So far in this series of articles we have covered an Introduction to Attachment Styles and the Preoccupied Attachment Style. Taking the time to read these articles before continuing into the current topic may be helpful as they help to lay a foundation of attachment styles and how they play a role in romantic relationships. Just to briefly refresh you, attachment refers to the unique bond that is formed in infancy with a primary caregiver and has been expanded to also include and reflect how we attach romantically as adults. Our attachment style is influenced by our thoughts of self and our thoughts of others.
The dismissive attachment style is characterized by a positive view of self and a negative view of others. Those who fall into this category view themselves as worthy and deserving of love but feel that others are not worth trusting. They often feel that they are capable of loving but that potential partners are not trustworthy, are not supportive and are likely to disappoint them. Given that they fearful to open up and be vulnerable with others, they become very avoidant of intimate relationships. They may claim to be overly independent, claim that they don’t need others and act as though their relationships are not a priority to them.
Kim Bartholomew (1991), a psychologist who specializes in attachment research, reports that those with a dismissive attachment “protect themselves against disappointment by avoiding close relationships and maintaining a sense of independence and invulnerability” (p 227). Personally, I find that this attitude is very prevalent in our culture. The “I’m independent and don’t need you” attitude and approach to relationships is futile and counterproductive. Relationships are meant to be a two-way street where there is reciprocal give and take. There is even meant to be a certain degree of “dependence” on one another – even though the word dependence would make a dismissive person cringe.
Some of you may have read this description and feel as though you can relate, but don’t worry because so can many others. Just because you have a pattern of being dismissive in relationships does not mean that you should throw in the towel. It simply means that now you are aware of certain behaviours that you can work towards improving. Before I was mindful and started working on this area of my personality I was very reluctant to get attached to people. I had gotten to a place where I knew that I was valuable and worth loving but was of the opinion that others just weren’t worth my trust. Unfortunately, living a dismissive life is a very lonely place because even though you may be surrounded by people, everyone is kept at a distance.
In order for a relationship to function and be mutually rewarding there are a few things that a dismissive person needs to be aware of and work on. With that being said, here are a few target areas I would suggest that you work on if you think that you have a dismissive attachment style.
- Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water: Just because you may have had negative experiences in relationships in the past, that does not mean that every relationship you enter into will end in disaster. Try to keep an open mind when meeting new people and don’t always assume the worst.
- Know that there are other ways to protect yourself: Being vulnerable and opening up to someone is scary and it is very heartbreaking if you open up to someone and then the relationship parts ways. But it is important to keep in mind that when getting to know someone, especially for the purpose of dating, it does not mean that you have to pour your heart and soul out to them. Protecting yourself doesn’t mean that you need to dismiss the person completely, it just means that you need to be more mindful of how much you open up to and share with that person and how quickly. Being conscious about the amount you reveal of yourself in the beginning of a relationship allows you to feel a sense of control and power over the attachment and therefore decreasing the amount of vulnerability you feel. You open up in stages and if the relationship goes south you are still holding onto several cards that you had not yet revealed. For more information on this please read The Five Stage of Friendship Article.
- Nobody is indebted to you: When entering into a new attachment, dismissive individuals may think that new partners or friends need to prove themselves. They may need to know that the person is trustworthy, know that they won’t leave or know that they are different from every other person they have dated. I’m sorry to say it but just because you have had negative experiences in the past does not mean that your new partner needs to jump through hoops to prove themselves to you. That is your personal baggage that needs to be worked through both together and individually. You cannot hold all of the power in the relationship and working through some of those negative experiences will enhance your relationship and make it more meaningful.
This is a very brief introduction to the dismissive attachment style, however I do believe that there is enough detail for readers to be able to determine whether or not they fall into this attachment category. If you find that this article does not describe your attachment style you can read the article on Preoccupied Attachment Style or stay tuned for the articles on secure and fearful attachment.
Bartholomew, K., & Horowitz, L. M. (1991). Attachment styles among young adults: A test of a four category model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 226-244.