make them uncomfortable, along with hugging friends or paying attention to someone’s platonic love language.

Dismissive-avoidant people want healthy relationships just like anyone else. However, their attachment style makes emotional moments inspire feelings of fear, panic, or disgust.

Fun Tip: You don’t have to wonder about your attachment style. Our free attachment styles quiz will take a deep dive into how you connect with others.

Being highly self-sufficient

Someone with dismissive-avoidant attachment might overemphasize their self-reliance to prevent a deep connection with a friend or partner. It’s a similarity that arises when researching fearful-avoidant vs. dismissive-avoidant attachment styles.

Both respond negatively to emotional connections. However, dismissive-avoidant people do so because they have a low view of others or fear dependency. A fearful-avoidant person might reject emotional support because their low self-worth makes it seem like that relationship has a guaranteed, swift endpoint.

Not prioritizing romantic relationships

Sometimes, focusing on your personal growth is better than chasing romantic goals. You could devote your energy to studying, working, or exploring your identity. When a person with dismissive-avoidant relationships decides to start dating, they may find a partner and struggle to prioritize developing that functional relationship.

Prioritizing means making efforts like:

  • Scheduling time for phone calls
  • Planning dates
  • Remembering to text your partner back
  • Asking your partner to join you for activities
  • Utilizing your partner’s love language

Avoiding or forgetting to do these things might stem from a difficulty with vulnerability due to an underlying fear of rejection. You may need to practice picking up on social cues before a relationship can thrive. Others feel intimidated by emotional vulnerability because it requires opening their heart.

Being dismissive-avoidant after a breakup can make you feel nearly invincible. While others might cry about the separation or get depressed, you jump back into your self-sufficiency because you’ve practiced closing off your heart.

Being vigilant about control tactics

Sometimes, a dismissive-avoidant personality disorder happens after an ongoing experience with a controlling person. The new attachment style might seem like a safety measure to prevent someone from controlling you again. If they can’t get close enough to learn your emotional vulnerabilities, there’s less chance of manipulation.

It can also work the opposite way. By not getting involved in someone’s emotional complexities, they can’t become reliant on you for support during turbulent times. Providing that kind of support might feel like entrapment for someone who prefers keeping a distance from people in any type of relationship.

Overly criticizing other people

Emotional connections occasionally happen without anyone trying to get close to another person. Your values and dreams might automatically align, but that doesn’t feel good for someone afraid of getting close to others.

A person with a dismissive-avoidant personality disorder could intentionally or unintentionally develop narcissistic behaviors to prevent that from happening. Outwardly criticizing others with derogatory words and behaviors is a manner of pushing people away. Nobody gets too close to a mean person, which might be their style of protecting themselves.

What Causes Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style?

Dismissive-avoidant attachment style develops from numerous causes, such as dismissive parenting, unmet childhood needs, experience with previous abusive relationships, and genetic dispositions. The environmental and genetic triggers are complex, but reading about each one can clarify things as you learn more about the condition.

Dismissive parenting

Negative parenting experiences can change how kids form relationships later on. Consider this scenario—a child tells their parents about how a bully hurt their feelings. Their parents tell them to move past the experience by forgetting about it.

The child gets embarrassed and subconsciously connects that emotional vulnerability with embarrassment. A dismissive-avoidant person could have begun using that attachment style as a coping mechanism from an early age.

Alternatively, a child could experience an intense moment of happiness. Maybe they open a birthday gift they wanted more than anything else and cried joyfully. Their parent tells them to stop crying while asking why they would react like that. The embarrassment could make that kid grow up with the instinct to contain their feelings to avoid moments like that again.

Unmet childhood needs

Dismissive-avoidant traits can also arise after a childhood with repeated unmet needs. Kids have essential needs that require parental modeling and care. Children require:

  • Physical and emotional safety
  • Relational security
  • Freedom of self
  • Relational trust
  • Unconditional love

When these needs go unmet, unhealthy attachment styles may develop as a matter of self-preservation. Sometimes it isn’t always within an adult’s power to provide for those needs.

Someone raising a family while making a minimum-wage salary might not have enough money to relocate to a low-crime neighborhood. Their child watches crimes happen around them as they grow up, like break-ins or gun violence.

They develop an overly self-sufficient nature so they don’t have to trust another person to protect them, even though their parental figure would have loved nothing more than to overcome systemic poverty for their kids.

“When childhood needs go unmet, unhealthy attachment styles may develop as a matter of self-preservation.”

Previous abusive relationships

Friends and family members may have created or sustained ongoing abusive relationships with someone who has a dismissive-avoidant personality disorder. Verbal manipulation and physical abuse might make that person fearful of the connection that started the unhealthy relationship initially. It’s an overlapping cause of fearful-avoidant vs. dismissive-avoidant attachment styles that might make them tricky to tell apart.

Genetic dispositions

People always discuss how nature and nurture affect how individuals develop their personalities. Environmental factors like other people can cause unhealthy attachment styles, but genetics may also influence them.

Researchers found two genetic similarities2 in twins that developed personality detachment in future relationships. If your parents or siblings become dismissive-avoidant after a breakup or while starting friendships, you could be more likely to form attachments in the same style. 

How Does Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Affect Relationships?

Dismissive-avoidant personality disorder can affect any relationship. These are a few ways it manifests itself for people of all ages.

You might not rely on others

You may value your independence above all else in the workplace or at home. When problems arise, you’d rather face them alone. Although you might be well-practiced in overcoming specific challenges, going through life’s most difficult moments alone could lead to more significant depression or anxiety because no one shares your pain.

Pro Tip: Asking for help addressing your needs might take time to come naturally. Get yourself to recognize them by writing down at least three throughout your day. You could include things like, “I need help finishing housework,” “I need someone to listen while I vent about my day,” and “I need emotional support after a tension-filled conversation with my boss.” As you pinpoint your needs in a daily list, you’ll learn to recognize them and become comfortable asking for help.

You could withdraw when someone needs help

Being there for others can be equally as intimidating as asking for help. It’s another form of emotional intimacy. A friend could experience a loved one’s passing and need support in their grief. However, calling them or showing up with a baked meal could make panic crawl across your skin, even if they’re your favorite person.

You feel instinctively secretive

Even when you don’t want to keep secrets from someone, keeping information private could be your initial reaction in relationships. When you’re feeling low or discovering something new about yourself, you keep your sadness and joy in your heart. It might lead to fights where someone accuses you of being too closed-off.

Tips for Navigating Dismissive-Avoidant Relationships

Recognizing potential signs of a dismissive-avoidant personality disorder is a huge step in your healing. However, you must also learn to cultivate healthy relationships while working on or living with that attachment type. These tips can help you repair or start better relationships.

Communicate your need for space

People with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style often feel better after walking away from an emotionally charged situation. That can be a healthy outlet for any person since people often say things they don’t mean when they operate on emotional instincts.

However, you have to remember to return to the conversation. Someone who’s felt distant from you for a long time might not trust that you’ll come back to talk through things. Communicate that you’re taking some space but will return to work things out.

This will look different in various relationships, so take a look at a few examples. Picture yourself with a romantic partner. After an argument about who puts more emotional work into your relationship, you want to cool off to avoid saying something in anger that you’ll regret later. You could say, “I love you, and this conversation is important to me, but I need to leave the room. Let’s get back to this in a half hour when I can talk about it with more of a level head.”

Imagine arguing with a family member over the phone about visiting for a holiday when you have other plans. It turns into an explosive argument involving your complicated shared history. Instead of yelling at each other, you could say, “I understand you want me to visit because you love me. However, the way we’re approaching this argument is only hurting both of us. Can I call you back in an hour to discuss this without feeling upset?”

A coworker could argue with you about how to lead weekly meetings with your team. Their approach causes tension because you want to handle meetings differently. Instead of pushing through an uncomfortable conversation, you could say, “Thank you for trying to help, but we’re clearly disagreeing. I don’t want any tension between us, so can we reserve time tomorrow to discuss other options? I’ll send you a calendar invite when I return to my desk.”

In every situation, the example responses recognize the other person’s positive intentions so they don’t feel like the bad guy. After acknowledging your need for space, the replies immediately let the other person know when you want to address the issue again. They won’t feel like you’re running from the argument, making it easier for them to agree to pause the conversation.

Pro Tip: You could always make templates for moments like these. Save one on your phone so you can pull it up and tell someone, “Let’s take a break and come back in 15 minutes to talk through this.”

Challenge your automatic thoughts

Imagine you’re on a date. The person is trying to get to know you, so they ask what your love language is. You think, If I tell them about my love language, they’ll use it against me.

That instinct might come from a long history where someone has done that repeatedly. However, your date is a different person who might never think to do that. Challenge your dismissive-avoidant thoughts whenever possible.

In that situation, you could instead ask yourself to think of a time when someone used your love language to celebrate you. Remembering emotional vulnerability can result in joy could be a powerful tool in your platonic and romantic relationships.

Try to over-communicate

You can also reverse the brain pathways that crave distance by telling the other person what’s going through your mind. This method is similar to stream-of-consciousness journaling. You’ll walk through your emotional vulnerability out loud and remove the root problem of dismissive-avoidant attachment—closing yourself off.

Fun Tip: If you’re unsure what you’re thinking or feeling, ask the other person to put the conversation on pause. You could write your thoughts in a letter and give it to them to clarify your feelings.

Examples of Dismissive-Avoidant Relationships

It’s easier to understand a condition like dismissive-avoidant attachments with a few examples. Consider these models as you evaluate the relationships in your life.

Keeping romantic partners at arms-length

Being emotionally distant is one of the most common dismissive-avoidant traits. People with dismissive-avoidant attachment styles often hide emotions that make them feel vulnerable because they don’t want to depend on another person.

It’s the opposite reaction of someone who’s too clingy in relationships. Instead of needing emotional support constantly through texts, phone calls, and personal time together, a dismissive-avoidant relationship could involve periods without meaningful conversations.

One partner may feel less supported or cared for, even if both people love each other equally. When emotional moments occur, someone with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style might step away from the relationship to feel safe.

If this sounds familiar to your past relationships, you’re not alone. Mental health conditions like this attachment style are more common than you might think. Experts estimate millions of people3 living with mental health conditions that result in side effects such as unhelpful attachment styles. As explained below, there are many ways to get help and enjoy healthier connections with people.

Pro Tip: Many mental health experts schedule consultations free of charge. You’re only one phone call away from discussing your symptoms with someone trained to help with attachment disorders. Please note that all content on this website should not be considered professional medical advice. You can check out Mental Health America’s helpful list of therapists as a resource to find a mental health professional.

Struggling to talk with family members

You may stay distant from your parents or siblings due to passive-aggressive comments or disagreements about personal values. It’s also possible to have dismissive-avoidant attachments with relatives. They may want to share emotional or vulnerable moments with you, but the thought makes you uncomfortable. Shared history or previous parenting styles could make you feel fearful during bonding moments instead of safe.

Seeking flaws in another person

When you’re with someone, do you find yourself intentionally or unintentionally finding flaws in them? You might overthink how they speak, maintain their living space, or plan for their future. Intentionally finding faults in others is a common trait of dismissive-avoidant attachments. Flaws of any size become red flags that excuse behaviors like ghosting or breaking up through a text.

Sometimes those flaws are actual problems, but sometimes they aren’t. Leaving someone because they’re inherently angry is different than running because they don’t text back fast enough. These situations might feel of equal importance to someone quick to dismiss relationships that get emotional or intimate.

“Intentionally finding flaws in others is a common trait of dismissive-avoidant attachments.”

Resources for People With Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style

There are numerous resources for dismissive-avoidant attachment treatment available today. Read about these options to consider which are best for your healing journey.

Remember, you can also find specialized help at Mental Health America. Their website has resources for affordable mental health services and professional provider associations that can connect you with experts in conditions like dismissive-avoidant attachment style.

Find specialized therapists

Research therapists near your hometown to find a few with experience treating dismissive-avoidant attachment styles. After meeting with a few and finding someone who fits your needs, you could discuss options while they make an actionable therapy plan. Talk therapy, eye movement desensitization, and reprocessing therapy. Couples therapy could be an option they’ll discuss during your appointment. It depends on your personal history and ongoing needs.

Find a therapist with renowned resources like:

Join a support group

You’re far from alone if you have a dismissive-avoidant personality disorder. People meet regularly to talk about how they’re doing as they dismantle their unhealthy attachment styles and learn to live in healthier relationships. Discussing your journey with others who share your struggles could make you more confident in your progress.

Discover potential in-person or virtual support groups with resources such as:

  • The Attachment Project’s Repair Groups list
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s extensive database
  • Therapists in your hometown who lead attachment-style group meetings

Read helpful books

Some dismissive-avoidant attachment treatment plans include reading books on the subject. Get ahead of that by reading some in your free time. You could select from popular books like:

Books like these explain essential topics like how people form relationships, what triggers certain behaviors, and ways to seek healing. You could better understand what makes fearful-avoidant vs. dismissive-avoidant attachments different and more accurately understand yourself.

Fun Tip: Your therapist can also recommend books written by trusted experts in their field. Asking for book recs could supplement your sessions so your therapy becomes easier to process.

Takeaway: Learn About the Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style

Learning to recognize dismissive-avoidant attachment styles is a significant step toward self-healing. Consider spending time on other helpful resources, like:

  • Reading about examples of dismissive-avoidant relationships
  • Practicing tips for those with this attachment style
  • Reaching out for help by contacting a local therapist
  • Reading books on the subject of dismissive-avoidant traits

You can always take our free quiz to illuminate your attachment tendencies if you are uncertain about them. Surrounding yourself with educated resources and experts is the best way to break old habits and enjoy healthier connections.

As always, you can contact a licensed therapist or investigate the resources available at Mental Health America to start your journey to improved mental wellness. You can also read about improving your resilience to frustrating triggers to help you cope with relationships.

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