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Attachment is a broad term for identifying how children and adults connect with others. Attachment is first experienced in childhood between a child and their primary caregivers. If the child’s needs are met, a secure attachment may be formed, which is linked to positive psychological outcomes. If their needs are not met, an insecure attachment may be formed. In these cases, children can develop attachment disorders, mental health conditions showcased by challenges attaching to others in a healthy way. If these patterns persist into adult development, they are often called insecure attachment styles.
Non-attachment is a concept developed through Eastern contemplative traditions. It may sometimes be considered in therapy as a method to work toward a healthier or more secure adult attachment in relationships. Learning more about non-attachment can help you decide if this method would be beneficial for you.
What Is Non-Attachment?
Non-attachment is a positive therapeutic coping method with roots in Buddhist ideology. Practicing non-attachment means learning flexibility and adaptive functioning, as well as removing unhealthy or maladaptive attachments with oneself or others. Buddhist non-attachment involves reducing fixation and focus on one's thoughts and feelings and developing the ability to move forward from these thoughts and feelings without judgment.
As non-attachment involves concepts similar to mindfulness practice, this mindset can be beneficial to develop in attachment therapy and can help those with attachment disorders reduce depressive symptoms or unhealthy defense mechanisms that may lead to increased suffering in other aspects of daily life. Note that non-attachment is not an attachment disorder or a negative attachment. It is not a term to describe insecure attachments in childhood or adulthood. Instead, it is generally an active choice to practice non-attachment.
How Do You Recognize Attachment Challenges In Children?
Recognizing difficulty with attachment early in life may be challenging because such difficulty is often caused by the child's connection with their caregiver. The patterns learned as a child may stay with that child as their life unfolds, and develop into an insecure attachment style in adulthood. Detachment from a child’s primary caregiver often leads to maladaptive behaviors and thinking later in life. These thoughts and behaviors are developed as a survival mechanism, which can be challenging to overcome.
Identifying the symptoms of an insecure attachment may be the first step to finding support. If you want to learn more about insecure attachment or an attachment disorder in a child, involving a mental health professional may be beneficial. Observing the child and their caregivers can help a therapist learn more about individual differences in their interactions, as well as their communication level. This process may give the therapist a greater sense of understanding when it comes to the child/caregiver relationship, which can lead to a diagnosis and treatment plan.
There are specific symptoms of childhood attachment disorders to look for. Early detection may help families find treatment sooner. A few of the symptoms of an insecure attachment style or difficulty attaching can include:
Non-responsiveness to social interaction
Difficulty connecting with one caregiver over another
Lack of interest or involvement in activities
Lack of self-compassion
Weak sense of self
Fear of being abandoned
Children who experience an attachment disorder may exhibit anti-social behaviors, difficulty opening up, a detached state, or a lack of boundaries.
How Do You Recognize Adult Insecure Attachment?
Adult attachment difficulties may involve challenges in giving and receiving love in a healthy way. Adults with an insecure attachment style may struggle to create and maintain relationships. They may also exhibit maladaptive behaviors, such as avoiding emotional responsibility, difficulty setting or respecting boundaries, staying in unhealthy relationships, or leaving relationships when the relationship requires vulnerability. These symptoms may lead to depression or isolation, which might confirm their maladaptive thought patterns.
Insecure attachment in adults is often due to childhood attachment disorders or insecure patterns. As a child grows, they form ideas of what a healthy relationship looks like and whether their needs will be met. If these connections are not formed properly, a person may implement the unhealthy relationship lessons they learned in their childhood into their adult relationships. Difficulty attaching in relationships may also result from a traumatic life event or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD and insecure attachment styles can have similar symptoms, including the following:
Detachment and isolation
Difficulty trusting others
A weak sense of self
Challenges in forming new relationships
Difficulty maintaining existing relationships
Lack of self-compassion
Fear of abandonment or loss
What Causes Attachment Challenges In Children?
The leading cause of unhealthy attachment in children is often a neglectful and abusive environment at some point early in life. When parents and caregivers do not meet a child's needs or harm them through abusive behaviors, the child may be at risk of developing an attachment disorder.
Attachment disorders lead to the development of maladaptive survival behaviors in children. Children with challenges attaching may learn to survive in ways that serve them well as children but lead to unhealthy patterns in adulthood. They may have learned not to rely on those around them, developing a belief that they do not need others to survive. A child with an insecure-avoidant attachment may be emotionally and mentally distant throughout their life. In contrast, a child with anxious attachment may not be able to stop clinging to their relationships and might struggle with respecting other people’s boundaries.
Can Babies Form An Insecure Attachment?
Infants can form insecure attachments and may seem uninterested in those around them, including parents or caregivers. This indifference is a maladaptive behavior often developed because of neglect or abuse. Infants with insecure attachment may cry inconsolably, ignore their parents when they walk into the room, or fail to thrive. Failure to thrive means the infant does not meet the predetermined standards for reaching developmental milestones later in life. These infants may be slow to crawl, walk, and develop speech.
Can Losing A Parent Cause An Insecure Attachment?
Losing a parent or caregiver is often a traumatic experience for infants and children. A single loss may devastate a developing child, and they might become fearful and turn inward, isolating themselves. Losing both parents may cause a child to decide it is emotionally safer to not form bonds with others. Divorce may also cause fear of abandonment and is one of the leading causes of childhood PTSD. Whether a child's caregiver and support system offers care, love, and validation after these events may change the outcome.
What Causes Insecure Attachment In Adults?
A maladaptive childhood often results in an insecure attachment style in adulthood. The causes of childhood attachment disorders may also be the underlying causes of an adult's insecure attachment style. PTSD symptoms from traumatic events may also cause difficulty attaching as an adult. It can be helpful to recognize potential signs and seek support if you realize you are exhibiting some of these symptoms. There are many forms of attachment-based therapy available, so you can find one that meets your unique mental health needs.
The Origins Of Non-Attachment Techniques
Non-attachmenttechniques may be used to help individuals experiencing attachment difficulties mindfully separate themselves from their thoughts and feelings. With origins in many Eastern religions, cultures, and spiritual traditions, non-attachment can involve moving away from painful attachments for a spiritual or more meaningful connection with yourself. According to Buddhist beliefs, a secure attachment style is the end goal of non-attachment.
The theory of non-attachment describes similar symptoms to insecure attachment styles. For example, Buddhism posits that "clinging and grasping" onto unhelpful patterns, thoughts, and relationships can be unhealthy and that practicing non-attachment may help to shift these patterns. When you cultivate non-attachment, you may be able to let go and feel more free in life, potentially enabling personal growth.
However, unlike attachment theory, non-attachment is not focused primarily on social relationships. It also focuses on letting go of and accepting life changes, status and ego, self-beliefs, money, material objects, worldly concerns, unwanted personality traits, and other factors in a person’s life. It demonstrates a connection between attachment and the individual's beliefs about themselves, their relationships, and the world as a whole, which can lead to a greater sense of well being, self actualization, and advanced psychological development. Although the practice of non-attachment can be difficult and often takes time, it may lead to significant changes.
Is Non-Attachment A Contradiction To Attachment Theory?
Attachment theory showcases the need for humans to attach instead of disengage. For this reason, the term "non-attachment" might seem like a synonym for insecure attachment or an avoidant attachment style. However, the concept of non-attachment differs from the symptoms of insecure attachment. In practice, non-attachment is a positive coping mechanism, not a lack of ability to attach to others.
Non-attachment techniques can involve the following:
Accepting that your thoughts are thoughts and don’t define you
Moving away from clinging to what no longer serves you
Practicing meditation or mindfulness to ground yourself in the present moment
Accepting that humans have innate desires for connection
Practicing loving kindness toward others
Reducing unhealthy behaviors based on indulgences (excessive spending, etc.)
Moving on from painful experiences when you're ready, accepting they've occurred as part of the ever changing nature of life
Interacting with others with the understanding that relationships can be temporary or long-term
Not expecting behaviors or reactions from others
Letting go of beliefs that harm you from your childhood
Although one may assume that the goals of healing from an insecure attachment style are either becoming less or more attached, a secure attachment style can involve a mixture of both—a balance between connection and independence. Non-attachment can be used to disengage from patterns or ideas you no longer want.
However, becoming fully "non-attached" may not be healthy. Overall, finding a balance between connection and disconnection can be beneficial. The Non-Attachment Scale can help measure non-attachment levels and assess how to find this balance. Practicing non-attachment in moderation may be healthy.
What Types Of Therapy Use Non-Attachment?
Non-attachment may not be officially used in any specific therapeutic modality. However, therapists taking a Buddhist or mindfulness-based approach may be familiar with the idea. Attachment-based therapies may also use similar coping skills to help clients let go of unhealthy attachments and form healthier ones. A few forms of treatment that might be used with non-attachment can include the following:
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
Mindfulness-based cognitive-behavioral therapy
Mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy (MBSR)
Clients might also practice techniques such as visualization, yoga, or deep breathing, which all have a basis in historical spirituality and Buddhist principles as discussed by spiritual teachers.
Can Children Try Non-Attachment Therapy?
Many attachment-based therapies are available to children experiencing an insecure attachment style or attachment disorder. A qualified therapist can use non-attachment techniques to help these children cope with anxious attachment behaviors. However, therapy using non-attachment and mindfulness may be more popular for adults. Treatment for children's attachment disorders often focuses on family connections, trauma healing, and talk therapy techniques.
Other Forms Of Childhood Attachment Therapy
Before beginning therapy with a child, the therapist may conduct an assessment to look for attachment disorders. The child's interaction with the caregivers or parents may be observed during this assessment. The child's behavior may also be observed in different situations, and parenting ability and style might be evaluated.
While the DSM-5 does not recognize non-attachment as a disorder, many children live with avoidant attachment challenges, causing them to withdraw from connections. The therapist can provide a treatment plan that delivers strategies for managing these challenges. A few ways parents can support this process include the following:
Providing a caring, responsive, and nurturing environment
Providing consistency in babysitters, daycares, and other care environments
Ensuring the child's environment is stimulating and interactive to encourage interaction with others
Ensuring the environment is safe, secure, and appropriate for a child
Receiving counseling and support for parenting techniques
Taking parenting classes to practice adaptive parenting skills
Learning about the concept of non-attachment
There are many pseudoscientific therapies (non-scientific options) for attachment disorders. These therapies consist of methods that may seem compelling but lack evidence and support from the broader science community. For example, "rebirthing therapy" or other types of forced attachment therapies may be recommended online but are not safe, healthy, or endorsed by psychologists. These techniques may worsen attachment disorders and harm children, potentially causing further trauma.
In the best interest of the health and safety of children, seek qualified, licensed therapists or psychologists practicing evidence-based treatments to provide a proper diagnosis and treatment strategy for any attachment disorder.
What Alternative Forms Of Therapy Are Available For Adults?
Therapy for adults with an insecure attachment style may include various forms of psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy. There are many techniques a therapist may use when treating attachment concerns:
Creating scenarios and walking the individual through them to teach them new coping skills
Revisiting past traumatic events and situations to address them
Helping the individual recognize past traumatic events and situations that have produced maladaptive behaviors and thoughts
Using cognitive techniques to help restructure maladaptive thought patterns
Using behavioral techniques to help identify and change maladaptive behavior patterns
Teaching about attachment styles
Using mindfulness-based techniques like non-attachment
How To Find Support As An Adult
There are many ways to find a professional if you want to try non-attachment techniques or another form of attachment therapy. You can ask your primary care physician for a referral or consider contacting a professional online. Online therapy can benefit those who face barriers to in-person treatment or feel uncomfortable discussing vulnerable topics in person. It may be comforting to remember that most therapists have a policy in which they do not spread what their clients talk about in sessions with others, and you generally also have the rights reserved to switch therapists as needed or desired.
Recent research has shown that online therapy can effectively treat insecure attachment styles arising from trauma or other sources. In one study, researchers examined the effects of online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) on those experiencing symptoms of PTSD. Post-treatment, participants reported a significant reduction in symptoms and severity of PTSD and a more substantial level of trust in the relationship with the therapist. CBT is a widely accepted method of treatment in which a therapist helps the individual understand and replace the maladaptive thought patterns that can lead to difficulty with relationships and everyday life. Online mindfulness-based CBT has also been found effective in improving quality of life.
If you're experiencing difficult-to-process emotions due to an attachment difficulty, online therapy may help you work through those feelings. With a platform like BetterHelp, you can participate in counseling from the comfort of your home. You won't have to worry about commuting to an office or sitting in a waiting room. In addition, you can choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions for flexibility and control over your sessions.
With support and guidance, individuals can overcome insecure attachment styles and find meaning in relationships. Non-attachment is just one of many techniques designed to help individuals reduce distressing attachments or learn acceptance, loving-kindness, and mindfulness. If you're interested in learning more about non-attachment or another form of mindfulness-based therapy, consider contacting a therapist for guidance.
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