Detached attachment style

Symptoms, signs, causes, and more

Avoidant attachment is an attachment style that develops during early childhood. It tends to occur in children who do not experience sensitive responses to their needs or distress. Children with an avoidant attachment style may become very independent, both physically and emotionally.

An attachment style is the pattern of behaviors a person exhibits in response to relationships and bonds. Attachment styles are part of attachment theory in psychology, which John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth developed.

Developing an avoidant attachment style as a child can lead to difficulties forming close relationships as an adult.

This article covers what avoidant attachment is and its causes and treatment options.

Avoidant attachment is one of three attachment styles that Mary Ainsworth and Barbara Wittig developed in 1970. Mary Main and Judith Solomon added the fourth attachment style in 1990.

The four attachment styles are:


Secure attachment develops in children with a parent or caregiver who is sensitive and responsive to their needs. Securely attached children have confidence that a parent or caregiver will be available to meet their needs and give them comfort when they are distressed.

Avoidant, or insecure-avoidant

Avoidant attachment develops in children who do not experience sensitive responses from a parent or caregiver to their needs or distress. Children with avoidant attachment may become very independent, both physically and emotionally.

Anxious, or insecure-anxious

Children with anxious attachment do not have consistent responses to their needs from a parent or caregiver. Children with anxious attachment may be clingy around their caregiver while insecure in themselves or in their interactions with others.

Disorganized, or fearful

Disorganized attachment occurs when a child wants love and care from their parent or caregiver but is also afraid of them. Disorganized attachment can develop if a parent or caregiver responds to a child seeking comfort by ignoring, yelling at, or punishing them in some way.

Strange situation procedure

In the 1970s, Mary Ainsworth did an experiment called the “strange situation procedure.” In this experiment, parents or caregivers left the room as their child played with a trained observer nearby. The researchers observed and documented the child’s response to their parent or caregiver leaving the room.

Children with a secure attachment style would cry when their parent or caregiver left the room but go to them and quickly become soothed on their return.

Children with an avoidant attachment style would be calm when their parent or caregiver left the room. Once they returned, the child would avoid or resist having contact with them.

However, despite these observable reactions, other psychological tests showed that the children with avoidant attachment were just as distressed as the other children by their parent’s or caregiver’s absence.

Infants and children generally need to form a close bond with their parent or caregiver. The repeated rejection of attempts to form this secure attachment may result in a child learning to suppress their desire for comfort when distressed or upset.

Avoidant attachment develops when an infant or young child has a parent or caregiver who is consistently emotionally unavailable or unresponsive to their needs. Infants with an avoidant attachment style may also have faced repeated discouragement from crying or expressing outward emotion.

The parent or caregiver of a child who has avoidant attachment may:

  • lack knowledge on how to support their child
  • lack empathy
  • feel overwhelmed by parenting responsibilities
  • not have developed a sense of commitment
  • have an avoidant attachment style themselves

Children with avoidant attachment may also disconnect from their own needs and feelings. These children may learn to self-soothe and feel as though they can only rely on themselves. As a result, they have little motivation or trust to seek help or support from others.

A child with an avoidant attachment style may show no outward display of desire for closeness, affection, or love. However, internally, the child will feel the same stress and anxiety responses as a child with secure attachment when they are in stressful situations.

These children may also want to be near their primary caregiver but not interact with them. They may also reject physical contact with their caregiver.

Attachment styles and their associated behaviors can last into adulthood. As an adult, a person with an avoidant attachment style may experience the following:

  • avoiding emotional closeness in relationships
  • feeling as though their partners are being clingy when they simply want to get emotionally closer
  • withdrawing and coping with difficult situations alone
  • suppressing emotions
  • avoiding complaining, preferring to sulk or hint at what is wrong
  • suppressing negative memories
  • withdrawing, or tuning out, from unpleasant conversations or sights
  • fearing rejection
  • having a strong sense of independence
  • having feelings of high self-esteem while having a negative view of others
  • being overly focused on their own needs and comforts

Avoidant attachment can also affect older adults. A study from Hong Kong found that in older married couples, a male partner with an avoidant attachment style experienced more detrimental effects on their well-being than a female partner.

Learn more about attachment disorders in adults here.

A parent or caregiver can prevent their child from developing an avoidant attachment style by being sensitive to their needs and feelings while encouraging them to express their wants and emotions. It is also important for a person to let their child know that they are safe and cared for through both actions and words.

A parent or caregiver should also be mindful to avoid making their child feel ashamed if they make a mistake or are afraid. Instead, they should soothe and comfort their child as often as possible when they are distressed or scared.

If a parent or caregiver finds that they are struggling with parenting and suspects that they may not consistently be meeting the emotional needs of their child, they should seek help from a mental health professional who specializes in working with people with these issues.

Anyone with concerns about how their child is developing, including their attachment style, may also find speaking with a pediatrician or child psychologist helpful.

Therapy or counseling can be beneficial for both a child with an avoidant attachment style and their parent or caregiver.

A therapist can help the parent or caregiver understand how their behavior may be affecting their child and guide them toward new ways of interacting with the child and responding to their needs. A therapist can also work with the child to help them form a healthier bond with their parent or caregiver.

An adult with avoidant attachment may also benefit from therapy. The therapist or counselor can help the person understand how their parents or caregivers responded to their needs during childhood and how this may be shaping their current emotions or behavior. The therapist can then suggest methods to help the person overcome any negative behaviors or feelings.

Learn about different types of therapy here.

Avoidant attachment is one of four attachment styles that develop during childhood. Avoidant attachment occurs when an infant or child does not consistently receive the care and attention that they need to develop a healthy relationship with their parent or caregiver.

An avoidant attachment style may cause a child to hide their feelings and become emotionally distant from their parent or caregiver. However, the child still desires to be close to that person and experiences inner distress when they are apart.

Adults with avoidant attachment may struggle to establish close relationships as a result of being very independent and unlikely to look to others for support or help.

A person who is concerned that they or their child may have avoidant attachment should speak to a therapist or doctor.

Avoidant Attachment Style: Causes and Adult Symptoms

Referred to as anxious-avoidant in childhood, the avoidant-dismissive attachment style is one of the three insecure adult attachment styles identified in psychological literature.

Parents who are strict and emotionally distant, do not tolerate the expression of feelings, and expect their child to be independent and tough might raise children with an avoidant attachment style.

As adults, these children appear confident and self-sufficient. They do not tolerate emotional or physical intimacy and might not be able to build healthy relationships. What’s more, in the workplace, they are often seen as the independent, ‘lone wolf’. It is, however, possible for these individuals to change and develop a secure attachment style.

We will cover the most common questions around avoidant attachment:

  • How does attachment form in early childhood?
  • How do children develop insecure attachment styles?
  • What specifically causes avoidant attachment in children?
  • What are symptoms of avoidant attachment in adults?
  • What are relationships with avoidant adults like?
  • Can you change an avoidant attachment style?
  • How to heal from avoidant attachment?

How you form relationships as an adult depends on your childhood

Have you ever wondered why some people do not want to depend on or truly connect with anyone, even when in a relationship? Most of us aim to build strong relationships throughout our lives.

We are ‘hungry’ for love and affection. Why? Because emotional intimacy has many advantages. Namely, we are able to share our thoughts and feelings openly, we receive support and reassurance, we feel heard, appreciated, valued, and consequently, we feel calm and safe.

Emotional closeness can provide us with a feeling of stability – we are not going through life alone; we have someone to rely on. If we feel safe and valued by others, we are also able to maintain a higher self-esteem and a positive outlook on life.

If you are someone that needs to have close relationships and wants to rely on others (and have others rely on you), you have probably wondered why some people lack these basic human desires. How do they even make it work?

The truth is, this is most often not a conscious choice. The way we form relationships as adults has a lot to do with the way we formed our first social bonds as children with our caregivers.

Attachment theory is well-known and researched in the field of Psychology. Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby and his attachment theory shed light on and explain this phenomenon.

Four adult attachment styles were categorized based on his theory:
  1. Anxious (also known as preoccupied)
  2. Avoidant (also known as dismissive)
  3. Disorganized (also known as fearful-avoidant)
  4. Secure
Don’t know your attachment style? Take our short 5 minute Attachment Style Quiz to find out now. It’s completely free.

How do children form secure attachment in early childhood?

Attachment theory suggests that our early relationships with our caregivers (in childhood) set the stage for how we build relationships in the future (in adulthood).

The behavior of our caregivers is the first example of social interactions that we are presented with. It thus becomes informative of how relationships work.

Are other people going to take care of me? Can I trust them? Can I rely on them?

When raising a baby in a secure environment, where the caregivers are emotionally available and responsive to the baby’s needs, the answers to these (subconscious) questions will probably be yes. This is what we call a secure attachment.

How insecure attachment develops in childhood

However, when the child perceives that their basic and emotional needs are not met, they will have a hard time trusting people. Social bonds might be perceived by such children as not safe or stable. This is how a child forms an insecure attachment.

Let’s get back to that person you know, who is self-sufficient and does not (want to) rely on others. Based on attachment theory, we would categorize his or her attachment style as an insecure attachment style. It is known, more specifically, as avoidant/dismissive.

How do children develop an anxious-avoidant attachment style?

The development of an anxious-avoidant attachment style in a child has much to do with the emotional availability of their caregivers. The caregivers do not necessarily neglect the child in general; they are present.

Nevertheless, they tend to avoid the display of emotion and intimacy and are often misattuned to the child’s emotional needs. Such caregivers are reserved and seem to back off when the child reaches out for support, reassurance and affection.

The caregivers are likely to become more distant as the situation gets more emotionally dense. They might become overwhelmed and want to get out. This is when their unavailability would be most evident.

The child expresses a need for closeness, but instead of receiving it, they perceive that the door is shut in their face. Parents whose children become avoidant might not only avoid expressing their own feelings.

They might also disapprove of and not tolerate any notable display of emotions from their children, regardless of whether it is negative (sadness / fear) or positive (excitement / joy).

When such display of emotions occurs, caregivers can become angry and try to disrupt the child’s behavior by telling the child to toughen up. The parent expects the young child to behave independent, serious, and reserved.

Being raised in such an environment is likely to cause an avoidant attachment style. Most often, the caregivers have this attachment style themselves. Since the parent was raised that way, they pass it on, unintentionally, to the next generation.

Symptoms of avoidant attachment style in adults

Adults with the dismissive / avoidant attachment style seem to be pretty happy about who they are and where they are.

They might be very social, easy-going, and fun to be around. In addition, these individuals might have a lot of friends and/or sexual partners. Generally speaking, they are not alone or lonely.

Avoidant adults tend to be independent. Their self-esteem is high and they do not rely on others for reassurance or emotional support.

Such individuals might invest in their professional development and are likely to build up their confidence on each personal success. They seem to be in control.

How does an avoidant adult behave in relationships?

For avoidant adults, social interactions and bonds remain on the surface. In order for a relationship to be meaningful and fulfilling, it has to become deep. That’s when you would ‘hit a wall’ when dealing with avoidant attachment style and relationships.

These individuals will let you be around them, but will not let you in. They tend to avoid strong displays of closeness and intimacy. As soon as things get serious, dismissive/avoidant individuals are likely to close themselves off.

At this point, such people might try to find a reason to end a relationship. They might be highly annoyed by their partner’s behavior, habit, or even physical appearance. Consequently, they start drifting off and distancing themselves from the partner. Adults with this attachment style believe that they do not need emotional intimacy in their lives.

This is a direct result of their upbringing. Their caregivers showed them that people cannot be relied on. Whenever they sought emotional support in the past, it was not provided. They simply stop seeking or expecting it from others. It’s as if they have ‘turned off the switch’.

To the avoidant adult, emotional closeness and intimacy are often off the table

From the outside, an adult with an avoidant attachment style might look confident, strong, and together. This does not mean, however, that this person is not suffering or making those around him/her suffer.

To the avoidant adult, emotional closeness and intimacy are often off the table. Not because they will not reap benefits, but because they do not know how.

Either way, not being able to build a deep, meaningful, and long-lasting relationship can be painful for people with this attachment style. It can also be heart-breaking for the ones who love them.

Furthermore, having an avoidant attachment style as a parent is likely to affect your child’s attachment style. If you have it, you will probably pass it on.

I may have avoidant attachment… now what?

If you recognize the dismissive/avoidant attachment style in yourself or you realize you are dating someone with avoidant attachment style, what can you do?

The key is to admit and realize that the ‘switch’ on emotional intimacy has to be turned on. This might be challenging and require a lot of effort.

What do I feel? The avoidant adult needs to start paying attention to the emotional and physical sensations that come up around (emotional) intimacy. Self-reflection might help one make sense of and analyze existing patterns.

What do I need? Another essential step is exploring, understanding, and eventually expressing emotional needs.

What should I do? At some point, the avoidant adult might be able to start working on building closer relationships with people. They could follow a step-by-step approach to letting others in and responding to the emotional needs of close ones.

Can avoidant adults change their attachment style?

Obviously, working with a therapist on this pattern would potentially be the most beneficial way to move forward with earning secure attachment. If that’s not an option for you, we have online courses for you to move forward.

Either way, if you want to change your attachment style, you need to put effort in it. Whether you are working through it with a close friend, a therapist, or a book, consistency and effort are fundamental.

If you prefer to go the route of a workbook, we recently released our first series of attachment style digital workbooks.

Avoidant Attachment Workbook

If you feel distant and disconnected in your relationships and often withdraw from contact, this workbook might just be the step you need to take to begin your journey to positive change.

Our avoidant attachment style digital workbook includes:

  • 199 pages & 32 practical exercises
  • How avoidant attachment affects you in over 10 different areas of life
  • 8 case studies on avoidant attachment
  • Groundbreaking and up-to-date research on avoidant attachment
  • Section recaps and areas for reflection

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If you liked this post and want to learn more about attachment theory, then we recommend following The Attachment Project on Instagram. We regularly post content to help you make sense of attachment theory in various contexts.

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Ainsworth, MD, Bell, SM.(1970). Attachment, exploration, and separation: Illustrated by the behavior of one-year-olds in a strange situation. Child Development, 41(1), 49-67.

Bowlby, J.(1982). Attachment and Loss: Volume 1 Attachment. 2nd ed. New York: Basic Books.

Mikulincer, M., Shaver, P.R. (2007). Attachment in Adulthood: Structure, Dynamics, and Change. Guilford Press.

What is attachment and what types of attachment are there

Our relationships with other people in psychology can be interpreted through different theories. One of them is the theory of attachment, within which there are 4 different styles (or types) of attachment.

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Psychological problems

Psychological trauma nine0003

A person's type (or style) of attachment is their special way of forming relationships with others. According to the theory of attachment, developed by psychologist Mary Ainsworth and psychiatrist John Bowlby in the 1950s, attachment style is formed and developed in early childhood in response to our relationships with parents or caregivers. Our adult attachment style is thought to reflect the specific relationships we had with significant adults during infancy and childhood. nine0003

Do not self-medicate! In our articles, we collect the latest scientific data and the opinions of authoritative health experts. But remember: only a doctor can diagnose and prescribe treatment.

Type of attachment explains why we overreact to certain topics or behaviors of people, and also explains our way of interacting with them.

There are four main attachment styles in adults: secure, anxious, avoidant, and anxious-avoidant. The last three are considered forms of insecure attachment. nine0003

Types of Attachment

1. Secure

This is our ability to form secure, loving relationships with other people. A person with a reliable type of attachment trusts others and is trusted himself, loves and knows how to accept love, easily approaches others. He is not afraid of intimacy and does not panic when a partner needs his own time and space. A person with a secure attachment can be dependent on another without falling into complete dependence. nine0003

According to a 1980s study by social psychologists Cindy Hazan and Philip Shaver, only about 56% of adults are securely attached.

All other types of attachment are insecure.

2. Anxious

Anxious attachment style is a form of insecure attachment style marked by a deep fear of being abandoned. Anxiously attached people tend to be very insecure about their relationship, often worrying that their partner will leave them, and therefore always crave acceptance. Anxious attachment is associated with obsessive behavior. For example, you are very worried when your partner does not answer you quickly enough, and you constantly feel that he does not care enough about you. nine0003

According to a study by Hazan and Shaver, about 19% of adults have an anxious attachment type.

3. Avoidant (detached)

Avoidant attachment style is a form of insecure attachment style characterized by fear of intimacy. People with an avoidant attachment style tend to have a hard time getting close to or trusting others in relationships, and the relationship itself can leave them feeling suffocated. They usually keep some distance from their partners or are largely emotionally unavailable in their relationships, preferring to be independent and self-reliant. nine0003

According to Hazan and Shaver, about 25% of adults have avoidant attachment.

4. Anxious-avoidant

Anxious-avoidant attachment style is a combination of anxious and avoidant styles. People with this attachment are both desperate for love and want to avoid it at all costs. They do not want to develop close romantic relationships, but at the same time they have a strong need to feel loved by others.

Anxious-avoidant attachment, also known as disorganized attachment, is relatively rare and not well understood. But it is known to be associated with significant psychological and behavioral risks, including overactive sexual behavior, an increased risk of relationship violence, and difficulty with emotion regulation in general.

How Attachment Styles Are Developed

Attachment styles are usually formed in infancy through our relationships with our first caregivers. Researchers believe that attachment style develops during our first year of life between 7 and 11 months of age. nine0003

Humans are born helpless, so from birth we are programmed to seek and attach ourselves to a reliable guardian for protection. The quality of that first connection—loving and stable, fickle or even absent—actually shapes the developing brain, influencing us throughout our lives in how we deal with losses and how we behave in relationships.

What circumstances lead to each of the four types of attachment?

Secure attachment - guardians are sensitive to the needs of their child and listen to them.

Anxious Attachment - h Apparent adults are inconsistent, unpredictable, sometimes overly involved and periodically withdrawn.

Avoidant attachment - adults are unresponsive, often dismissive and withdrawn. They are constantly emotionally disconnected from their child, as a result of which he believes that his needs will not be met.

Anxious-avoidant attachment - the adult frightens or traumatizes the infant, which causes the child to experience a deep sense of fear and distrust of others, despite the desire for close relationships. The child develops a poor understanding of boundaries and does not understand what a healthy relationship is.

Significant adults are not the only ones who shape our attachment style, however. It can also be influenced by other significant relationships throughout life. A person may have a secure attachment as a child, but betrayal and infidelity as an adult can lead to the development of an insecure attachment. nine0003

How to identify your attachment style

Read the statements and choose the closest one:

  1. It is relatively easy for me to get close to others and I am comfortable depending on them and making them depend on me. I don't often worry about getting dumped or getting too close to me.
  2. I have found that others do not want to get as close as I would like. I often worry that my partner doesn't really love me or doesn't want to stay with me. There is a desire to completely merge with another person, and this sometimes scares people away. nine0098
  3. I feel somewhat uncomfortable being around others, it is difficult to fully trust them, it is difficult to allow myself to depend on them. I get nervous when someone gets too close, and often partners want me to be more intimate and open with them than I'm comfortable with.

Choose the statement that suits you best and return to the beginning of the text - to the description of attachment styles. The numbers 1,2, and 3 here are the same as the description of attachment styles above. The fourth type is not included in this test, as it is considered to be quite rare and not fully understood. nine0003

It is important to note that in different situations a person may show a different style of attachment. It is important to understand which one is more common than the others.

Can attachment style change?

Yes, a person can change their attachment style, but it takes a lot of work, patience, and a clear vision of your goals.

Here's how to do it.


Define your relationship patterns

Think about your relationship with your parents as a child. nine0003

  • How did they treat you as a child?
  • How did you react to them?
  • Whom did you turn to for comfort when faced with a problem?
  • Were your parents reliable to you?

Assess your current and past attachment styles and determine if there are any patterns in your choice of partners.

2. Work on your self-esteem

Low self-esteem is a common feature of all insecure attachment styles. Learn to accept, appreciate, love and take care of yourself first. If you cannot understand what self-love is because you were neglected, insulted and rejected as a child, at least start with a tolerant and neutral attitude towards yourself. You are human, and every human deserves to be appreciated. nine0003


Identify your real needs

People with insecure attachment styles tend to form insecure relationships because of a deep-seated fear that their relationship will not work out. It's important to figure out how to make yourself feel more confident in a relationship. Part of this is being aware of your needs and desires in a relationship.

Learn to be assertive and set boundaries. Respect how you feel and express your needs in words, without manipulation or hidden meaning. People with secure attachment speak directly what they think and feel, avoid hints and manipulations. nine0003

4. Don't be afraid to ask for help

Psychotherapy is a good thing. It is difficult for a modern person to understand many things without help and support. Moreover, if you want to work with your attachment, the therapist will become your guide and assistant in this matter, help you set appropriate boundaries and build healthy relationships.

Photo: Joe Yates/Unsplash, Artem Podrez/Pexels, Kristina Paukshtite/Pexels, Blue Bird/Pexels

4 Styles of Attachment - Family Development Institute

Does your partner avoid intimacy? On the contrary, obsessive? Or perhaps inconsistent and unpredictable? Or is he reliable, gentle, and relationships with him bring peace and satisfaction? One approach to explaining the reasons for such behavior is to determine the attachment style that a person developed in childhood.

We continue to introduce you to psychologists who have studied attachment. It's about Mary Ainsworth. It was she who described 4 styles of attachment. nine0003

Born in the USA in 1913, Mary Ainsworth is one of the 100 most influential psychologists of the 20th century. Ainsworth is an American-Canadian scientist who worked, among other things, with John Bowlby. Ainsworth expanded his attachment theory substantially in the 1970s. Her innovation is particularly evident in the creation of a method for assessing attachment in infants aged one to one and a half years to a significant adult - the so-called "Strange Situation" procedure

During the procedure, the mother and child are placed in an unfamiliar playroom with toys. At the same time, the researcher observes them through a one-way mirror. The procedure consists of eight successive stages in which the child experiences a short-term separation from and reunion with the mother, as well as the presence of an unfamiliar adult. (here is an example on the video

Based on the children's reactions during the experiment, Ainsworth described three main attachment styles: secure, anxious, and avoidant. Ainsworth's colleague, Mary Maine, later described a fourth as disorganized.

RELIABLE. In the experiment, after the departure of the mother, the child is upset, but quickly calms down when she appears, calmly interacts with strangers in the presence of the mother, looks at the mother during the game and smiles, is proactive and inquisitive.

Secure attachment is formed in children who grow up in close-knit families, where parents constantly maintain emotional contact with their children. The parent is available and able to meet the needs of the child in an appropriate way. Securely attached children feel secure and are more likely to explore their environment. nine0003

In adulthood, people with secure attachments do not alienate their loved ones and become dependent on them. They trust loved ones, feel worthy of love, respect a partner and are ready to seek a compromise. Of course, such people also have problems in relationships, but their cause should not be sought in childhood. The secure type is considered the most adaptive attachment style.

ANXIETY attachment is manifested in the strong grief of the child after the departure of the mother, crying, hysteria, which do not stop even after her return. Sometimes aggression towards the mother is manifested, refusal to communicate with strangers. The child explores little, is wary of strangers, even in the presence of a parent. nine0003

Anxious attachment is the result of an adult's inconsistent behavior, his anxiety about initiatives or the child's health. This type of attachment is formed when parents are unpredictable. They either allow or forbid. Either nearby or not. And the child begins to cling to them, so as not to lose.

People with this type of attachment have low self-esteem. They are dependent, react painfully to changes in relationships, are afraid to be alone and therefore constantly require confirmation of love. nine0003

AVOIDING attachment is manifested in the child's indifference to the care of the mother, the absence of fear of strangers, a low level of initiative and response behavior. Ainsworth suggested that the deadpan behavior of infants is a disguise for grief. This happens when the child's needs have not been taken into account, and he comes to the conclusion that the satisfaction of his needs does not matter to the significant adult.

Avoidant attachment is formed when a child has experienced attachment denial, when parents reject the child, do not respond to his needs, do not support him emotionally, or when prohibitive forms of upbringing prevail. nine0003

Then a person in adult life usually avoids close relationships, keeps a partner at a distance, and also, as a rule, hides his feelings. Moreover, despite the closed behavior, such a person really needs relationships and support. Without them, he feels lonely.

DISORIENTED attachment is expressed in the absence of connection of behavior with the stages of achieving intimacy. Such attachment includes overt manifestations of fear; conflicting behaviour. Children may run to hide when they see a significant adult, or exhibit avoidant or ambivalent strategies when reunited with a parent. This is an indication that the attachment system has been disturbed (for example, by fear or anger)

Disoriented attachment is often formed in families where the child is exposed to violence. These children break the rules of human relations by forgoing attachment in favor of power: they don't need to be loved, they prefer to be feared. Their behavior is inconsistent and often change. A person with a disoriented sense of attachment can seek a relationship for a long time, and having achieved it, immediately drop everything and break it off.

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