A lot of the advice on the internet says the way to get back an avoidant is to ignore them, and they’ll feel abandoned and rejected and will come back. If you’ve read many of my articles, you probably know by now that I have a different approach to attracting back an ex, one that doesn’t include ignoring them.
Ignoring someone you want a relationship is unhealthy when avoidants do it, and is unhealthy when you do it. Even some avoidants agree that ignoring another person is not healthy or secure behaviour, but other avoidants argue that there is a difference between ignoring someone because they emotionally overwhelm you and ignoring someone because you want them to miss you and chase you, or as protest behaviour.
An avoidant commentor wrote: “When we ignore you, we don’t mean ill or malice, we’re not trying to hurt you or make you miss us. We just need to be alone for some time. When you ignore us to make us miss you and chase you, we see it as desperation and malicious intent, and it turns us off. We can come back to you when we have had some time to ourselves, but you have to let us have that space and time.”
From attachment safety standpoint, not responding or ignoring a text because you feel overwhelmed by an ex’s neediness is not necessarily unhealthy behaviour. People with an anxious attachment sometimes won’t take “not now, please” for an answer and keep trying to get close sometimes ignoring the fact that the other person doesn’t feel comfortable with the conversation topic, has other more pressing or important things to do or just don’t want to talk at the particular time. Because they themselves respond to every text message even when a response is not required and keep texting even when the conversation has come to it’s natural conclusion, they think that’s how everyone out to be, and feel ignored the other person has had enough and doesn’t respond.
Not every text needs a response and if an ex is responding to most texts and ignoring others, they’re not necessarily ignoring you. Ignoring you is when someone refuses to acknowledge your existence rendering you insignificant, invisible and non-existent. And since a lot of our attachment trauma comes from feeling unimportant, unwanted or invisible to the people who were supposed to love and protect us, being ignored by someone we want to love and want us can trigger unhealthy reactions and insecure behaviours.
In this article, I want to specifically discuss how to make a fearful avoidant who if you know about attachment styles has a strong fear of rejection and abandonment feel that you’re not ignoring them, are there for them and will not leave or abandon them.
A fearful avoidant’s fear of rejection and abandonment
Like people with an anxious attachment style, fearful avoidants (also known as anxious-avoidants) have a persistent and overwhelming worry and fear that the people they love will lose interest, distance themselves and/or leave. Even when there’s no evidence that someone is losing interest or leaving, people with the fear of rejection and abandonment perceive themselves as being ignored, not treated as a priority or misled.
The fear of rejection and abandonment can manifest in so many different ways, and at different levels. Some people only constantly worry and have recurring thoughts about a partner losing interest or leaving, others act needy, clingy, controlling or possessive, and sometimes all these behaviours show up in an individual with an anxious preoccupied attachment or anxious- avoidant attachment over the course of the relationship.
In fearful avoidants, the fear of rejection and abandonment can lead to avoiding getting too close to someone and fear of commitment. Things can be going along so well, and all of a sudden, a fearful avoidant pulls way or ends the relationship because they’re scared that you are getting too close for their comfort or you want more commitment than they’re ready for or want, and if they can’t give you what you want, you’re going to be disappointed in them, lose interest and leave; so they pull away or leave before they’re left and abandoned.
Feeling not worthy of attention, time, effort and/or love
When you ignore someone who is highly sensitive to rejection or abandonment, the message they get is that they’re not worthy of your time, effort and/or love. People with an anxious preoccupied attachment react to this feeling with trying to get your attention or earn your time, effort and/or love. This is why ignoring someone with an anxious attachment is so effective if you want to manipulate how they think, feel or act.
Fearful avoidants generally react to feeling that they’re not worthy of your time, effort and/or love with pulling away and withdrawing into themselves. If they lean more anxious, they may initially try to get your attention or earn your time, effort and/or love. But because they’re also avoidants, fearful avoidants are not able to hold the intense emotions for too long, and soon or later they deactivate and pull away.
“If I’m feeling neglected and ignored, I tell myself they have to prove to me that they truly care. I also don’t reply because I don’t want them to know I’m thinking of them and not make any effort.”
This doesn’t mean a fearful avoidant lost interest or left the relationship; it means that when anxious attachment feels overwhelmed by the fear that you will ignore them, lose interest or leave, they seek reassurance that you are not ignoring them, losing interest or leaving. Reassurance-seeking is how they regulate their fear and anxiety (or feel soothed). When a fearful avoidant feels overwhelmed by the fear that you will ignore them, lose interest or leave, they create distance so that they can regulate their fear and anxiety or self-soothe.
Fearful avoidant attachment and reassurance-seeking
If want a fearful avoidant ex to come back to you, it’s important that they feel that you’re not going to reject or abandon them. Many of the things many people trying to attract back someone highly sensitive to rejection or abandonment unfortunately make the person more afraid of rejection or abandonment.
Like most, you may not be aware that you’re making a fearful avoidant more afraid of rejection or abandonment by recreating their attachment fears about being unworthy of attention, time, effort and/or love and feeling unimportant, unwanted or invisible to the people who are supposed to love them and make them feel safe.
Even those people who are aware that certain words and action make a fearful avoidant more afraid of rejection or abandonment either don’t know how to make a fearful avoidant feel that they’re unworthy of attention, time, effort and/or love, or go about reassuring them they’re not going to reject or abandon them in the wrong way.
When you have an anxious attachment style and are trying to get back a fearful avoidant ex, the way you might try to reassure a fearful avoidant ex you’ll not abandon them is to reach out or texting more frequently, offer to spend more time with them, verbally tell them “I’m here for you” (over and over). This is how you’d want to be reassured when you feel ignored, not prioritized, or abandoned, it makes sense that you’d assume this is how your avoidant or even securely attached ex wants to be reassured. Unfortunately, it’s not how other attachment styles feel reassured.
When dealing with a fearful avoidant, reaching out or texting more, offering to spend more time with them, verbally telling them “I’m here for you” over and over can actually backfire. In your mind you’re doing everything you can to let your fearful avoidant ex know that you are not ignoring them, losing interest or abandoning them, but instead of providing reassurance, you end up coming across as needy, clingy, too pushy or aggressive with your love, and your fearful avoidant ex feels overwhelmed and distances.
This is how one fearful avoidant explained it, “I don’t like that I’m a fearful avoidant because I need constant reassurance that you still care. When you reach out just check in or ask me if I’m okay, it shows you care. I may not reply but I appreciate it. But I don’t also want it to be too much and suffocating. If you ignore me it makes me feel that that I was right, and you never cared and I’m worthy of your time. It’s a constant struggle for me to trust someone truly cares about me even when their words and actions show they do.”
How do you reassure a fearful avoidant ex you’ll not abandon them?
As discussed above, sometimes fearful avoidants get scared of abandonment all on their own because of their attachment trauma, and there are some fearful avoidants who have developed a relationship or “comfort with chaos” and say and do things to make you leave them (and abandon them just like everyone else). But sometimes you trigger a fearful avoidant’s fear or rejection and abandonment – knowingly or unknowingly.
If you unknowingly trigger their fear of abandonment don’t panic, it doesn’t always end up in them pulling away or leaving. But if you keep triggering their fear of rejection or abandonment, and recreating their childhood trauma, you’ll become the person they love but also fear; and that’s not good for you when you become a part of their attachment trauma.
1) Do regular check-ins
Do simple regular check-ins to let your fearful avoidant know that you’re thinking of them, care how they’re doing and are their for them. If you don’t know what a check-in is, I explain it in detail here.
Many fearful avoidants respond well to check-ins because at the core, they’re people who want to love and be loved just like everyone else. And inspite of their disorganized attachment (or what you read about fearful avoidants), fearful avoidants are intuitively nurturing, maybe because this what they seek and need from others (See:18 Most Attractive (And Heathy) Avoidant Qualities).
2) Meet both their anxious and avoidant attachment needs
An anxious attachment’s natural tendency is to reach out even more when an avoidant ex pulls back and to pull back (and let them do all the reaching out) when an avoidant is reaching out. This creates that annoying push-pull dynamic. To minimize feelings of rejection or abandonment, reach out and engage more when your fearful avoidant ex is showing that they want connection and reach out and engage less when they pull back. Over time, you’ll find that neither of you is feeling rejected or abandoned because both of your needs are being met.
3) Give verbal/texting reassurance
Every now and then, let your fearful avoidant ex know that you are there for them, you’re thinking of them and they’re important to you. A text saying you are there for them or thinking of them is even more important to a fearful avoidant ex going through depression and may feel all alone and nobody care (and you, the person who used to care no longer care because they ended the relationship).
But don’t put “I’m here for you” , “I’m not going anywhere’, “I care about you” or “I’m thinking of you” in every text. It’s not going to make a fearful avoidant feel any more reassured. Constant reassuring make avoidants feel pressured to say something back, and it annoys most avoidants.
4) Acknowledge their point of view
If a fearful avoidant communicates their thoughts, fears, concerns or feelings, don’t just brush them off. Even if you have a different take on things or think their fears or concerns don’t make sense, it’s still important to acknowledge that this is how they feel, what they’re afraid of or concerned about, and their feelings, fears and concerns are valid. For an attachment style that doesn’t feel listened to, heard or understood seeing that you’re willing to consider their perspective and see things from their point of view is reassuring and often reduces the need to pull away.
5) Communicate you accept them as they are
Some fearful avoidants think that since you’re so unhappy with them, they’re doing you a favour distancing or leaving. When communicating your “unhappiness” with them, make sure that you don’t say things that make a fearful avoidant feel that they’re unworthy of your time and energy or that they’re unlovable unless they change.
6) Validate when they change
Many avoidants don’t seek help or think they need to change. When your fearful avoidant ex makes an effort to change or shares with you the self-work they’re doing, acknowledge their efforts and let them know you noticed their hard work.
7) Demonstrate “safe vulnerability”
Because most fearful avoidants feel that they’re fundamentally damaged or flawed in some type of way, and soon or later you will see what they see in themselves, it’s important to demonstrate “safe vulnerability” by letting them see that you’re not perfect and nobody is perfect. I use “safe vulnerability” here because 1) avoidants don’t feel safe with vulnerability and 2) your own vulnerability can be used against you. So practice “safe vulnerability”.
8) Be consistent
See here why consistency is so important to a fearful avoidant and how to be consistent in a reassuring manner.