Fearful Avoidant Attachment… What Is It?

The information in this article is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content contained in this article is for general information purposes only and does not replace a consultation with your own doctor/health professional

Attachment plays a huge role in our lives as it influences the way that we interact, bond, and relate to other people. However, as people vary in life experiences, attachment styles can vary as well. In this article, we will focus on the fearful avoidant attachment style, which is understood as the most disorganized attachment style.

What Are Attachment Styles?

An attachment style refers to the way that a person is attached to another person in their life, be it a caregiver or romantic partner. Their specific style influences the way that they interact with the other person and impacts their individual needs in the relationship (Cherry 2019). It is thought that your attachment style is formed in early childhood and can have a massive impact on the trajectory of your relationships. There are four identified attachment styles:

  • Secure (Autonomous): Secure attachments are characterized by stability. People with this style tend to manage their emotions well and are loving to their partner without overwhelming or abandoning them.   
  • Anxious (Preoccupied): Anxious attachments are characterized by a high need for closeness. People with this style tend to fear abandonment and need a lot of reassurance. 
  • Avoidant (Dismissive): People with an avoidant attachment have a higher need for independence. They may find it hard to commit and have a difficult time trusting in others. 
  • Fearful Avoidant (Disorganized): While we will discuss this specific style in more depth later, in a nutshell, people with this attachment style typically want relationships, but are afraid of becoming too close. Because of this, they may leave their partner when they feel that they are getting too close.

(Sources: Levy 2017, and Holland 2019)

In general, the criteria for establishing an attachment style relates to several factors including the need to be close to loved ones, feelings of comfort and security when with that person, and the separation anxiety when they are not around (Cherry 2019).

What Is a Fearful Avoidant Attachment Style?

People with fearful avoidant attachment styles tend to have conflicting emotions. On one hand they want a loving and fulfilling relationship, but struggle with their defense mechanisms which prevent them from doing so (Holland 2019). Signs of this can be seen in childhood as children with this attachment style tend to avoid strangers and may feel indifferent to their parents presence; children with a secure attachment style may run to a parent after spending time away from them whereas the fearful avoidant will not (Holland 2019). Because of this attachment style, people with it may have unstable and complicated relationships.

How Is It Developed?

Attachment styles in general are thought to be developed in early childhood and are based on parental relationships (Cherry 2019). It is thought that those with secure attachment styles will have close, warm, and loving parental relationships in early childhood whereas other attachment styles will manifest if there are problems. In fearful avoidant, it is typically thought that there is a chaotic relationship between parent and child (Buescher 2021). The child may feel that their parent is not reliable or in some cases, a danger to them. As a defense mechanism, they may be suspicious and avoid them. Later on in life, this dynamic can come out to play in romantic relationships and friendships. The fearful avoidant partner may desire the closeness to another person, but prior events make it hard for them to form that connection (Buescher 2021). 

How Does It Affect Relationships?

Relationships with people with a fearful avoidant attachment style can be chaotic (Levy 2017). They may have difficulties controlling their emotions and can come across as argumentative. They also can be distant from their partner when they are distressed; meaning that they won’t comfort them (Holland 2019). Because of how little they are invested in relationships, break-ups often mean little to them. People with the attachment style may avoid intimacy at all costs, yet enjoy casual sexual activity or fantasize about other people despite being in a relationship (Holland 2019). On the inside, they can be very conflicted by their feelings as their wants are incompatible with each other. All these can come together making it very difficult for the fearful avoidant person to develop a fulfilling relationship.

Getting Help

Talking with the right mental health professional can be greatly beneficial for someone with a fearful avoidant attachment style. As the attachment style is built on insecurity and comes with a great deal of emotional instability, finding the right person to help work through these feelings and build healthy attitudes and coping mechanisms will be hugely beneficial (Holland 2019). Partners of people with this attachment style can also benefit from therapy to learn how to navigate their partner’s attachment style and also manage their own emotions.

While attachment comes in many different forms, having a fearful avoidant style can lead to many unresolved feelings that manifest in relationships. At the end of the day, getting in touch with the right mental health professional will go a long ways in understanding yourself and getting on track to a better life. What have you learned on this topic? What is something else we should know? Are there any areas you’re still confused about? Let us know your thoughts on this topic in the comments below!


  • Buescher, L. (2021, June 7). Fearful Avoidant Attachment – How it Develops in Childhood. Attachment Project. www.attachmentproject.com/blog/fearful-avoidant-attachment-in-childhood/
  • Cherry, K. (2019, October 18). What You Should Know About Attachment Styles. Verywell Mind. www.verywellmind.com/attachment-styles-2795344
  • Firestone, L., PhD. (2019, March 14). How Your Attachment Style Impacts Your Relationship. PsychAlive. www.psychalive.org/how-your-attachment-style-impacts-your-relationship/
  • Holland, K. (2019, December 11). How Fearful Avoidant Attachment Affects Relationships. Healthline. www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/fearful-avoidant-attachment
  • Levy, T. (2017, May 27). Four styles of adult attachment. Evergreen Psychotherapy Center. www.evergreenpsychotherapycenter.com/styles-adult-attachment/
  • Personal Development School – Thais Gibson. (2019, November 11). Intimacy, Sex & the Fearful Avoidant Attachment Style | Thais Gibson – Personal Development School [Video]. YouTube. www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbboNR5_9Tg

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