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The Recovery Expert
with Sharie Stines, Psy.D.

The Elusive Person: When You Love Someone With a Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style

I have come to realize this is a thing.

It recently occurred to me that there are some people we encounter and may even have long term relationships with, that are completely elusive individuals. By that I mean, you just can’t seem to “have” them. They are somewhat there, acting like you are in a relationship with them, but when you step back and think about the reality of the situation you realize they are actually quite emotionally disconnected from you. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you just feel that somehow, they are not really yours at all.

You feel like you are playing a constant game of “Hide and Seek,” in this relationship.

The person could be your mother, your father, a spouse, a boyfriend, a friend…  The person looks and acts like they are in a relationship with you, but the relationship always feels vacant. You tend to feel empty and confused when around the person. The non-verbal messages you keep receiving are mixed. You find yourself constantly feeling off guard, off your foundation, unstable.

It’s not really that the person is abusing you. They aren’t really cheating on you or uninterested in you. They aren’t calling you names or being rude. They just aren’t emotionally there. Their presence in the relationship feels like a pseudo- presence. It’s like the person is there in structure or body (or maybe not) but you just feel like you miss them. You long for a more meaningful connection. The relationship leaves you wanting more.

The other person obviously has the upper hand, because their messaging is that they are content with the status quo – the way the relationship is. They seem perfectly happy with this sense of ghostlikeness presence. You, on the other hand, feel empty and confused. and wonder what is going on? Why do I feel a void? While he/she is right there in front of me, why do I feel that I am desperately alone?

It’s crazy making. It’s passive aggressive. It’s invisible gas lighting. It’s illusory. There is no way to define it. All you know is that something is terribly amiss and you sense that it is somehow your fault. But you aren’t sure why it’s your fault because you haven’t done anything wrong.

If the elusive person in your life is your mother, you feel that she isn’t “mother like.” If the person is your spouse, you feel he/she isn’t “spouse like.” Whatever role the person has in your life, you get the gut level sense and intuition that they just are not filling their role properly. And my assumption is that you’re right about this, but you will not get any validation to that effect.

You will be constantly told that “your mom is so wonderful,” or, “you husband is so loving…”  You nod your head in agreement, all the while feeling misunderstood and even ungrateful, because the relationship is so utterly unfulfilling and emotionally unrewarding for you.

What is the problem, you wonder? The problem is, the relationship with your loved one is not tangible. In a securely attached interpersonal relationship, each member of the relationship belongs to the other in a mutually satisfying way.

Not so with an elusive person. In a relationship with an elusive person, in some respects you think you belong together, but the truth is, he/she only belongs to him/herself, and you only belong to them when convenient for that person.

Elusive people practice the following types of behaviors:

Benching:  When someone benches you, you are merely sitting on the bench waiting to be chosen again, like a bench warmer in a basketball game.

Bread crumbing:  When you are being bread crumbed, the other person is tossing you out small bits of reinforcement, just enough to keep you around.

Cloaking: This is when you are ghosted and blocked.

Cuffing/uncuffing: Now you see them, now you don’t. They keep company with you for a while, and then they don’t.

Firedooring: When the relationship is one-sided, and you do all the work, while the other person only comes around when they want something.

Ghosting: An unexpected exit by the other person, where communication ceases without explanation.

Haunting: Like ghosting, except the ghoster continues to watch you on social media.

Left on read: When the person reads your message, but doesn’t reply.

Submarining: Similar to ghosting, except the person pops up again out of the blue and acts like nothing ever happened.

Slow fade: When someone slowly eases out of the relationship.

Zombie-ing: This is when your ex comes back and says, “Hi.”

What should you do if this is the predicament you’re in?  You realize that, like a dead flowerbed full of weeds, your relationship is dying or dead because it is not being nurtured and cared for by the other person. You may do all you can to try and fix things, but you keep ending up fruitless for all your efforts.  This can be very disappointing and frustrating.

I address five steps you can take to help yourself is this is a problem you experience:

  1. Educate yourself on attachment styles. People who are elusive tend to have a dismissive-avoidant attachment style. People with this type of attachment style tend to value themselves over others and do not need to be attached intimately. Learn about your own attachment style and learn how to have secure attachments with others. In fact, you might consider that you have an anxious attachment style yourself, which would make you more susceptible to hanging in there with unavailable people.
  2. Validate yourself. This means, see the truth, honor yourself for seeing the truth, and tell yourself that the person you love is incapable of a secure attachment. Don’t blame yourself for the other person’s elusiveness; but also, don’t look to that person for validation. If you do so, you will always be disappointed.
  3. Set boundaries. The boundaries you are setting are internal ones. These include, the ability to step back from the relationship and allow yourself to see the person, truly, for what he/she is capable of. Another boundary would be to not equate waiting with love.
  4. Develop healthy connections with other people. Your internal working model for relating gets damaged when in close relationships with people who have unhealthy and/or insecure attachment styles. Spend your energy developing those relationships that don’t leave you feeling confused.
  5. Take responsibility for yourself. Don’t take responsibility for the entire relationship because within a relationship it takes two motivated individuals. Rather than blame the other person for problems within their psyche and the state of your relationship, find a way to improve your own life and develop healthy relationships with others.


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Scott, K. (n.d.) Ghosting, kittenfishing and orbiting: A glossary of modern dating terminology. Retrieved from:

Shorey, H. (n.d.) Overcome Anxious Attachment by Becoming Dismissing. Retrieved from:

The Elusive Person: When You Love Someone With a Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style

Sharie Stines, Psy.D

Sharie Stines, Psy.D. is a recovery expert specializing in personality disorders, complex trauma and helping people overcome damage caused to their lives by addictions, abuse, trauma and dysfunctional relationships. Sharie is a counselor at LIfeline Counseling & Education Inc., in Southern California ( Lifeline Counseling is a non-profit organization 501(c)(3) corporation. Sharie is also an abusive relationship recovery coach -


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APA Reference
Stines, S. (2020). The Elusive Person: When You Love Someone With a Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from