[4 of 5] The Role of Fantasy in the Anxious-Avoidant Trap
Updated: May 31, 2019
Today, is day 4 of our 5 part video series in which we are exploring the phenomenon of the anxious-avoidant trap; a situation in which lovers find themselves caught in a push-pull dynamic that typically devolves into unhealthy patterns of relating, and dissatisfaction in the relationship.
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
⭐Today, we will look at The Role of Fantasy in the Anxious-Avoidant Trap.
⭐And in the next video, we will look at 3 Ways Anxious And Avoidant Partners Push Each Other Away.
Fantasy plays a significant role for individuals with insecure attachment styles, for two reasons:
It provides a form of wish fulfillment and escape...which may lead to productive, creative outlets and an ability to abstract, analyze and intellectualize--all useful tools in the external, working world.
When it becomes a default mechanism for avoiding intimacy by chasing down an impossible standard, however, it fosters idealization as a defense mechanism, which keeps our energy stuck in our heads, and unable to experience real shifts in our emotional and affective states, (i.e. on the body level).
When we are mistreated by our parents, or there is a failure of what is called “empathic attunement,” which is to say, your parent just doesn’t “get you” as a child, a piece of ourselves splits off and floats off into a place in our heads where it has the freedom to express itself safely through metaphor and wish fulfillment...in a fantasy world.
This affords us the ability to tolerate a wide range uncomfortable and/or unpleasant circumstances, and it also affords us an ability to avoid them in the future.
Fantasy gives us the ability to predict outcomes, play with abstract ideas, and to stretch the imagination. And abstraction and imagination is required to be effectively analytical and intellectual, as well as creative.
Intellectualism, over analysis, and creativity are also hallmarks of individuals with insecure attachment.
And these are positive strengths and attributes with which many insecure individuals manage to accomplish a great measure of success in their careers and platonic relationships. And yet, when it comes to romance, the power of fantasy tends to lead us down a path of disappointment and disillusionment.
First, we fantasize of a perfect partner that will swoop in and make us feel loved in a way that we have never felt loved before.
Then we compare our partners to that idealization, and find our real, felt experiences lacking.
Secondly, we sense the fantasies and desires of our partners, and in a desperate need to avoid their rejection and abandonment, we put on a mask or persona to try to become whatever their fantasy might be. This goes on until, typically, we arrive at an unavoidable sense of boredom, resentment, anger and emotional vacancy in the relationship.
Then something catalytic in the relationship happens, and we are forced to ask ourselves, “Why now? Why me?”
And so then, if we have been telling ourselves that we had great and “normal” childhoods without acknowledging the emotional wounds that we may have collected, usually this kind of heartbreak in adulthood will send the whole house of cards toppling down.
The fantasy of our upbringing is typically ruined, because necessarily we are forced to examine our historical patterns in love and relationships.
In this process of re-contextualization, our whole self concept feels as if it needs revising, and this typically leads to feelings of guilt over exposing or betraying our parents and their flaws, while simultaneously grieving over a lost self concept, and over a more recent lover.However, this ideally leads to a sense of resiliency, and a new self concept that allows for a more flexible integration of a range of emotions and the gray areas of life experience.
In the context of the anxious-avoidant trap…when an anxious person and an avoidant person end up in a relationship together, often this is a scenario in which both partners are really addicted to heavy doses of fantasy and expectation in a romantic relationship.
This is a defense mechanism that they use to prevent themselves from actually experiencing real intimacy, which is dirty and messy and hard, and stimulates fears of abandonment, which perhaps doesn't quite suit the fantasy.
So what happens in this scenario is each partner projects onto the other, both the idealized version of someone that they want to be with, but also a villainous character that took that away from them when they were a child.
This allows that partner to act out any repressed rage and drama they may have experienced in their past.
And so, we love that other person for holding all those bad parts of ourselves. For being that villain. Because if we can make them into that villain, then we can rail against them in the way that we couldn't rail against our parents.
And so, the love that we have in the anxious avoidant trap is really just about our own internal worthiness issues. It's a fiery relationship, it's passionate, and I'm not saying that there isn't real love there, but each partner is, in essence, just having a heated conversation with their own wounded inner child.
I call this the Simon Cowell effect: If you don't know Simon Cowell, he's that judge on American Idol who says mostly mean and critical things, and so when he finally says something nice, everyone pays greater attention. And they give it more credence, even though whatever he has says may not necessarily be more true than someone else who gives praise that might be a little bit more judicious. We become preoccupied with this idea that we have to earn love, and if we haven't earned it, it's not real, right? It can't be true, it's too boring, it's not a challenge.
Fantasy and Anxious Attachment
Open hearts have a tendency to unconsciously hold a belief that, "If I can get that cold hearted bastard to love me, then I must be lovable." You've proven it to yourself, right? "I'm worthy, I proved it."
But on the other side of that there's also a fear and ambivalence about that kind of intimacy too because you're not actually convinced you're worthy of it, you wouldn't be there if you were.
Ultimately you tell yourself “Oh, maybe they love me now, but only because I brow beat them into it. It’s not real.”
It's almost as if we are trying to cut through our partner's defenses just so that we can cut through our own. You think if you can love that curmudgeon back to life, maybe they can do that for you too, and then you will have proven yourself worthy of love. Only you can love yourself in that way, in a way that allows you to show up in all of your authenticity and meet someone else who is in their fullest authenticity as well.
That doesn't mean that you have to be perfect.
That doesn't mean that you have to have fixed all your problems.
It just means that you have to be, as I said before, in process.
You have to be willing to be in process.
So, for someone with an anxious attachment pursuant of a partner that won’t give them the kind of intimacy they claim they want... they have to ask themselves why.
What is the anxious person not loving in themselves that they would give so much to a partner who won’t give it back? What are they not accepting about themselves? What intimacy are they too afraid to receive? What self fulfilling myths about love are they perpetuating? And how have those limiting beliefs served them?
That's the real question you have to ask yourself, particularly the open hearted or anxiously attached person.
Fantasy and Avoidant Attachment
Now, for someone who is avoidantly attached, they too have created a fantasy in their mind, a picture of the perfect partner that will break down their walls and swoop in and save them from their isolation.
This is a defense because no one is perfect and no one could fulfill that fantasy. The avoidant puts up walls and creates distance to avoid allowing their partner's humanness to destroy that fantasy.
They have projected this fantasy onto that partner. The longer they spend with that partner, the more time there is for that partner to ruin that fantasy.
Now, anxious people, the fantasy gets ruined, but they don't deal with it by walking away. They deal with it by putting a comment on one of my YouTube videos and asking me strategic questions about how to steer that person back on track with what they want their fantasy of the relationship to be.
That's what the anxious person does.
They don't give up.
They keep trying and trying and trying and banging their head against a wall trying to get it to fit what they want it to be.
They're not willing to give up on the relationship, but they're also not giving up on the fantasy.
That's not so different than the avoidant who's also not willing to give up on the fantasy, either, they just handle it differently.
The avoidant, in order not to give up on that fantasy, walks away because then they can hold the fantasy, a crystallized, preserved image, memory, something in their mind, something in their ego mind that they can hold onto, that they can have some scrap of something without having to deal with the difficulties of the immediacy of being in a relationship with someone.
They are more comfortable prematurely ending a relationship because they either believe that they would have ruined it anyway or their partner would have discovered their badness and left them eventually.
They leave just before the going gets tough and that they would be challenged to experience real intimacy.
Now, the avoidant takes the high of the infatuation period as proof positive that whatever their fantasy was is possible. Then they walk away right before reality can submit contradictory evidence to the fact.
Now their fantasy is possible, but their limiting belief is reinforced.
It's possible but not for me. It's possible and so I can cling to that idea, but I'd ruin it anyway. There's actually no way that that person could ever get the love and affection and attention that they want.
The reason they do that is because it's an unconscious mechanism that is protecting them from what they learned as a child, which was that love is dangerous, that intimacy is threatening, that they have no efficacy or sense of self if they allow that in.
On the other hand, we could also have avoidants who remain in relationships for years but typically it's a shell of a relationship.
They will stay in a relationship like that because their partner, for whatever reason, is allowing this structure to exist that does not demand of their partner the uncomfortable work of intimacy, even though they may desperately need and want that experience, both partners.
So, hopefully, now that you know six signs of the anxious avoidant trap, you are starting to develop some insight and context for your struggles in love.
With an understanding of the neurochemicals involved, perhaps you are starting to understand how embodied attachment issues may be.
And now you better understand the psychological impact of fantasy and idealization as a mental and emotional coping mechanism.
In our last video, we will explore how our behaviors and communications can both magnetize and repel one another, in the anxious-avoidant trap.
So Stay tuned!
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
Briana MacWilliam ATR-BC, LCAT
Licensed and Board Certified Creative Arts Therapist
Author, Educator and Reiki Practitioner