It can all be traced back to childhood – an overused cliché that still manages to annoyingly explain why all our exes were toxic and why our romantic relationships keep hitting the same dead end. In the sea of personality tests floating on the internet, a personality often goes unnoticed but is widely prevalent: the avoidant type.
Why do some of us keep falling into the pattern of being with people who will never be emotionally available, always distant and elusive? And in what ways can this affect us mentally, in the long term? Speaking to Dr Anjali Ferguson a cultural psychiatrist, and Dr Era Dutta, a psychologist to understand the world of avoidant relationships.
Lack of intimacy, inability to confront and acknowledge issues and all-around emotional unavailability are often the telltale signs of an avoidant personality type – here’s how it affects romantic relationships and mental health and what you can do about it.
1. Don’t have a saviour complex
Often, people who keep falling for people with avoidant personality types, end up believing that their love will fix it, says Dr Era Dutta, a psychiatrist.
“They think I will be this brave martyr who will get this person to trust me and be secure with me and this person will commit to being despite them being dismissive,” she says. “So, you need to understand what causes you to drift towards these specific personality types.”
2. Understand childhood neglect
Dr Ferguson says that our attachment styles are usually developed during childhood through a “combination of our temperament and the environments that we are raised in.” These styles then impact our own interpersonal relationships well into adulthood and then how we parent our own children.
“People can develop an avoidant style from being raised in neglectful households in which their emotions and experiences as an individual were not valued,” she explains. “In this case, people may learn to become independent in meeting their emotional needs and therefore, be resistant to relying on others for fulfilment. Due to a lack of emotional intelligence (EQ) skill-building, these individuals may find experiences with emotions (or long-term relationships) taxing; therefore, they end relationships when they become too “intense” or avoid them altogether.”
3. Don’t second guess yourself not let it affect your self-esteem
Dr Dutta says that if one has always been with people who have an avoidant personality, it might potentially push you to doubt yourself, always second guessing yourself.
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“We must try to understand that fear of abandonment is one we all have but we all process that fear differently, people in avoidant relationships navigate it secretly, preferring not to show it to others.”
4. Investigate any signs of an enmeshed relationship with your parents
Another critical reason for the development of avoidant relationships, Dr Ferguson says, is an enmeshed relationship with parents growing up that ends up colouring the way we approach relationships – a feature common to most South Asian families where the individual promotion of emotional intelligence and skill building with individual coping is under prioritized.
“In these circumstances, children grow up overly involved in the emotional well-being of their parents which can place an undue burden on a developing child (i.e., when children are ‘parentified’ or forced to take on and resolve parental emotions or conflicts). Here, as an individual grows older they may choose to avoid close relationships due to a fear of over-involvement and tax/burden on themselves.”
5. Work on yourself
Any expert will tell you this: let’s investigate our own patterns and what works for us before being mother superior to others. The way Dr Ferguson sees it, beefing up one’s emotional intelligence goes a long way in recognising these patterns in oneself and others.
“Emotional intelligence (EQ) is our ability to recognise, manage, and cope with emotions in ourselves-both good and bad ones,” she explains. “When we become more emotionally intelligent we manage conflicts and cope with difficulties much better. Working on ourselves may mean we also explore our own childhood histories and consider how it may impact our behaviours and expectations now as an adult.”
6. Have your own sense of identity and independence
Building one’s own sense of identity and not deriving one’s self-worth from a single person always helps, particularly when you are with an avoidant style person.
“They may prefer independence in a variety of circumstances,” Dr Ferguson says. “When they start to pull away or escape into their own independent lifestyles, make sure you too have resources and support independent of them. This may mean friendships or activities you can rely on outside of your relationship that can be a source of comfort and coping for you.”