How To Overcome Fearful Avoidant Attachment Experienced In A Dating Situation

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated May 29, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Entering or reentering the dating world can be nerve-wracking. First, know that you’re not alone if the idea of pursuing romantic relationships makes you nervous or afraid. Next, read on to learn more about a few key reasons why this might be—starting with a fearful avoidant attachment style—and to discover strategies that may help.

Trying to overcome your fears around dating?

Is your attachment style causing a fear of dating?

A fear of dating is not uncommon, nor is it unfounded. Getting involved in the world of adult relationships can sometimes have painful consequences. Some common fears and risks include being rejected, committing to the wrong person, feeling pain as a result of a romantic relationship, or not finding someone you connect with and feeling lonely as a result. Those who have been in unhealthy relationships previously or ones that ended in an upsetting way may also be afraid to open up in case they’re hurt again.

In addition to nervousness about some of these possibilities, attachment styles may also play a role in why they fear dating. Attachment theory posits that the way someone is raised in terms of giving and receiving love influences their behavior into adulthood.

Types of attachment styles

There are four different attachment styles: secure attachment and three insecure types. Getting familiar with them may allow you to see yourself in one or more, depending on the relationship or situation. This may allow you to work towards healing, growth, and healthier relationships in the future.

Anxious/preoccupied

Sometimes also referred to as preoccupied attachment, a person with this attachment style may struggle to believe they’re competent in or worthy of receiving love from others but typically trust others to give it. This negative view of themselves may manifest as frequent validation-seeking from romantic partners in an effort to quell their fears that they will be abandoned. They often desire closeness, but at the same time, may have lots of doubts about being abandoned.

Dismissive-avoidant

A person with this attachment style generally believes they are worthy of love and competent in giving it but does not trust others to provide it. They may become highly self-sufficient in an effort to minimize their need for vulnerable interpersonal relationships at all for fear of being let down.

Fearful avoidant

Sometimes also referred to as disorganized attachment, a fearful avoidant attachment style may make a person doubt their own competence in finding or maintaining a loving connection with someone and may doubt that competence in others, too. Individuals who lean toward the fearful-avoidant style may feel anxiety when starting to fall for someone, causing them to go back and forth between pursuing that person and withdrawing out of fear.

Getty/AnnaStills

Secure attachment style

A person with this attachment style generally has faith in both their own and other people’s competence and reliability in giving and receiving love. They’re likely to be able to form and maintain loving and healthy relationships where they feel secure. 

Can you change your attachment style?

People with any of the first three styles on the list above may face more fear around dating than people with secure attachment patterns. Because they doubt their own abilities to love, other people’s reliability in providing it, or both, they may find it difficult to be vulnerable, build trust, or communicate openly when in a relationship. Or, the fear of not having their needs met or being rejected or abandoned may act as an obstacle to them dating or entering into a relationship in the first place.

That said, attachment styles are not fixed. Through focused, committed work—often with the help of a trained therapist—you may be able to overcome emotional wounds from childhood trauma or past relationships and develop secure attachment patterns.

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

While dating may still cause you a bit of tension or stress from time to time, your work and increased self-awareness may get you to a point where it’s minimal and doesn’t hold you back from pursuing happiness in relationships.

Other potential causes of a fear of dating

It’s also worth noting that some people may fear or have additional anxiety around dating for reasons unrelated to their attachment style. For example, an asexual or aromantic person may or may not be interested in dating at all. If they are, they may experience anxiety related to sharing how they identify or to the prospect of building relationships in general. If not, they might feel fear around dating due to the societal pressure they might experience to engage in it even though they don't want to.

Mental health disorders such as social anxiety disorder can also contribute to a fear of dating. Social anxiety disorder can cause so much fear, tension, and even physical symptoms like dizziness or nausea that it may prevent someone from wanting to enter into dating situations. Some neurodivergent people may also have trouble in the dating world due to difficulties accurately interpreting and acting on social cues—especially indirect or subtle ones, which can make dating seem even more daunting. Some people with disabilities may face judgment or prejudice from potential romantic or sexual partners, which can make the process feel extra stressful. 

In other words, there are many different reasons a person might fear dating, with an avoidant attachment style being just one of them. Addressing each one on your own or with a counselor may help you work through them.

Strategies for working on a fearful avoidant attachment style

If you feel you may have a fearful avoidant attachment or another cause of a fear of dating, you might consider trying some of the suggestions below.

1.   Pinpoint your fears

This exercise can be particularly helpful for those with a fearful avoidant attachment style, but it may be useful for those with all kinds of dating-read fears. Ask yourself: What exactly are you afraid of? To be able to address your fears, it usually helps to identify them first. 

Are you afraid of getting close to someone and being seen for who you really are? Have past experiences made you fear cheating or tough breakups? Are you worried you’ll have to give up on things that are important to you in order to be in a relationship? Whether unfounded or not, you’ll generally need to pinpoint your core fears around dating and relationships to figure out how you can work through or manage them.

2.   Practice setting boundaries

Setting boundaries can be a way to help keep yourself safe and comfortable in a new or existing relationship. Boundaries are important for everyone, but they can be especially comforting if you have a fearful avoidant attachment style. 

For example, how much communication do you prefer? If frequent texting with someone new throughout the day makes you feel overwhelmed or like things are moving too fast, you can share with them how much communication you’d like instead. If you need regular alone time in a relationship, you can let your partner know. If you don’t like to kiss on the first date or if hand-holding isn’t your thing, you can tell that to the person you’re dating. Setting boundaries like this may help you feel more in control and less inclined to act from a place of fearful avoidant attachment.

Trying to overcome your fears around dating?

Some people find meeting with a therapist virtually to be more comfortable and convenient. Research suggests that therapy done in an online format can provide clients with similar benefits to in-person treatment for a variety of concerns and conditions. An online therapy platform like BetterHelp can match you with a therapist who you can talk to via phone, video, and/or chat so you can get the guidance you seek from the comfort of your own home. You can find client reviews of BetterHelp therapists below.

Remember that everyone is different. The most effective form of therapy for you is the one that makes you feel most comfortable. Providers are available both online and in person to help you work through the fears or other challenges you may be facing.
Counselor reviews

“I’m really happy I got to talk to Mark, he’s very delightful, he helped me go through some tough times. Helped me reduce my anxiety and deal with my attachment issues. Very respectful. Very professional.”

“Jodi has been of great help and has helped me work on a few different aspects of my life. I’ve struggled with intimacy-related issues that have caused my self-esteem to dip, as well as career path anxiety. He’s been a great help in guiding me to feel better about everything which has allowed me to continue to improve and get better. I’ll definitely be coming back to him in the future if needed.”

Takeaway

Dating can seem scary or intimidating to many people for all kinds of different reasons. If you’re interested in how fearful avoidant attachment can progress to a more secure attachment style so that you can have happy and healthy relationships, a therapist may be able to help.
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