Dismissive avoidant attachment is a term for when someone tries to avoid emotional connection, attachment, and closeness to other people.
A person with dismissive avoidant attachment usually doesn't pursue romantic relationships, and may actively avoid them. A dismissive attachment style is the opposite of an anxious attachment style.
This article discusses how dismissive avoidant attachment relates to attachment theory as well as the signs and causes of this attachment style. It also explores strategies that may help if you have a dismissive avoidant attachment style.
The History of Attachment Theory
Attachment styles are based on attachment theory, which is an idea that breaks down the different ways that people connect with others into an assortment of attachment styles. It was invented by British psychologist John Bowlby, who believed that how we connect with others is based on our formative years in childhood.
Attachment theory is broken down into three distinct types of attachment:
- Secure: This attachment style is often considered the most functional for adult relationships. People who are securely attached to others are able to form close bonds and give their trust. They seek support from others, and share their feelings with them.
- Anxious: Those who have an anxious attachment style experience anxiety about their relationships with others. Anxious-attached people get very invested in their relationships, possibly to the point of codependence. This anxiety tends to worsen in stressful situations.
- Avoidant: People who have an avoidant attachment style try to not get close with others. They often avoid intimacy, and may have problems seeing themselves in a positive light, and seeing others that way.
From there, attachment theory can be broken down further into numerous substyles, such as anxious-insecure.
Dismissive avoidant attachment, which is commonly known as avoidant-dismissive insecure attachment style, is an attachment model in which a person tries not to rely on others or have others rely on them.
Let's look at how else you can tell someone has this attachment style.
Characteristics of Dismissive Avoidant Attachment
People who are dismissive-avoidant are generally very self-sufficient, says Silvi Saxena, MBA, MSW, LSW, CCTP, OSW-C. She tells Verywell that dismissive-avoidant behaviors can include "independence to an extreme, not asking for help, setting a lot of boundaries, withdrawing from their partner when getting too close."
Some of the signs of dismissive avoidant attachment include:
- Highly secretive: People who are dismissive-avoidant are often secretive and rigid, not allowing their own plans to be influenced by others and, often, not even disclosing those plans at all.
- Dismissive: When someone tries to get close to a person with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style, they may step back completely from the relationship or friendship. They may be seen as cold, distant, and closed off.
- Brief, casual relationships: In terms of relationships, those with dismissive-avoidant attachment are often more prone to short and shallow romantic partnerships, in which the connection is casual and is usually over quickly.
Short and casual relationships help the dismissive-avoidant person avoid any feelings of closeness toward others and don't offer others the opportunity to feel close to them.
What to Expect With Casual Dating
The Cause of Dismissive Avoidant Attachment
Because attachment theory is based on how we interacted with parents and caregivers in our youth, it makes sense that the causes of this attachment style can be traced back to young age.
Some factors that play a role in causing dismissive avoidant attachment include:
- Dismissive parenting: It's believed that dismissive-avoidant attachment occurs because a baby or small child doesn't get the attention or care they need from their parents or caregivers.
- Poor responsiveness: Because parents are dismissive, the infant or child learns that expressing their needs doesn't guarantee they will be taken care of.
- Unmet needs: When a child's needs aren't properly met by their caregivers, they may develop the sense that other people can't properly care for them.
While adult attachment styles are not always exactly the same as childhood attachment styles, research indicates that they are quite similar in many people.
Neglect, dismissiveness, and unmet needs can make someone, even a small child, feel like they have to be self-reliant to get what they need in life.
Impact of Dismissive Avoidant Attachment
Being independent, and teaching your children how to be independent, is important for survival. That said, though, having an avoidant-dismissive attachment style is not ideal for a person, and it may strongly impact both the avoider and those in their life.
If you or someone you know has an avoidant-dismissive attachment style, people's needs may go unmet.
You May Not Get Your Needs Met
For the avoider, Saxena tells Verywell Mind that being avoidant and dismissive can lead to not having your needs met. She says that "generally, as humans, we want to have a connection to others, and we all need to be taken care of at some point in life."
But because people with that attachment style have so much trouble reaching out to others, she says that dismissive avoidance "can make it hard to admit you need help and support, and [this can] leave you suffering in silence."
Your Loved Ones May Feel Neglected
Partners, friends, and family members of someone with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style also may not have their needs met in the relationship.
In regards to romantic relationships, Saxena says that a person "may feel neglected or disconnected from their partner often, which can feel really lonely in a relationship." She says that the avoider may feel safe in their behavior, which is how everyone wants to feel, but the person on the other side definitely may not.
In general, people feel safer when they feel connected to others. This isn't necessarily the case for someone with dismissive avoidant attachment; they might feel safer the more distance they create.
As you can imagine, creating distance between oneself and others can, in turn, make others feel less safe. This can create negative feelings about the relationship.
You Might Be Unable to Tolerate Conflict
People with a dismissive-avoidant style are not afraid of abandonment or the end of a relationship. When conflicts happen, a person with this attachment style often starts looking for the fastest way out of the relationship.
Cutting the relationship short prevents the individual from dealing with the distress of conflict and the fear that they will be rejected first. This strategy may prevent stress in the short term, but it makes it difficult to maintain lasting relationships and contributes to social isolation and loneliness in the long term.
How Bad Relationships Affect Your Health
How to Build a Healthier Attachment Style
If you have an avoidant dismissive attachment style, you might be perfectly happy in your independence. However, at some point, you may want a more serious romantic relationship, or you may want to have a deeper connection to your family members.
People with a dismissive avoidant attachment style can fall in love and have lasting romantic relationships. However, it requires being able to recognize your tendencies and take steps to develop healthier coping mechanisms.
When the desire to build stronger relationships comes to light, someone with a dismissive avoidant attachment might not know how to begin. Here's what you can do if you find that you want stronger connections with others.
Prioritize Honest Communication With Loved Ones
You can move forward in life without creating any changes, which is one option, of course.
In fact, Saxena says it's possible to have close relationships without changing yourself if this attachment style feels comfortable and good for you, but that it "requires a lot of work and communication to ensure expectations are being communicated and understood."
Challenge Your Habitual Responses
Once you recognize these tendencies in yourself, it is important to take steps to gradually challenge and change them. Instead of setting hard boundaries and saying no, make a conscious effort to say yes to things you might normally reject.
For example, if you normally refuse to show vulnerability, look for opportunities to share your feelings and thoughts with your partner instead of hiding them.
The practice of mindfulness—or learning to focus more fully on the present moment—may also help you become more aware of your behaviors and emotions. When you find yourself being dismissive, rejecting, or avoidant, stop and think about how you are feeling at that moment.
Instead of trying to push the emotions away, work toward labeling and accepting that they exist. This may help you become better at tolerating feelings of distress and less likely to turn away from your partner.
Reach Out to a Therapist
Another, and possibly more long-term viable, option is to seek counseling. You can utilize a therapist who specializes in relationships or one who is knowledgeable about attachment theory. Or you can simply speak to any therapist you feel comfortable with because all should have a basic understanding of attachment theory.
Before beginning therapy, it's helpful to think through your goals and to be settled in the fact that change is often uncomfortable.
Using a model such as the six stages of behavioral change can help you understand that shifting your attachment style will be a slow progression, but that you will be able to experience results.
How to Find a Therapist
A Word From Verywell
If you have a dismissive-avoidant attachment style, that doesn't mean you're flawed in any way. Rather, it means that your needs weren't met properly in childhood, which caused you to become very self-reliant.
Know that if you want to change your attachment style, you absolutely can, and deeper relationships and connections can be in your future.
Can You Change Your Personality?