What Is Disorganized Attachment And How It Can Ruin Your Relationships

What Is Disorganized Attachment

How it develops

This attachment style develops due to the perceived fear the child has of their primary caregivers. This can be a result of childhood abuse or trauma. A child is subconsciously aware that they are dependent on their parents or caregivers for their survival and safety. However, as their source of security and safety becomes a source of fright, the child becomes fearful and avoidant. As the parent responds in a highly unpredictable and contrasting manner, the child is left confused about whether or not the caregiver will fulfill their needs. They may also become worried about their own safety.

This fear typically develops due to abuse, which may be directed towards the child or towards another family member. Witnessing the attachment figure abusing another individual can also lead to trauma in the child. This can cause the loss of trust in the caregiver and the child becomes unable to depend on their caregiver for their basic needs. It can severely affect the behavior of the child towards their parents as they may seek proximity yet remain afraid and avoid their parents out of fear.

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

A child may display fearful-avoidant behaviors if their mothers are frightening, intrusive, negative, and hostile. However, mothers who are helpless, passive, or refuse comforting behaviors and show emotional neglect can also facilitate the development of disorganized behavior patterns. Other such negative behaviors from caregivers may include –

  • Ignoring the child’s needs or cries for long durations, but responding to them at times
  • Mocking or laughing when the child is crying, afraid or distressed
  • Shouting or commanding the infant to stop crying
  • Caring for the child for a brief moment, then intimidating or yelling at them after losing patience 

Related: What Does It Mean to Have an Insecure Attachment Style?

What causes fearful-avoidant behavior

Disorganized attachment involves frightening and violent behaviors from parents or caregivers and is, therefore, more common with families suffering from combined or distinct problems of child abuse, domestic violence, and family instability,” explains a 2012 research paper. Disorganized and insecure attachment styles result in difficulty with emotion regulation. As the child is not properly soothed by their parent(s) when they are distressed, they tend to develop unhealthy means to cope with distress. The child has no consistent or specific strategy to overcome their distress. They display paradoxical and unpredictable behavior patterns driven by confusion or fear.

Research shows that disoriented attachment is often observed in individuals who have experienced traumatic and adverse experiences, emotional neglect, or abuse in their childhood from their primary caregivers or parents. Further research reveals that “nearly 80% of maltreated infants have disorganized attachment.” The researchers add that children with this attachment style are more likely to suffer from stress, face difficulties with negative emotion regulation, have coercive interaction styles, and display aggressive or hostile behaviors. Studies have found that around 15% of children in typical middle-class families tend to develop fearful-avoidant attachment behavior. 

Studies have also found that this attachment style can start to develop when an infant is 18 months old, depending on the behavior of the mother.Pervasively abusive parenting can leave children disorganized and ineffective both in self-sufficiency, and with relationships, and without empathy,” states a 2007 study. This can lead to unsuccessful attempts at independence and higher chances of criminality.

Related: How To Cut Etheric Cords and Release Toxic Emotional Attachments

How disorganized attachment affects us

A child with such attachment patterns may appear stressed and anxious. The child becomes insecure, needy and clingy, craving attention constantly in relationships, from their parents as a child and from their partners as an adult. However, when they receive the desired attention, they may react in a negative manner and become frightened, doubtful, avoid them, or start crying. Studies show that kids with disorganized attachment become distressed in the absence of their parents but continue to remain distressed upon their return or arrival. Unfortunately, parents who share this attachment style with their children typically respond to their child’s distress in an unfavorable way, and lack the required soothing and calm temperament. Moreover, they can also exhibit mixed emotions towards their child’s emotional and physical needs.

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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