10 signs you have fearful-avoidant attachment & how to fix it

8 minutes read -
A woman with fearful-avoidant attachment holding a man's arm
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Summary: Fearful-avoidant attachment creates toxic relationship patterns. Uncover the expert-backed steps to break free and thrive in love.
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There are some of us who crave a love connection. But the second it gets a little too real for our comfort, we run for the hills. Then, we do it all again with the next person.

The cycle is real—and it’s called fearful-avoidant attachment.

The thing is, it’s a lot more common than many of us realize. And if you’ve found yourself defaulting to this attachment style, understanding the what, why, and how can be the key to healthier, happier relationships.

What is a fearful-avoidant attachment style?

A fearful-avoidant attachment style is one of the four attachment styles that describes those who show inconsistent behaviors and have trust issues. Relationship-wise, it’s when you yearn for intimacy but are also wary of getting hurt. This push-pull tendency can lead to unpredictable and often tumultuous partnerships.

It’s a lot like Will Hunting from Good Will Hunting. Or Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City. Both crave connection and affection, but they sabotage their relationships by pushing Skylar and Mr. Big, respectively, away.

This internal conflict between desire and fear can be a real head-scratcher. But it highlights a core struggle for many of us: balancing intimacy with self-preservation. 

What causes it?

According to psychologist John Bowlby’s attachment theory, a fearful-avoidant attachment style (also referred to as disorganized) is one of the four adult attachment styles—the other three being anxious, avoidant, and secure.

This particular commitment-phobic one stems from childhood with inconsistent caregiving. It’s likely that emotional needs were sometimes met and other times ignored or met with fear-inducing responses.

The fact of the matter is, research shows that children who experience abuse, neglect, or unpredictable caregiving are more likely to develop a fearful-avoidant attachment style. And what it teaches is that relationships are inherently unsafe.

As you transition into adulthood, you may distrust relationships, believing that your partner will inevitably hurt or abandon you. So, what are you likely to do? Keep people at a distance.

What’s more, if you have relationships that mirror your childhood experiences of unpredictability and fear, it can just reinforce these insecure attachment patterns. And despite hoping and wishing for that “happily ever after” kind of love, you may subconsciously sabotage your chances of forming any sort of stable and healthy bond.

So whether you see yourself in Will’s struggle to accept love or Carrie’s fear of commitment, there are always ways to transform how you relate to others. And this can pave the way for more fulfilling and secure relationships.

10 signs of fearful-avoidant attachment

Recognizing the signs of any patterns is always a healthy step toward breaking the cycle. The thing is, most of us feel victimized by the patterns that continuously show up, according to Katherine Woodward Thomas, the author of the best-seller Calling in The One and trainer of the Mindvalley Quest of the same name.

When you begin to see your own part clearly and how you, yourself, are almost setting other people up to play out these painful stories again and again,” she explains, “you finally access the choice to do it differently.”

So to do so, here are fearful-avoidant attachment signs you’ll want to look out for:

  1. Send mixed signals to your partner.
  2. Fear of getting too close to others.
  3. Emotional intimacy is a struggle, and you often keep your feelings hidden.
  4. Actions can be unpredictable—sometimes warm and loving, other times distant and cold.
  5. Feel anxious about your relationships.
  6. Difficulty trusting others.
  7. Self-sabotage, such as picking fights or avoiding commitment.
  8. Struggle with feelings of unworthiness and doubt your ability to be loved.
  9. Have intense emotional reactions to perceived slights or threats in your relationships.
  10. Ending relationships can be particularly painful and confusing, often leaving you feeling lost and devastated.

Remember that these signs are adaptive responses to your early environment. While it may not be your responsibility how you were raised, you are responsible now, as an adult, to take this awareness, step away from self-abandonment, and develop more secure attachment patterns.

A man hugging a woman

How to heal the fearful-avoidant attachment style

If you’ve been struggling in love, I assure you it’s not because there’s anything wrong with you,” says Katherine. Rather, what we want out of love in this day and age are things we “simply did not learn in the homes that we were raised in.”

That includes, as the best-selling author points out, evolving our level of consciousness as well as our maturity to the point where we can manifest our soul ties and maintain the love we long to create.

So when it comes to how to fix fearful-avoidant attachment, there are steps you can take to rewrite your relationship story. Here’s where you can start:

1. Identify your patterns

Let’s say you meet someone exciting. Dates are fun, and there’s a spark. But as things seem to get more and more serious, you start picking fights, canceling plans, or—Heaven forbid—ghosting. 

You, then, might find a way to squeeze yourself back in after a while or move on to another person. And as you feel yourself getting emotionally invested, you repeat the same cycle of pushing them away.

This is a pattern.

More often than not, many of us look at habitual behaviors like this as something that happens to us. However, Katherine suggests “to not only see them clearly but also to begin to see yourself as the person who is actually perpetuating them.”

For example, if you always end up with narcissistic partners, ask yourself if you tend to deflect attention away from yourself or prioritize others’ needs over your own.

When you’re able to see these patterns clearly, you can interrupt the unconscious ways you show up and start making different choices.

Remember, it’s not about blame or shame, but about becoming a curious observer of your own behavior.

2. Evolve toxic relationships

A relationship where you show up with your fearful-avoidant attachment style is one where it’s toxic, not only for the person you’re dating but also for you. It’s a relationship where, as Katherine would put it, you have shown up as a dimmed-down version of yourself.”

As much as we think that we can just get rid of ‘toxic people,’ the truth is, is that it’s not really their toxicity that’s hurting us the most,” she adds. “It’s how toxic we become in relationship to them that’s actually the most destructive to us.” 

So what can you do to evolve from avoidant style to love style?

Katherine suggests acknowledging the ways you react out of fear and self-protection. This takes some practice—be honest about your feelings and needs, even if it feels uncomfortable.

Reflect on how your behaviors mirror your relationship with yourself. This may require you to set some healthy boundaries so you can work on yourself without feeling anxiety, obligation, or guilt.

3. Name your false identity beliefs

False identity beliefs are deep-seated narratives that limit what’s possible for you in love. They can make you feel unworthy, unwanted, or doomed to repeat disappointing patterns.

For example, you might believe “I am not wanted,” “Everyone always leaves me,” or “I am cursed in love.” By doing so, you create a self-fulfilling prophecy, where you unconsciously behave in ways that generate evidence for these stories.

No matter how many vision boards we might create or how many affirmations we might say, no matter how many years one might spend on their therapist’s couch,” Katherine points out, “until you actually see your story clearly and wake up to the truth of who you are and start living from that center, you’re pretty much going to be doomed to continually, unconsciously repeat old disappointing patterns.”

Once you identify these beliefs, shift to the strongest part of yourself. Reflect on your current strengths and resources that you didn’t have when you were younger. This shift helps you see that you are no longer that vulnerable child but a capable and worthy adult.

Dating someone with a fearful-avoidant attachment style

It’s one thing to be that person with this style of attachment. It’s another when you’re dating a fearful-avoidant attachment person.

Their actions can be downright confusing and frustrating. However, short of throwing in the towel, you can learn how to navigate complexities with some… let’s call them “relationship hacks.” 

Here are a few that can strengthen your relationship and create a deeper connection:

  • Your partner’s behaviors aren’t about you. It’ll take patience and understanding on your end to put up with their push-pull dynamic. But by doing so, you can help them feel safe and secure.
  • Encourage open and honest conversations about your feelings and needs. Creating a safe space for your partner to express their fears and anxieties without judgment can help build trust and reduce their fear of vulnerability.
  • Set healthy boundaries so you can prevent feeling overwhelmed or neglected. This’ll also help your partner understand what behaviors are acceptable and which are not.
  • Support your partner if they’re seeking professional help. Therapy can be a valuable tool for them to understand and heal their attachment wounds.
  • Practice self-care because, let’s be real, dating someone with this style can be emotionally demanding. So put on the oxygen mask on yourself first before you help others.

The reality is, you may not be the reason your partner behaves the way they do. But what you can do to help them through this childhood trauma is to be a prime example of how to show up in the world.

As Katherine says, “Change can not just happen to you. It can only happen through you, and through the different choices that you begin making, and the different actions that you begin taking.”

Let your change do the talking

It’s true that love belongs to all of us. However, not all of us know how to love.

That’s the great thing about Mindvalley’s Calling in The One Quest with Katherine Woodward Thomas: It helps you reshape your beliefs about love, heal from past relationships, and attract a fulfilling, lasting romance.

Just like Will. Just like Carrie. And just like Clara Stickney, a musician and music teacher from Portland, Maine, U.S.A., who testified:

Following the guidance of [Katherine’s] course helped me to heal from a significant heartbreak and led me to the most incredibly loving romantic relationship. I have so much gratitude for it every day.”

The great thing is, when you sign up for a free Mindvalley account, you can get a sneak peek at the first few lessons of Katherine’s Quest, among others.

Love doesn’t have to be complicated. It just has to be intentional, and that starts with a click in the Mindvalley direction.

Welcome in.

Watch the First Lesson of the Quest

Calling in "The One" with Relationships Coach Katherine Woodward Thomas

Set your stage for a new love story, and an enduring romance: all in just 7 weeksGet started for free

Tatiana Azman

Tatiana Azman

Tatiana Azman is the SEO content editor for Mindvalley and a certified life coach. With a background in spa and wellness as well as having gone through a cancer experience, she's constantly on the lookout for natural, effective ways that help with one's overall well-being.
Written by

Tatiana Azman

Tatiana Azman is the SEO content editor for Mindvalley and a certified life coach. With a background in spa and wellness as well as having gone through a cancer experience, she's constantly on the lookout for natural, effective ways that help with one's overall well-being.
Katherine Woodward Thomas - Trainer
Expertise by

Katherine Woodward Thomas is the trainer of Mindvalley’s Calling in the One Quest and Conscious Uncoupling Quest. She’s the New York Times best-selling author of “Conscious Uncoupling: 5 Steps to Living Happily Even After” and “Calling in ‘The One:’ 7 Weeks to Attract the Love of Your Life.” She is a licensed marriage and family therapist and teacher to thousands in her in-person and virtual learning communities.

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Mindvalley is committed to providing reliable and trustworthy content. We rely heavily on evidence-based sources, including peer-reviewed studies and insights from recognized experts in various personal growth fields. Our goal is to keep the information we share both current and factual. To learn more about our dedication to reliable reporting, you can read our detailed editorial standards.
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Mindvalley is committed to providing reliable and trustworthy content. 

We rely heavily on evidence-based sources, including peer-reviewed studies and insights from recognized experts in various personal growth fields. Our goal is to keep the information we share both current and factual. 

The Mindvalley fact-checking guidelines are based on:

To learn more about our dedication to reliable reporting, you can read our detailed editorial standards.