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What Is Attachment Disorder?

Nov 8

Attachment disorder is a mood or behavioral disorder that interferes with a person's capacity to develop and maintain relationships.

These problems are more common in children. When a child is unable to maintain a constant emotional connection with a parent or primary caregiver, they can develop.

Adults do not have a formal attachment disorder diagnosis, but they can have attachment issues. These can result from childhood attachment issues that were left untreated or undetected.

Attachment disorders are defined in this article, along with their varieties and symptoms. We also discuss treatment alternatives and when it's best to see a doctor.


Attachment theory is the foundation

Attachment theory is concerned with the formation of emotional relationships between people. The manner in which a person learns to develop and maintain relationships is largely influenced by their early experiences with a parent or primary caregiver.

Initially, psychologists examined and classified the various types of attachment that might emerge during childhood. Adult Attachment Interview was later developed by researchers to discern between the categories in adults. The questions look at the type of relationship an adult had with their primary caregiver when they were younger.

Adults have attachment styles that are similar to those seen in children. They are as follows:

  • Secure: An adult with secure attachments has a strong emotional tie with their primary caregiver. They are at ease in their relationships and have little anxiety in them.
  • Adults with these attachments are averse to closeness and place a high priority on independence in their interactions. Their caregiver may not have been aware of their needs as a youngster.
  • Adults with these attachments are anxious or preoccupied and do not feel secure in their relationships. If a caregiver's availability is inconsistent or unpredictable, a child may develop this attachment type.
  • Adults with this attachment style may have strong or chaotic patterns of connections, such as a desire for closeness followed by a desire to push people away. It could arise as a result of childhood trauma or abuse.


Attachment disorders are classified into several categories

Two types of attachment disorders are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) professional diagnostic criteria.

It's worth noting, though, that the criteria for each are based on symptoms in youngsters.

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Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) is a type of attachment disorder

Early childhood maltreatment or neglect are common causes of reactive attachment disorder (RAD).

Children with RAD, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, may:

  • have a low level of interpersonal contact
  • during social encounters, they show little or no emotion
  • when they're with their carers, they seem dissatisfied, irritated, depressed, or terrified since they can't seem to settle down when they're anxious

The symptoms of RAD may appear or remain into adulthood if the child does not receive good therapy. Adults may have the following symptoms:

  • reading emotions with difficulty
  • low levels of trust make it harder to establish relationships since people are resistant to affection
  • anger difficulties, a bad self-image
  • impulsivity/detachment


Disorder of uninhibited social engagement

In reaction to social neglect and a lack of persistent attachment to a primary caregiver during the first two years of life, disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED) may emerge.

DSED signs are common in children in foster care. These may include the following:

  • hyperactivity
  • social barriers are kept to a minimum
  • sociability at its peak
  • willingness to approach strangers and communicate with them

If a kid with DSED is not treated effectively, the problem may manifest or persist into adulthood. An adolescent or adult with DSED may exhibit the following behaviors:

  • hyperactivity, an overabundance of trust in persons they don't know well, and a lack of social awareness
  • a proclivity to ask intrusive questions of persons they have just met, as well as other acts demonstrating a lack of restraint


Is there a connection between this and dissociative identity disorder?

Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is characterized by the presence of at least two different personality states. Multiple personality disorder was previously the term used by medical professionals to describe the disease.

According to Trusted Source, those who have disorganized attachment may suffer dissociation later in life.

Researchers are still trying to figure out what causes dissociative disorders. According to certain beliefs, they may develop as a result of childhood sexual or emotional abuse.

DID affects 1–3% of the population, while dissociation symptoms in general are more common.

A person with DID is ignorant of their "alters," or alternate personalities. The "main" personality only recognizes that time has passed while the alters were present.

The following are some of the disorder's indications and symptoms. Others may observe, or the person may have the following experiences:

  • ambiguity about their true identity changes in behavior, consciousness, and memory as a result of changes in their sense of self a sense of being alienated from themselves and the world around them
  • personal knowledge or everyday experiences are lost in memory
  • diminished sensitivity to physical pain

Adult relationships and attachment disorder

Attachment disorders that develop in childhood can impair adult relationships, thus more research is needed in this area.

An attachment disordered person may have trouble trusting others or feeling safe and secure in their relationships. As a result, building and maintaining friendships and sexual relationships may be challenging for them.


Adults with untreated childhood RAD or DSED may have the following symptoms:

  • emotional impairment trouble in social interactions low self-esteem
  • problems with substance abuse include anxiety, sadness, and dissociation



Because the DSM-5 does not yet define attachment disorders in adults, an adult is unlikely to be diagnosed with this condition.


Psychotherapy is sometimes used to treat a childhood attachment issue, and it can also help an adult who is suffering from a manifestation of the disorder.

Adults may benefit from attachment therapy or couples counseling. Attachment therapy focuses on assisting a person in overcoming the negative effects of early attachment experiences.

Couples therapy can assist people in recognizing how an attachment issue may be hurting their relationship. Couples can build skills and techniques to enhance their bond with this understanding and the support of a therapist.



An attachment disorder can harm a person's personal relationships as well as their overall quality of life. Treatment, on the other hand, can be beneficial.

Psychotherapy aids in the identification and understanding of negative ideas and actions that may be damaging one's relationships. Once these concerns have been addressed, a person can create effective tools and coping mechanisms.


When should you see a doctor?

Treatment should ideally begin in childhood. Whether or whether a child has an attachment issue, a youngster who has undergone any sort of neglect or maltreatment will most certainly require psychiatric assistance.

Anyone who believes their ideas or habits are having a negative impact on their relationships should see a doctor or psychologist.

Any adult who has ever been subjected to maltreatment may benefit from speaking with a therapist about it. Unresolved concerns from the past could be impacting current beliefs and behaviors.



Because clinical guidelines only acknowledge these disorders in children, an adult is unlikely to be diagnosed with an attachment disorder.

However, if a kid with an attachment problem does not receive good therapy, the symptoms can develop or persist into adulthood, producing social and relational difficulties.

Anyone who has been the victim of childhood abuse or neglect should consult a doctor or psychologist, especially if the problem is interfering with their relationships.