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Disorganized attachment style
The disorganized attachment style is one of the four main types of attachment that describe how people relate to others in close relationships. It is characterized by a lack of consistent or coherent strategies for coping with Stress, fear, or Trauma. People with disorganized attachment may show contradictory or unpredictable behaviours, such as seeking comfort from someone who is also a source of fear, or freezing or dissociating when faced with a threat. They may also have difficulties regulating their emotions, trusting others, and forming a stable Sense of self. In this article, we will explore the origins, effects, and treatment of disorganized attachment, as well as how to recognize the signs and symptoms of this complex and often misunderstood attachment style.
What is the disorganized attachment style?
The disorganized attachment style is a pattern of insecure attachment that emerges from a history of Trauma, abuse, or neglect in childhood. People with this attachment style have difficulty regulating their emotions, trusting others, and forming healthy relationships. They may experience conflicting impulses, such as wanting closeness but fearing rejection, or seeking comfort but rejecting it when offered. They often feel confused, fearful, and disoriented in their interactions with others, and may display erratic or unpredictable behaviours, such as:
- Seeking closeness but also pushing away or avoiding intimacy
- Showing fear or anger towards their attachment figures
- Acting confused or disoriented in stressful situations
- Having dissociative symptoms, such as feeling detached from reality or their own identity
- Having low Self-esteem and a negative self-image
- Struggling with impulse control and self-harm
- Experiencing Anxiety, Depression, or Post-traumatic stress disorder
The disorganized attachment style can have a significant impact on one’s mental health and wellbeing. However, it is not a permanent or fixed condition. With professional help, such as therapy, people with this attachment style can learn to heal from their past Traumas, develop more secure attachments, and improve their Emotional regulation and coping skills.
The causes of the disorganized attachment style
The disorganized attachment style is a pattern of insecure attachment that emerges from a history of Trauma, abuse, or neglect in childhood. Children who develop this style have experienced their caregivers as both a source of comfort and a source of fear, creating a situation of paradoxical dependency. As a result, they have difficulty regulating their emotions, trusting others, and forming healthy relationships. They may exhibit contradictory behaviours, such as seeking closeness and then pushing it away, or freezing or dissociating when faced with Stress. They may also struggle with identity, Self-esteem, and coping skills.
Moving beyond the disorganized attachment style
To move beyond the disorganized attachment style, an individual may benefit from seeking professional help, such as therapy or Counselling, to process their past experiences and heal their emotional wounds. Additionally, an individual may practice self-Compassion, mindfulness, and coping skills to regulate their emotions and reduce their Anxiety in interpersonal situations. Furthermore, an individual may gradually build trust and intimacy with others by choosing supportive and reliable partners, friends, or family members who can provide them with a safe and nurturing environment. By doing so, an individual may develop a more secure attachment style over time and enjoy more fulfilling and satisfying relationships.
Therapeutic options for the disorganized attachment style
Some of the most common therapeutic options are:
- Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT): This is a form of psychotherapy that helps people identify and challenge their negative thoughts and beliefs, and replace them with more realistic and positive ones. CBT can also help people develop coping skills and strategies to manage their emotions and behaviours.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): This is a technique that uses eye movements or other forms of Bilateral stimulation to process traumatic memories and reduce their emotional impact. EMDR can help people heal from the effects of Trauma and attachment disruption, and enhance their sense of safety and security.
- Schema therapy: This is an Integrative approach that combines elements of CBT, psychodynamic therapy, and attachment theory. Schema therapy aims to identify and modify the maladaptive schemas or core beliefs that people have about themselves, others, and the world, which are often formed in early childhood. Schema therapy can help people develop healthier attachment patterns and relationships.
- Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT): This is a form of CBT that focuses on teaching people skills to regulate their emotions, tolerate distress, communicate effectively, and be mindful of the present moment. DBT can help people who have difficulties with impulse control, self-harm, or suicidal ideation, which are sometimes associated with disorganized attachment.
- Mentalization-based treatment (MBT): This is a psychodynamic therapy that helps people improve their mentalizing abilities, which are the capacities to understand one’s own and others’ mental states, feelings, thoughts, intentions, and motivations. MBT can help people who have difficulties with empathy, Perspective-taking, or Self-awareness, which are often impaired in disorganized attachment.
These are some of the therapeutic options for the disorganized attachment style when an individual seeks professional help. However, it is important to note that each person is unique and may benefit from different types of therapy or combinations of them. Therefore, it is advisable to consult a qualified mental health professional who can assess the individual’s situation and recommend the most suitable treatment plan.
Similarities with other conditions
Some studies have suggested that the disorganized attachment style may share some similarities with other mental health conditions, such as borderline personality disorder (BPD), dissociative identity disorder (DID), and Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, these conditions are not synonymous with the disorganized attachment style, and there are important differences between them.
BPD is a personality disorder that involves a pervasive pattern of instability in mood, self-image, and relationships. People with BPD may experience intense emotions, Impulsivity, Identity confusion, fear of abandonment, and suicidal or self-harm behaviours. BPD may be influenced by genetic and environmental factors, including childhood Trauma and attachment difficulties. However, not all people with BPD have a history of Trauma or a disorganized attachment style, and not all people with a disorganized attachment style develop BPD.
DID is a dissociative disorder that involves the presence of two or more distinct personality states or identities that alternately control the person’s behaviour. People with DID may experience memory gaps, amnesia, depersonalization, derealization, and Identity confusion. DID is usually caused by severe and repeated Trauma in early childhood, often involving physical or sexual abuse. DID may be seen as an extreme form of disorganized attachment, where the child creates different personalities to cope with the overwhelming fear and Pain. However, not all people with DID have a disorganized attachment style, and not all people with a disorganized attachment style develop DID.
PTSD is a Trauma-related disorder that involves persistent and intrusive symptoms of re-experiencing, avoidance, negative alterations in cognition and mood, and Hyper-arousal after exposure to a traumatic event. People with PTSD may suffer from Flashbacks, Nightmares, Anxiety, Depression, guilt, anger, and hypervigilance. PTSD can affect anyone who experiences or witnesses a traumatic event, regardless of their attachment style. However, some studies have found that people with a disorganized attachment style may be more vulnerable to developing PTSD after Trauma, and may have more severe and chronic symptoms.
In summary, the disorganized attachment style is a form of insecure attachment that results from childhood Trauma and abuse. It can have negative consequences on the person’s mental health and well-being throughout their lifespan. The disorganized attachment style may share some features with other mental health conditions, such as BPD, DID, and PTSD, but they are not equivalent or interchangeable. Each condition has its own aetiology, diagnosis, and treatment options.
Can self-transcendent practices help people with the disorganized attachment style?
Self-transcendence is a concept that refers to the ability to go beyond one’s personal concerns and connect with something greater, such as a higher Purpose, a spiritual dimension, or a universal value. Self-transcendent practices are activities that foster this ability, such as meditation, prayer, Altruism, or art. These practices can have various benefits for psychological wellbeing, such as reducing Anxiety, enhancing Meaning, and promoting Positive emotions.
Whether self-transcendent practices can help people with disorganized attachment is not easy to answer, as there is limited empirical research on this topic. However, some theoretical and clinical perspectives suggest that Self-transcendence may offer a potential pathway for healing and growth for this population. For example, Self-transcendence may help people with disorganized attachment to:
- Develop a more coherent and integrated Sense of self, by connecting with their core values and strengths.
- Establish a more secure and trusting relationship with themselves and others, by cultivating Compassion and empathy.
- Find a more positive and hopeful outlook on life, by discovering Meaning and Purpose in their experiences.
- Enhance their Emotional regulation and resilience, by accessing inner resources and coping skills.
Of course, self-transcendent practices are not a panacea, and they may not be suitable or effective for everyone. Some people with disorganized attachment may face challenges or barriers in engaging in these practices, such as feeling unworthy, fearful, or sceptical.
Therefore, it is important to consider the individual’s readiness, preferences, and needs when introducing or recommending self-transcendent practices. Moreover, these practices should not be seen as a substitute for professional help, but rather as a complementary or adjunctive intervention that can support the therapeutic process.
Self-transcendent practices which may help an individual with the disorganized attachment style
Some examples of self-transcendent practices that may be beneficial for people with the disorganized attachment style are:
Meditation: This is a practice of focusing one’s attention on a chosen object, such as the breath, a Mantra, or a sensation, and observing one’s thoughts and feelings without judgment. Meditation can help people with the disorganized attachment style to calm their nervous system, increase their Awareness, and develop a more positive and accepting attitude towards themselves and others.
Prayer: This is a practice of communicating with a higher power, such as God, a deity, or a spiritual guide, and expressing one’s needs, desires, Gratitude, or praise. Prayer can help people with the disorganized attachment style to feel supported, comforted, and guided by a benevolent presence, as well as to align their actions with their values and beliefs.
Altruism: This is a practice of doing good deeds for others, such as volunteering, donating, or helping someone in need, without expecting anything in return. Altruism can help people with the disorganized attachment style to overcome their fear of intimacy, enhance their Self-esteem, and foster a sense of belonging and contribution to society.
Gratitude: This is a practice of acknowledging and appreciating the positive aspects of one’s life, such as one’s health, relationships, achievements, or opportunities. Gratitude can help people with the disorganized attachment style to reduce their Stress, increase their happiness, and cultivate a more optimistic and resilient outlook on life.
If you would like to learn more about the disorganized attachment style, here are some weblinks that you can check out:
Disorganized Attachment: How It Forms And Ways To Heal by Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
Understanding Disorganized Attachment by David Wallin, Ph.D.
What is Disorganized Attachment? by Lisa Firestone, Ph.D.
Disorganized Attachment: The Most Misunderstood Attachment Style by Jonice Webb, Ph.D.