Insecure Attachment and Attachment Disorders Lincoln NE
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Insecure Attachment and Attachment Disorders
When infants and young children have a loving caregiver consistently responding to their needs, they build a secure attachment. This lifelong bond affects growth, development, trust and the ability to build relationships. However, severely confusing, frightening and isolating emotional experiences early in life disrupts this bond, creating insecure attachment. In extreme circumstances, this can result in attachment disorders. Problems with attachment limit a child’s ability to be emotionally present, flexible and able to communicate in ways that build satisfying and meaningful relationships. The earlier attachment disruptions are caught, the better. However, it is never too late to treat and repair attachment difficulties. With the right tools, and a healthy dose of time, patience and love, attachment repair can and does happen.
What is insecure attachment?
Attachment is the process of bonding between an infant’s primary caretaker, usually the mother, and the infant. Infants are helpless from birth, and need consistent, loving responses to their needs for food, sleep and comfort. As the infant grows, so does the bond of trust with the primary caregiver. Secure attachment has a lifelong effect on growth, development, trust and relationships.
If a child is not provided this consistent, loving care, insecure attachments form. Children with insecure attachments have learned that the world is not a safe place. They don’t have the experiences they need to feel confident in themselves and trust in others. Because attachment is a fundamental part of children’s development that affects the growing brain, insecure attachment shows itself in many different ways. Children may have trouble with learning, may be aggressive and act out, be excessively clingy, have difficulty making friends, suffer anxiety or depression, or be developmentally delayed. In cases of severe deprivation, abuse or neglect, attachment disorders may form. Attachment disruptions and disorders often have similar symptoms of disorders such as ADHD or autism and may be misdiagnosed.
Causes of Insecure Attachment and Attachment Disorders
Signs and symptoms of attachment disorders
Insecure attachments influence the developing brain, which leads to a variety of symptoms. Interactions with others, self-esteem, self-control, learning, and optimum mental and physical health are affected. Symptoms of insecure attachment may be similar to common developmental and mental problems including ADHD, spectrum autism, depression, and anxiety disorders.
Symptoms of insecure attachment
low self-esteem, needy, clingy or pseudo-independent behavior, inability to deal with stress and adversity, depressed, unresponsive, resists comforting.
susceptibility to chronic illness, obsession with food – may hoard food, gorge, refuse to eat, eat strange things, may be developmentally delayed
lack of self-control, inability to develop and maintain friendships, alienation from parents, caregivers, and other authority figures, overly friendly and treating strangers like the primary caregiver, aggression and violence, difficulty with genuine trust, intimacy, and affection, lack of empathy, compassion and remorse, negative, hopeless, pessimistic view of self, family and society
behavioral problems at school; speech and language problems; incessant chatter and questions; difficulty learning
Insecure attachment patterns
Although the signs of insecure attachment are many, they are really the child’s attempt to make sense out of an unpredictable world. Some symptoms of attachment disruption can be traced back to what the parent did not provide.
Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)
Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is a clinically recognized form of extreme insecure attachment. Common causes of RAD include severe child abuse and neglect. Children may have been removed from the home and placed in the foster care system. RAD also frequently occurs in internationally adopted children who were living in orphanages.
Signs and Symptoms of RAD
Children with RAD are so neurologically disrupted that they have extreme difficulty attaching to a primary caregiver, attaining normal developmental milestones or establishing normal relationships with other people. They show strong symptoms of attachment disruption. These children may be difficult or impossible to soothe, accepting comfort from no one, even the primary caregiver, and preferring to play alone. On the other hand, they may seem superficially friendly to everyone, inappropriately approaching and interacting with strangers as if they were the primary caregiver. What can be especially hard to bear for those who care for these children is that the child might not seem to be bonded to them at all, despite their attempts to show love and affection. Many of these children may be incorrectly diagnosed with severe emotional and behavioral disturbances ranging from bipolar disorder to depression. Families caring for children with RAD will benefit from treatment and therapeutic parenting skills. In time and with patience, even severe attachment disorders can be repaired.
To learn more: Parenting and Attachment: Bonding for Secure Attachment
Repairing insecure attachments and attachment disorders
Sadly, insecure attachment can be a vicious cycle. Due to problems with social relationships, insecurely attached children may become even more isolated and withdrawn from their primary caregivers, family and friends. They may be seen as “bratty” or “bullies”, making it hard for them to form relationships that may mitigate the effects of insecure attachment. However, it is never too late to work on forming secure attachments. While the brain is most pliable in infancy and early childhood, it is responsive to changes all of our lives. Relationships with relatives, teachers and childcare providers can also supply an important source of connection and strength for a child’s developing mind.
Here are some tips on repairing an insecure attachment:
To learn more: Parenting and Attachment: Bonding for Secure Attachment
Emotional Intelligence: Five Key Skills for Raising your Emotional Intelligence
Conflict, boundaries, and repair in secure attachment
No matter how much we love our children, there comes a point where we are not in agreement with them, a point when we have to set limits, and say “no.” This conflict temporally ruptures the relationship as the child angrily protests. Such protest is to be expected. The key to strengthening the attachment bond of trust is to be consistently available when the child is ready to reconnect. It is also important to initiate repair when we have done something to hurt, disrespect, or shame a child. Parents aren’t perfect. From time to time, we are the cause of the disconnection. Again, our willingness to initiate repair can strengthen the attachment bond.
For children with insecure attachments and attachment disorders, this conflict can be especially disturbing and scary—for both the children and the primary caregiver. The child may overreact, having a wild tantrum, or rapidly withdraw. They may temporarily show developmentally regressive behaviors, like rocking or trouble with toileting. Don’t be afraid to set limits and boundaries with insecurely attached children. Consistent, loving boundaries will help them develop the sense of trust they need that their caregiver will be with them through thick and thin. These children also need to learn that no matter what they do, they will be loved and respected.
Children with severe attachment difficulties and their caregivers can benefit from professional treatment as well. Caregivers can learn tips and techniques for coping with their child and helping to repair the attachment. Therapists can help caregivers learn how their child communicates through play, for example, which allows many children to express feelings and desires they cannot verbalize. Attachment therapy should never be coercive or shaming to the child.
Adoptive and foster parents
Adoptive and foster parents open their hearts and homes to children who have sometimes been severely abused and neglected. These parents might not have expected the challenges that come with children with attachment difficulties. Even if these challenges are known, anger, lashing out and difficult behaviors can be frustrating and hard to handle. Remember that the child is not acting out because of lack of love for you. They are acting out because their brain development has actually progressed differently. Your stability in the child’s life is giving him or her a tremendous chance to repair insecure attachments and have a much better start in life. Be sure to seek support from organizations and support groups that specialize in your situation, and don’t be afraid to seek help for yourself if you are feeling overwhelmed and frustrated.
Visit Helpguide.org for more information