Healing a fearful and avoidant attachment style may often feel unclear, or confusing. Yet despite the path not always being clear, healing is completely possible.
In this article, you will learn 6 therapy strategies to heal your avoidant, fearful, attachment style. This will enable you to have the relationships you truly want. This is true whether you are already in a relationship or if you’re single.
Healing Fearful Avoidant Attachment
Most basically, healing your attachment style is about finding balance.
When you heal your avoidant attachment style, you become securely attached. You are no longer avoidant in your relationships. Nor are you terrified of abandonment or rejection.
Relationships become a source of comfort, support and the freedom to be your authentic self.
Related: How to Be Your Authentic Self
Defining Secure Attachment
Securely attached people trust in their worth. They trust that there are many people in this world who will value them and want to be with them.
Securely attached people also trust others to be safe for them. They trust others will not hurt, betray, or suffocate them. The know that by being close to others they are actually freer to be themselves.
Securely attached people have an interdependent style of relating to others. This is the middle ground of caring for others and yourself. Feeling understood by someone and giving them empathy. Seeing another person with love and feeling seen.
In this middle ground, you can also have natural fears of closeness yet choose to act in a securely attached way. (This is a therapy concept called Wise Mind.)
Non-secure attachment often presents as too few – or too many – limits with others. This can look like codependency or an anxious attachment style. Or having walls which is a more avoidant way of interacting with others. Some people fall into one category or the other and others have a combination of anxious and avoidant attachment.
But in any situation, healing attachment styles is about finding the middle ground. The steps for doing this with avoidant attachment will now be discussed.
Healing Fearful Avoidant Attachment Step #1: Identify Your Core Avoidant Belief
If you have an avoidant attachment style, the first thing to know is that there is nothing wrong with you. You’re not a bad person but rather you have anxiety around relationships. (This is true despite it not being called “anxious attachment.”)
Your inclination is to avoid relationships because of a fear. There is a belief you carry about relationships that makes you want to avoid closeness or intimacy. The first step to healing is to get clear on this belief.
What’s Your Worst Fear if You’re Close to Someone?
All emotions have urges and the urge of fear is actually avoidance. We avoid something when it causes anxiety naturally.
Therefore, it’s important to explore what are you most afraid will happen if you are close to someone. This is your core avoidant belief. Some examples of these fears include:
- Are you afraid that you’ll be used or taken advantage of?
- Maybe you believe that someone will inevitably disappoint, hurt, or leave you? That divorce or cheating are inevitable in relationships?
- Perhaps you avoid intimacy because you are nervous someone else will suffocate you? Take away your freedom to do what you enjoy with your free time? Consume your life?
- Do you believe that someone else will just drag you down in time? Be dead weight?
Take time to really think about what core negative belief resonates with you most for why you avoid intimacy. This is the first necessary step to healing.
Healing Fearful Avoidant Attachment Step #2: Validate Why Your Belief Makes Sense
A common reaction to identifying a core negative belief is to automatically judge it.
You may automatically find yourself thinking that this belief isn’t logical, it doesn’t make sense, or is silly. (Or you may use harsher language with yourself).
Learning to be kinder to yourself is a necessary part of any healing process. Healing avoidant attachment is no different. To support yourself, it’s important to next validate why your core negative belief actually makes sense.
How to Validate Yourself
Validation is the process of saying that someone’s thoughts or feelings make sense given their personality or life experiences. It’s not saying you agree with them as objective fact but rather that it’s understandable someone feels this way given their history and life.
You can do this for yourself around your core negative belief around intimacy because the truth is it does make sense that you feel this way.
To support yourself in the act of validation, first you want to think about why it does make sense you carry your worst fear around relationships. To help with this you can use this journal prompt:
When I think about my core negative belief around relationships which is [insert your belief here] what memories come up for me?
What situations in my life made me believe that relationships would mean [insert your belief here]?
What other situations – maybe that I’ve seen with my friends, family, or on social media – reinforce my core negative belief about relationships?
Honor Your Experiences
When you take time to consider these journal prompts, hopefully it is clear that your core negative belief does make sense. It doesn’t need to be “logical” for it to make sense given your life experience.
For example, lets say your parents divorced when you were little so now you believe that divorce is inevitable. Given your experiences, and the pain around this, this belief makes sense! Of course you now avoid closeness.
Or maybe you watched your parents stay together but throughout your childhood your dad was financially and physically dependent on your mom because of his health issues? You may naturally then think that relationships just drain you rather than adding to your life.
Whatever you noticed in your journal exercise, please notice that your core negative belief comes from authentic place of pain and wounding. These traumas have influenced your perspective on relationships so you naturally avoid them now.
Healing Fearful Avoidant Attachment Step #3: Identify Why You Want to Heal
The next step to healing is to identify exactly why you want to heal. At first this may sound obvious but getting extra clear about this truly helps your healing process.
Getting clear on exactly why you want to heal helps for different reasons.
First, it helps build hope as to why you’re doing this healing work which at times may seem difficult or tedious. Next, getting clear on why you’re healing helps you move closer to the life you truly want outside of fear. You have to see what you want to create in your life to move in that direction. Finally, the last couples steps of healing require an ongoing commitment to change. Coming back to your why helps keep you on track.
If you want support in identifying exactly why you’re healing your attachment style, this visualization can help you gain extra clarity:
Healing Fearful Avoidant Attachment Step #4: What Do You Want to Believe Instead
In Step 2, you honored that you avoid relationships for a valid reason. Your avoidance likely stems to a valid fear of being hurt, used, etc. by a partner. These fears originated often from wounding experiences – or trauma.
And you can absolutely heal from this trauma. One highly effective trauma therapy is called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). EMDR is shown not only to effectively resolve trauma but to also reduce anxiety. And again, avoidant attachment has roots in anxiety.
Changing Your Beliefs
Much of EMDR is dedicated to changing your beliefs. You move from a fear-based perspective on something – in this case relationships – and move to something that’s more hopeful and true.
For this step, you simply need to ask yourself – or journal about:
What do I want to believe instead of [your personal core negative belief about relationships]?
You may, for instance, decide that you want to believe that relationships can add to your life rather than take away from your life. Or that there are trustworthy people – and partners – in the world. Or that plenty of marriages stay united and happy.
These are just a few examples to support you. Of course, you will want to find your own belief that is most aligned with what you want to believe and why you’re committed to healing.
Healing Fearful Avoidant Attachment Step #5: Look for Proof of Your New Belief
Human beings naturally think in a way that’s oriented to confirm our biases. This confirmation bias is the automatic thinking that occurs that helps you validate what you already believe – and discard information which contradicts this belief.
We all automatically look for “proof” for what we already believe. All of us naturally do this – and need to mindfully address this confirmation bias – to heal.
This means, up until now, you have looked to prove your core negative belief. And no judgment, again, we all naturally do this.
Shifting Your Perspective
Lets say you believe that all marriages end in divorce so marriage is pointless. You’ve looked at all the examples that “prove” this i.e. the fact that your parents and their parents divorced as well as your friends who have been married. Yet you also will discard what doesn’t fit this world view naturally. Therefore, you forget about the fact that your aunt and uncle are happily married or that there are celebrities you admire who have been married for many years.
Now, to heal your avoidant attachment, you’re going to look for the proof of your new belief instead. You will look for proof that marriages can add joy to people’s lives and last throughout a lifetime. You’ll look for proof of this in your personal life and in the media such as actively looking for couples who are married – and appear happy – after many years. You can even seek out TV shows or movies with such happy storylines.
This is a meaningful step towards healing because it shows you that while it’s understandable you have avoided relationships due to your core negative belief it’s also not based on objective fact.
Healing Fearful Avoidant Attachment Step #6: Lean In with Healthy Boundaries
Often people with an avoidant attachment style have boundaries which are too high or walled off. Therefore, your healing journey includes boundaries work. Learning how to protect yourself with healing boundaries rather than walls is a practice.
Healthy boundaries involve appropriate vulnerability. This means not saying too little about yourself or your life when in relationships which is the urge of the avoidant. Let yourself lean in to your relationships by sharing more about yourself.
Boundaries, when healthy, allow you to feel safe with others and feel safe for yourself which reduces anxiety. For lots of practice, support and guidance with this step, I highly encourage you to read my book, Setting Boundaries: 100 Ways to Protect Yourself, Strengthen Your Relationships and Build the Life You Want…Starting Now! (Therapy Within Reach).
Leaning In and Getting Closer
Letting down your walls includes remembering the value that others bring into your life and practicing gratitude of them. After all, this gratitude helps reduce your ability or willingness to cut people off or ghost them.
You may also build your sense of empathy for others which helps reduce this sense of them existing only to take away from you. Loving kindness meditations are incredibly helpful to build empathy.
You Can Heal Fearful Avoidant Attachment
Hopefully, after reading these steps to heal, it’s clear you absolutely can become securely attached. You truly can let go of the things that block you from the types of relationships you truly want outside of anxiety.
All that’s needed to heal is to follow this process step by step. Of course, you may read supplemental materials to help with each step – and this blog will help!
It’s encouraged you save this article to remind you of the steps as needed but truly, healing is completely possible!
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About The Author
Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist and author with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to find their voice, deepen their ability to self-love, and improve their relationships.
Her newest book, Setting Boundaries: 100 Ways to Protect Yourself, Strengthen Your Relationships and Build the Life You Want…Starting Now! (Therapy Within Reach), gives you the tools necessary to identify, set, and stay firm with your boundaries.
Her other books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many overcome people pleasing, self-neglect, and resentment to have a healthier relationship with themselves and others.
If you have any personal dating or relationship questions, Krystal is happy to provide advice using her expertise and compassion. If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave any questions in the comments of this post. Otherwise, you may send an email to email@example.com or DM her on Instagram. Your name and any other identifying information will always be kept confidential.