Anyone who has ever loved a dismissive avoidant and got dumped by a dismissive avoidant, or was the dumper has at one point or other wondered how dismissive avoidants feel after a break-up. Do they hurt? Do they feel sad? Do they regret the breakup? Do they feel anything?
It’s hard to imagine what someone who acts like they don’t care about you, never talks about how they feel and seems to “just move on” like the break-up never happened feels after a break-up.
If you don’t know or understand the unique way dismissive avoidants deal with breakups, which as the article explains is different from how someone with a secure attachment, anxious attachment or fearful avoidant attachment deals with a breakup, it’s easy to:
- Conclude that dismissive avoidants are just cold-hearted, lack emotions and don’t care; especially because most dismissive avoidants don’t communicate well or at all their reasons for the break-up, and often don’t protest the break-up or plead and beg when they are dumped.
- Believe that a dismissive avoidant just needs more time to “feel the emotions” of the break-up. All you need to do is “extend no contact” for a dismissive avoidant and they’ll start longing, missing, and craving for you.
- Assume that dismissive avoidants process the break-up in stages. They feel one way in one stage, then move on to the next stage and the next.
My goal in this article is to bring some clarity and understanding, and hopefully empathy for how dismissive avoidants process a break-up. Understanding that just because dismissive avoidants don’t process emotions the way other attachment styles do doesn’t mean they do not feel the same emotions as other attachment styles will help you better understand a dismissive avoidant attachment style.
Dismissive avoidants often don’t process the break-up at all
Dismissive avoidants like everyone else can feel a certain way in one breakup and feel differently in another break-up, and how they process a break-up varies from one dismissive avoidant to another. But because dismissive avoidants in general don’t process emotions the way securely attached or people with an anxious attachment or even fearful avoidants do, it’s not possible to determine specific dismissive avoidant breakup stages. It’s not even clear if without therapy dismissive avoidants process break-ups at all or do a “relationship autopsy” after the break-up.
To process a break-up or do a “relationship autopsy”, a dismissive avoidant would have to go against their attachment programming and actually feel their emotions and be willing to reflect on why the break-up happened. To most dismissive avoidants this feels like giving a relationship more importance than they deserve and prioritizing it over more “important things” like a career, hobbies, interests or even getting back on the dating scene.
Another thing that separates dismissive avoidants from other insecure attachment is how they handle separation. All research points to dismissive avoidants having very low anxiety over separation. This doesn’t mean they love less or aren’t going to miss their romantic partner, it just means separation doesn’t make dismissive avoidants anxious, fearful or worried. Which can be confusing to others who expect dismissive avoidants to eventually feel the emotions commonly associated with going through a break-up.
Dismissive Avoidant attachment emotional and mental state Vs. break-up stages
From what I learned from being a dismissive avoidant and seen with the dismissive avoidants I’ve worked with over the years, emotional or mental states rather than “dismissive avoidant break up stages” is a better way to describe what a dismissive avoidant feel after a break-up. Breakup stages are subjective, passing and develop as feelings change but the way a dismissive avoidant attachment feels after a break-up is multidimensional in that they can feel both sad, hurt and relieved at the same or feel regret and anger at the same time, and these emotions can present in diverse ways, intensities and length of time.
And because these are emotional and mental states rather than breakup stages, most dismissive avoidants are in full control of what they choose or allow their mind to dwell on and for how long. If they don’t like how it feels, they simply compartmentalize or suppress their feelings, and life goes on. They’re not going to sit there twiddling their thumbs, “I’m feeling elated. Now I’m in a depressive state…”. That requires too much emotional energy and investment that most dismissive avoidants can’t afford or allow.
On the surface and behaviourally, dismissive avoidants seem to handle break-ups really well, but internally, dismissive avoidants feel a range of emotions after a breakup
1) Sad and hurt (if they loved you)
Whether they broke up with you or you broke up with them, dismissive avoidants feel pain, sad and they hurt after a breakup just like everybody else, but only if they loved you or had developed a deep attachment.
Here’s the difference, most dismissive avoidant relationships end before they fall in love with someone or care enough about them to feel sad or hurt. Because they often don’t form attachments or strong bonds with their relationship partners, and do not “lose themselves” in relationships, a dismissive avoidant’s sadness and hurt after a break-up is not be as deep or lasting as other attachment styles.
Even when a dismissive avoidant ex loved you and may even still love you, and feels deep loss and misses you, they’ll likely not show it on the outside because that’s just how a dismissive avoidant attachment handles the expression of emotions. They’ve trained themselves not to show emotions especially those that make them look vulnerable, weak, lacking control or not as independent.
Dismissive avoidants who feel sad and hurt after a break-up often do not come back because they don’t want to ever feel that way again, especially if you broke up with them. They may even vow never to love again because love makes them vulnerable to pain and hurt.
2) Guilt and remorse
Dismissive avoidants feel bad for hurting you and many feel guilt and remorse and even shame for hurting someone who cared for them and tried to love them but found it too hard.
Despite their positive self-concept and much envied self-confidence, many dismissive avoidants know they’re “not easy to love” or be in a relationship with. Even dismissive avoidants who aren’t that self-aware deep inside know “something is not right” about their relationships. Some dismissive avoidants will even tell you they’re “difficult” to be in a relationship with on the first date. But most anxiously attached people either ignore it or make up stories in their head about why someone is saying they’re difficult to love i.e. they were deeply hurt by an ex or they’re already thinking about a relationship with me.
Some dismissive avoidants will warn you that they will hurt you or break your heart even before the relationship begins or as the relationship progresses and you’re getting close or failing in love with them. It’s happened so many times before that someone fell in love with them and got hurt, so they expect it to happen again. And when it happens, dismissive avoidants feel bad.
Dismissive avoidants who are more self-aware feel sad after a break-up not just because they hurt someone they cared about but also because they hurt themselves. They tried and failed yet again. They may even offer a friendship after the break-up because they feel bad that they hurt someone who was good to them and who they still want in their life.
Interestingly, feeling bad for hurting you is probably the one emotion most dismissive avoidants feel comfortable expressing and showing if they care about what you think of them and/or how you’ll remember them.
3) Relieved and free again
While sadness is the expected feeling for the end of a valued relationship, many dismissive avoidants feel relieved when a relationship ends. They struggle so much being in relationship, so when it ends, they feel relieved of the stress of trying to be in a relationship. Now they have all the time and space they need to do whatever they want to do without having to be concerned about someone else’s feelings, needs or expectations.
That said, and please take note of this because this is often overlooked when people talk of a dismissive avoidant feeling relieved, ecstatic, happy or jubilant after a breakup.
While most dismissive avoidant appear and/or act relieved and even “jubilant” after a breakup, this does not always mean they don’t care, are happy the break-up happened or are “celebrating” the break-up. The relief dismissive avoidants feel after a breakup is almost similar to the relief people feel when someone who had been ill and suffering for a long time dies and they were the main caretaker or the relationship with the person was difficult. They’re not happy the person is dead and would give anything for them to have been cured, but they’re relieved that the person is now pain free… and they’re free of the caretaking role (which is how most avoidants feel in a relationship with someone dependent on them for their happiness or is “too emotional”).
So while dismissive avoidants feel relieved that the relationship ended, they can also be feeling sad at the same time because emotions aren’t mutually exclusive. The longer a dismissive avoidant ex stays in feeling relieved after the break-up, the less likely that they’ll come back. Every time they think about the many expectations, an ex’s emotional volatility or drama, the pressure to change or commit etc., they’re happy to be free from it all and to have their independence back, and don’t want to go back.
4) Regret and disappointment
Believe it or not dismissive avoidants do regret breaking up. It’s not common for a dismissive avoidant to regret a breakup because once a dismissive avoidant break-ups up with you, they’re done. Plus of course the fact that dismissive avoidants generally don’t do much self-reflection after a break-up and tend to blame exes for the relationship not working. But there are many dismissive avoidants who regret the break-up as soon as it happens or months later. But a dismissive avoidant breakup regret is not “I wish we were still together” longing kind of regret, but more like:
- This didn’t have to happen (example: I wouldn’t have broken up with you if only you’d… given me space when I needed it/hadn’t pushed too hard/didn’t expect a lot of me/appreciated the effort I made/been less emotional/less drama etc.)
- I shouldn’t have let this happen (example: I shouldn’t have let you get too close. I shouldn’t have let you talk me into being in a relationship. I shouldn’t have had sex with you. I shouldn’t have been too emotionally closed off etc.)
- I failed again (example: You don’t deserve this. You deserve better than me. I’m just not made for relationships etc.)
Regret and disappointment over not being able to have a close and intimate relationship or letting you get too close can make a dismissive avoidant avoid romantic relationships and remain single for years. Regret and disappointment in themselves can also make a dismissive avoidant come back and want to try the relationship again hoping that this time, they’ll be able to form a close and intimate relationship.
4) Anger and upset
Many dismissive avoidants are able to suppress and completely ignore some of the emotions associated with break-up grief but anger following a break-up is an emotion many dismissive avoidants have a hard time processing. Because dismissive avoidants generally blame their ex for many of the things that happened in the relationship and led to the break-up, they feel angry about the things that happened in the relationship.
Dismissive avoidants especially feel angry when you break up with them and they feel that they sacrificed their independence to meet your needs but whatever they did just wasn’t enough. They also feel angry after a break-up if their ex didn’t give them space when they needed it, repeatedly violated their boundaries, or was overly critical. They blame you for what they feel they endured or for not appreciating them enough.
Many people who have been on the receiving end of a dismissive avoidant ex’s break-up anger know how cold emotionless an angry dismissive avoidant ex can be. An angry dismissive avoidant ex is likely to carry that anger and bruised ego for months, even years. Some dismissive avoidants have been known to come back months or even years later to prove something to an ex and quickly leave again.
5) Numb and emotionless
Just like not all dismissive avoidants feel sad or relieved when a relationship ends, not all dismissive avoidants feel numb or emotionless after a break-up especially if they hadn’t caught feelings or the relationship had too much drama. After the break-up, they’re Ariana Grande, “Thank you. Next…
But some dismissive avoidants will go numb and emotionless immediately after the break-up and others feel numb gradually over a period of time. In the numbing state, dismissive avoidants feel nothing – no relief, elation or ecstasy, no regret, no anger or guilt… nothing.
Some dismissive avoidants I’ve talked to say the reason they party and drink too much or rebound soon after a break-up is not because they feel relieved or ecstatic that the relationship ended, it’s because they feel disconnected from everyone and with everything and are trying to feel something, anything.
Break-up numbness can last from a few days after the breakup to several weeks and even months. During the numbness state, a dismissive avoidant feels detached and disconnected and isn’t interested in a relationship, contact, being friends, and most of all getting back together.
6) Depression and despair
Studies on attachment styles and vulnerability to depression show that a dismissive avoidant attachment style does not appear to be associated with depressive predisposition due to their avoidance of attachment-related thoughts and emotions and unwillingness to acknowledge mistakes or find fault with their own actions.
Only when a dismissive avoidant ex undergoes self-reflection, looks at their actions with self-awareness and emotional clarity, and acknowledges their mistakes do dismissive avoidants experience depressive symptoms and even go into depression depending on how deeply they self-reflect and how badly they feel about their own actions.
If they had developed a strong attachment bond or fallen in love with an ex, a dismissive avoidant ex may despair that the attachment bond can’t be re-established at all or in a way that provides safety and security. They may even reach out with the hope that if you know that they’re taking responsibility for their actions, you will also take responsibility for your actions. When this fails, dismissive avoidants feel defeated and redirect their efforts into self-work and growth.
A dismissive avoidant breakup timeline for processing the break-up
Hopeful this answers questions you might have on how dismissive avoidants feel after a breakup and what dismissive avoidants feel when you break up with them.
As you can see, dismissive avoidants feel the same range of breakup emotions as everyone else, but process their break-up emotions in ways that are unique to a dismissive avoidant attachment style. It’s also close to impossible to put a breakup timeline on when dismissive avoidants feel the breakup, or the breakup stages an attachment style known for not recognizing and processing their emotions goes through. Studies show that many dismissive avoidants have never even processed a death of someone very close to them, and don’t remember much of their childhood. To expect a dismissive avoidant to eventually feel or process a breakup with someone who they may have not even been attached to is expecting a lot from an attachment style known for almost zero self-examination or relationship autopsy.
You will be surprised to find that your dismissive avoidant ex doesn’t even remember who broke up with who. You think they broke up with you and they think you broke up with them.
What you see on the outside does not always reflect what’s going on inside a dismissive avoidant
If there’s anything you take from this article, it’s this: What you see on the outside does not always reflect what’s going on inside of a dismissive avoidant. The emotionally detached way they process break-ups is often a result of many years of practice suppressing and even denying their emotions rather than how they truly feel about you or about the break-up.