Attachment disorder is a broad term intended to describe disorders of mood, behavior, and social relationships arising from a failure to form normal attachments to primary care givers in early childhood. Such a failure can occur because of an unusual early experience of neglect, abuse, or from abrupt separation from caregivers between 6 months and three years of age. Frequent changes, excessive numbers of caregivers, or lack of caregiver responsiveness to a child disrupt or breakdown a child’s basic trust.
The attachment styles that develop in childhood stay with us for a lifetime, unless amended and changed by therapeutic intervention. These styles influence our feelings of security, the personal meaning given to our experiences, and the ability to develop and maintain intimacy with others. We all have perceptions and behaviors across the continuum of attachment styles; however, we tend to adopt one primary style based on early attachment relationships. These include healthy or secure attachment or one of the following when injuries or early trauma have occurred:
Avoidant Adults/Dismissing Style: These individuals have a dismissing state of mind with respect to attachment. They often have vague and non-specific early childhood memories. They avoid intimacy and close relationships. These individuals experienced caregivers as unnurturing, dismissive, and critical. Avoidant adults are uncomfortable with closeness and intimacy.
Ambivalent Adults/Preoccupied Style: These individuals are obsessive about attachment. They have over-detailed stories and continue to reexperience past hurts and rejections in a manner suggesting a lack of resolution. These adults had parents who alternated between warmth and availability and coldness and rejection for no reason.
Disorganized Adults: These individuals struggle to attach based on histories of abuse, neglect, or severe loss. They do not have an organized approach to relationships. They run very hot and cold and are quite mercurial. Their parents were unresponsive, inconsistent, punitive and insensitive. They learned to view others as unavailable, threatening and rejecting, and are, thus, afraid of closeness. Their experience of severe attachment trauma makes them much more vulnerable to a variety of emotional, social and moral problems.
Hope: Attachment styles learned in our early years can be changed provided appropriate therapy to teach and facilitate corrective emotional experiences whereby more “secure” attachment styles can be learned. These modifications can redefine relationship in many significant ways. Learning to create a healthier relationship provides an arena to heal old wounds and to establish a meaningful bond for the future.