The Avoidant Attachment Style and Its Effects on Our Ability to Love
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” -Rumi
Someone I once dated said to me, “There’s no one to date in New York.” I thought to myself, “Wow; what a great way to push people away!” There’s no one to date in New York… no one, not one single decent man in all of New York City; her generalization blew me away! And, it took me some time to make sense of. I often write articles about beliefs and how they influence our self-perceptions, our perceptions of others, and our perceptions of our environments and the world around us; so, I figured that it was also important to focus on our beliefs about dating, and specifically, our beliefs about love.
Let’s begin with the girl I just mentioned. She’s attractive, highly educated, and compassionate; if she wanted, she could have had her choice of men, yet her belief held her back. She said that she wanted to find someone but had a difficult time settling down, blaming the low-quality men who were, apparently, the only ones available. Another girl once said to me, “Every guy I’ve met is immature and selfish,” and, unsurprisingly, she was another individual who found it difficult to find a partner.
In both cases, over-generalization, the dysfunctional thinking style in which one is overly-broad in the conclusion which they draw, was the culprit; they considered a few examples and believed that they represented a much wider group than they actually did. Those seeking, and unable to find, love often seek therapy due to loneliness, believing that there isn’t anyone out there for them, or that maybe they’ve just had a string of bad luck. In those sessions, I always reference the above-stated quote from Rumi, noting that the barriers to love are the barriers created from within.
Trauma and childhood experiences, including those in early school years, shape us in so many ways; they shape our identities, our self-perceptions, our coping mechanisms, and our ability to trust others. When we’re hurt as children, it becomes difficult to overcome that pain as adults, even if we know that we weren’t to blame. For a long period of time, I struggled with perfectionism, finding flaws in the women I dated, only to discontinue relationships because of them; of the various types of emotionally unavailable individuals, I was the perfection seeker. My barrier was my inability to accept others’ flaws because I wasn’t able to accept my own; so, on some deeper level, I assumed that others wouldn’t be able to accept them, either. My absurdly high standards became a joke among my friends, as they were able to see what I couldn’t; they knew that, in reality, I wasn’t looking for commitment.
Barriers to love take many forms: they take the form of perfection seeking (which I was clearly doing); they take the form of game-playing and chasing, preferring the acquisition of affection to the development of intimacy; they take the form of anger and control, pushing one’s partner away through verbal, and often even physical, aggression; they take the form of sexual seduction, an emphasis on physical intimacy which is abandoned once the relationship shows signs of emotional depth; and, they take the form of emotional withdrawal, the evasion of discussing internal feelings and experiences.
In the wonderful film Good Will Hunting, during a discussion on a potential love interest with his therapist, Sean, Will responds to Sean’s plea to call her by saying:
Why? So I can realize she’s not that smart, that she’s fuckin’ boring? Y’know? I mean…this girl is like fuckin’ perfect right now, I don’t wanna ruin that.
Sean’s response, one of the most poignant comments in the movie, was:
Maybe you’re perfect right now. Maybe you don’t wanna ruin that. I think that’s a super philosophy, Will; that way you can go through your entire life without ever having to really know anybody… You’re not perfect, sport. And let me save you the suspense: This girl you met, she isn’t perfect, either. But the question is: whether or not you’re perfect for each other. That’s the whole deal. That’s what intimacy is all about. Now you can know everything in the world, sport, but the only way you’re findin’ out that one is by givin’ it a shot. You certainly won’t learn that from an old fucker like me. Even if I did know, I wouldn’t tell a pissant like you.
Loving Oneself in Order to Love Another
Will was obviously the perfection seeker type, choosing to preclude the possibility of intimacy through the maintenance of a fantasy. And for, what seems like forever, that was me, too. It took some time, and a reasonable amount of therapy, for me to come to terms with my past and to learn to accept myself, flaws included, in the present. Intimacy isn’t a frightening idea to me anymore, at least not in the way it was once was. There’s still a part of me that fears rejection, but it’s countered with another which reminds me of my character, begging for resilience; I would say that it’s the Rocky Balboa from within.
Love is life’s most challenging endeavor, due to the immense risk involved. For those of us with tumultuous pasts, love becomes a terrifying venture, one from which we must be barricaded. So, we spend much of our lives secluded, like desolate angels unconsciously yearning for connection, while convinced of our contentment with isolation. Our past lives are set in stone, and there isn’t any amount of effort, or any worldly capacity, that can alter them; but the present, and our futures, exist in their potential forms, just waiting for creation.
It’s difficult for us, for me, to accept others’ imperfections, but as I gradually work on self-love, I find it easier to foster compassion for those around me. As I re-embark on my quest for love, I’ll continue to remind myself of what Sean said to Will: that I’m not perfect, either. And as the desolation fades, my illusions of angelic beings, particularly that of the angel within, will accompany it into the abyss, never to be seen again.