Q&A: Can I Change Someone with an Avoidant Attachment Style?


Dear Dr. Brit and Catherine

Two and a half months ago, a woman broke up with me who happens to have at least five of these. They are 5, 6, 17, 18, 19, and maybe 13 and 1 [see list below]. Potentially even more that I don’t know about.

I still care about her just as much as I did when we broke up, and I really wish there was some way I could help her realize how beautiful it is to fully share oneself with a partner. I wouldn’t want that to necessarily be with me, but I feel like she’s missing out on a pretty crucial aspect to her life.

Unfortunately, she’s not talking to me anymore so any kind of help I can give is unlikely to happen, but if there ever comes a time when I’m in her life again, how can I help? Is that a lost cause?


Dear C.O

People with an avoidant attachment style usually are not capable of changing on their own. Some manage to change after years of talk therapy and/or cognitive-behavioral therapy.

But most with this attachment style don’t even know that they are acting out of fear. They will tend to rationalize their behavior (“I wasn’t that into him anyway”, “I am too busy to be in a serious relationship”, etc.). They make up excuses because they cannot face the fear that they are struggling with deep down.

If you are in a relationship with someone with an avoidant attachment style (be it friendship or a romantic relationship), and you really want to continue seeing this person, then you should know that your relationship is never going to be a normal one. You will have to rely on yourself for reassurance, confidence, love, etc., because the other person is not going to be able to provide it very often.

If you are in any kind of relationship with a person with an avoidant attachment style, you cannot expect much in return. You should keep your distance, give them lots of space and work on having a full life outside of the relationship. You will need to engage in lots of activities and work on maintaining lots of “normal” friendships in order to get your needs for social interaction met.

Can you change or “help” a person with an avoidant attachment style? The answer to this question will depend on how severe their case is. You could try to make them realize that they are depriving themselves of life in its fullest and suggest that they work with a therapist. If their case is severe and their fears occur below the level of consciousness, they will most likely refuse to listen to you. If they are more in touch with their feelings, you may be able to convince them.

In either case, the first step would be to make them realize that they behave as they do because they can’t confront their fears. You can also try to make them realize that there are people out there that they can trust, people who won’t reject them or hurt them. Nothing beats the closeness of two close friends or two intimate lovers. Nothing can make up for true intimacy, a basic human need. Only once they realize that can they begin to heal.

Signs of an Avoidant Attachment Style

1. A tendency to avoid serious, exclusive, committed or long-term romantic relationships
2. A tendency to avoid real intimacy
3. A tendency to prefer casual sex to sex in a committed relationship
4. Difficulties trusting others
5. Difficulties sharing feelings with others.
6. A tendency not to show any anxiety or distress when a relationship ends.
7. Compulsive self-reliance
8. Hyper-sensitivity to criticism
9. Highly critical of others
10. Perfectionism and over-achievement
11. Controlling behavior
12. Demanding of others
13. May secretly suffer from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or other mood disorders
14. An unstable childhood
15. A deep need for alone time
16. Often secret introverts (may be pretending to be extroverts)
17. Won’t share their inner life with anyone, not even “close” friends
18. Difficulties committing to just about anything
19. Pretending to be happy (or neutral) all the time
20. Strong fear of rejections


Dr. Brit and Catherine

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