What Is Disorganized Attachment And How It Can Ruin Your Relationships

What Is Disorganized Attachment

Does your child seem afraid of you? Do they tend to avoid you? Then they may have developed a form of insecure attachment style called disorganized attachment.

What is disorganized attachment?

Also known as the disoriented attachment and fearful-avoidant attachment, it is a type of attachment style where a child is fearful of their caregivers even though the child is physically & emotionally dependent on them. The caregivers act as a source of fear or distress for the child. According to a 2019 study, kids with this attachment style fail to exhibit any consistent behavioral pattern as a reaction to separation from and return to their primary caregiver, for instance, their mother. The child may become confused by the separation, be inconsolable, annoyed and throw tantrums. When their parent returns, the child may simultaneously be avoidant and seek proximity with the caregiver. 

According to a 2018 study, this attachment style is seen as “fright without solution,” which means that the child is conflicted in their desire and need, whether to approach their parents for support or runaway and avoid their caregivers as the child is frightened of them when facing a strange or stressful situation.

Related: Disorganized Attachment Style: Why It Is The Most Insecure Form Of Attachment

Attachment & fearful-avoidant behavior

Here, attachment refers to an emotional bond or connection we develop with our primary caregiver or parents as an infant. Attachment styles refer to specific behaviors an infant and caregiver displays in the relationships, particularly when facing threatening situations. The concept of attachment and associated styles are based on the attachment theory devised by British psychiatrist John Bowlby and American psychologist Mary Ainsworth. Our attachment styles with our primary caregivers often determine our ability to form intimate relationships with others as adults. According to the attachment theory, secure attachment styles enable us to seek support and share our emotions openly. However, when we develop insecure attachment styles, we may become avoidant, needy or manipulative in our relationships. Children with disoriented attachment are unable to see their parents as a secure base from where they can explore their environment and return to as their safe haven when distressed.

What Is Disorganized Attachment And How It Can Ruin Your Relationships
What Is Disorganized Attachment And How It Can Ruin Your Relationships

When a caregiver fails to address the child’s needs or is unable to be consistent in their response, the child can develop disorganized attachment as there is no secure and safe base for the infant. Hence, although the child may be affectionate towards their primary caregivers, the child is afraid of them as well. He/she is also continuously confused about how his/her parents will respond to their basic needs. The child may feel compelled to seek security and support from people they are afraid of. Further research shows that John Bowlby believed “disorganization results from threat conflict, safe haven ambiguity, and/or activation without assuagement, which interfere with coordination and integration across a behavioral system.”

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

Features of disorganized attachment

Here are some of the most common features of disoriented or fearful-avoidant attachment style observed in children and adolescents –

  1. Contradictory behavior patterns
  2. Misdirected, undirected, interrupted or incomplete movements
  3. Asymmetrical or anomalous postures
  4. Freezing, stilling, and slowed movements and expressions
  5. Apprehension regarding the caregiver
  6. Seek love and comfort from caregivers but also frightened of them
  7. Display unexplainable or abnormal behaviors
  8. Trouble with self-soothing or self-care practices
  9. Difficulty trusting others, especially romantic partners
  10. Inability to be emotionally vulnerable around other people
  11. Denial or repression of emotions
  12. Failure to establish personal boundaries
  13. Strong feelings of insecurity
  14. Unable to start or keep meaningful interactions
  15. Chaotic relationship patterns 
  16. Discomfort with both distance and closeness from others
  17. Rigidity, uncontrollable emotions and repetitive behaviors

Apart from these, some other common signs of disorganized attachment style may include –

  • Need for close bonds but feels discomfort with emotional closeness
  • Lack of emotion regulation, especially negative emotions
  • Negative or pessimistic perspective about self, loved ones and partners
  • Low self-esteem, insecure, negative self-image & poor social skills
  • Erratic, aggressive, oppositional and disrupted behavior 
  • Lack of behavioral & attentional strategy for stress management
  • Fear of parents or caregivers in childhood or romantic partners in adulthood
  • Severe anxiety and/or depression
  • Intrinsic feelings of shame and guilt
  • Intense fears of abandonment or rejection
  • Increased likelihood of experiencing stress in childhood
  • Mixed or confronting emotions about intimate relationships
  • Higher risks for development of dissociative disorders and trauma-related conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Lack of comfort with expressing emotions and love
  • Consider self unworthy & inadequate of affection or responsiveness

Related: 5 Signs Of Unhealthy Attachment In Relationships

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Theo Harrison

Hey there! I am just someone trying to find my way through life. I am a reader, writer, traveler, fighter, philosopher, artist and all around nice guy. I am outdoor person but heavily into technology, science, psychology, spiritualism, Buddhism, martial arts and horror films. I believe in positive action more than positive thinking.View Author posts