[2 of 5] 6 Signs of the Anxious-Avoidant Trap

©2019 by Briana MacWilliam Inc.

  • Briana MacWilliam

[2 of 5] 6 Signs of the Anxious-Avoidant Trap

Updated: May 31, 2019

Dearest Subscriber,

Have you ever thought...

"I know this relationship is unhealthy, but I cannot leave this person. Why am I so afraid of being alone? I mean, this is probably the best I could do...I just know there is so much potential here! Sometimes we are so good together; if only my partner would just get with the program and stop being so afraid of love, everything would be fine. I know if I stay strong and love them enough, they will come around. No one else could love them as unconditionally as I do.”

Or perhaps you've felt...

"I am attracted to my partner and I think I love them, but anytime we get close, I start to feel suffocated and like they are trying to control me. They start telling me they will be there for me no matter what, and it only makes me feel bored and/or lessens my attraction to them. I just need someone with an edge...a challenge. They really deserve someone better. Someone who can return that kind of selflessness. They’ll just end up disappointed. I’d be doing them a favor to bow out now. I just don't think I am cut out for relationships." Perhaps you have harbored both of these sentiments, to some degree, at one time or another.

These statements illustrate the two extreme ends of a spectrum of ambivalence, which in the context of an interpersonal, romantic relationship, we are defining as the anxious-avoidant trap.

In our first video, we explored some underlying dynamics of the anxious avoidant trap as a general introduction. If you missed it, you can still watch it here: https://youtu.be/i2Pf3U1W-ZQ

⭐Today, we will go over 6 signs of the anxious avoidant trap.

⭐On day 3, we will explore 4 Neurochemicals That Feed the Anxious-Avoidant Trap.

⭐On day 4, we will look at The Role of Fantasy and Avoidance in the Anxious-Avoidant Trap.

⭐And on day 5, we will look at 3 Ways Anxious And Avoidant Partners Push Each Other Away.

And so without any further adieu, let’s dive into 6 signs of the anxious avoidant trap… When couples disagree about the degree of closeness and intimacy desired in a relationship, the issue eventually threatens to dominate all aspects of their lives together. Research on attachment has repeatedly shown high levels of dissatisfaction and upset between individuals that have an avoidant attachment style and an anxious/ambivalent attachment style, specifically.

In their book, “Attached,” Heller and Levine (2010) call this situation "the anxious-avoidant trap," because like a trap, you fall into it with no awareness, and once you’re caught, it's nearly impossible to get out.

Here are 6 signs that you may be in an anxious-avoidant trap:

1. An emotional token economy. Both insecure attachment styles are preoccupied with deriving a precarious sense of security through controlling their external conditions...and this extends to controlling the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of their partners. For example, anxious partners implement “protest behaviors” to try to establish or re-establish connection in an insecure relationship, these might include…

  • Excessive contact followed by punitive withdrawal

  • Keeping score in the relationship

  • Acting hostile

  • Various forms of emotional manipulation

To learn more about that, I invite you to watch my video on 4 Protest Behaviors: How the Anxious partner sends mixed signals in relationships.

Avoidant partners, on the other hand, will exert a sense of control by practicing detachment and using deactivating strategies which might include…

  • Verbally expressing an avoidance of commitment, but acting committed

  • Verbally expressing a desire to commit, but acting un-committed

  • Focusing on the flaws in a partner

  • Pining for the one that got away to avoid emotional intimacy in a current relationship

  • Hyper or hyposexuality

To learn more about this topic, check out my video Breadcrumbing Demystified: 5 Ways Avoidant partners Send Mixed Signals in Relationships.

Both partners implement these strategies are essentially tokens and power plays to determine who has more emotional control in the “economy” of the relationship.

2. Stable instability. The relationship may last for a very long time but an element of uncertainty persists. You may be "together" on the surface, and in name, but the emotional and mental connection just isn't there. Or you may have more extreme highs and lows that are reinforced by intermittent acts of intimacy, which are usually followed by bouts of self sabotage.

3. Pointless fighting. You may feel that you are constantly fighting about things that you should not be fighting about it all. The arguments may be centered around something concrete and seemingly unimportant, but are really metaphors for the level of intimacy (or lack thereof) between you. For example, an irritance around ignoring one’s request for rolling the tube of toothpaste a certain way, could blow up into an argument that is really about feeling as if your partner has no regard for your feelings whatsoever.

4. You are perceived as the enemy. If you are the anxious partner, frequently you will find that the closer you get to your partner, the worse you are treated. This is because attachment wounds stem back to an early phase of childhood when we see the world and everyone in it as “good” and “bad” law abiding, or law breaking. In our partnerships, that emotional reasoning often gets stimulated, and we project that early “good/bad” way of sorting things onto our partners. If our partners are nice to us, they are good, and we must be good. If our partners are mean to us, they must be bad, intended to hurt us, or we did something to deserve it, and must find a way to make it right.

In the case of the anxious person, or open heart, the more connected you become to an avoidant partner, the more they will project onto you all of the "needy" parts they dislike and reject in themselves, but they will still also feel attracted to you...for the same reason, because you cannot fully reject yourself, can you?

If you are the avoidant partner, you will find the closer you get to your partner, the more they will rely on your happiness and satisfaction, to stimulate their own and prove a sense of “rightness” and “goodness” about themselves. This is because they feel more comfortable and secure in a state of merger.

This is the paradox of the anxious-avoidant trap; the closer you become, the less you will be able to actually see each other for who the other really is--as opposed to your own self projections. Fantasy plays a big role in this, which we will discuss in another video.

As a result, when there is friction in the relationship, black and white thinking gets stimulated, and you tend to adopt the opinion that all goodness you perceived in your partner was a sham, and suddenly they become a malicious enemy, intent on hurting you. Then you start fighting below the belt, unable to stop yourself from saying or doing things out of spite, that you will later regret.

5. Feeling trapped. When you think about it rationally and logically you know the relationship is not right for you, but you are too connected (addicted) to the other person to leave. Anxious people tend to tell themselves, “This is the love of my life, if I can’t make it work with them, I will never find another person that makes me feel this way” and so they trap themselves into something they know isn’t working. Avoidant individuals tend to feel trapped by the emotional dependency and what they consider to be the high an insatiable expectations of their anxious partners; they start to feel like their freedom is restricted.

6. The roller coaster effect. In the relationship, you never feel as if you were on an even keel. Every once in a while, when the avoidant partner makes him or herself available to the anxious partner, the anxious partner’s attachment system is temporarily quieted and there is the achievement of an extreme sense of closeness, which is quite literally a "high" experienced in the same part of the brain as ingestive addictions! This will ultimately freak the avoidant out (remember, in his or her early experiences, closeness = loss of self-identity and/or weakness), which will cause him or her to withdraw or implement deactivating strategies. This again stimulates the anxious/ambivalent persons activating strategies, and up and down we go, endlessly riding the roller coaster.

Knowing what the anxious-avoidant trap looks like is a powerful first step in putting your relationships and your feeling states, in context.

It can help you develop insight as well as spaciousness around your internal impulses and yearnings, which can sometimes feel so powerful, it's as if we lose control of ourselves. But insight can only get you so far.

Many individuals that struggle with attachment issues actually have tremendous insight into why they are struggling...in part because they are typically very analytical.

And that is because much of their energy has escaped to the head.

Their intellect and fantasy life has helped them get by, in the face of emotionally disappointing or uncomfortable experiences, in the past.

But all the insight in the world won’t necessarily help you FEEL any differently. Be attracted to healthier partners.

Or make more discerning choices in love.

And that is because our attachment system is a biological behavioral mechanism embedded in the same part of our brains that is active in the throes of chemical addiction. Attachment experiences are bodily experiences.

And our emotions are embodied as well.

The body is like a warehouse, storing all of the historical emotional and psychic energy attached to every emotionally intense experience you have ever had.

Those experiences carry with them a particular charge, and those electrical impulses carve new neural pathways in your brain, in your musculature, and in your organs, over time. Understanding just how addictive the anxious-avoidant trap can be on a chemical level, is useful in framing the healing process as one that is akin to withdrawing from chemical addiction.

And so in our next video, we will explore 4 Neurochemicals That Feed The Anxious Avoidant Trap.

If you would like to watch the other videos in this series, you can find them below:

[1 of 5] The Anxious Avoidant Trap: A Case of Like Sees Like: https://youtu.be/i2Pf3U1W-ZQ

[2 of 5] 6 Signs of the Anxious-Avoidant Trap: https://youtu.be/Kw0YMwKb6xo

[3 of 5] 4 Neurochemicals That Feed the Anxious-Avoidant Trap: https://youtu.be/Hf9DtzrGw7M

[4 of 5] The Role of Fantasy in the Anxious-Avoidant Trap: https://youtu.be/5iwwgh8XmP8

[5 of 5] 3 Ways Anxious And Avoidant Partners Push Each Other Away: https://youtu.be/vBojJVwAykc

Below is our Live Q&A Series to address all of the questions that came up from our followers

throughout this series:

[LIVE Q&A] [1 of 5] "A Case of Like Sees Like..." https://youtu.be/B84mWhzDtTc

[LIVE Q&A] [2 of 5] "6 Signs of the Anxious-Avoidant Trap..." https://youtu.be/cOx9NXBalio

[LIVE Q & A] [3 of 5] "4 Neurochemicals that Feed the Anxious-Avoidant Trap..." https://youtu.be/6FlhtHXmpxY

[LIVE Q &A] [4 of 5] The Role Of Fantasy in the Anxious Avoidant Trap: https://youtu.be/x9ZF7NNlrhs

[LIVE Q&A] [5 of 5] 3 Ways Anxious and Avoidant Partners Push Each Other Away: https://youtu.be/eroD8H4EEtA

Want to learn more about attachment?

What if there were a simple solution to your most painful relationship problems? Gain insight into your relationship problems in 4 questions, when you take this attachment styles quiz!

Take the Quiz: http://bit.ly/4LuvStyles

Warmest regards,

Briana MacWilliam ATR-BC, LCAT

Licensed and Board Certified Creative Arts Therapist

Author, Educator and Reiki Practitioner



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