Fearful avoidant attachment style is one of the four main attachment styles first proposed by psychologist John Bowlby. Those with a fearful avoidant attachment tend to both desire close relationships and feel uncomfortable with intimacy at the same time. This conflicting dynamic can lead fearful avoidants to often feel emotionally trapped or stuck in their close personal relationships.
What is a fearful avoidant attachment style?
Fearful avoidant attachment is characterized by a desire for intimacy coupled with feelings of distrust or fear of getting too close to others. People with this attachment style both yearn for connection and feel uncomfortable when someone gets too close.
As children, fearful avoidants likely did not receive consistent warmth and care from their primary caregivers. They may have been rejected at times when seeking comfort or affection. As a result, as adults they struggle to reconcile their deep craving for close relationships with their distrust of others based on past negative experiences.
Why do fearful avoidants have trouble getting close?
There are several key reasons why fearful avoidants tend to feel trapped in close relationships:
- Fear of rejection – They are sensitive to rejection due to inconsistent childhood caregiving. They may pull away to avoid potential rejection.
- Discomfort with vulnerability – Opening up feels risky and scary due to past hurt. Vulnerability requires trust they struggle with.
- Negative perception of others – Past experiences can skew their view of others as unreliable or unresponsive to their needs.
- Self-protection – They may keep one foot out the door to protect themselves emotionally.
- Fear of engulfment – Too much intimacy too fast can feel engulfing, causing them to withdraw.
How do fearful avoidants behave in relationships?
The conflicting desires of fearful avoidants commonly lead to a push-pull pattern in their close relationships. Some key behaviors include:
- Mixed signals – Alternating between wanting closeness and needing distance.
- Running hot and cold – Pulling away after periods of intimacy, then re-engaging later.
- Withdrawal – Pulling away emotionally or physically when feeling vulnerable.
- Sabotage – Picking fights or finding faults as an excuse to create distance.
- Poor communication – Struggling to articulate their needs or afraid to rock the boat.
Why do fearful avoidants feel trapped in relationships?
Here are some key reasons fearful avoidants may feel emotionally trapped or stuck even once in a committed relationship:
- Loss of independence – Too much closeness or intimacy can make them miss their autonomy.
- Longing for space – Needing distance and feeling guilty for wanting it.
- Craving alone time – Recharging emotionally requires solitude they can’t always get.
- Feeling pressured – Their partner may desire more intimacy than they feel comfortable with.
- Afraid to express needs – They feel unable to articulate a desire for boundaries or space.
- Trouble setting boundaries – Struggle to identify and communicate their limits around closeness.
How can a fearful avoidant find relief when feeling trapped?
If a fearful avoidant feels emotionally trapped, here are some healthy coping strategies they can utilize:
- Communicate need for space – Be upfront about needing alone time to recharge.
- Identify triggers – Increase self-awareness around situations that trigger a feeling of being trapped.
- Set boundaries – Start small by identifying one or two intimacy limits to set.
- Self-soothe – Use calming techniques when feelings are intense.
- Compromise – Negotiate a compromise on closeness vs. space with partner.
- Get support – Lean on trusted friends/family to validate feelings.
- See a therapist – Work with an attachment-focused counselor.
Learning to identify and express needs around boundaries and space can help bring relief when emotions feel overwhelming. Partners can also learn to make adjustments to help the fearful avoidant feel less trapped.
What approaches help partners of fearful avoidants?
Here are some tips for a partner of a fearful avoidant to help ease their feeling emotionally trapped:
- Give them space – Don’t take their need for alone time personally.
- Reassure them – Offer words of affirmation when they pull back.
- Adjust expectations – Compromise on closeness to balance both your needs.
- Be patient – Allow them to set the pace and take baby steps.
- Validate them – Acknowledge when they express vulnerable feelings.
- Reduce pressure – Don’t demand explanations for their withdrawal.
Making a fearful avoidant feel emotionally safe reduces the likelihood they will feel trapped. Moving slowly, adjusting expectations, and offering reassurance during their withdrawal can help.
When is professional help warranted?
If the dynamics of a relationship with a fearful avoidant become unmanageable, seeking help from a therapist may be beneficial. Signs it’s time to seek counseling include:
- Extreme emotional swings and withdrawal
- Inability to identify or communicate needs
- Sabotaging the relationship
- Constant feelings of being trapped
- Severe anxiety around intimacy
- Discussions regularly end in fights
A therapist can help give tools to better manage emotional reactions, identify triggers, improve communication, and set healthy boundaries. They can also help both partners understand each other’s needs better.
In summary, fearful avoidants often feel trapped in relationships due to fear of losing independence, difficulty setting boundaries, and discomfort being vulnerable. Learning to identify triggers, improve communication of needs, and making compromises around intimacy can help provide relief. With understanding from their partner and professional support if warranted, fearful avoidants can find ways to ease feelings of being emotionally trapped.