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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Thursday Therapeutic Thought - Avoidant Attachment Style

We've covered Secure and Ambivalent attachment styles here and here. So now we're on week three, and the attachment style up for today's Thought is Avoidant Attachment.

We'll return to our Strange Situation in which an infant is left alone in a room with a stranger after the parent leaves. When the parent returns, the infant tends to avoid them altogether. If it's been a long period of absence, the avoidance becomes especially pronounced. They might not outright reject attention from a parent, but they don't seek it out (as most children would immediately seek comfort or contact from their parent after being left alone with a stranger). Children with this attachment amazingly show no preference between their parent and a complete stranger.

As adults, these children tend to have difficulty with intimacy and close relationships. They don't necessarily invest much emotion into relationships and experience little distress when a relationship comes to a conclusion. There has been a lot of research done on all the attachment styles, and it seems this style has the least to recommend it. Adults with this style are more accepting and likely to engage in casual sex (Feeney, Noller and Patty, 1993). They also fail to support partners during stressful times and have an inability to share feelings, thoughts and emotions with their partners (which in turn leads to relationships ending, as you can imagine).

Here's another breakdown, courtesy of

So now we'll move on to the self and other dimensions. People with Avoidant Attachment style have a positive self and negative other dimensions. In other words, they believe that they are worthy of love and are capable of getting the love and support they need, but that other people are either unwilling or incapable of loving them, untrustworthy, and unreliable when it comes to meeting their needs. They struggle with emotional connection, disclosure of private thoughts and feelings and nonsexual touch. They'd rather rely on themselves to meet their needs because they can't trust others to do so.

Contrary to the other attachment styles so far, this one is separated into three different types, and I'll list characteristics of each in bullets under each one. (All the following information was gleaned from the Attachments book by Clinton and Sibcy.)

1) Narcissist or Inflated Self (p. 68)
  • seeks excessive praise from others
  • tends to be arrogant or condescending and portrays inflated sense of self-worth
  • fantasizes about fame, fortune and power
  • very sensitive to criticism and can respond with intense anger
  • takes an "I'm-first-and-everyone-else-comes-later" attitude
  • manipulates others to achieve his or her own ends
  • envies others' success
  • associated with "special" people and engages in a lot of name-dropping
  • shows poor empathy for others
  • is externally focused, with a "you-are-what-you-have" attitude
2) Exiled or Disconnected Self (pp. 69-70)
  • extremely introverted and cut off from other people
  • looks inward to a world of fantasy to find pleasure and comfort
  • appears cold, distant and aloof to others
  • robed in self-sufficiency; any dependence on others for emotional support provokes anxiety, which leads to profound feelings of vulnerability
  • prefers inwardness and fantasy over emotional connection
  • little drive for external pleasures and derives little, if any, enjoyment from interacting with people
  • experience few intense emotions about anything, an emotional desert (but they like it this way, calm, cool and mellow)
  • doesn't seek acceptance and doesn't mind criticism
  • has little empathy for others
  • can't identify and label own emotional experience
  • under the surface is an inner longing for connectedness
3) The Compulsive Perfectionist (p. 71)
  • pays excessive attention to detail, order and organization
  • controls others, frequently using guilt
  • demands that self and others submit to rigid, moralistic rules with lots of dos and don'ts
  • has difficulty sharing; viewed as stingy with time, money and resources
  • is uncomfortable with emotions, very constricted
  • is uncomfortable with physical touch
  • has difficulty displaying affection toward others
  • tends to procrastinate because of such high standards for performance
  • is reluctant to delegate tasks because others are viewed as incompetent
Really, this attachment style is a goldmind for character development. Many of the characters we probably already love fit into one of the three types mentioned above. The flaws make for easy internal struggles, as well. None of the characteristics Clinton and Sibcy are insurmountable. Each attachment style has hope for change. So emply that in your novels!

Wordle: signature


Eileen Astels Watson said...

Oh, this is a gold mind! Thanks for sharing your wealth of psych knowledge, Jeannie!

Liana Brooks said...

The type 1 for this disorder sounds like most teenagers I know. And my sister.

Is it something people might phase through? Or have a life-phase where they exhibit this behavior but then outgrow it?

Jessica said...

Wow, very interesting.

Katie said...

This is a goldmine!! I need to bookmark this one!!

Jeannie Campbell said...

liana - usually not a phase. as with most any other type emotional stuff, the person can learn to overcome their tendencies...but these tendencies are pretty ingrained.

thanks, ladies. :)

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.