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Insecure Attachment: The Surprising Similarities of Anxious and Avoidant Attachment Styles

Attachment Theory, developed by John Bowlby and expanded upon by Mary Ainsworth, has given so many of us the tools to understand how we form emotional bonds and attachments in our relationships. From our earliest days, we are seeking connection, safety, love, and to have our physical needs met. Depending on how those needs were received by our primary caregivers leads to how we formed attachments.

If you had caregivers who met your physical and emotional needs most of the time, you likely formed a secure attachment. If you didn’t, in varying degrees, you were left with an insecure attachment. Based on those different levels of neglect and abandonment, insecure attachment is broken up into three different attachment styles: avoidant, anxious, and disorganized.

Far too often, people assume that anxious and avoidant attachment are polar opposites (with disorganized attachment falling in between). However, you’ll soon see that these two attachment styles are two sides of the same coin. While they have many differences, their similarities are vast.

A Closer Look at Avoidant and Anxious Attachment Styles

Someone who is anxiously attached:

Feels like the ball will drop when it comes to connection

Fears being left or abandoned because they likely received inconsistent love from a caregiver

Struggles with self-regulation from not being soothed enough as a child

Needs extra reassurance in a relationship

Does best with a responsive partner that they can be close to

Meanwhile, someone who has avoidant attachment patterns:

Likes to maintain and value their independence

Struggles to be emotionally intimate

Prioritizes self-sufficiency

Avoids getting too close to others

Seems emotionally distant and unavailable

Often, doesn’t rely on others for help

Struggles with commitment

The Similarities of Anxious and Avoidant Attachment

Most people assume that anxiously attached people don’t have avoidant patterns, but that’s definitely not true. These two attachment styles are less of opposites and more on a spectrum. In relationships with each other, they are often attracted to the things that are so different from themselves. An avoidant person might like the emotional freedom of the anxiously attached person, while the anxious person is intrigued by the independence of the avoidant.

So, how are these two seemingly different patterns similar?

They both fear vulnerability. Anxious people fear being abandoned and rejected, while avoidant people fear losing their independence and being abandoned. For both, though, they avoid being their “real selves” because they don’t think it will be received well.

They both struggle in romantic relationships. While their attachment patterns and behaviors are different, both attachment styles struggle in their romantic relationships. The anxiously attached tend to push partners away due to their constant need for reassurance, while avoidant people distance themselves from building emotional connections. For both, unhealthy relationship cycles tend to exist leaving their abandonment wounds on high alert.

They both lack the ability to communicate their needs. Due to their upbringing, both styles tend to struggle with communicating their emotional and sometimes physical needs. Oftentimes, an anxiously attached person is more focused on meeting the needs of the other person, completely abandoning their own. While someone with an avoidant attachment style leans toward meeting their own needs independently.

They both struggle with self-confidence. Anxiously attached people see themselves as needy, clingy, or too much, while someone with an avoidant attachment sees themselves as distant, hard, and selfish. This naturally breeds self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness.

They both can become trapped in their relationship patterns. While they both desire connection in relationships, they both seek out partners that activate their core wounds and attachment patterns. Someone with an anxious attachment often seeks relationships that tap into their fear of abandonment, while avoidantly attached people tend to be in relationships that keep them emotionally distant.

That is, of course, until they get caught up in the anxious-avoidant dance.

When the Anxiously and Avoidantly Attached Connect

As you can see, these two always seem like oil and vinegar, but tend to be drawn together due to the age-old truth, opposites attract. One of the main reasons they find themselves attracted to one another is because the anxious person loves how independent and stable the avoidant person appears, while the avoidant person loves how lively and open the anxious person seems.

You’ll find that they are attracted to the lost parts of themselves. An avoidant person wants to be more independent and stable and the avoidant person wants to be more emotionally connected and welcoming.

However, when these two attachment styles find themselves in a relationship, things tend to blow up. You can click here to learn more about the anxious-avoidant dance (or trap) and see why.

Anxious and Avoidant Attachment Styles in Therapy

In a relationship, 9 times out of 10 you’ll see the partner with anxious attachment seek help first. They are the first ones to sign up for therapy and drag their partner in to do the work. Anxiously attached people are terrified of abandonment, so they want to “fix” their avoidant partner. They assume that if they can just get their partner to face their inner world, they will be more connected in their relationship.

However, what the anxiously attached person doesn’t realize is how much work they will also need to do to heal their attachment wounds and patterns. And, the work of an avoidant and an anxious person are the same.

You will both have to face your abandonment which and—working through what comes up when your partner is unwilling to show up. The healing begins in letting go of the need to “fix,” “control,” or “change” and being with what comes up when you surrender that and can be with what your partner is bringing up inside of you—all tracing back to earlier experiences.

And yes, anxious people are likely to avoid their abandonment wound just like the avoidant. Be honest, who really wants to face their suffering? And that wound, specifically, can be pretty tough. It’s the holding and support that one can get in that wound that can help to heal it.

We see it all the time, though. In an attempt to subconsciously avoid dealing with their abandonment wound, anxiously attached people double down on getting their avoidant partner to do the work. It’s a beautiful thing when two people are willing to do the work together—it’s the ultimate goal of a relationship that evolves.

Unfortunately, though, sometimes it’s just not possible. They miss how similar they really are and the difference becomes too heavy. The oil and vinegar separate despite their best efforts, and can either do the work needed to move to security or continue in their relationship patterns that lead to unhealthy, unfulfilling relationships.

Remember, healing is a personal choice—and we always have the power to be courageous and brave, and face our wounds with the right support to grow, no matter what.

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