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How Does Disorganized Attachment Look Like?

Individuals with a disorganized attachment style normally had parents that were frightened or frightening, therefore, they can’t make sense of their experiences.

They have trouble forming a coherent narrative; offering unusual explanations for theirs and others' behavior. Their stories are fragmented and may be incongruent with their mood, and confusing in terms of sequence, time, and order. They normally act in ways that are unpredictable, confusing, or erratic. They struggle with poor social or emotional regulation skills.

They lack healthy ways to self-soothe, have trouble socializing, and struggle in using others to co-regulate their emotions. They feel they need someone to feel better, but as soon as they have it, they may feel invaded.

They often have difficulty trusting people, as they were unable to trust those they depend on for safety. That makes it difficult for them to open up to others or to seek out help. They see the world as an unsafe place.

They may struggle in their relationships or friendships or when parenting their own children because they can’t find a stable way to relate; they get confused in how the jump from needing to rejecting even their children.

They often have difficulty managing stress and show hostile or aggressive behaviors. The constant confusion they live in makes them moody.

Does everyone with C-PTSD have a disorganized attachment style?

Nothing is absolute but the answer to this question is NO, not everyone that suffers from complex trauma has a disorganized attachment style.

If what you are asking is that if trauma in childhood and disorganized attachment are related, then the answer is YES.

C-PTSD can happen in adulthood or later than childhood, once the attachment styles are well developed. Complex trauma can happen because of sex trafficking, political asylum, domestic violence, and situations of the sort. They are independent of the attachment style of the person.

But disorganized attachment is certainly a reflection of trauma in childhood which could be attachment trauma, Developmental Trauma (DTD), or complex trauma during childhood (which would be considered DTD). You can read about it here What is developmental trauma disorder?

Disorganized attachment develops because the kid was treated inconsistently by the caregiver early on in life. They suffer from dysregulation based on the confusion of the unpredictability of the parent. They feel lost because they did not learn how to form strategies to handle their emotions and because their needs were randomly met. That inconsistency is traumatizing for a child because it feels unsafe.

Could a child develop a non-disorganized attachment even if the parent was unpredictable? Yes, I have seen many cases where the person is not disorganized even when suffered from trauma in childhood. Theories state that it takes only one person to whom the child can attach to keep organized. That person can be a grandparent, a nanny, a teacher, a neighbor, or any other, as long as there is someone predictable and safe.

Is it possible to have a disorganized attachment style and not have a mental illness/personality disorder?

Yes! not common, but since we can develop different attachment styles to different people, if we have a secure attachment to an adult, we could be saved from becoming traumatized by the unpredictable/scary caregiver even when the attachment to that unreliable person present the disorganized characteristics.

The defining feature of disorganized attachment is the absence of a coherent strategy for interacting with and responding to a caregiver in times of stress. They normally exhibit bizarre, contradictory approach/and withdrawal behaviors, confusion, and/or disorientation and fear regarding their parent (Beeney et al, 2018). But disorganized attachment is not the same for everyone; there are two differentiations on their presentation:

  • highly affective states-of-mind coupled with difficult to understand and contradictory behaviors, and

  • low affective/disengaged states-of-mind coupled with extreme inhibited or dissociated behavior

Mary Maine noticed that kids with more low-affect/disengaged behaviors responded to the maternal reunion with inhibited activity, stilling, freezing, “disorganized” wandering, or apparent “falling asleep”, yet interacted with strangers or other family members with casual, friendly behavior. Those kids may even present some disorganized attachment in some relationships but most probably will grow up with a sense of self, provided by other people around that were more reliable.

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