Anxious and avoidant attachment styles look like codependency in relationships. They characterize the feelings and behavior of pursuers and distances described in my blog, The Dance of Intimacy and book, Conquering Shame and Codependency. Each one is unconscious of their needs, which are expressed by the other. This is one reason for their mutual attraction. Pursuers with an anxious style are usually disinterested in someone available with a secure style. They usually attract someone who is avoidant. The anxiety of an insecure attachment is enlivening and familiar though it’s uncomfortable and makes them more anxious. It validates their abandonment fears about relationships and beliefs about not being enough, lovable, or securely loved. Distancers need someone pursuing them to sustain their emotional needs that they largely disown and which wouldn’t be met by another avoider. Unlike those securely attached, pursuers and distances aren’t skilled at resolving disagreements. They tend to become defensive and attack or withdraw, escalating conflict.
Without the chase, conflict, or compulsive behavior, both pursuers and distances begin to feel depressed and empty due to their painful early attachments.
Although most people don’t change their attachment style, you can alter yours to be more or less secure depending upon experiences and conscious effort. To change your style to be more secure, seek therapy as well as relationships with others who are capable of a secure attachment. If you have an anxious attachment style, you will feel more stable in a committed relationship with someone who has a secure attachment style. This helps you become more secure. Changing your attachment style and healing from codependency go hand-in-hand. Both involve the following:
- Heal your shame and raise your self-esteem. (See my books on shame and self-esteem.)This enables you to not take things personally.
- Learn to be assertive. See How to Speak Your Mind: Become Assertive and Set Limits.
- Learn to identify, honor, and assertively express your emotional needs.
- Risk being authentic and direct. Don’t play games or try to manipulate your partner’s interest.
- Practice acceptance of yourself and others to become less faultfinding – a tall order for codependents and distancers.
- Stop reacting. This can be a challenge, because our nervous system is used to reacting automatically. It often entails being able to identify your triggers, unhook the causes of them, and learning to self-soothe – all which is hard to do on your own. Listen to some Youtube exercises and read 10 tips on self-nurturing.
- learn to resolve conflict and compromise from a “we” perspective.
Pursuers need to become more responsible for themselves and distancers more responsible to their partners. The result is a more secure interdependent relationship, rather than a codependent relationship or solitude with a false sense of self-sufficiency.
Among singles, statistically, there are more avoiders, since people with a secure attachment are more likely to be in a relationship. Unlike avoiders, they’re not searching for an ideal, so when a relationship ends, they aren’t single too long. This increases the probability that daters who anxiously attach will date avoiders, reinforcing their negative spin on relationship outcomes. Moreover, anxious types tend to bond quickly and don’t take the time to assess whether their partner can or wants to meet their needs. They tend to see things they share in common with each new, idealized partner and overlook potential problems. In trying to make the relationship work, they suppress their needs, sending the wrong signals to their partner in the long run. All of this behavior makes attaching to an avoider more probable. When he or she withdraws, their anxiety is aroused, pursuers confuse their longing and anxiety for love rather than realizing it’s their partner’s unavailability that is the problem, not themselves or anything they did or could do in the future to change that. They hang in and try harder, instead of facing the truth and cutting their losses.
Particularly after leaving an unhappy codependent relationship, people fear that being dependent on someone will make them more dependent. That may be true in codependent relationships when there isn’t a secure attachment. However, in a secure relationship, healthy dependency allows you to be more interdependent. You have a safe and secure base from which to explore the world. This is also what gives toddlers the courage to individuate, express their true self, and become more autonomous.
Similarly, people in therapy often fear becoming dependent upon their therapist and leave when they begin to feel a little better. This is when their dependency fears arise and should be addressed – the same fears that keep them from having secure attachments in relationships and propels them to seek someone avoidant. In fact, good therapy provides a secure attachment to allow people to grow and become more autonomous, not less. Herein lays the paradox: We can be more independent when we’re dependent on someone else – provided it’s a secure attachment. This is another reason why it’s hard to change on your own or in an insecure relationship without outside support.
Suggested reading on attachment:
The many books by John Bowlby
Mikulincer and Shaver, Attachment Adulthood Structure, Dynamics, and Change (2007)
Levine and Heller, Attached (2010)
©Darlene Lancer 2014
Related Video: The Real Cause of Inner Emptiness and What To Do About It
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Written by Darlene Lancer JD, MFT
Originally appeared on WhatIsCodependency.com
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