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Fearful Avoidant versus Dismissive Avoidant

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Published on:

Tue Feb 20 2024

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Last updated:

Tue Mar 19 2024

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The Personal Development School

Oh yes, the fearful avoidant vs dismissive avoidant debate.

We're sure you've heard this before, and that’s the focus of today’s blog.

As you know, there are four attachment styles, two of which are avoidant: dismissive and fearful.

Many assume that people with these avoidant attachment styles are the same. And while they share very similar traits, they are very different in terms of how these avoidants approach and engage in relationships.

We’re going to break down:

  • What is an insecure attachment style?
  • Developments of the fearful and dismissive attachment styles.
  • Fearful avoidant vs Dismissive avoidant: Similarities.
  • Fearful avoidant vs Dismissive avoidant: Differences
  • And how to have a relationship with either of them.

What is an Insecure Attachment Style?

An insecure attachment style refers to people who struggle to connect emotionally with others. They often appear scared, unpredictable, or aggressive towards their loved ones, family members, or friends because they fear the outcome, thoughts, and feelings of the connection.

It stems from their childhood, usually rooted in inconsistent love, affection, and support. When parents or caregivers do not provide their child or children with their basic physical and emotional safety needs, the child becomes insecurely attached.

Insecure attachment styles can be broken down into two categories: Anxiety and Avoidant. Each has its behaviors and patterns of behavior in relationships, but while anxiety has only one attachment style, there are two sub-types of the avoidant attachment style:

  • Dismissive avoidant
  • Fearful avoidant

Let’s look at how they are developed.

fearful avoidant v dismissive avoidant

Development of Fearful and Dismissive Attachment Styles

Fearful Avoidant

People with a fearful avoidant attachment style (sometimes referred to as a disorganized attachment style) develop it from a tumultuous household that may have been extremely chaotic or even abusive.

This environment teaches a child to crave emotional connection while instilling a sense of impending betrayal and, in many cases, feeling the need to work for love.

That's why, as adults, they can be seen as overgivers and go beyond with careers, relationships, and hobbies because they need to earn that love and connection they didn't get when they were younger.

At the same time, their emotions are erratic, making them "big feelers" that swing from "caring too much" to "shutting down."

Dismissive Avoidant

As for dismissive avoidants, they’re formed through emotional neglect, a lack of emotional attunement, or emotional enmeshment.

So, they develop an innate belief about the importance of self-reliance, which manifests as withdrawal and dependence on themselves rather than others.

As adults, it results in dismissive individuals "shutting down emotionally" and building a wall around themselves.

They can be seen as protective of themselves, cold, direct, blunt in communication, and sometimes distant. They also struggle with criticism due to a lack of constructive criticism when they're younger.

Now, let's take a deeper look into the fearful avoidant attachment vs dismissive avoidant debate by discussing the similarities.

Fearful Avoidant vs Dismissive Avoidant: Similarities

By both being part of the avoidant attachment styles, it makes sense that fearful and dismissive share similar traits. Let's take a look at them:

Avoiding Attachment Due to similar core wounds, both fearful and dismissive adopt an (no shocks here) avoidance strategy. They’re scared of being betrayed or hurt, so they avoid becoming attached to individuals. However, when they do get attached in a relationship, their boundaries are very different (learn more below).

Trust Issues Fearful and dismissive avoidants both have trust issues with core wounds of “I will be betrayed” and “I am unsafe”. So, they tend to take a long time to warm up to someone or even trust them. On top of that, their trust can be broken very easily.

Struggle to Commit Even once in a relationship, both avoidant attachment styles struggle to commit to the relationship, often believing their fears of trust, being betrayed, or losing their independence will come true. This also stems from the fact that their needs might not be met.

Desire To Be Alone The clear word is in the name: avoidant. Both fearful and dismissive avoidants want time alone (autonomy, independence, or freedom) to do their own thing and be their own person. It’s also a necessary period for them to recharge their batteries.

Now, let's look at the differences of the fearful avoidant vs dismissive avoidant debate.

Fearful Avoidant vs Dismissive Avoidant: Differences

Although there are many similarities between the two avoidant attachment styles, several key differences make them stand out from each other.

Characteristics Dismissive avoidants are highly logical, distant, emotionally guarded, and hesitant to commit to their relationships. In many ways, they seem “closed off” compared to fearful avoidants.

Fearful avoidants are usually very present with others, charming, likable, and generous in close relationships, but can also be hypervigilant when they suspect betrayal and suspicion.

Boundaries Dismissives tend to set extreme boundaries with partners, friends, and families to protect themselves. In many cases, they often set general boundaries that close off all communication rather than seek compromises.

On the other hand, fearful avoidants don't have boundaries in their close relationships. However, they will eventually become frustrated by feeling taken advantage of and may lash out at people they’re in a relationship with.

Coping Mechanisms The most common behavioral coping mechanism for dismissive avoidants is, by far, withdrawal. However, several other mechanisms exist, including stonewalling, ignoring, passive-aggression, and indulging in creature comforts (such as binge eating, TV, gaming, etc).

While fearful avoidants share some coping mechanisms with dismissives (including creature comforts and stonewalling), they display unique traits, including withdrawing to decompress, being spiteful or criticising, displaying emotional volatility with either fight, flight, freeze, or fawn reactions.

Communication Patterns For the dismissive avoidant attachment style, actions speak louder than words. So, when they feel overwhelmed, they will physically withdraw — perhaps by going out for a walk or exercise — rather than speaking about their feelings.

Fearful-avoidant value transparency and clarity, so they expect to be told the truth at all times. This is often rooted in their fear of betrayal, which can cause them to feel impatient and frustrated by a lack of honesty.

Expressing Emotions Dismissive avoidant individuals struggle with expressing their emotions, often downplaying their feelings, using emotional topics or humor to deflect deeper conversations.

Fearful avoidants swing back and forth between the desire for intimacy and the fear of rejection. They struggle to grasp their feelings and emotions, leading to inner turmoil in not understanding or expressing their feelings clearly.

Relationship Expectations Individuals with a dismissive avoidant attachment style have unrealistic expectations when it comes to relationships, including:

  • Needing their partner to give them space.
  • Conflict or compromises should not exist in a relationship.
  • Each partner should meet our own needs and then come together without too much investment.
  • Dismissive avoidant's level of independence shouldn’t change when in relationship.

For fearful avoidants, their unrealistic expectations include:

  • Nobody should ever break their trust.
  • Lying is always unacceptable.
  • The romantic partner should be as giving as they are.
  • The fearful avoidant should always feel wanted by their partner.

Fearful vs Dismissive Avoidants: Having Relationships

It can be challenging to have a relationship with either a fearful or dismissive avoidant due to their upbringing and issues around trust, intimacy, and commitment.

It can be even more challenging if you’re a dismissive or fearful avoidant who desires love and connection but can’t connect with anyone. At times, it might seem hopeless.

However, that doesn’t mean avoidants can’t foster a stronger, long-term, loving relationship.

It’s all about communication, overcoming fears and patterns, and changing the subconscious programming stopping them from forming these relationships.

How they’re programmed from childhood affects their ability to make changes in adulthood.

But if they go deep into the subconscious mind, they can uncover why they act the way you do, what triggers them, and how to overcome their patterns.

In this world, we call it “becoming securely attached”.

If you're a dismissive or fearful avoidant, and are interested in learning more, consider our “Fearful Avoidant to Securely Attached” and “Dismissive Avoidant to Securely Attached” programs.

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