Do you find yourself feeling unworthy of love even when you receive it? Or do your relationships consist of intense arguing or even violence? If so, you may be displaying signs of a disorganized attachment style.
Disorganized attachment, also known as fearful-avoidant, is the rarest of all styles, as only around 5% of the population attaches this way. This insecure attachment style mixes anxious and avoidant attachments with unique traits.
Where an anxious attachment style tends to stay anxious and desperately pull closer to people to gain love, and an avoidant attachment style tends to pull away to self-preserve their emotions and safety, disorganized attachment can go back and forth between these two polar opposites points.
For example, someone who is involved with a person with a disorganized attachment may find their behavior difficult to predict and involves intense highs and lows depending on the situation.
As the last part of this 4-part series, we will discuss the ins and outs of the disorganized attachment style. In this post, we will cover how this attachment style is created in childhood, the signs and traits of this style, fundamental fears, how this style affects relationships in adulthood, how to move toward secure attachment, and how to seek help to improve the symptoms.
How is a Disorganized Attachment Style created?
Children who develop a disorganized attachment style often grow up in chaotic or abusive environments where their primary caregivers are the source of comfort and fear. This inconsistency can lead to children feeling confused and afraid of their caregivers, which results in trust issues and an inability to rely on others.
According to the Attachment Theory, a caregiver’s responses to a child’s needs and emotions significantly shape attachment patterns. In the case of disorganized attachment, caregivers may act in frightening, emotionally unavailable, or inconsistent ways, leading the child to feel unsafe and unsure of how to act.
For instance, a caregiver may comfort a crying child one moment and then lash out at them the next, resulting in a mix of anxiety and confusion in the child. This inconsistent behavior creates emotional turmoil and can lead to the child developing a disorganized attachment style.
A hallmark of disorganized attachment in childhood is the presence of contradictory behaviors in the child. For example, a child with disorganized attachment may approach their caregiver for comfort but then quickly withdraw or turn away from them, as if realizing that the source of comfort is also the source of fear. This ambivalence is characteristic of disorganized attachment and serves as a defense mechanism to cope with the caregiver’s unpredictable behavior.
It is important to note that children who develop a disorganized style can still form healthy attachments later in life through intervention and support. Understanding childhood trauma’s impact on attachment patterns is crucial in helping individuals overcome these challenges and develop a secure attachment style. With proper guidance and support, individuals with disorganized attachment can learn to trust and form healthy relationships, despite their challenging early experiences.
Signs of a Disorganized Attachment Style
People with a disorganized attachment style often exhibit certain signs and behaviors that can help identify this pattern.
- an inability to be comforted
- avoidance of physical contact
- difficulty building trusting relationships
- unpredictable behavior towards others (including sudden shifts between intense anger and deep sadness)
- ambivalence in close relationships
- trouble regulating emotions
- difficulty problem-solving in stressful situations
- fear of abandonment or rejection by loved ones
- difficulty forming lasting bonds with people they care about
- feeling like they are “on the outside” looking in at their lives
Disorganized attached adults may also engage in self-destructive behavior such as excessive drinking or substance abuse. People with disorganized attachments may also display extreme aggression towards themselves or those around them as a defense against emotional pain.
Fundamental Fears of Disorganized Attachment Style
Individuals with a disorganized attachment style often have fundamental fears that stem from their early experiences of inconsistent and sometimes frightening caregiving. These fears can manifest in various ways, from difficulty forming close relationships to persistent anxiety and self-destructive behaviors. We will discuss 3 of the main fears associated with disorganized attachment.
The fear of being rejected or abandoned by those they care about.
This fear is often so pervasive and intense that it can lead to pushing people away, avoiding intimate relationships, and even self-sabotaging their current relationships. The fear of rejection can increase in romantic relationships, with higher risks of vulnerability and emotional intimacy.
The fear of losing control.
Individuals with this attachment style may feel overwhelmed by their emotions and struggle to regulate them effectively. This lack of control can be distressing and lead to further avoidance of close relationships or feelings of shame and self-loathing.
The fear of losing control is linked to being emotionally vulnerable. Individuals with disorganized attachment may feel that being open and honest about their emotions puts them at risk of being hurt or rejected.
The fear of intimacy.
This fear can manifest in various ways, from difficulty forming close bonds with others to a reluctance to engage in physical touch or intimacy. Individuals with this attachment style may feel that intimacy is unsafe or threatening and may avoid it at all costs. This fear can be particularly challenging in dating or marriage, where intimacy is often seen as a central component of a healthy partnership.
How does having a Disorganized Attachment Style affect relationships?
A disorganized attachment style can profoundly impact adult friendships and relationships. Individuals with this attachment style may struggle to establish and maintain healthy connections with others. They may also experience intense emotional turmoil as a result.
For example, people with disorganized attachment may struggle to trust others or rely on them for emotional support when it comes to adult friendships.
They may fear that others will reject or abandon them, or they may struggle to regulate their emotions in a way that allows them to maintain close connections. This fear of rejection can lead to a pattern of short-lived or turbulent friendships and feelings of loneliness, isolation, and despair.
In romantic relationships, disorganized attachment can be even more challenging. People with this attachment style may struggle to establish intimacy or to feel comfortable sharing their feelings with their partner. They may also feel overwhelmed by strong emotions, leading to intense arguments or unpredictable mood swings. In some cases, disorganized attachment can even lead to abusive or toxic relationship dynamics, as individuals may use aggression or manipulation to maintain control.
Moving toward a Secure Attachment Style
While disorganized attachment can be challenging to overcome, working toward secure attachment is possible. Here are some strategies individuals with disorganized attachment can use to improve their symptoms and develop healthier relationships. It is worth noting that these strategies can be helpful for every attachment type, even a secure one.
One of the most effective ways to address disorganized attachment is through therapy. Therapy can help individuals identify the root causes of their attachment style and develop strategies for regulating their emotions, improving communication, and building healthier relationships.
Mindfulness can be a powerful tool for individuals with disorganized attachment. Mindfulness helps with increasing emotional awareness and one’s ability to manage them. Mindfulness practices, such as breathing exercises and meditation, can be helpful in reducing anxiety and improving mood as well.
Individuals with disorganized attachment often struggle with self-criticism and shame. Developing self-compassion can help individuals overcome negative self-beliefs. As a result, people with disorganized attachment can improve their self-compassion by practicing self-care, challenging negative thoughts, and engaging in nurturing activities.
Build healthy relationships
One of the best ways to develop a more secure attachment style is to cultivate healthy relationships. By seeking out supportive friends and partners, individuals with disorganized attachment can create a sense of safety, trust, and emotional connection that they may have lacked in childhood. Building healthy relationships also involves setting boundaries, expressing needs and emotions, and learning to communicate effectively.
Those with disorganized attachment may benefit from taking time to reflect on their childhood experiences and how they have affected their adult life. Practicing self-reflection allows individuals to gain a deeper understanding of their emotions, beliefs, and behaviors that contribute to unhealthy attachments. This understanding is pivotal when making the positive changes necessary that lead to a more secure attachment style.
In summary, disorganized attachment can be challenging to overcome. Still, developing a more secure attachment style with intentional effort and practice is possible. Individuals with disorganized attachment can improve their symptoms, build healthier relationships, and live a more fulfilled life by taking these steps and putting them into action.
Why understanding the Attachment Style of others can be beneficial
Understanding each attachment style can help those seeking to support and care for someone with particular fears or worries. Knowing what may trigger a person’s behaviors and how to respond in a supportive way can make a tremendous difference for both the individual and their relationships.
Just like understanding someone’s love language – how they prefer to give and receive love – can impact how you care for another person, so can learning about attachment styles. We are all works in progress and are at different stages in life’s journey. With awareness, patience, and empathy, we can all care for each other in a more intentional way that helps in healing the wounds we experience in early childhood.
Finding the right therapist is an essential step to becoming our most healthy selves. A good counselor can provide support, guidance, and a safe space to help us work through past experiences that have resulted in negative results as adults. With so many mental health specialties available, no matter what you are dealing with there is a therapist who can help.
Conclusion to Attachment Style Series
While it is essential to understand the nuances of each attachment style, it is equally important to remember that behavior isn’t permanent – we all have the power to change our outlook and improve our relationships.
With awareness, effort, and time, we can build healthier attachments. Building self-esteem, setting healthy boundaries, and becoming aware of our triggers can create a secure attachment with ourselves and others.
Secure attachment is something everyone deserves. It starts with us as individuals by creating self-awareness about our patterns and beliefs about ourselves and others.
If you have questions and want to work from an insecure attachment style toward a more secure one, we are here to help! Call us or Start Here to make an appointment with one of our licensed mental health therapists and begin on the road to recovery today.
Check out the rest of the series here:
What is My Attachment Style? Part 1: Secure Attachment Style
What is My Attachment Style? Part 2: Anxious Attachment Style
What is My Attachment Style? Part 3: Avoidant Attachment Style