Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment: Disorder & Treatment

Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment: Disorder & Treatment
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  • 0:01 What Is Attachment?
  • 1:30 What Is Dismissive or…
  • 2:30 Problems Arising from…
  • 3:54 Treating…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Gary Gilles

Gary has a Master's degree in Counseling Psychology and has been teaching and developing courses in higher education since 1988.

Dismissive-avoidant attachment patterns are learned early in life and tend to affect all relationships throughout the life span. Learn more about dismissive-avoidant attachment and how it develops and is treated and then test your knowledge with quiz questions.

What Is Attachment?

In order to understand dismissive or avoidant attachment, it is helpful to first know something about healthy attachment. Healthy or secure attachment is a process of forming a lasting emotional bond with another person.

The earliest opportunity for an attached relationship takes place between an infant and his or her primary caregiver. If the infant's many needs are consistently met in a gentle, nurturing way by the caregiver, the child increasingly feels secure in that relationship. That sense of security gives the child the reassurance that he or she can depend on the caregiver and turn to the caregiver for comfort when distressed.

This secure relationship with the caregiver also serves as a reference point for the child's ongoing emotional and relational development. Attachment researchers call this relational reference point a secure base, meaning that the child has an increasing sense that he or she is safe and cared for when in the presence of the caregiver. As the child grows and is able to try new tasks on his or her own, such as walking, feeding himself/herself or playing with other children, the child can do so with confidence. The child explores his or her world without anxiety knowing that the caregiver will be there to help if needed.

What Is Dismissive or Avoidant Attachment?

Dismissive-avoidant attachment describes the type of relationship between a child and caregiver in which a child avoids the caregiver or may feel emotionally indifferent toward him or her. This avoidant posture is not the child's preferred response but rather a coping mechanism that develops over time. When a caregiver is routinely unresponsive or dismissive of the child's needs, such as letting the child cry for long periods or is harsh, the child begins to pull away emotionally in order to feel less rejection and hurt. Instead of a secure feeling, the child feels anxious because many of his or her needs go unmet, and in turn, he or she gradually expects less comfort from the caregiver. On the surface it appears that the child doesn't need the caregiver as much. Actually, the child is trying to protect himself or herself from emotional hurt and disappointment.

Avoidant attachment
Avoidant attachment

Problems Arising From Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment

When children develop an avoidant attachment early in life, it can have a negative effect later in childhood and even into adulthood. Children with dismissive-avoidant attachment have difficulty feeling emotionally close to others. It might be hard for the child to make and maintain friendships. In some cases, children with avoidant attachment become aggressive toward others. They might take on the role of bully or display ongoing bouts of defiant behavior at school and home.

Unfortunately, the child with an avoidant attachment style doesn't typically grow out of this way of relating as they move into adolescence and then into adulthood. As adolescents or adults, people with an avoidant attachment style are likely to be very independent, controlling and dismissive of feelings - their own and others'.

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