What is Disorganized Attachment And How Does it Work?

By Sarah Fader

Updated May 09, 2019

Reviewer Amanda Andrews

Children form attachments to their caregivers when they are young. Whether these attachments are considered healthy or unhealthy, however, is going to depend a lot on the way that the caregiver and child interact with one another. Developing unhealthy relationships during childhood can cause problems for any child during their later years, and disorganized attachment is one of those types of unhealthy relationships. For caregivers, and for children, it's important to understand just what this is, how it happens and what it can mean for the future.

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What Is Disorganized Attachment?

Disorganized attachment comes when a child is unable to count on their parent to be a safe place for them. An intrinsic part of their being considers the parent or guardian to be their 'safe place' and the place that they should seek in times when they feel danger. Unfortunately, children who are abused will feel that they are in danger when they are around that guardian as well. This creates a distressing situation for the child where they feel afraid of the parent that also seek out the parent to quell their fear.

How Does It Happen?

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When a parent abuses or neglects their child, there is the highest likelihood that they will develop a disorganized attachment. However, parents who are victims of a trauma or loss can experience extreme anxiety which can be transferred to the child. Either way that it happens it results in difficulty for the child to form healthy attachments and the child may then have difficulty acclimating to their surroundings and forming attachments to other people throughout their lives. Research shows, however, that there can be many side effects for children with this type of attachment problem.

What Happens To The Children?

Research has been conducted to determine how children react to their parental figure by bringing both together into a controlled environment. The parent is then removed from the environment,and the child is monitored. In children with healthy attachment, there would be some distress upon the parent leaving, but when the parent returned there would be more focused reactions. The child would come to the parent to be soothed and assured that the parent was in fact there and would then return to their play or other activities.

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On the other hand, a child with a disorganized attachment would react oddly to the return of their parent, by moving toward them but then changing their mind. They may act indifferent, run away, act out violently or any number of additional actions because of the nature of their relationship. These types of behaviors tend to show that the child has an intrinsic need and impulse to go to their parent for reassurance and comfort but at the same time, they feel a level of fear and uncertainty about what will happen if they do.

As they grow older, this type of child will be unable to self-soothe. As a result, they tend to struggle with social interactions and may have trouble opening up to anyone. They tend to have problems making friends and have difficulty with emotional regulation.

As a result, they can act out in hostile or aggressive ways and may have trouble controlling and moderating levels of stress. They do not feel safe or secure in the world and may constantly be on guard for what could happen to them next. These children carry these traits with them into their adulthood as well.

As parents themselves these individuals are likely to be very similar to what their parents exhibited to them. They may be erratic, unpredictable and disorganized. They may even be frightened during stressful moments or may cause the child to be frightened during these types of moments. They don't understand their own experience and may be unable to explain it. As a result, the cycle continues from parent to child unless someone seeks out help to curb the impulses. This type of behavior absolutely can be changed, if the individual wants to change and seeks it out.

Getting Help With Disorganized Attachment

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Most disorganized attachment is a result of some trauma,and by understanding that trauma, it is possible for someone with this type of attachment disorder to form healthier ones. It's important to work through the trauma and to truly experience it to learn more about secure attachments and create a sense of emotional wellbeing. By doing this as early as possible, the individual can create healthy relationships and start to develop trust with that individual. It can be difficult, but it is possible, no matter what type of trauma occurred earlier in life.

Getting help, however, can sometimes be difficult, especially if you don't know where to turn. Luckily, there are professionals out there who can help you to overcome your trauma. Whether you're currently a parent or you're looking to get help before you become one, it's crucial that you reach out to someone.

But there's no longer any requirement for you to look at the professionals in your area. Where once you would have to research people who lived within a set distance from you now you have even more freedom. That's because of the advancements in the way of the internet.

BetterHelp is one way that you can find a professional to help you through your trauma. It's an online service that connects you with professionals throughout the country, so you can find someone that you're comfortable with. When proximity limits you, it can be difficult to find someone you want to talk to, but when you have the freedom of anyone …well, it makes things easier. All you need to do is log on, and you'll be able to set up an appointment anytime you need one. Even more important, you'll be able to keep that appointment, from absolutely anywhere, as long as you have an internet connection. That's all it takes.

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