A person with a fearful avoidant attachment style may fear closeness and intimacy, but at the same time, feel they need and heavily rely on the support and care of others.

Psychologists may also refer to this style as a disorganized attachment style.

This article discusses fearful avoidant attachments in more detail, including the theory behind them, their symptoms, causes, and treatments. It also answers some common questions about fearful avoidant attachments.

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Attachment theory is a concept in psychology that describes how a person feels about their close relationships and how they behave toward them, particularly in times of stress.

There are several types of attachment style. Some people have a secure attachment style, that allows them to feel close and safe within their relationships.

Others have insecure attachment styles that are heavily influenced by worry and fear, which may make finding support and care a challenge.

These insecure styles include an anxious attachment style, in which a person worries about being underappreciated or abandoned. They may aim to feel safe and secure in relationships by having constant closeness and overly expressing their feelings.

Another insecure attachment is the avoidant attachment style, where a person tends to have negative views of others, assuming they cannot be relied upon or trusted in times of need. To feel safe in relationships, a person with this attachment style may distance themselves to create a sense of independence.

In fearful avoidant attachment style, a person may fear closeness and intimacy. However, they need and heavily rely on the support of others at the same time.

A person with a fearful avoidant attachment style may crave closeness and reassurance from their partner, fearing that they will abandon them. In another instance, they may begin to feel trapped or afraid of how close they are with their partner and attempt to distance themselves.

A person with a fearful avoidant attachment style may display some of the following characteristics:

  • find it difficult to open up to others and discuss their feelings
  • have difficulty trusting others
  • have a negative view of others
  • have a negative view of themselves
  • have difficulty regulating their emotions
  • dissociation
  • lack healthy coping strategies for stress
  • withdraw in times of intimacy and closeness

Researchers suggest that people exhibit these fluctuating behaviors to protect themselves from being hurt by people close to them.

Psychologists believe that a person’s attachment style is defined by the relationships they had in their childhood, particularly with their caregivers. For many people, their caregiver is their first support system and the first person they will share emotional intimacy and vulnerability with.

If this relationship is unpredictable, neglectful, or even frightening, these experiences may teach a person that it is not safe to turn to the people closest to them in times of distress, even when they want that support.

These experiences can also cause a person to develop low self-esteem, as this treatment may suggest that they are not important or valued enough to be comforted. It can also cause them to see others in a negative light, assuming anyone close to them will reject them when they need help.

Research shows that a person with a fearful avoidant attachment may have experienced childhood trauma or ongoing negative attitudes and behavior from their caregivers.

A person’s genetics and temperament may also affect how they respond to their caregivers’ behavior and how they process this relationship in later life.

Some experiences a person may have that influence a fearful avoidant attachment include:

  • childhood abuse
  • fear of their caregiver
  • having a caregiver with unresolved trauma
  • social or economic disadvantages that create an unstable and stressful environment
  • lack of stability or routine, such as being left alone for extended periods of time
  • having a caregiver with an overly critical attitude
  • having a caregiver that did not show affection

The authors of a 2017 study investigated possible interventions to help infants at risk of developing fearful avoidant attachment. They found that interventions that focused on developing caregivers’ sensitivity to distress may help prevent this attachment style. However, further high quality research is necessary.

A mental health professional may help a person to understand how their past influences their current emotions and attachment style through psychotherapy.

Couples counseling may also help a person to recognize how their attachment style influences their relationships.

People should speak with a doctor if they are concerned about their own or their child’s attachment style.

Below are some of the most common questions and answers about fearful avoidant attachments.

How may people with fearful avoidant attachment act?

A person with fearful avoidant attachment may behave in a way that shows they want to be close to a person. However, they may also distance themselves from others.

One day, they may be incredibly affectionate and close to someone, then the next they may avoid communication and act cold and dismissive.

What attachment disorders are there?

There are two types of attachment disorders: reactive attachment disorder and disinhibited social engagement disorder.

What causes fearful avoidant attachment?

A person with fearful attachment may have grown up in an environment where their source of comfort and safety was often compromised with fear and unpredictability. This may involve a neglectful or unpredictable caregiver, or experiences involving abuse.

A fearful avoidant attachment style describes a person who craves closeness and support. However, they also fear it and feel the need to distance themselves from others at the same time.

With the support of a mental health professional, a person may learn about the cause of these behavior patterns and learn to feel safe and more stable in their relationships.