Insecure Attachment: The Tale of an Avoidant Male

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Erin Snow LMFT

Jeremy says, “My friend set us up. I hadn’t been explicitly looking for someone, but the thought of a nice dinner out with a beautiful woman sounded appealing, so I went. She was more than beautiful, she was breathtaking, sitting there at the table waiting for me. I introduced myself, sat down, and started talking.”

If this was a movie, the story of Jeremy and his date would have a few twists and turns, but they would end up living happily ever after. Unfortunately, Jeremy’s story is not a movie; it’s real life, and it doesn’t end with hearts and rainbows. Because it never does for Jeremy.

Jeremy says:

It was the same story as it is with all of my relationships. We went on a few more dates, each one more adventurous and fun. The chemistry was undeniable. We spent most of our time together because the connection felt so real. After only four months, we moved in together, despite our friends and family telling us to slow down.

This is where the story starts to feel really familiar to me. In the days and weeks after we moved in together, I started to feel like I wanted more and more space. She wanted to have dinner together every night after work; it felt forced to me. She wanted to cuddle in bed every night; I felt suffocated. I started to point out her flaws in my mind. She was too needy, she expected me to be around all the time, she controlled our schedule, she was constantly asking questions.

I wanted to run from the pressure building up inside of me. But the more I pulled back, the more she drew close. She couldn’t understand why things had changed between us. And all I could say was, “I don’t know, they just have.” They always do. I thought this time was different, but there I was again.

On my way home from work one night, a notification popped up on my phone, reminding me of an old webcam site I used to go on before she and I met. I pulled over into a dark parking lot and clicked the link. Next thing I knew, I was high on the excitement of the beautiful women on my screen being sexual. That feeling of unfettered freedom and spontaneity was back. I was lit up with sexual adrenaline and nothing was stopping me.

I spent two hours in that parking lot before I crashed down hard from the fantasy into reality. The shame hit. Who does this? Why am I sitting in a parking lot masturbating to some fake woman while I have the woman I thought I dreamed of at home? Why can’t I sit in my skin and be present and grateful for what I have in her? Why do I run from every relationship?

This is the loop I’ve been caught in since I was in my young 20s. I can’t get out. I know I won’t be able to stop the betrayal that I’ve started in this relationship, and eventually she will find out and then she will be gone.

Attachment style is the single most widely researched relationship construct there is. It is studied from birth until death. Our attachment style begins to form in infancy and is relatively set by adolescence. And it defines how we relate and interact with those around us. This is the issue with Jeremy. He has what is known as an avoidant attachment style. He desires connection but runs when he gets it, and this is ruining one relationship after another.

Children with consistent, loving caregivers who are available and safe most often grow up with what is known as a secure attachment style, especially if there isn’t any other trauma. As both children and adults, they are able to engage in relationships with sound boundaries, open communication, and trust. They can love without feeling overwhelmed because, with or without this relationship, they know they will be OK.

Secure attachment is wonderful, but not everyone has it. In fact, most of us are insecurely attached, meaning our attachment style is anxious, avoidant, or disorganized (bouncing between anxious and avoidant).

As stated above, Jeremy is avoidant. He desires connection but feels smothered and uncomfortable when he gets it. Avoidants like Jeremy tend to throw themselves into “no strings attached” connections without problem. But when they are faced with expectations of deeper emotional intimacy, they struggle and withdraw. Often, they will either end a relationship for no good reason or sabotage the relationship and cause their partner to end it. One of the more common ways to sabotage is to act out sexually, as Jeremy does.

There are, however, better options. Instead of resorting to sexual acting out to escape feelings of enmeshment and suffocation, avoidants like Jeremy are encouraged he seek therapy to process and heal the underlying source of their attachment issues. With this, they can put their emotional reactions back where they belong.

Unsurprisingly, this is easier said than done. Our attachment styles are deeply engrained, and it takes both time and effort to “earn” a sense of security and safety in relationships. Still, this move toward secure attachment is not an impossible journey.

For avoidants, developing secure attachment involves acknowledging the emotional discomfort that arises when connections get too close and then communicating those feelings when they come up. At that point, the avoidant can ask to get his or her needs met with a bit of breathing room. At the same time, avoidants must do the work of uncovering and processing the early-life wounds that created their avoidant attachment style.

With this two-pronged approach, avoidants can show up for themselves and their partner in ways that express self-love, self-care, and healthy attachment. Their feelings of enmeshment will abate, and the true connection every person desires, regardless of their attachment style, becomes possible.

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