Disorganized Attachment: What It Is, Signs And Ways To Deal

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Humans are highly social beings who make innumerable connections during their lifetime. Some connections are loving and long-lasting, while others are uncomfortable and short-term. A disorganized attachment style develops when the parental figure to whom the child is attached becomes the cause of distress.

Children, like adults, develop several types of relationships from a young age. Their initial bond develops with their parents or caregivers. If this bond is inconsistent or abusive, it may lead to fear and insecurity in children.

Read the post further to learn about this relationship and its possible signs.

What Is Disorganized Attachment?

The attachment theory by psychologist John Bowlby defines attachment as, ‘lasting psychological connectedness between human beings’ (1). Individuals tend to develop attachment right from childhood. However, they may develop certain patterns of unpredictable emotions, disruptions, and inconsistent behavior, which could be categorized under disorganized attachment.

Disorganized attachment is an insecure attachment style that is believed to stem from childhood trauma or abuse. This type of attachment may develop when the parent or caregiver’s response to the child’s emotional needs is inconsistent or abusive. In disorganized attachment, the caregiver who is supposed to protect the child may also instill fear in them, knowingly or unknowingly, creating a mix of insecure behaviors and chaotic responses.

People who develop such an attachment pattern may find it hard to maintain normal relationships. And this could result in delivering the right potential in any area of life, be it personal, academic, or professional.

How Does One Develop Disorganized Attachment?

Disoriented or disorganized attachment may develop at any stage in an individual’s life. Some might develop it right in their childhood, while others may develop it during their adolescence or adulthood stage. The factors determining this also depend on the stage when the disorganized attachment is formed (3) (4)   (5).

  • In early childhood

A child always looks up to the parents for everything while a parent protects the child and creates a safe zone for them. Attachment in childhood plays an essential role in an individual’s personality development. When the child doesn’t look happy, freezes, or acts strange when the parent or caregiver is present, it might suggest that the child has a disoriented bond.

Children with a disorganized attachment may waver between wanting to be with their parents and wanting to be away from them. They could fear and might not be certain about what they want in life.

When the child grows older, they might become unpredictable, and their behavior could be uncertain. For instance, they may take the ‘fight’ approach and become violent at times, or they may try to escape and avoid conflict by adopting the ‘flight’ approach.

  • In adulthood

The trauma or disorientation of childhood might be responsible for an adult’s disoriented attachment. But some individuals who had been in a secure environment in their childhood and who have shared healthy relationships might get disoriented too. This could be due to various reasons. For instance, losing someone or experiencing trauma or abuse in life. Such instances could instill fear in them, and they might lack confidence.

Growing up with disorganized attachment could also be responsible for having trouble when socializing with people. They cannot trust anyone easily and eventually cannot make strong friendships. They might get emotionally disturbed and even get aggressive.

How Can Disorganized Attachment Affect Relationships?

When a person is disorganized, they are vulnerable and try to stay away from people to protect themselves. They don’t want the same things to happen again in life. All these could keep them detached, and may have problems in maintaining romantic relationships. They may feel insecure even when they are in a relationship. They may have very strong walls to protect them, therefore, not allowing many people in could be due to the lack of trust they have.

The signs of disorganized attachment vary from one person to another. If you think you have developed any of these traits in childhood or later, then recognizing them could help you in dealing with it.

Possible Effects Of Disorganized Attachment

Some of the signs of disorganized attachment are (3) (4):

1. Self-doubt

Bad experiences in the past can make an individual with attachment issues feel inferior to others. They think that whatever has happened, be it in childhood or later years, is their fault. They doubt themselves and end up having low self-esteem. And so, they find it difficult to trust people around them.

2. Fear and anxiety

Some of the common behavioral patterns that people with disoriented attachment experience are fear, hesitation, and anxiety. These patterns prevent them from opening up and being confident. They fear to indulge in conversations and trusting people.

3. Uncertain behavior

They lack control over their behavior, and their emotions are unpredictable. They might become furious and even over-protective of themselves.

4. Depression

Some people with a disorganized attachment could have major issues in making connections. Fear, confusion, and neglect might eventually lead to depression.

5. Stress

Any attachment issue during childhood, when not addressed, could become a burden for the child after they grow up. The episodes of trauma or abuse might always trouble the person.

6. Others

People with disoriented attachment might also lack concentration skills and constantly seek attention from loved ones. Sometimes this means being codependent on a loved one in the family or in a relationship.

Usually, these signs may fade away as the child grows. But if they don’t, it is essential to know how to deal with them.

How To Deal With Disorganized Attachment? 

Some of these ways might help you deal with it:

1. Identify the causes of disorganized attachment

Start with understanding the reason behind the attachment issues. Is it because of the experiences in childhood or something that has happened in the recent past? Be observant of the signs and your behavioral patterns. Once you figure out what’s causing these changes, you can try fixing them.

2. Try sorting out the past issues

Once you have identified the cause of disorganized attachment, you need to find a way to resolve it as you can’t go back and undo it. So, do what is necessary, even if it means forgiving some people who were responsible for your problem.

3. Don’t blame yourself

It is not your fault that you have developed disoriented attachment as a child or an adult. So, try not to doubt or blame yourself for what happened or how you feel. What you can do is accept what has happened, find closure, and start anew.

4. Focus on your communication

Try to open up and talk to your loved ones about how you feel. What has happened once may not happen again. Don’t doubt anyone or yourself, and don’t rush to find a solution; take your own time. Eventually, you might feel confident again and may start to trust yourself and others.

5. Think positively

When you have a disorganized attachment, you tend to think negatively about yourself and others. For instance, you may tend to think you are unworthy of love or incapable of doing something, while you worry that others are unreliable and might harm you. Try to change this attitude and have a positive approach to life to get out of the negative patterns.

6. Seek help from a therapist

Talking or venting out in a secure setup, such as psychotherapy, could help you work through your attachment issues better. So, talk to a therapist and tell them about your experiences in childhood and the recent past. Or talk about any other event that has been bothering you. Be honest and disclose your fears and confusion. Open communication with them could help them guide you and help you in maintaining secure relationships outside. And most importantly it can help you break any family cycles of disorganized attachment for your future children and their children to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is an example of disorganized attachment?

Disorganized attachment stems from a parent’s failure to address their child’s fears or inconsistent response to fears. For example, a child afraid of sleeping alone may cry at night. If the parent gently pacifies the child on some occasions but lashes out at them on others, it may lead to disorganized attachment.

2. Can I have disorganized attachment without experiencing abuse?

According to some studies, 80% of children who have experienced abuse develop a disorganized attachment to their caregivers (6). Thus, abuse is evidently one of the main causes of disorganized attachment. While other factors may cause this disorder, insufficient research exists to prove it.

Disorganized attachment may develop when the parent is inconsistent or abusive in responding to the child. Such people may have low self-esteem, less trust in others, and unpredictable behavior. It may take some effort and time to get over the past and change their behavior and attitude. If you feel you have these issues, try to look for possible reasons and open up to your loved ones. Avoid blaming yourself and work on developing healthy attachments with the people in your life. Seek professional help if required.

Key Pointers

  • Disorganized attachment could develop due to childhood and adulthood traumas.
  • It may present itself through anxiety, depression, insecurity, or uncertain behavioral patterns.
  • It is important to understand that disorganized attachment is never your fault.
  • Do not hesitate to seek help from a therapist if needed.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.

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Shikha Thakur

Shikha is a writer-turned-associate editor at MomJunction. Having done a certification in Relationship Coaching, her core interest lies in writing articles that guide couples through their courtship to marriage and parenthood. She also specializes in baby names. Being a postgraduate in Human Resources from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, she likes understanding people and their relationships. This reflects in her relationship... more

Alicia Spomer

(MS)
Alicia Spomer is the founder of Life Anchors Counseling, a private practice that specializes in the treatment of mental health in children, adolescents, and young adults. She is a Nationally Certified Counselor with a masters in professional counseling as well as a post master’s degree in child & adolescent disorders from Grand Canyon University. With 10 years of experience in... more

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