What is an Attachment Disorder?
Reactive attachment disorder is a condition whereby a child is unable to form healthy emotional bonds with their caregivers, often due to emotional neglect or abuse at an early age.
Emotional disruption and traumatic events can happen to anyone at any time. How you deal with them and the damage that they inflict can often depend on your self-image at the time. Where self-esteem is low, any kind of trauma is going to feel painful and will have a greater effect on a child’s psyche.
Common Causes of Attachment Disorder in Children
When a child constantly feels isolated and abandoned, they soon learn that they can’t depend on others and must fend for themselves.
There are several possible causes for an attachment disorder in children:
- No one responding when they require comfort
- Not being attended to for hours when hungry or distressed
- No one looking at, talks to, or smiling at the child or d so they constantly feel alone.
- A child only receiving attention when they act out
- Child abuse or trauma
- Inconsistent behaviour from their caregiver, sometimes receiving attention and sometimes not, so the
- Child never knows what to expect.
- Being moved from one caregiver to another, i.e. adoption, foster care.
Early Warning Signs of an Attachment Disorder
When it comes to treating attachment issues in children, it’s never too late. However, the earlier these symptoms are addressed, the more likely it is they can be successfully repaired before they become serious problems.
A child may have attachment issues if they:
- Rarely or never smile
- Avoid eye contact
- Fail to reach out to be held
- Reject any efforts to calm them down or soothe them
- Don’t react when they’re left alone
- Are often inconsolable
- Aren’t interested in playing with toys
- Spend a lot of time rocking to soothe themselves
How Attachment Disorders Impact Adulthood
We all need love, it’s vital for our well-being, and we learn about it through the example of others. When love is not present for whatever reasons, we struggle to thrive. Tiny babies and young children are especially vulnerable. The transition into adulthood becomes fraught with stress and anxiety. When emotional needs are not met in childhood and adolescence, people will seek out other ways of coping with adjusting to the pain of love deprivation. Unfortunately, these coping mechanisms are almost always self-defeating because there really is no satisfactory substitute. Thus, we go into adulthood ill-equipped to maintain healthy y relationships, especially of the more intimate kind. This state of maladaptive functioning is likely to make us isolated, discontented, and insecure. In short, we become a person with attachment issues.
Positive Experiences Don’t Need Processing
Positive emotional experiences don’t require processing. Our happiness depends less on the number of happy-making moments we experience than on how we manage those that stress us out or make us miserable. If your childhood memories are of the Famous Five or Teddy Bears Picnic kind, then you’re probably going to be able to handle a lot of difficult emotions in later life. You will likely have learned beneficial coping mechanisms such as expression of feelings and healthy personal interaction, and your role models will have most likely been benign.
Negative Experiences and How They Affect Children
Love-deprived children have a distorted view of its meaning. The strength of their view may well derive from the extent to which they feel unloved. Some of the negative conclusions that such children reach is usually some or all of the following:
- Mistreatment or even abusive behavior is the price you pay for being loved.
- Love is conditional – a means of manipulation.
- Emotions need to be hidden.
- Love is hard to find. The unloved child doesn’t understand that to feel worthy of love, you must
- First love yourself.
- Love makes you vulnerable and weak.
- Love causes too much pain – most people are not able to handle emotional upheavals.
Common Coping Strategies
Within dysfunctional families, three recognized types of coping behaviors among children usually emerge the ‘fearful-avoidant’, the ‘anxious-preoccupied,’ and ‘the dismissive-avoidant. The first two such roles are mainly driven by fear and anxiety and are adaptations of the victim role that tends to appear in such situations. The third ‘dismissive-avoidant’ behavior seems to come from a child’s quest for self-esteem by creating the illusion of independence and self-sufficiency. Such people may appear strong and resourceful, but inside, they are hurting.
Pain and Addiction
Adolescents and young adults engaged in this process of maladaptive responses to unloving family situations often discover mood-altering substances quite early in life. To some, it may represent the perfect method of coping with intense emotional pain. Rather than continuing to play an active role in the unhappy family dynamics – clown, scapegoat, hero, or independent, it may seem simpler to opt-out altogether and embrace the transitory escapism of alcohol and drugs, despite the dangers.
The Illusion of a Safe Relationship
Addiction is often described as an attachment disorder. This is said to mean that those whose childhood attachments have been damaged or invalidated in some way have difficulty in finding and managing meaningful relationships in adulthood. This can lead them into coping skills that are essentially self-defeating – using substances to enhance social skills is one example. Developing an attachment to a drug of choice can seem to be a form of safe relationship with those who have experienced human hurt. This can seem a straightforward, predictable, and controllable solution to part of their problems. They are, of course, misguided in this belief, as they may later realize.
Coping strategies can be un-learned
Helping an emotionally damaged child begins when they discover that the strategies they acquired in order to cope with the pain of uncertain or absent love in childhood can be un-learned. This takes time. Recognizing that they were starved of affection is an important first step. When negative coping strategies are removed, they must be replaced with healthier alternatives. The substitute strategy can at first seem daunting or even impossible.
Treatment for Attachment Disorder
Treatment and recovery for children who have suffered in this way need to be highly person-centered and sensitive. Whether substance abuse is involved or not, part of the approach will be to assist the individual in re-evaluating their learned attitudes and behaviors with a view to adopting more helpful methods. It is thus a revisiting of the growing-up process.
Specialized Therapy for Attachment Disorder
Doing this starts us on the path to emotional maturity. It may require special therapy. It will eventually enable us to stop blaming parents and take responsibility for our own lives. It might even get us into feeling the unconditional love for our parents that they probably at some stage did give to us. Where acceptance is part of the goal of therapy, it needs to be as unconditional as the love which we are seeking. Whether parents be alive or dead, the damaged child will greatly benefit itself by offering them forgiveness. Special therapy groups and individual counseling will likely be part of a process that can take time and perhaps will need to continue beyond the end of residential treatment.
Therapy at Castle Craig
Castle Craig Hospital has been helping people with childhood trauma issues since 1988. We understand the necessity to address these concurrently with our addiction recovery programme. The nature of these problems always dictates sensitivity and support, and our therapy team is specially trained for this important work. When progress is made in childhood issues, it brings hope and motivation to troubled minds.