The two types of insecure attachment style are also known as “anxious” and “avoidant.” The avoidant attachment style is a kind of deactivation of the attachment system. People with an avoidant attachment style tend to avoid close romantic relationships and close friendships. They have difficulties with intimacy and closeness and are more likely to engage in casual sex than to have sex in a monogamous relationship. They have difficulties trusting others and cannot share their feelings with friends or partners because most of their emotions aren’t felt.
People with an avoidant attachment style do not seek to change the past and do not genuinely hope that they can one day create a secure relationship to another person who genuinely cares about them. Their childhood has shown them that these relationships or friendships do not exist. As they cannot invest their emotions in relationships or friendships, they do not experience distress when a relationship or friendship ends. They often avoid intimacy by using excuses (“I am too busy at work”). They are compulsively self-reliant and hyper-sensitive to criticism but are at the same time highly critical of others. They tend to be overachievers and feel stable only if they are completely self-reliant and in control of everything that happens. They will let only those people who they can completely control and who they can be extremely demanding of come near them emotionally. They also have a tendency toward avoidant depression and anxiety.
The underlying cause of an avoidant attachment style typically lies in the individual’s childhood, as the young brain is most vulnerable to imprinting. Avoidance can be caused by childhood abandonment, unpredictable parental behavior, unrealistic parent expectations, physical, verbal or emotional abuse. These behaviors teach the child that her environment is not a safe place and that the people she encounters cannot be trusted.
In a healthy environment a bonding process occurs between a child and her caregiver during the first five to six years of the child’s life. The caregiver is in a position to recognize and satisfy the child’s emotional needs. As American psychologist Harry Harlow’s experiments in the 1950s demonstrated, the emotional connection with a caregiver is necessary in order for the child to learn that her world is a safe place that she can explore. Harry Harlow tested whether young rhesus monkeys would choose a surrogate mother made of soft terrycloth but who provided no food, or one made of wire but who provided food from an attached baby bottle. He found that the baby monkeys spent significantly more time with their cloth mother than with their wire mother. The baby monkeys would turn to their cloth mother for comfort and security and would use the cloth mother as a secure base to explore the room.