Fearful Avoidant Ex Done With You Or Lashing Out?

Some fearful avoidant exes after the breakup act angry, hostile and/or lash out, and others are emotionally fragile and even helpless. A fearful avoidant ex can also swing between lashing out and being vulnerable. For example, they snap or lash out at you then immediately apologize for their behaviour, or send and angry and mean text, then follow it with a text saying some really nice things about you and/or the relationship. The intensity of their emotions is these instances is unlike the usual fearful avoidant ex hot and cold behaviours and sometimes it feels like a fearful avoidant is really done with you.

A fearful avoidant done with you or lashing out?

With a fearful avoidant there is sometimes not much difference between them being done with you and them just lashing out. Even when they’re done with you, some fearful avoidants will continue to respond and even reach out because they’re angry and want you to know how much you hurt them and/or want to hurt you back just as much as you hurt them. They’re hostile but their message is consistent, they’re done. But:

  • If a fearful avoidant’s hostility is mixed with breaks of “normal conversations” and even vulnerability, a fearful avoidant is likely lashing out.
  • If even while they’re hostile and angry with you, they keep mentioning things that indicate that they’re still thinking of a future where the two of you might get back together, a fearful avoidant is definitely lashing out.

As unhealthy as it is, lashing out is a sign that a fearful avoidants still cares and may even still feel close to you but also doesn’t feel safe with you.

Researchers who have studied this behaviour call it the disorganized attachment hostile-helpless states of mind. Hostile-helpless states of mind is created when children perceive their caregivers as frightening and protective, but also frightened and helpless. The unintegrated mental processes place them in an unsolvable dilemma of whether to approach or move away from the caregiver, and/or whether to fear the caregiver or protect them.

Many adult fearful avoidants with a hostile-helpless state of mind display a mix of hostile and helpless behaviours but some fearful avoidants may be predominantly hostile or predominately helpless.

Fearful avoidant ex in a hostile state of mind

Fearful avoidants in a predominantly hostile state of mind lash out as a reaction to being overwhelmed, difficulty regulating their emotions, a sense of injustice or feelings of resentment. They also lash out because they feel cheated of a dream they had about the relationship, feel pressured, manipulated, guilted, cornered or rejected and abandoned.

When you reach out, they may not respond and if they do respond, they’re hostile, antagonistic, and even mean. But when you stop reaching out, they reach out but quickly go back to being hostile.

Studies show that fearful avoidants who have a predominantly hostile state of mind likely grew up in a hostile or punitive environment with a parent or caregiver who showed elevated levels of frightening or withdrawing behaviours common in families with child abuse, domestic violence, and family instability and neglect.

Children who experience this type of abuse or neglect or witness a caregiver hurt others, like another parent or sibling, often display hostile (and even frightening and violent) behaviours themselves. On a conscious level, they hold anger and resentment towards the attachment figure who they perceive as “bad” caregiver but subconsciously, they have some positive evaluations or understanding of them, and even identify with them.

In a hostile state of mind, a fearful avoidant ex will portray themselves as being tough, invulnerable, aggressive and/or resilient, behaviours of the caregiver who frightened them but whom they also identify with. They often don’t want to talk about the relationship or the break-up, and the few times they do, they focus on the facts while leaving out emotional or painful content. Their narrative is often incoherent, full of contradictions and almost always paint you as a “bad” partner but also say some positive things about you or the relationship.

Fearful avoidant ex in a helpless state of mind

Fearful avoidants in a predominantly helpless state of mind lash out because they feel vulnerable, helpless and/or fearful. When you reach out, they’ll respond but the conversation turns unpleasant or indirectly hostile. You get the feeling they’re angry, upset, and hold resentment towards you but you can’t quiet pinpoint why or even point to anything in particular they said or did.

Studies show that fearful avoidants with a predominantly helpless state of mind likely grew up in an environment where there was no abuse or direct hostility but due to prolonged absence, adoption, emotional immaturity, death, serious injury or chronic illness, alcohol or substance abuse, mental illness etc., a parent/the caregiver created an unstable, inconsistent and unpredictable environment that deprived the child of needed support and positive interactions.

Because of the disrupted interactions and uncertainty about the attachment figure, the fearful avoidant child developed passive aggressive behaviours to elicit attention or comfort. As adults, fearful avoidants with a predominantly helpless state of mind are more likely to identify with the “helpless” attachment figure and to report having played a caregiving attitude toward them during their childhood. They may also depict themselves as victims or be engaged in abusive relationships with others and be overwhelmed by feelings of fear and guilt.

Fearful avoidants who have a predominantly helpless state of mind differ from fearful avoidants with a predominantly hostile state of mind in their ability to speak openly about their feelings, while struggling to cope with intense feelings of shame, guilt, or a sense of badness or unworthiness.

But although they’re open to talking about the relationship and break-up, and/or working things out, they’re mostly negative and feel powerless to change things (past, present or future). Their narratives are often infused with feelings of fear, and some describe themselves as being the one that carried most responsibilities in the relationship, did things to try to protect an ex and/or acted like the adult or parent in the relationship.

Some reasons fearful avoidant exes act hostile and lash out

  1. You pulled away when they needed support and positive interactions, behaviours that reminded them of the neglect, silent treatment and/or manipulation they experienced from their abusive parent(s)
  2. They feel that they need to push back on your intrusive and pushy/aggressive actions and behaviours. They feel that for you to hear them, respect them and see them as strong enough to stand up for themselves, they need to be as tough, invulnerable and/or aggressive as the attachment figure in their childhood.
  3. They can’t make sense of your inconsistent and unpredictable behaviour and actions. They’re reminded of lack of consistency in their childhood and feel that they need to stand up for themselves or get away from you to feel safe.
  4. They feel unsafe and/or don’t see how the relationship can work better and lashing out from a place of fear, helplessness and hopelessness.
  5. They feel they’re being punished even when they did nothing wrong and/or the punishment doesn’t fit the “crime”. Just like their punitive parent or caregiver did every time they did something the caregiver didn’t like or approve of, and even when they did nothing wrong, they still got punished.
  6. They have feelings for you and want the relationship to work, but they’re unable to trust you because of your alcohol or substance use. Every time they come close to you and smell alcohol, they’re reminded of their parent who always smelled of alcohol and the abuse that followed and/or the instability it created.

The list is long, the point is that fearful avoidants’ extreme expressions of anger and hostility is often because they’re having difficulty explaining and/or regulating the emotions they’re feeling when vulnerable, helpless and/or fearful. They resort to hostility, helplessness and/or lash out because this is what was modelled to them by their caregivers.

The self-regulating strategies may serve a purpose for a fearful avoidant in the moment, but the main theme is one of confusion, uncertainty and chaos – both for the person on the receiving end of the hostile-helpless states of mind and for the fearful avoidant themselves.

What to do when a fearful avoidant lashes out

There not much you can do but be a safe base and provide a safe space for your fearful avoidant ex to self-regulate.

1. Don’t take it personally – Understanding a fearful avoidant’s one minute they’re hostile and the next helpless states of the mind should help you avoid engaging in negative, intrusive, pushy/aggressive, insensitive, punitive and frightening behaviours that intensify your fearful avoidant’s ex’s hostility towards you.

2. Apologize for the perceived “wrong” they think has been done to them. There is no point arguing who is right or wrong, it’s just different perspectives the situation. And apology will deescalate the situation. Make sure you avoid saying and doing things that intensify their hostility and/or feelings of helplessness.

3. Give them time and space to cool down – If they ask for space or time tell them you respect that they need the time and space and will wait for them to reach out when they’re ready. In my experience, most fearful avoidants know that sometimes they do things that are self-sabotaging and you being calm and understanding and telling them yu will wait for them to reach out when they’re ready makes them snap out of self-sabotage.
This is only IF they ask for space or time. If you say you’re giving an avoidant space or time without them indicating they need it, they may see it as punishment for them expressing their feelings and/or you are pulling away.

4. Accept their apology even if it’s not worded the way you’d word it. It’s the intention and effort that counts.

A fearful avoidant ex may also become hostile, unresponsive and/or lash out without you triggering them, but they will try to smooth things and even make up for lashing out than if you trigger them.


Can A Fearful Avoidant Ex Stop Being Hot And Cold?

Why Did My Fearful Avoidant Ex Block and Then Unblock Me?

How to Be Consistent With A Fearful Avoidant Ex

Why An Avoidant Ex Pulls Away After An Argument (STOP IT)

Dealing With A Cold And Distant Fearful Avoidant Ex

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