The child develops disorganized attachment style when their primary caregivers become sources of anxiety rather than sources of safety.
A newborn baby’s survival is entirely dependent upon their caregivers.
This dependence is what drives humans to strive for connection and form attachments to those people who will be able to protect and support them: their parents and primary caregivers.
The ways in which the caregiver responds to and meets – or does not meet – a baby’s needs will influence whether they develop a healthy, organized attachment or an unhealthy, disordered attachment as the baby grows.
What is disorganized attachment style?
During a period of organized attachment, a baby or child receives a safe, secure base from their caregiver.
Someone who will always strive to meet the needs of the child is known to the child and places them in a safe place. Consequently, they are more likely to explore the world independently and take risks.
Oftentimes, when babies or children have developed disorganized attachments, their caregivers have failed to create a secure, safe base for them to return to.
The child may instead have created a relationship in which they are feared as well as loved.
This often leaves the child unsure as to how his or her needs will be met. This often leads to conflicting instincts on the part of the child. Hardwired to receive security and support from their caregiver, but also afraid of them.
Related: Avoidant Attachment Style
What are the causes?
Parents who consistently fail to respond appropriately to their children’s distress or who are inconsistent in their responses to their child’s distress develop disorganized attachment.
It may be distressing for a child to leave with an unfamiliar babysitter. When a parent yells at the child or uses fear or intimidation to get the child to stop crying instead of soothing and supporting them, the child will feel frightened and uncomfortable.
Parents can speak reassuringly as well, but avoid true connection by avoiding physical contact.
An example would be that the child would be scared of sleeping alone at night. They might call their parents. Parental responses might sometimes be kind and supportive, however, they may also be the following:
- Don’t pay attention to their cries for an extended period of time
- Don’t respond
- Don’t mock their fears or yell at them
Children with disorganized attachments are often affected by multigenerational parenting styles. It means that parents behave toward their children in the same unhealthy way that their own parents behaved toward them as children.
Related: Avoidant Attachment Style
Disorganized attachment symptoms
You may notice that your child seems constantly on edge if they have an unorganized attachment.
Parents or caregivers may repeatedly desire their child’s attention, but the child may react horribly to it. Parents may also notice their child tearfully reacts to their presence, avoids them, or exhibits other fearful behaviors.
Researchers have carried out several experiments to gain a deeper understanding of attachment in children.
Researchers conducted an older experiment in which parents were instructed to leave the room briefly while their babies played.
Infants who have a strong attachment to their parents cry or get upset when they leave but calm down immediately when their parents return and comfort them.
Parents who leave their homes with disorganized attachments often find their babies crying. Their parents responded by either continuing to cry or running toward them and then away from them, or somehow weren’t able to calm them down.
They remained distressed even after their parents returned after leaving. Their childhood was still a nightmare, and they still feared and craved their parents.
Disorganized parents aren’t able to soothe their kids’ distress in a way that fosters a secure attachment.
Oftentimes, they may send mixed messages: one moment they may be soothing, the next they may be angry or overwhelmed.
They might respond to their child’s fear or distress instead of attending to its needs by:
- Making fun of a child’s fear or tears
- Telling a crying child to stop
- When a child cries, we sometimes respond, but ignore them for a long time at other times
- Rather than losing patience and yelling or intimidating a child, briefly soothing him
- Mocking a distressed child
Related: Anxious Attachment Style
Disorganized Attachment Treatment
If you observe that your attachment to your child is disorganized, it’s important to reach out for help. Untreated disorganized attachments can have long-term negative effects.
The parenting patterns which caused the disorganized attachment style in your family can be untangled by a therapist if you recognize any of these signs. They can provide you with the tools needed to build solid attachments in your family.
Parents with attachment issues are often treated individually by attachment therapists so that they can become aware of their own unresolved fears. They’ll also help the parent understand what it was like for them to have caregivers as children.
Parents and children can also be helped to develop new, healthy ways of relating to one another through therapy. When a parent is distressed by their child, a therapist may guide them through soothing techniques to calm down the child.
Additionally, a therapist can help you develop strategies for dealing with overwhelm. When it comes to parenting and attachment, they can help the parent recognize their own emotions and respond to them effectively.
Related: Preoccupied Attachment Style
Can you prevent disorganized attachment?
Yes, it is possible to prevent disorganized attachment style. It is important for parents to recognize they may have unresolved issues from childhood and to seek counseling before or early on in their parenting journey to prevent disorganized attachments.
It is also important for parents to know how to respond appropriately to their child’s distress. Individual or group therapy can strengthen these responses. It is also helpful to have friends, family members, and a partner on hand for support.
It is important for parents to develop positive parenting patterns in order to prevent disorganized attachments. Different people may find it harder or easier, however, even those without an organized attachment to their parents can succeed at it.
Related: Types of Attachment Styles
It is right that parents are concerned about establishing a strong, healthy attachment with their children, but it is also important to remember that attachment is a process that takes time. There is no single interaction that can determine a child’s overall attachment style.
It’s natural to feel overwhelmed by parenting occasionally and to act in less than perfect ways when responding to children.
The chances of raising a child with an organized, secure attachment are very high if we strive to be kind, empathetic and supportive.