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 fearful 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. They fear that if they let you get too close, you’ll want more commitment than they’re ready for or want. And if they can’t give you the commitment you want, you’ll be disappointed in them, lose interest and leave. So they pull away or leave before they’re left and abandoned. Even when there’s no evidence that someone is losing interest or leaving, fearful avoidants perceive themselves as being ignored, not treated as a priority, misled, rejected and abandoned.
If they lean more anxious, fearful avoidants 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.
Do fearful avoidants need reassurance?
Yes they do. Everyone needs reassurance from time to time that someone they care about is there for them. Reassurance from someone we care about makes us feel confident about their availability and responsiveness and confident about the relationship in general. But anxiously attached and fearful avoidants because of their fear of abandonment need more reassurance that someone who doesn’t have the fear of rejection or abandonment. Some anxiously attached need reassurance all the time.
The fear that someone they love will leave or abandon leads anxiously attached and fearful avoidants leaning anxious to engage in excessive reassurance-seeking behaviours that are detrimental to the health of a relationship and may even damage trust (the foundation of all relationships). But sometimes it’s not how someone seeks reassurance that is problematic but how we provide reassurance.
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).you might think that telling a fearful avoidant ex you’ll not abandon them, reaching out or texting more frequently, offering to spend more time with them, verbally tell them “I’m here for you” (over and over) will make a fearful avoidant feel reassured.
This is how you’d want someone you love to reassure you, but when dealing with a fearful avoidant ex, it can backfire. 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, you end up feeling rejected and abandoned.
How do you reassure a fearful avoidant ex you’ll not abandon them?
As you read this, I want you to keep in mind that sometimes fearful avoidants get scared that they’re being abandoned all on their own because of their attachment trauma and fears about being unworthy of attention, time, effort and/or love, feeling unimportant, unwanted or invisible to the people who are supposed to love them and make them feel safe.
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. Be available and responsive but don’t make your life revolve around them
Fearful avoidants don’t find people who are falling all over them or jumping hoops to be with them reassuring or comforting. Even at their most anxious state, they’re weary of people who are “too much”. Fearful avoidants have enough experience to know that if push comes to shove, people who make their lives revolve around them will be gone in a New York minute.
Even if they’re responding and engaged, avoidants in general don’t think of you or miss you as much as you do them. Interact with your fearful avoidant ex in ways that feel comfortable for them, respond to their bids for connection and respect their need for some space, but don’t sit there focused on them – what they’re doing or feeling. Let them know you’re close/haven’t abandoned them, but not hovering over them – waiting to reach out or for a response.
2. Show you care but in a non-intrusive and non-aggressive or pushy way
For someone with fear of getting too close as well as fear of abandonment, a person who persistently violates their boundaries and ignores their discomfort, for example asks questions and doesn’t seem to care that they’re uncomfortable, and then acts upset and hurt when they don’t answer doesn’t care about them; they only care about themselves. If they cared about them they’d see that they’re uncomfortable and not push or get upset.
One way to show a fearful avoidant that you care without being intrusive is simple regular check-ins to let your fearful avoidant know that you’re are still there and have not abandoned 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.
3. Don’t always assume a fearful avoidant is acting in bad faith and act on your negative feelings
Trust is a huge problem for both anxious attachment and fearful avoidants. When you have difficulty trusting, it’s easy to get bent out of shape when someone does something that rubs you the wrong way or you perceive as hurtful. You assume that they’re acting in bad faith or have negative intent.
Most of the time however, everyone is just trying to do what they think is best for them in the only way they know how to. Being sensitive to your fearful avoidant’s emotional needs (their need for closeness and connection and their need for distance and space) will help you see that they’re not doing anything to hurt you; your feelings are a reaction to what you perceive as acting in bad faith or negative intent.
This new awareness will help you choose a different response from one that makes pay much more attention to your negative feelings make you do things that make a fearful avoidant even more weary of you intentions and motivations.
4. Recognize when they feel anxious and address whatever is making then feel anxious immediately and directly
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.
5. Be a good empathetic listener and confidant who acknowledges 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, try as best as you can to understand their point of view. 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.
6. Show then you accept them as they are and validate them when they change
Fearful avoidants generally think people are not interested in them – what they feel or what they have to say. Some fearful avoidants even think they’re not interesting and is the reason they don’t share or open up. You confirm what they believe when you only want to talk about yourself or what you want to talk about, or insist/push they answer your questions and even complain about etc.
Show genuine interest in what they say or do, and in things they’re interested in, tell them about little things that you like about them show a fearful avoidant that you accept them as they are and even with their flaws and all. And 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. Use non-violent communication instead of pressure, manipulation or advising/psychoanalyzing
Some fearful avoidants think that since you’re so unhappy with them, they’re doing you a favour distancing or leaving. In their past experiences, when someone was unhappy, they said things and acted in ways that were hurtful and wounding, and they learned that it’s better to just stay away.
When communicating your “unhappiness” with them, make sure that you don’t say things that make a fearful avoidant feel they’re not enough good enough, they’re wrong for choosing their needs and safety over a connection with you, or that they’re unlovable unless they change. Find ways to communicate your “unhappiness” without attacking their person or undermining their needs or felt security.
8. Don’t just let them know you’re there for them, be there for them in a safe, supportive and reassuring way
Most avoidants are very aware of their inability to open up or be vulnerable and feel insecure about it because it’s one of the common reasons that they get dumped. Most want to be able to open up and be vulnerable, but don’t know how to because they never had someone model “safe vulnerability” and their experiences with vulnerability haven’t been positive. And telling them to open up, tell you how they feel, or share their thoughts in an effort to somehow make them feel that it’s okay to be vulnerable doesn’t work with a majority of avoidants. In fact, this approach is making an assumption that they know how to but just won’t do it, and feels like pressure or judgement (why can’t you just do something so easy to do?) to an avoidant.
To reassure a fearful avoidant that you’re not going to dump them, they need to see that you understand that they struggle with opening up and being vulnerable and are okay being with someone who may never be able to meet certain emotional needs in the way you expect and all you can do is model “safe vulnerability” by opening up in small ways that show that you trust them and hope that they can learn from you how to do it.
9. Be a calming presence especially when something is bothering them or during a disagreement or conflict
A calming presence is comforting and reassuring to fearful avoidants because they’re in a constant state of fight-or-flight and stressed out. They want to feel calm themselves and you can provide that calming presence by being present, warm, inviting, empathetic, compassionate and composed under all circumstances. This help a fearful avoidant feel that everything is going to be okay and there is nothing to be worried about or afraid of.
10. Be consistent and follow through on promises and commitments
See here why consistency is so important to a fearful avoidant and how to be consistent in a reassuring manner.