The Disorganized Attachment style is a tough thing to experience and even tougher to overcome at times. Experiencing a crippling fear of getting hurt, but wanting to be loved at the same time can be emotionally taxing, to say the least.
Attachment styles—the way we connect with other people—are generally developed as infants, and further refined as children, adolescents, and adults.
Alongside anxious and avoidant attachment, disorganized attachment, which is the most extreme of the insecure attachment style, is hypothesized to be an outcome of abuse and trauma in childhood. For example, stemming from when an attachment figure—a parent or anyone who may have had a close hand in helping raise the child—offers inconsistent emotional support and/or abuse. This can include verbal, physical, or sexual abuse, or the child witnessing an attachment figure commit a traumatizing act, such as a father hitting his spouse.
In either case, the consequences are twofold; the child understands the betrayal of safety that has occurred, and the child understands that a beloved parent or parental figure can become a serious threat to anyone in his proximity, including the child. At this point, the child learns that the attachment figure (who he or she loves and who is responsible for his or her safety) is also someone to be feared.
People who get attached in a disorganized way oscillate from two biological drives whenever the opportunity to attach comes about in life: the need to belong (to love and connect with others) and the need to survive (to protect oneself).
Related: Inside The Mind Of An Unloved Child
Later, particularly in romantic relationships, people with this style of attachment often feel fear and anxiety when forming intimate relationships and suffer from a negative self-image and extremely damaging self-talk. They often feel intense loneliness because of an earnest want for genuine connection, but the stress and fear response, linked to that want, causes them to act erratically, driving away potential connection.
Indeed, it has been suggested that people with Borderline Personality Disorder [also] evidence a disorganized attachment style. They have an extreme need for closeness, fear of rejection, and contradictory mental states and behaviors.
The pain of those with a disorganized style of attachment is this: They want to love. They want, as any human, to be understood, to feel safe, to feel connected to another person. But, the process is extremely jarring, and developing feelings for another person can be marred with more negative emotion than positive, including anxiety, confusion, self-hatred, and doubt.
Although people with a disorganized style of attaching want to connect, they pull away, see signs of rejection where none exists, and develop a self-fulfilling prophecy: They act in ways that protect themselves from rejection and pain. For example, they may fear how they’re being seen, stop replying to a potential partner because they believe they’ll be rejected, even abandon the relationship entirely to avoid further self-viewed embarrassment, intense shame, or negative emotion, ultimately ending the relationship.
Even if the potential partner may be expressing genuine interest, the responding and often erratic behavior by those with disorganized attachment—like being overly trusting then suddenly suspicious, or being happily responsive then withdrawing at a moment’s notice—may cause the potential partner to lose interest, which further enforces the internal negative beliefs; that he or she is unwanted and unlovable.
In the case of disorganized attachment, forming intimate attachments to others can seem like an insurmountable task because any new intimate relationship formed takes a tremendous and continuous act of trust put forth onto his or her potential partner, from which consistency and reassurance are needed near-constantly.
Imagine, for instance, a kitten, who has been badly mistreated but is fully reliant on its owner for food and shelter, not dissimilar to a helpless child. If displaced and put even in the safest environment, it would similarly hesitate to approach its new owner, consistently on high alert, feeling threatened and on edge, feeling both satisfied and warm, and absolutely terrified with every pat on the head, acting erratically not knowing which pat will be a blow—not dissimilar to this child, now grown, intimately attaching to a new intimate figure; a romantic partner.