As of writing this post, I have received almost 100 personal questions from people on this subject and in total, I’ve written back and forth with different people to add up to 100 pages of writing.
It’s the #1 most popular article on this site and you can read the original here.
It doesn’t seem like the questions are slowing down.
Because of this, I wanted to write a FAQ for the avoider mentality – things I see people are really having problems with and that keep coming up in questions.
I’ll also give a list of resources at the end with useful books that I found helped me, and keep helping me deal with my own avoider issues.
So here we go:
1. What exactly IS the avoider mentality or avoidant attachment?
The term avoider comes from attachment theory, which divides how you and I form relationships with other people into four categories:
Note that while people are usually a blend of the categories, but they primarily fall into one. You can take online tests (such as this one here) to find out what percentage or spectrum amount you are of each type.
Image Source: BM Blog
Those that are anxious in nature are very stressed out in relationships. They need constant re-assurance, validation, and always feel like things are going haywire. They interpret everything their partners or others do as possibly having hidden meanings and that they might leave them. They try to control relationships so that nothing goes wrong. Women are more likely to be anxious types compared to men.
Avoidant types (where the avoider mentality really originates from), are those that are very independent and get easily feel suffocated by others. While they do want intimacy, it also freaks them out as they prefer solitude and privacy. Sharing deeper emotions doesn’t come naturally, and they prefer to be a bit secretive. They are afraid of commitment and closeness. Men are more likely to be avoidant types than women.
Anxious-avoidant people combine the worst of both groups, creating a neurotic mess. They are anxious when people aren’t around, but when they do come through, they get scared as to the level of intimacy provided.
Stable individuals are OK with giving people space (they don’t get anxious) and are also OK being alone, without any partners. However, they are “one with”, accept, and love intimacy and closeness with others. They don’t deny their needs for it. They enjoy sharing moments and emotions with other people.
Image Source: Lifespan Development
Mark Manson has a great article which goes more into attachment theory, which you can read here. You can also check out this video:
The avoider mentality is a blanket term describing those with an avoidant attachment style, who:
- Simultaneously do desire intimacy (deep down), but have trouble admitting it, or enjoying intimate moments – they become VERY uncomfortable.
- Have a history of being let down when it comes to intimacy (absent parents, abuse, bullying, etc.) having trouble getting their needs met as children, so they learned to try and meet their needs only with themselves or by being alone.
- Have problems trusting others.
- Rationalize their way out of wanting intimacy and spending time with others, finding reasons like wanting to work long hours, not being able to find suitable partners, etc.
- Have great difficulty entering into deeper emotional conversations.
- Have great difficulty with conflict and handling conversations in relationships.
- Pull away when their partners or friends try to find out more about them.
- Would be described by those that know them as “secretive”.
2. Can two avoiders be and stay in a relationship together?
If two people are aware that they have avoidant tendencies but would like to still be together, of course they can! But some conditions must be met.
Here is a response I wrote to a question in the original post, taking an example from one of my past relationships:
“…two avoiders can definitely maintain a relationship IF they acknowledge that they are both avoiders to each other, are self-aware of their emotions, and keep open communication.
For example: My last serious relationship was with a girl who had abandonment issues/was also kind of avoidant. Because she told me this early on (with a bit of coaxing on my part), I was able to understand what motivated her to do certain things. While I didn’t talk too much about actually being avoidant, I talked about my issues with workaholism, low self-esteem, thinking I was never good enough etc… and she reacted by making sure to speak my primary love language (compliments) a lot, so I always felt loved and wanted to give back.
In this sense we were both avoiders, but able to support each other. This was also the case when we outright said we needed space to think things through or had important stuff to do – It wasn’t the other person’s fault/something they did, we just wanted some alone time. And then we came back happier than ever.
So it’s quite possible, it just takes a great deal of trust, maturity, intimacy, and honesty (admitting our own emotional faults/deficiencies).”
If two adults are emotionally aware enough that they know their own defences, e.g., always pulling away when someone wants more intimacy, and are willing to drop their egos and admit they need some help and also GENUINELY DESIRE TO CONNECT DEEPER, there is no reason avoidant types can’t form relationships together and grow.
If luck prevails, the two people crack the hard shells of each other, and both feel safe slowly opening up, and they will each become more and more stable as they enjoy moments of intimacy.
In this type of relationship though, someone (perhaps each partner in successive turns) is probably going to have to take the lead in sharing intimate details and moments, and there’s going to be a lot of patience required.
3. If someone keeps pulling away from me, but we used to be close, does that mean that they are an avoider or love avoidant?
I get many questions from people who were hyper-concerned when their partner started pulling away after they had 2 months of bliss, or after a specific event. They wondered if they were avoiders and wanted a fix.
There are MANY reasons why someone might pull away for a bit:
- Maybe they are really stressed at work or focusing on a project.
- Maybe they just need a bit of space.
- Maybe, after the honeymoon period (2-4 months), you guys are reaching a more normal amount of intimacy and things are cooling off a bit.
- Maybe YOU yourself have an anxious attachment style where you need far more validation and re-assurance than the other person, and are a bit paranoid of them pulling away.
Again, while it takes an open person who is willing to drop their ego on this matter, going to talk to the person is the best way to figure out this issue. Maybe they aren’t aware that they are pulling away. Maybe they don’t notice.
Communication solves almost EVERYTHING in relationships – otherwise issues will bubble up in passive-aggressive methods which just eat away at people and take so much energy. Why not directly face the situation head on vs. making the person think that you are mad at them so that they might notice so that maybe you can talk and maybe get to the situation that might be uncomfortable that might be better just to hint at by not making their lunch every day.
I’m already exhausted.
Why be passive-aggressive? Because it’s easier than facing the situation head on that might make things very uncomfortable or hurt someone’s feelings.
But this communication, even though uncomfortable, will lead to much happier times and closeness. So speaking of which…
4. How do I communicate this to my partner? How do I talk to them? How do I get them to stop doing something?
Many avoiders are scared of or are not the best at communicating emotions or problems.
They are afraid of being abandoned when people are angry at them.
They are afraid of conflict.
They are afraid of being shamed.
Yet, in SO many of the questions I’ve gotten, the solution is always open and honest communication with the other’s partner.
So, you might ask, how do I communicate properly?
First, don’t expect that just because you ask for something that you’ll get it. Relationships are about compromise. Relationships end when one person can’t give what the other wants, or when two people can’t reach a compromise. Sometimes you have to be willing to drop your expectations (e.g. someone calling you 3 times a day) for the bigger picture (being with the person), and sometimes you might need an intermediary to determine if what you are asking for is outlandish.
Second, don’t expect people to bend to your will. While related to the idea of compromise, just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean what the person is doing is wrong. Maybe you’re just over-sensitive. Maybe you’re being too demanding.
You have to accept people as they are and for their flaws, assuming that they won’t ever change (there’s only so much you can ask for). More on that in point #5.
Third, the point is not to blame, and to take an objective view. When your partner or your friend starts “reprimanding you”, do you feel like you’re getting blamed? This means that they aren’t communicating properly or you aren’t taking their criticism in the right way.
Communication should be done and accepted without blame or shame. This takes time to practice and appreciate. E.g., if someone explains to you something, it’s not YOUR FAULT. The person has their own emotions and what you do affects them. IT DOESN’T MEAN YOU ARE BAD OR WRONG.
Communication, for a need or want, should be done in this form:
“I feel X when you do Y, and I’d like Z”
You are very clearly identifying the action (Y) that makes you feel a certain emotion (X), and are asking for some sort of resolution or fix (Z).
Hopefully you aren’t screaming your bloody head off when communicating this (though let’s be honest, sometimes our emotions get the best of us), but if done right, you should be able to have an open discussion.
Again, don’t expect that your partner will give you 100% of Z, but the point is to identify a problem before it becomes so big that it ruins the entire relationship.
How Do I Know If It’s Just Me, Or If I’m Being Over-Sensitive?
The best way I know for this is by asking someone who’s not involved or biased at all in the relationship. You could say your friend might be biased a bit but if they have your best interests in mind (e.g. healthy and happy relationships and a happy you), they’ll probably be honest if you are in the wrong.
And then it’s just experience. You learn what stuff is small and not worth getting into tuffles over – which are most things. Life’s short and we only get so many relationships – there’s no point usually in making them full of drama for no reason.
If you or your partner start drama for no reason, you’ve got bigger problems.
5. Can my partner or I ever change from being an avoider? What are the best ways to get over the avoider mentality?
While we can make changes over time and acute small changes, we should assume that our partners will always be the same. They will always have the same social ticks, insecurities, etc.
Does this counter the view of self-improvement? Perhaps – in that everyone can change. But what it means is that you shouldn’t stay in a relationship expecting that someone will change and get better. They can – but you shouldn’t be pressuring them (either directly or passive-aggressively) to change for you – they should change on their own pace and for them.
So – assume they will always be the same, and either, as Dr. Robert Glover says, love them as they are or leave them out of love.
But what if it comes from a purely unselfish place? We are fine with them as they are, but want to help them improve – and to push through their avoider issues. We want to show them that things are OK, we are safe people, and that they can open up.
Emotional issues are PAINFUL and take A LONG time to work through. The person must want to push through and work through the issues themselves (and they have to admit and accept they have the issues – a matter of ego and pride being dropped to say that they might be wrong or need help), but here are some things you or your partner can do to work through the avoider mentality:
- Pursue either solo or couples therapy.
- Offer constant support if they are dealing with issues – showing them that you are or that they are safe people.
- Avoiders are usually solitary and do not talk about their emotional issues, no matter how small. They are also very out of touch with their emotions. It’s an entirely different topic that could be covered in a book, but avoiders need to begin to get in touch with themselves, as by doing this, they will in turn be able to express themselves better. That means expressing their thoughts and opinions about EVERYTHING (TV shows, people, what happened at work…) honestly and openly. They’ll probably emotionally vomit everything at first, but overdoing it is better than underdoing it at the start – they can correct course better later on.
While there are MANY different points I could cover, every person has such a different psychological make up that I could never offer a personalized approach for everyone in an entire blog post. But, I felt like these were the most frequently asked questions, and these tips should really help you move forward.
Books That Really Help With The Avoider Mentality
There’s almost no better medicine for the avoider mentality than open and understanding people – friends, family, and a good therapist. Empathetic people who listen and support you destroy shame and allow you to feel the intimacy you desire so much.
However, here are some of the books that I found instrumental in my growth in getting to the point where I could actually open up to those people, and how they can help you too. Click the titles of the books to read more about them:
Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
Vulnerability is MASSIVE courage, sharing yourself and your opinions openly takes a great amount of strength, and shame cannot survive if we bring it out into the light. Do any of these things sound interesting to you? They should, and Brown’s book explains our culture of shame and how to get rid of it.
Models by Mark Manson
Mostly for men, but covers why women will NEVER make you happy, how relationships bring out your emotional issues, and how the best way to improve your dating life and all relationships is by improving yourself, FOR YOURSELF. Formed the cornerstone of my dating beliefs and can really help guys who are too obsessed with the validation they get from women (and perhaps why they either shut down or emotionally vomit, leaving 500 messages after a first date).
No More Mr. Nice Guy by Dr. Robert Glover
If you have problems expressing yourself or getting in touch with your emotions, you need to read this book. Practical exercises will help you move forward, and also help you with work, women, and more. One of the books that changed my life, and caused a quarter-life crisis (in a good way). Great for couples to read together too if either of you feels that the man in the relationship has emotional issues.
When I Say No I Feel Guilty by Dr. Manuel J. Smith
A practical book on dealing with criticism. Many avoiders shut down when “attacked” or rebuked. Along with proper communication, learning to deal with criticism in a healthy way will go a long way in to making you a happier person.
Journey From Heartbreak To Connection by Susan Anderson
Not really available anymore (there’s a new version called The Journey from Abandonment to Healing which supposedly isn’t as detailed, but still excellent), but contains exercises to really get you in touch with your deeper, childlike emotions and possible trauma. It’s LONG. If you cannot pursue therapy, consider this, or consider doing it alongside therapy.
Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle
The most recommended book that talks about being in the present moment. Very repetitive, but good for cementing one of the fundamental building blocks of being peaceful. Also, introduces the concept of the thinking and observing minds (see Mastery Of The Mind for more on this), which is essential to get over those voices in your head telling you to run away from your partner.
A Guide To The Good Life by William B. Irvine
Introduces the philosophy of stoicism. In short, you’ll learn tools and habits that make you a happier person (gratitudes, focusing only on what you can control,…) by reading this book and in turn, be able to be a better person in your relationship.
As A Man Thinketh by James Allen
Again, a staple in understanding mental energy theory (another topic discussed in Mastery Of The Mind) – the energy you give to your thoughts determines your entire world view and life. You must be careful to ignore the bullshit, and only listen to the good, at least as much as you can.
I wrote this article because I wanted to provide more feedback on the avoider mentality for you. Relationships and connection are why we are here, and to not have any of that is a waste.
How Can I Use This Information To Help Myself Or Someone I Know?
I created a free checklist that you can use to quickly see how much you or someone you are thinking of is affected by the avoider mentality.
The checklist contains the 9 most common traits to look out for.
Enter your e-mail below to download the free checklist: