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Reader Question #4: What advice do you have for me if I’m anxious-avoidant?

“Jodi”, asked us the following question:

After finding and reading your book this weekend, I, too, think of myself as an Anxious-Avoidant.  I write to you to suggest that maybe those of us with this rare attachment type are responding to the information provided in the book in droves because we feel that finally we fit into a category.  But honestly, I was hoping to find much more information on this type because telling us that we should read both the Anxious and Avoidant Attachment information and find what fits with us feels rather general, incomplete, and frustrating.

Any specific information tailored to the small sect would be wonderfully appreciated.

Our Response:

You raise an important point and we gave the matter a lot of thought when writing the book.  One of the reasons we didn’t focus on the fourth attachment style, sometimes called “fearful”/”fearful-avoidant” in our book, is that we based our work on research studies and much of the research focuses on 3 styles and not 4.  When Hazan and Shaver first discovered that attachment styles could be applied to adults, they only talked about 3 styles, it was only later that a fourth style was “discovered” and much of the research continued to address the first three.

We find it most helpful in many respects to make a distinction between two broad categories, secure and insecure. People with insecure attachment styles can be either anxious or avoidant or anxious-avoidant, but in a sense people with insecure attachment styles all have the same baseline starting point—they’re all very sensitive to attachment issues in the relationship and they’re not good at expressing their feelings and communicating. So the underlying sensitivity is the same but the strategy people who are avoidant or anxious use is diametrically opposed—anxious protest, while avoidants repress. In many ways it’s easier, therefore, to shift from anxious to avoidant than to secure because you’re not changing the underlying sensitivity, you’re just changing the strategy you choose to deal with it. Research does show that under severe stress people with avoidant attachment styles react in an anxious manner.

Since you use both strategies to deal with a sensitive attachment system if you have an anxious-avoidant style, it’s best to learn all you can about both the anxious and the avoidant styles. We give this suggestion not as an afterthought, but rather very intentionally — if you tend to deal with this sensitive system sometimes by suppressing and other times by protesting, you need to get a more in-depth understanding of both mechanisms and the chapters offer a great deal of breadth on both.

Questions from both categories, like: What kind of protest behavior do I use? Which deactivating strategies do I use? When do I use these? How do I communicate my needs? etc., are the key to reaching more security for the fourth style. You need to know both strategies to use the relationship inventory appropriately.

The best solution, in the long run, is to change the underlying attachment in such a way that it will be less sensitive — which means that you will have to do less suppressing and less protesting. You do so by becoming more secure.

Ideas presented throughout the book about how secure people navigate relationships, can help you do so, regardless of your style.  Specifically, priming security, or finding secure role models in your life, has been shown by research to be a very helpful and powerful tool.

“Jodi’s” response:

Thank you for the detailed reply!  You are probably very right about the fact that I should now focus my energy on becoming more secure rather than obsessing over how I already am.  I will definitely reread the chapters with a more open mind and heart.

Thank you again!

Thank you, “Jodi”, for the great question and for your open-mindedness!

No Comments » | Posted by Rachel Heller on 03.18.2011

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