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What Are the Signs of Attachment Disorder in Adults?

Attachment disorder stems from a history of insecure and unhealthy relationships.
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  • Written By: Drue Tibbits
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  • Last Modified Date: 20 July 2014
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Adult attachment disorder is a term used to describe the emotional dysfunction of someone who cannot form intimate, caring bonds with others. The dysfunction may manifest itself as either a rejection of close relationships or a constant demand for them. Many of the signs of attachment disorder in adults overlap with those found in other conditions, such as borderline personality disorder. Signs of a disorder that avoids or rejects intimacy include excessive criticism of others, argumentative behavior, and provoking anger in others. Those who have an intense need for relationships, may be possessive, jealous, and have a heavy dependence on their partners.

Behavioral patterns that continually block any possibility of loving relationships may indicate an attachment disorder. These behaviors are usually self-protective mechanisms to prevent intimacy. On the other side of the spectrum, a person who has an overwhelming desire for a relationship may not seem to have this problem, but may be using attachments as a way to counter insecurity. Many of these individuals risk losing their partners as a result of their constant demands for closeness.

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There are four distinctive attachment styles: secure, fearful-avoidant, dismissive-avoidant, and anxious-preoccupied. Two of these styles — fearful-avoidant and anxious-preoccupied — are considered an attachment disorder. People who are fearful-avoidant are afraid of relationships and distance themselves by acting cold, impersonal, and aloof. They engage in destructive behaviors designed to push others away. Those who are anxious-preoccupied demand constant reassurances from their partners, are unwilling to allow their partners any personal space, and may continually question their partners' fidelity.

In theory, this inability to enter into secure relationships stems from childhood events. Children who were abused, abandoned, or had emotionally distant parents may grow up to have issues developing healthy relationships. A child raised in a succession of foster homes or shipped from one relative to another may find, once he is an adult, that he has issues with trust and believing in the permanence of a partner. Adults with an attachment disorder are at risk of raising children to have the disorder as well.

The treatment of attachment disorder in adults involves therapy and, possibly, sessions with a psychiatrist. Often, the therapy involves both group and individual counseling. Therapists may use role-playing to help patients work through traumatic events of their childhoods. If the patient has a partner, the partner may be asked to attend counseling sessions as well.

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Discuss this Article

anon960770
Post 23

My significant other thinks I may have an attachment disorder but I don't believe I do for the fact I do like being around other people and I know I feel love for others. I have two sons and I like being with them. I have trust issues because every time I tried to get close to somebody I was assaulted.

I know I have PTSD and probably also ADHD which I've shown signs of since I was a kid. I have anxiety and depression too. I feel close to others in a lot of ways and every one of us humans need that human touch. I have been hurt physically and sexually numerous times whenever I tried to have the human touch so of course I always have that in the back of my mind that I will get hit or sexually assaulted again. I had to raise myself pretty much when I was a kid.

I was always left alone at the house while my Grandfather/adoptive dad worked at his job and he was raised also with hardly any love and human touch by his own parents. My grandfather wasn't even blood related to me or my biological mom. He died three years ago from brain and lung cancer. It affects me every year too when it gets close to the anniversary of his death or even near his birthday.

anon953321
Post 22

@anon926674: I'm so sorry to hear your story. It saddens me deeply. To think that a mother could be so wicked as to turn against her own flesh is sickening. Shame on her. She will have to answer to God for this! I'm so glad you take comfort in your animal friends. They are pure and love unconditionally and are very healing. In some of the roughest times of my life, God made sure I had a pet to be my companion! I thank the Lord for those blessings.

My mother was treated horribly by her mother throughout her childhood. Distant, cold, nasty, neglectful and downright abusive, she treated my mom with constant disdain until my mother left home when she was able. I believe my mom has an attachment issue because of her treatment as a child. I half-think I might have an attachment disorder also because of the turbulence of my childhood and the coping mechanisms I learned to use because of my mom's depression and yo-yoing emotional states.

I forgive my mom, though. I know it's not her fault and she's coping the best/ only way she knows how. I look to God and Jesus Christ to help me and to heal the brokenness. The Holy Spirit is my guide and when I feel broken, I lift myself up to the Lord. Please lean on Him when times get rough; He understands our pain and is the only one equipped to handle such distortion of human emotions! I will pray for you and all the people who suffer with this or because of this. May God bless us all.

anon952588
Post 21

I have a daughter with this disorder. I love her so much, but have to detach from her enough to not get hurt. I am a very passionate mom and it can hurt when she is so detached. She is adopted and spent years in an orphanage. She has a twin who is very healthy. I also have an older daughter and we had a very loving relationship with her. The Lord has given us wisdom on this. Just ask the Lord to help you all.

anon951866
Post 20

This is the legacy of western society isn't it? Broken families filled with people who don't know how to bond with each other, how to love and so drift further and further into destructive addictions that drive the destruction of the planet. You wanna know why the technology is taking over too? Because of our bizarre autistic disconnection from each other and nature through countless generations of unhealed wounds transmitted down the family lines by people who have no idea what they are doing because they're all stuck in their heads so much. Oh our vaunted delusional boot strap 'independence', this is where it comes from!

anon942830
Post 18

Is there anyone in the Massachusetts area who suffers from RAD? I cannot find good treatment, that is, without paying 12-35 thousand dollars that I don't have. I know this is a catch-22 because we don't want to attach, but if we want help we could start a support group. I'm looking for help.

anon938401
Post 17

Wow I'm glad I stumbled upon this. Rejection has been such a recurring theme in my life that I think I've developed attachment disorder. I've never had any close connections in my life. My family has always been distant, it's always been hard for me to form friendships, and I've also never had a romantic relationship of any kind.

I fell for a guy recently and I ran him away with all of the weird crap I was doing. When I wasn't being completely distant and avoidant, I was being possessive and clingy (not extremely so, but enough to be a red flag).

Then I recently met a friend who genuinely cares for me and looks after me and I'm avoidant with her as well. Sometimes I don't answer her calls or reply to her texts and I don't know why. I want to build a friendship with her but I'm scared

I feel that being abandoned by my parents and not having a family that supported me emotionally during childhood is the cause of all of this. I remember being this way for as long as I can remember. I remember being a loner as early as kindergarten and not really being able to connect with the other students and simply playing by myself. I remember not being able to hug my childhood friend after playdates and such.

anon937513
Post 16

I think it is safe to say that my fiance and I both have/had attachment disorders. I am anxious-preoccupied and he is fearful-avoidant. Ironic isn't it? I don't like that these are classified as "disorders". It makes it seem like what we have is terminal and I don't think that it is.

He stayed by my side through the thick of my obsessive, clingy behaviors and I feel like I'm starting to be able to form a more secure attachment as a result. I want to help him too. I'm just at a loss right now as to what I can do to be helpful. We are both in couples and individual therapy, which is a great start.

I just want to somehow help him learn that he will not get hurt as a result of opening up to me.

anon926674
Post 15

I know now that I have attachment disorder. I was shunned by my mother all my life. I was never treated like my friends mothers treated them. I can't get close to anyone, trust no one, allow no one into my personal life because it gives them ammo against me. No one comes around me unless they need something, then as soon as they get it they are gone. I was shut out of my family my whole life by a jealous mean hateful mother. She made sure that I was left out of everything to do with my family, then tell her lies that I chose not to be there. Every holiday or family function I was made to feel unwanted and unwelcome.

I went no contact seven years ago with this thing called mom and I will never go back. She can't hurt me anymore, but the pain is always there. Her meanness and hateful ways and words follow me everywhere. She invades my dreams. Every holiday now I feel so left out as I see other people having family moments. I tell anyone who asks that she is dead because she is dead to me now.

I know I will always be alone and I will die alone, and in the end she won. I have never been able to build friendships and relationships due to the non trust issue. I have in my older age now completely cut off contact with other people and choose now to adopt and foster my animal babies. I love to bottlefeed and raise up tiny baby animals. This brings me so much joy and I know that I could never ever hurt anyone or anything on purpose.

My animal babies will never hurt me and as I look around each night and see them around my bed that I am so blessed to have them and know what unconditional love really is. It brings me so much peace in my sad life.

anon924002
Post 14

I have RAD. People keep telling me I have BPD. No, I have traits of it, but not BPD. It's RAD. I do not want treatment for it. I do not see the point in that. I like staying distant. I don't want relationships. I don't want intimacy. I am perfectly happy with not attaching to people.

To be truthful, I do not understand the point of attaching to people. Why? It's setting everyone up to be hurt later on. Sorry, but relationships are totally overrated.

anon356858
Post 13

The diagnosis doesn't mention what they are angry or argumentative about. What is the topic or subject that makes them angry? The psychologists get caught up on the behavior and not why that person is acting that way. What are their reasons and motivations? hey pathologize it rather than seek to understand.

That's why modern psychology is nothing more than a ploy to control the masses. Can't have people running around with righteous anger now and saving the planet. I also highly suspect that the majority of them have never looked at themselves under the lens clearing psychedelics, either.

anon355195
Post 12

OK, so I now have a label for a disorder that manifests in so many ways in my life.

So, what's the answer? How do we get help? I can't afford the extensive time or money that it'll seem to require. What practical steps can I take? What's the underlying emotional need that I should be finding healthy ways to meet and repair damage to? What self talk should I be using? I'm willing to do the work. I just need a starting point. Answers, comments, suggestions? --Wanting to get over it and get on with it.

anon350706
Post 11

My mum was brought up in care and I've always felt she has an attachment disorder. I feel our relationship has been on her terms, she's so demanding, but struggles to be there for me. At the moment we're talking about her 70th - what she wants me to buy her and where she wants me to take her. I had my 40th this year and she told me she wasn't going to celebrate with me because she doesn't like birthdays (and she didn't).

Anyway, no matter, I'm a big girl and I've cultivated friends who are more like family, but it still makes me sad. I'm just on here looking for inspiration / understanding of how to help her. I feel so sad that my mum couldn't think of a single friend to celebrate her birthday with, other than me.

I can't believe I'm posting. It's my first time ever! I like being anonymous, though.

anon343580
Post 10

For everyone struggling: attachment disorders are often just another way of saying "developmental trauma." There is help in a therapy called "somatic experiencing" that was developed by Peter Levine and Laurence Heller. For more information, read "Healing Developmental Trauma" by Heller and LaPierre.

anon334419
Post 9

I don't even understand how someone with attachment disorder has a partner. I have been diagnosed with it, am 37 and have never had a boyfriend. I've managed some drunk sexual encounters, but no one ever wants to date me. I always thought I was just too ugly to love, although everyone says I'm very attractive -- that is, everyone but men I'm interested in. It's a horrible and lonely affliction.

For me, it's still very hopeless, and people are always looking perplexed or talking behind my back, speculating on whether I'm gay (if I were, I would have no problem with it). Because they don't understand the problem, it just makes it that much more confusing, frustrating and lonely.

anon308270
Post 8

My earliest memorable cognitive thought was that interpersonal relationships weren't worth the pain of separation or rejection.

I have never formed a lasting relationship, I never had friends, and there is no one at all from my past with whom i have any ongoing relationship, not even my family, with whom I have not spoken in years. When I see happy relationships they are foreign to me. Seeing others' success causes me indescribable hopelessness, followed promptly by jealousy, hate and rage.

I alternate constantly between the facade I attempt to maintain in order to feel liked, and the reality of my underlying emotional state where I'm still just a ticked off, confused kid.

anon306931
Post 7

I really hope that this can be cured. My dad suffers from RAD. I guess that in his childhood he was disregarded because his older sibling was handicapped and all his mum had seven children and a dad that was an alcoholic.

I wish I could help him! I want it so much, but some of the RAD cannot be mended I guess, especially when it occurred in the state when he was a baby. Well, here is still hope for it!

anon281570
Post 6

I believe I have an attachment disorder. I developed PTSD as a child and received no help. I continued to university and then collapsed in on myself.

The hardest thing is that I'm aware of it and I've researched the implications. I don't want to create an unhealthy or dependent future for myself and recoil at the thought of suffocating someone I love and yet I want support too. Professional help is difficult and takes an agonisingly long time.

Also, whenever I try and get close to someone on 'even' terms, it often ends with me getting my wings burned because I chicken out of divulging the truth. I'm scared that doing so will leave me rejected.

So you see, it's quite a paradox to get around. Oh and the last twist: if I do find someone who likes me after all the crap I've gone through, I'm not entirely sure I'd trust that he wasn't in need of help himself!

anon275188
Post 5

I am 99 percent certain that my father has RAD. He was adopted when he was about 2 and we don't know what happened to him before that.

I have been searching all night to try to find another person whose parent has/had RAD. All I can find are things about raising children with RAD. I would love to talk to another adult daughter who was raised by a parent with RAD.

My whole life, I have been wondering what in the world was wrong with his brain and why I could never (and will never) be able to gain his trust or a genuine emotional relationship with him. He's a very good person; he just has no social skills and does not like to be touched/hugged, etc.

I always chalked everything up to his "control issues", OCD-like behaviors and his previous alcoholism. But now he has been sober for 20 years and although many things got better since then, he is still so socially awkward it's kind of painful to watch. Is there anyone else out there like me?

anon265790
Post 4

Well, but have you ever thought that if a man has an attachment disorder and it overlays with young age and image of a freedom-needing man (say a media image) there will be no counseling together because he simply acts in a way that ends the relationship. If a woman doesn't go by herself, he rejects her. He usually says on this occasion that he has difficulties letting anyone close, prefers his freedom, spreads his wings fully when he is alone, solitude is intoxicating, solitude is strength etc.

I know what I'm saying, because my ex had an ADS. There is no room for counseling, no room to form a bond unless I would be a virgin until a wedding night and forced a man into a formal marriage by playing difficult to get. When they hunt they behave normally. When their hormones are down, hell starts. So my ex had withdrawn into being fully alone and photographing birds. Birds are better than humans. He also seems to have no moral paradigms, no sense of what is good or wrong. He behaves like Dexter from that series.

He knows how to play nice when he wants to obtain something profitable from other people, be it a better position at work, or an affair with a woman.

I don't argue that these people may have been mistreated or suffer, but heck, I suffered my portion of hell with this "relationship". I need counseling now and am on medication for a year because I was rejected with no reason on my side.

icecream17
Post 3

Judging by this article, I think that my father definitely had attachment disorder. He was more of the fearful avoidant type because he was always a loner and very difficult to have a relationship with him.

He could also be argumentative and very critical especially with respect to my mother. My father would say things that would make a person so angry that it was hard to understand at the time what triggered it.

I remember him telling me that when he was a kid his parents divorced and his mother blamed him for the divorce. He had a troubled childhood and was always kicked out of schools because of his behavior.

He was finally sent to military school in Georgia and in the summers instead of coming home he went to camp in North Carolina. He felt rejected by his parents especially his mother, and I think that this was the source of his pain. I really believe that this is why my father was the way he was, but now at least I know the name of the condition that he suffered from.

It is so hard to have a relationship with someone like this especially when it is your father.

MrSmirnov
Post 2

@manykitties2 - That sounds an awful lot like a girlfriend I used to have back in college. She was extremely clingy and would go into jealous rages at the littlest things. She always wanted to spend time with me and if she couldn't she would cry.

I suppose at the time I suspected something was wrong with her, but I guess it was pretty likely that she had some sort of attachment disorder. I guess she had a pretty rough time growing up so I imagine that could have contributed to the condition.

Has anyone ever actually liked the attention from someone with attachment disorder?

While I can understand how someone being aloof all the time would be a problem, I am sure there are those that crave attention too.

manykitties2
Post 1

If you ever find out that you are in a relationship with someone who has attachment disorder it is a good idea to seek counseling together. Attachment disorder can be tricky to deal with as you never really know how much your significant other needs you.

I was in a long-term relationship with someone who was possessive and terribly jealous. They also had to be around me at all times or they panicked and would freak out.

At the time I thought they just really loved me and I wanted to give them all the attention they needed, but it turned out to be too much in the end.

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