The struggle of being fearful in love
When it comes to love “attachment” style, we often talk in terms of a dichotomy — “addict” or “anxious” vs. “avoidant” — but in fact there are four quadrants.
I’ve talked before about love addicts/anxious and love avoidants — and a lot about loving securely. But when it comes to the fourth quadrant — the “anxious-avoidant”— I mostly write about them indirectly, in all of my pieces covering “toxic love,” summing them up sadly as a “toxic and truly lost creature.”
A reader recently emailed me saying, the “addict-avoidant is something near and dear to my heart, because it is a subject about which I have been giving a lot of thought to over the last year or so,” then added: “Please…..cover that one….I’m really interested in your thoughts on that one.”
And I said I would, so here it is — the anxious-avoidant:
Negative View of Self + Negative View of Others
Let me first preface by saying: if you believe you are “anxious-avoidant” (or “fearful avoidant,” as it’s otherwise called), please consider getting help. Even picking up a few books will help magnitudes in understanding yourself, what’s healthy, and what you can do. If you have the resources, a professional therapist can also go a long way.
The reason that I — and so many others — emphasize this so much with the “anxious avoidant” is that there is no substantial positivity anywhere to build on.
The “anxious-avoidant” types don’t even know what love looks like!
The “anxious” or “addict” can build on their love of others to love themselves; the “avoidant” can build on their love of self to love others. The “anxious-avoidant” has no love to start with.
How they look and sound
While the “anxious/love addict/preoccupied” type has a challenged view of self (and probably struggles with self esteem), he or she is optimistic about others. They expect love to serve their needs.
Their mottos: “I want you!”, “I want to be intimate!,” “come closer!”
And while the avoidant, on the other hand, has a lukewarm view of others, they have a positive view of self (self esteem.) Their default is to take care of their own needs.
Their mottos: “I’m fine without you,” “I can take care of myself,” “I’m okay”
But the “anxious-avoidant,” or “fearful avoidant,” is negative about both themselves and others, and has no strategy for getting their needs met.
Their mottos: “I don’t trust you,” but “I need your approval;” “I’m scared,” “I hurt you because I knew you were going to hurt me.”
They believe other people are out to get them, and yet they have no coping mechanism for this, so they lash out.
(And just for comparison: the secure lover, who’s happy and content regarding self and others, says something like, “I’m here for me,” “I’m there for you,” “I know you’re there for me.”)
Other signs of the “anxious-avoidant:”
- Keeps score and is “tit for tat”
- Looks for a “winner” and “loser” in each argument
- Preoccupied with who has “the power” in a relationship
- Tells their partner they’re “not the enemy,” but is exactly the person making their partner the enemy
- Dirty fighting, especially with threats and/or use of aggressive, accusatory statements such as “you’re wrong”
- Becomes angry or distraught because they believe they are being short-changed or not getting enough back, and retaliates by lashing out*
*Note that the difference between the “anxious-avoidant” and either anxious or avoidant is that they are always doing both pushing and pulling, and often “aggressively.” While the love addict is also preoccupied with “getting enough” and the love avoidant will “withdraw,” it is only the the “anxious-avoidant” who does both.
The problem with the “anxious-avoidant” type
- They neither love themselves, nor love others
- They are harmful towards self and/or others
It’s the “anxious-avoidant” that is most dangerous — to themselves and others. They are stalkers, manipulators, emotional and physical abusers. They’re addicts or indulge in other self-harm. They do it all.
While the “love avoidant” type is quietly and coolly dismissive of love, simply feeling they can go either way on the matter, they don’t actively try to hurt others. The anxious-avoidant, on the other hand, is nasty and aggressive — deliberately harming loved ones in toxic maneuvers because they perceive them as necessary self-defense.
And yet they still deeply crave love, because they’re not secure and they don’t provide love to themselves. But while the “love addict” will be straightforward and open about expressing their needs, the “anxious-avoidant” type instead cajoles, coerces, manipulates, and hints —as well as snooping and stalking.
How the “anxious-avoidant” can heal
They have a lot of work to do. Even the avoidants and addicts have a lot of work to do, and they don’t have nearly as far to go.
Because the goal isn’t to move more towards addict or more towards avoidant — the goal is to move towards secure. And if that’s the case, the “anxious-avoidant” type has not one but two quadrants to move through, and it’s probably going to be a very tumultuous journey.
Which is why almost anyone who covers this tells them: please seek help. Books are a good start — and you can pick some up for a few dollars. Therapists are even better, if possible. Even if resources have to be rearranged, this is such a huge investment in an area of your life that impacts all the others — an investment that makes the difference between unhappy, and secure.
If you want to read some of my other pieces on “anxious-avoidants”
I often refer to this type simply as “toxic,” and occasionally talk about my experience dating one.