attachment-disorder-in-adults

Treating Attachment Disorder in Adults

What is attachment disorder in adults and how do you treat it?

Let me start with these questions.

Do you struggle with relationships, intimacy, or being able to express how you really feel? Do you have life and relationship patterns that leave you emotionally distant, isolated, or alone? Do you find yourself jumping into relationships where you become distrustful of your partner, or become over-sensitive to their words or actions? Or do you dislike how you treat your partner?

What is it about your life pattern that causes you to be unhappy? What is your relationship pattern that has you confused, as to why you do the things that you do?  What do you think about your attachment style?

The first step to treating attachment disorder as an adult is to have clarity in your patterns. Find a time to honestly reflect on your actions and words in your relationships with others. This first step is not reflecting on the motivation of your relationship, or what they might have done to you, but is to help you see your relationship patterns in a clearer light.

Simply ask yourself the following questions and try to answer them with honesty by staying curious and even detached:

Romantic Relationships:

  • What hurtful actions have I done?
  • What hurtful words have I said?
  • What have I done to get my way, get what I want or what I needed?
  • In what situations have I felt shame or embarrassment?
  • In what ways have I lost myself in relationships?
  • What relationships have I gotten into that I knew beforehand I shouldn’t but did anyways?
  • Have I avoided healthy and honest communication in the past? In what situations?

Bosses, Employers:

  • What actions have I done that were intentionally contrary to their instructions?
  • What are things I have said negatively about them to others?
  • How have I tried to cheat the system, or used a shortcut to try to get ahead?
  • How have I tried to hide, and what have I used to hide behind?

Parents/Siblings:

  • What hurtful actions have I done?
  • What hurtful words have I said?
  • What do I honestly think about my Mom?
  • Do I have the relationship I would like with my Mom?  What has been my part in that?
  • Do I have the relationship I would like with my Dad?  What has been my part in that?
  • Who do I become around my siblings?

How did you do?

Again, the point is to stay curious so we can learn and see our patterns.  If we become judgmental or angry with ourselves, we cannot see our patterns honestly and clearly, thus we lose the opportunity to understand ourselves better.

Did you see patterns in your answers that demonstrate the patterns of avoiding relationships through disrespect, hurting others, or by keeping emotionally distant? Or did you see a pattern of becoming clingy, needing constant approval or connection, or becoming so absorbed in the relationship you lose your self?

Once you decide you would like to heal your brain and earn a secure attachment, you need to find one person who is willing to walk the healing journey with you.  You cannot develop attachment by yourself, nor can you develop a healthy secure attachment by losing yourself.

What To Do:

In order to know who the right person is to help you with this journey, there are qualities you need to look for:

  • They need to have a secure attachment themselves
  • Be willing to call you out when you do or say something from an insecurely attached place
  • Be able to do it in a loving, understanding way that feels safe, strong, and protective.

For example, if you say something that is hurtful, they need to be able to call you out on it immediately so you can start learning what it is you do that isn’t healthy. However, it is not helpful if this results in a dramatic shouting match about whether it was really hurtful, or whether or not they deserved it because they’ve hurt you in the past, etc.  No soap opera drama for the healing heart!

In a calm, consistent way, they will need to be able to train you to see what is healthy since this is not natural for you.

At first, this may go well, especially if you are motivated to heal and earn a secure attachment and have these promises come true in your life.  However, assuming you do have an attachment disorder, sooner or later fear of change will creep in and you will grow tired of the process, which will result in and adult version of a two-year-old temper-tantrum.

This adult tantrum has many different faces, but it will look like an emotional, an irrational, and an exaggerated response for what the situation warrants:

  • You might say something hurtful,
  • You might not be able to respond when you are called out.
  • You might lash out verbally
  • You might abruptly leave the room
  • Or you might become clingy.
  • You might even begin to have passive aggressive behaviors.

However, what sets this apart is that you will begin to notice that you are behaving this way, but will be unable to stop to repair the relationship at that moment. You might also be unable to continue on in a non-dramatic, calm, and consistent way in which you have been accomplishing up until this point.

This is when your chosen person will be put to the test to see if they are the right one for the job. It is extremely important that they respond to you in the same calm and consistent way, by not letting you “get to them” or change their mood, but by holding the boundary in the same firm, loving and understanding way.

Afterwards, you will feel embarrassed, ashamed, and will want to give up. This is when they will also come alongside you, reminding you that these moments are expected and are apart of healing the inner child; they will tell you how you can make things better and how to repair the relationship in a healthy way.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

You will have a lot of work to do on your own as well. There are essential tools for adults healing from attachment disorders, which include: Journaling, reading, and mindfulness.

Journaling every evening on a specific topic will help you identify key areas where you may be stuck.  You will need to answer these questions every evening before bed:

  1. Did I Avoid Healthy Connection with Someone Else Today?
  2. What Did Not Work Well for Me Today?
  3. What Did Work Well For Me Today?
  4. What Would I Like to Try Differently Tomorrow?

Reading on the subject is also very helpful as it gives you new insights into yourself, your core beliefs, and how you can enhance your brain’s neuroplasticity (or your brain’s ability to heal itself). Some great resources for reading on this topic are works from Alan Schore, Dan Siegel, and Gabor Mate.

Mindfulness is the tool you will use to begin to truly know yourself. Many adults with attachment disorder walk around without being aware of their feelings. To begin this mindfulness tool, you will do 1 minute of breathing exercises. Focus just on your breathing for 1 minute, noticing how it makes different parts of your body feel. Later, you will be able to use your breathing to change how you feel.  Here is a link to UCLA’s breathing mindfulness exercises.

Many adults have earned a secure attachment, and I want to give you the hope that it is possible! In fact, you have already started your journey if you are reading this. Is it time for the next steps? Find that individual who has a secure attachment, buy a journal, buy a few books, and you will be a leap ahead in your healing process!

I would love to hear from you about your experience with attachment disorder, such as what prompted you to wonder whether you or someone you love has an attachment disorder, and what tools you have found helpful in your journey?

In Health,

Dr. Aimie

Related: Working With Children With Attachment Disorder

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