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Disorganized Attachment Style: What Is It And How It Affects Relationships

disorganized attachment style

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. 

When it comes to the ways in which we attach to others, our attachment styles have served us well in early life, allowing us to react and adapt to the situations at hand, ensuring, in a sense, our survival into adulthood. However, a disorganized way of attaching may no longer serve us or be helpful in meeting our life’s goals. 

Related: The Attachment Theory: How Childhood Attachment Affects Adult Relationships

Fortunately, While The Literature On Overcoming A Disorganized Style Is Scarce, There Is Hope. 

As in any area of life, as adults, the responsibility to change falls within: What it takes to unlearn bad habits in attachment is time, skills, and reassurance, support, and ongoing safe, positive, and trusting relationships, which truly help heal trauma. Despite understanding this intellectually, it also takes time for emotions and actions to catch up. 

This is where therapy can help. Through therapy, a safe and trusting environment and relationship are made, where skills like identifying, verbalizing, and communicating thoughts and feelings can be learned.

Therapy can also help someone with disorganized attachment test the waters in future relationships by learning how to feel safe while communicating, including sharing how one feels, instead of making premature assumptions leading to acting out the unhealthy attachment style.

Because the mind can sabotage new relationships out of self-protection, an important skill that can be learned through therapy is to contest the internal negative self-talk and look for contradictory past examples.

For instance, because those with a disorganized style of attachment respond normally to friends and strangers and only react in a disorganized way with intimate relationships (as shown in the literature for children) if one believes he or she is unlovable, thinking about friends or coworkers who value him or her and why is a good way to refute that thought. 

Finally, choosing a consistently kind, reliable, and trusting partner is also part of good relationship habits, which can help form a healthy attachment. The safer one feels within a relationship, the more securely attached he or she can become.

References:

Beeney, J. E., Wright, A. G., Stepp, S. D., Hallquist, M. N., Lazarus, S. A., Beeney, J. R., ... & Pilkonis, P. A. (2017). Disorganized attachment and personality functioning in adults: A latent class analysis. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 8(3), 206.
Zilberstein, K., & Messer, E. A. (2010). Building a secure base: Treatment of a child with disorganized attachment. Clinical Social Work Journal, 38(1), 85-97.

Written By Mariana Bockarova
Originally Published In Psychology Today

If you are someone, who has a disorganized attachment style, then don’t lose hope. Things might seem bleak and hard most of the time, but everything will be fine. Treat yourself with kindness and a lot of love, go for therapy and be with someone who will understand you and help you deal with this.

Disorganized Attachment Style pin
Disorganized Attachment Style: What Is It And How It Affects Relationships
disorganized attachment style pin
Disorganized Attachment Style: What Is It And How It Affects Relationships
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Mariana Bockarova

Mariana Bockarova is interested in trauma, interpersonal relationships, and human behavior — essentially, how we are affected by other people (including corporations and brands, which our brains similarly interpret as people!). She pursued her Bachelor's degree from the University of Toronto, followed by her Master's at Harvard University where she graduated with distinction. She is currently teaching various courses in psychology at the University of Toronto and consults on a range of topics. She is often interviewed by Cosmopolitan Magazine and has been featured in the Daily Mail, The Sun (UK), Prevention Magazine, Vice, and Medium, among others.View Author posts