Attachment refers to the profound connection developed between a child and his or her caregiver. This connection will deeply affect a child’s development, as well as his or her ability to effectively express emotions and develop healthy and meaningful relationships later on in life. Individuals who suffer from attachment disorders will experience extreme difficulty managing their emotions and connecting with others. These difficulties will often result in a lack of self-worth, a deep-seated fear of getting too close to anyone, and a desperate need to be in control. An individual suffering from an attachment disorder will frequently feel alone and inherently unsafe.
What Causes Attachment Disorders?
Attachment disorders develop as a result of negative experiences during early parent-child interactions. Young children who are neglected or abused – who are repeatedly left alone, isolated, abandoned, left powerless, or uncared for – will learn that they cannot depend or rely on others, and that the world is a fundamentally frightening place. If a child is unable to formulate any kind of meaningful connection with a parent or caregiver, he or she is at risk of developing an attachment disorder.
This inability to form a connection can begin as early as infancy, and can result from many circumstances, such as:
- No one offers a baby comfort when the baby is crying.
- A baby or child is wet or hungry, and is not attended to.
- The baby is neglected – not cared for, played with, or held.
- A young child is physically abused or mistreated.
- A child only receives attention by acting out in extreme ways.
- The needs may be met sometimes, and not be met other times, leaving the child uncertain and insecure.
- Caregivers are frequently changing as a result of foster care, adoption, or the loss of a parent.
- A parent or caregiver is emotionally unavailable, due to mental illness, substance dependency issues, or a physical condition.
- A child is hospitalized for an extended period of time, or separated from his or her parents for a similar reason.
Insecure Attachment – Warning Signs and Treatment
Attachment disorders range from mild and easily treatable to extremely severe. The most severe attachment disorder is known as Reactive Attachment Disorder. Even at this stage of attachment, it is entirely possible to treat and heal all related difficulties. Of course, spotting an attachment disorder early on will making treating the disorder much simpler. If an attachment disorder is caught as early on as infancy, for example, it will often be easy to correct with continued support and care. Adults with attachment disorders may be more difficult to treat, but with ongoing therapeutic care, deeply engrained beliefs and behavioral patterns can be completely reversed.
Look for the following warning signs of attachment disorders in infants and young children:
- Does not reach out to be picked up.
- Does not smile or laugh.
- Does not make eye contact.
- Cries incessantly and cannot be comforted.
- Does not seemingly notice when a caregiver leaves or enters a room.
- Rejects efforts to connect.
- Does not play with toys or engage in interactive games.
- Frequently comforts him or herself.
Look for the following signs and symptoms of Reactive Attachment Disorder in adolescents and adults:
- Control issues.
Those who suffer from attachment disorders will typically go to great lengths to avoid feeling helpless. They will often exhibit negative characteristics such as disobedience, argumentativeness, and stubborn defiance.
- A clear aversion to physical affection.
For those suffering from a severe attachment disorder, touching of any kind will likely be perceived as a threat. Individuals with reactive attachment disorders may work to avoid physical contact, and flinch or laugh when they are touched.
- Immense difficulty showing affection.
Children with reactive attachment disorders may exhibit extreme aversion to interacting affectionately with their parents, but may show an inappropriate amount of attention to strangers. Forming meaningful and healthy relationships of any kind will be a struggle, and will likely seem an impossible feat.
- Anger issues.
Anger will either show up directly, in the form of outbursts, tantrums, and physical aggression, or will be expressed indirectly through passive-aggression and manipulation.
- Lack of a clearly defined conscience.
Those who suffer from reactive attachment disorder may exhibit no signs of guilt or remorse after behaving badly, or harming (emotionally or physically) another human being.
Treating Attachment Disorders
In most cases, effectively treating attachment disorders will require a combination of individual and family therapy. It is important that while the afflicted individuals undergo therapeutic treatment, their family members are simultaneously healing from damaging interactive patterns. Both family therapy and individual psychological counseling are essential to overcoming attachment disorders, and because such disorders typically go hand-in-hand with addictive disorders, dual diagnosis treatment is often crucial to comprehensive and long-term recovery. We at Next Chapter possess extensive experience in treating adult men with attachment issues and co-occurring (often interrelated) addictive disorders, and understand the importance of developing methods of healthy emotional and interpersonal functioning.
Attachment disorders will develop in childhood, but if left untreated, they will drastically affect adult relationships. For more information, read our blog post on Adult Attachment Disorders, or give us a call at 1-561-563-8407 today.