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Understanding Attachment Disorder in Adults

Symptoms, Causes, and Support

A woman in a pink top sits indoors with her hands clasped near her mouth, looking off to the side with a concerned expression, possibly indicative of attachment disorder in adults.
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Attachment disorder in adults is a condition that stems from early life experiences and significantly impacts relationships and emotional well-being. It can result in difficulties such as trust issues and emotional regulation problems. Understanding attachment disorder in adults is crucial for identifying symptoms, knowing the causes, and finding the right support. This article will guide you through these aspects to help you or someone you know manage this condition.

Key Takeaways

  • Attachment disorders in adults often stem from early childhood experiences such as neglect, abuse, or inconsistent caregiving, leading to difficulties in forming and maintaining relationships.

  • The DSM-5 recognizes two main types of attachment disorders: Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), characterized by emotional withdrawal, and Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED), marked by overly friendly behavior and lack of proper boundaries.

  • Effective treatment for attachment disorders includes psychotherapy, medication to manage co-occurring conditions, and couples therapy to address relationship issues and improve emotional bonds.

What Is Attachment Disorder in Adults?

Illustration of a person surrounded by tangled lines symbolizing emotional difficulties

Attachment disorder is a behavioral condition that can have a marked impact on a person’s ability to form and sustain relationships with others. It can affect their overall social functioning and emotional well-being. Grounded in attachment theory, this disorder explores how early bonds with caregivers influence our ability to connect and trust others in adulthood. When a child cannot consistently form an emotional connection with a parent or primary caregiver, it can lead to attachment disorders that persist into adulthood. A formal attachment disorder diagnosis can be made based on the presence of some common symptoms, which include:

  • Difficulty forming and maintaining relationships

  • Fear of intimacy and closeness

  • Lack of trust in others

  • Difficulty expressing emotions

  • Impulsive and unpredictable behavior

  • Low self-esteem

  • Difficulty regulating emotions

  • Problems with empathy and understanding others’ perspectives

If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, it is important to seek professional help for diagnosis and treatment.

Several factors can contribute to the development of attachment disorders, including neglect, abuse, or inconsistent care during early childhood. These early experiences can leave deep psychological scars, resulting in difficulties reading emotions, showing affection, and trusting others later in life. Untreated attachment disorders from childhood often evolve into more complex adult attachment disorders, causing significant impairment in daily functioning and serious relationship problems.

The impact of attachment disorders on adult relationships is profound. Individuals may struggle with forming meaningful connections, experience mood and behavior issues, and face significant challenges in their daily interactions. Comprehending these disorders assists in identifying the underlying problems and pursuing the right support.

Types of Attachment Disorders in Adults

Illustration showing contrasting behaviors of Reactive Attachment Disorder and Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder

The DSM-5, also known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, recognizes two main types of attachment disorders: Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED). These disorders affect a person’s ability to form healthy and secure relationships. Both conditions stem from early childhood experiences but manifest differently in adulthood.

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is characterized by emotional withdrawal and difficulty expressing emotions, while Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED) involves overly friendly behaviors and a lack of appropriate boundaries with strangers. If not addressed promptly, these disorders can continue into adulthood, drastically affecting a person’s capacity to build healthy relationships.

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) in Adults

Adults with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) often exhibit emotional withdrawal and face significant challenges in forming and maintaining emotional connections. This disorder, rooted in early childhood experiences, leads to difficulties with intimacy and trust.

These individuals may have lingering symptoms from childhood, such as emotional withdrawal from caregivers and difficulty forming relationships. Common characteristics include a fear of intimacy, challenges in trusting others, and a tendency to push people away to avoid emotional pain.

Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED) in Adults

Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED) in adults is marked by overly friendly and indiscriminate behavior, including approaching strangers without hesitation. This condition often results from a lack of proper care during childhood, such as those experienced by children in orphanages.

Adults with DSED may display a lack of appropriate boundaries and little regard for personal safety. Behavioral indicators include hyperactivity, extreme trust of strangers, and asking intrusive questions without considering social norms.

Adult Attachment Styles

Illustration depicting the differences between secure and insecure attachment styles

Attachment styles, which begin developing at birth through interactions with caregivers, broadly fall into two categories: secure and insecure. These styles significantly influence adult relationships, shaping how individuals form and maintain close bonds.

While around 58% of adults have a secure attachment style, the rest fall into insecure categories such as anxious, avoidant, and disorganized, which are manifestations of an insecure attachment style. Inconsistent or emotionally unavailable parenting can lead to these insecure attachment styles, causing difficulties in forming intimate bonds and trusting others in adulthood.

Secure vs. Insecure Attachment Styles

Secure attachment, the most common style, involves feeling safe, being comfortable with intimacy, and trusting others. Individuals with secure attachment tend to have positive views of themselves and their partners, supporting healthy relationships.

In contrast, insecure attachment styles, such as anxious or avoidant, often involve negative self-views and difficulties in forming stable relationships. Grasping these styles, as well as understanding schema modes, is vital for comprehending how people sustain relationships in their adult life.

Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment Style

Anxious-preoccupied attachment style is characterized by:

  • A fear of abandonment

  • Hypersensitivity to partner behaviors

  • Negative self-views

  • Feeling unwanted

  • Worrying that their partners will lose interest or leave them.

Those with this attachment style crave closeness but simultaneously fear abandonment, leading to constant seeking of reassurance in relationships.

Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style

Dismissive-avoidant attachment style involves:

  • Valuing independence

  • Struggling with emotional intimacy

  • Exhibiting self-sufficiency

  • Displaying emotional distance

  • Having difficulty forming close relationships.

Avoidant individuals may seek independence and control, often feeling uncomfortable with emotional closeness and pushing people away to maintain autonomy.

Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Style

Fearful-avoidant attachment style can result in swinging between avoiding intimacy and craving it, often due to past trauma. These individuals experience intense emotions, leading to a pattern of highs and lows in relationships.

Disorganized attachment is a style that is typically the result of childhood trauma or abuse, leading to chaotic and unstable relationships.

Signs and Symptoms of Attachment Disorder in Adults

Illustration representing emotional symptoms of attachment disorder in adults

Attachment disorders in adults can manifest through various emotional symptoms and behavioral indicators. Identifying these signs is fundamental for timely intervention and assistance.

Emotional symptoms often include difficulty trusting others, feeling secure in relationships, and an intense fear of rejection or abandonment. Behavioral indicators may involve struggling to form deep emotional connections, establishing healthy boundaries, and self-regulation issues.

Emotional Symptoms

Adults with attachment disorders may experience difficulty trusting others and feeling secure in relationships. They often exhibit an intense fear of rejection or abandonment, which can hinder emotional connections.

Emotional withdrawal and difficulty showing affection are also common symptoms. These individuals might react intensely to emotional situations, further complicating their relationships.

Behavioral Indicators

Behavioral indicators of attachment disorders in adults include:

  • Struggling to form deep emotional connections

  • Demonstrating limited empathy and emotional responsiveness

  • Establishing healthy boundaries is often a challenge, leading to difficulties in self-regulation.

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) can manifest through specific patterns such as avoiding eye contact and reacting negatively to being touched. Additionally, individuals with RAD may often display mood swings. These behaviors often stem from unresolved childhood issues.

Causes of Attachment Disorders in Adults

Illustration of a person reflecting on early childhood experiences and their impact on attachment disorders

Attachment disorders in adults often arise from:

  • Inadequate caregiving, such as physical or emotional abuse, neglect, and traumatic loss

  • A lack of stable caregivers during childhood

  • Repeated separations from primary caregivers.

The development of attachment disorders can be significantly influenced by a combination of early childhood experiences and traumatic events. This highlights the impact of early life experiences on psychological development. Comprehending these root causes is necessary for resolving the deep-seated issues and obtaining the right support.

Impact of Early Childhood Experiences

Early childhood experiences such as neglect, abuse, or witnessing domestic violence can lead to attachment disorders in adulthood. Emotional neglect and inconsistent caregiving are significant risk factors that disrupt the development of secure attachment bonds.

Experiencing the loss of a parent or caregiver during formative years can also disrupt attachment development, leading to long-term difficulties in forming trusting relationships.

Trauma and Its Effects

Attachment difficulties in adults can be linked to traumatic events like loss, abandonment, or betrayal. These experiences may affect their ability to form and maintain healthy relationships. Specific traumatic events, including physical or sexual assault and exposure to violence, can lead to attachment disorders.

These events disrupt an individual’s sense of safety and security, making it challenging to form trusting relationships later in life.

Treatment Options for Attachment Disorders

Treatment options for attachment disorders include psychotherapy approaches, medication support, and couples therapy. These methods are tailored to meet the specific needs and circumstances of each individual.

Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and schema therapy, helps individuals identify and replace maladaptive behaviors and thought patterns. Medication can manage co-occurring conditions like depression or anxiety, while couples therapy addresses attachment-related issues within relationships.

Psychotherapy Approaches

Attachment-based therapy emphasizes the therapeutic relationship to build trust and modify innate behaviors. This approach is beneficial for adults struggling with trust issues, fear of abandonment, and poor self-esteem due to childhood difficulties.

Holistic therapy combines multiple techniques to create a customized approach for each client’s attachment challenges. Family involvement in therapy can also help explore the ripple effects of attachment issues within the family.

Medication Support

Medication can be used to manage co-occurring mental disorders like depression or anxiety alongside therapy for attachment disorders. This combined approach ensures comprehensive care, addressing both the emotional and psychological aspects of the disorder.

Couples Therapy

Couples therapy helps partners in the following ways:

  • Understand each other’s attachment styles

  • Improve communication

  • Strengthen emotional bonds

  • Explore attachment issues

  • Work towards healing together

This therapeutic approach provides a safe space for partners to achieve these goals.

Therapists use techniques that emphasize empathy, active listening, and validation to help couples overcome attachment-related challenges. This process can significantly enhance the quality of romantic relationships, fostering trust and emotional intimacy.

Finding Professional Help

Finding professional help for attachment disorders can be done through nationwide mental health services, which offer flexible scheduling and insurance coverage. It’s vital to ask about a therapist’s extra training and certification in attachment-based methods to make sure they can offer the required assistance.

Establishing a good relationship with a therapist is fundamental for a successful attachment-based therapy, given it involves profound introspection and vulnerability. This relationship forms the foundation for effective treatment and long-term healing.


Understanding attachment disorders in adults is crucial for recognizing the profound impact these conditions can have on relationships and daily functioning. Symptoms often include emotional withdrawal, trust issues, and difficulty forming deep connections. These disorders typically stem from early childhood experiences such as neglect, abuse, and inconsistent care, as well as traumatic events later in life.

Effective treatment options include psychotherapy, medication support, and couples therapy, all tailored to address the unique needs of each individual. Seeking professional help is essential for managing these disorders and fostering healthy, fulfilling relationships. By addressing the root causes and employing comprehensive treatment strategies, individuals can work towards healing and building secure attachments.

Frequently Asked Questions

Evidence-based therapy involves interventions that are scientifically proven to be effective for particular issues. In this approach, a strong partnership based on trust and collaboration is formed between you and your therapist. Within this supportive and unbiased environment, you can freely express yourself without fear of judgment. Over a series of sessions, you and your therapist will work together to address obstacles and set goals aimed at personal growth and fulfillment. This method ensures that the techniques and strategies used are not only supportive but also empirically validated to help you achieve your therapeutic goals.

The Bay Area CBT Center provides therapy services for everyone, from children to adults, and welcomes individuals, couples, and groups. We help with various concerns like anxiety, depression, trauma, relationship issues, and behavior challenges. We value diversity and cultural differences, offering personalized and culturally sensitive care to each client.

Studies show that the bond between you and your therapist, known as the therapeutic alliance, is a key factor in treatment success. This alliance is characterized by the strength of your relationship and how well you both agree on treatment goals. Research indicates that individuals with a solid therapeutic alliance experience better treatment outcomes including greater productivity at work, more satisfying relationships, improved stress management, and decreased engagement in risky behaviors.

You can expect a 15-30 minute phone call with our care coordinator, who is extensively trained in ensuring the perfect match for you. During this conversation, our matching expert will collaborate with you to understand your therapy needs, preferences, and scheduling availability. This discussion builds upon the information you provided during sign-up and offers an opportunity for you to address any personal questions or concerns you may have about therapy or our services at The Bay Area CBT Center. Following your conversation, we’ll pair you with the therapist who best aligns with your needs, goals, and preferences.

At your matching appointment, we will match you with a therapist specifically chosen for you and schedule your first session. Depending on your availability, you can expect to meet your therapist anywhere from one day to a week after this appointment.

Our approach to therapy includes a flexible hybrid model, blending both online and face-to-face sessions. This option is perfect for clients situated close to our clinics in the Bay Area who prefer the flexibility of choosing between virtual consultations or meeting their therapist in person. Our aim with hybrid care is to ensure every client is matched with the ideal therapist and therapy environment, be it from the convenience of your own home or in one of our clinics.

At the Bay Area CBT Center, we accept PPO insurance plans that allow you to use out-of-network providers. This means if your insurance plan is a PPO and it includes mental health benefits, you could get back some or all of the money you pay for our services, depending on what your insurance company allows. When you see one of our therapists, they’ll give you a superbill. You can send this superbill to your insurance company to ask for reimbursement. If you’re not sure if your insurance covers services from providers not in their network, it’s a good idea to give them a call and check.

You may be eligible to have 60-80% of your costs covered by out-of-network benefits.

Also, if you have an FSA (Flexible Spending Account), you can usually use it to pay for individual counseling sessions. It’s wise to double-check with your FSA provider or talk to your accountant to make sure that counseling sessions are considered an allowed expense.

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