Disorganised attachment is an unhealthy attachment style that can lead to various personal and professional problems in a person’s life. This attachment style is the only disorganised one, with the three other styles – secure, anxious, and avoidant – all having secure characteristics.
In the final part of our four-part series on attachment styles, we will be covering the least well known of all the attachment styles – disorganised attachment.
Signs of Disorganised Attachment
Sometimes called fearful-avoidant attachment, disorganised attachment has several signs, including:
- Extreme fear of rejection
- Difficulty connecting to others
- Feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy
- Desiring closeness but pushing others away
- Chaotic or intense relationship patterns
Children with a disorganised attachment style may struggle to reach the same cognitive milestones as securely attached children. Children may also have trust issues, as their caregiver may have violated their trust multiple times.
Adults with a disorganised attachment style often fear that anyone they let close to them will hurt them. As a result, they push many people away. Adults with this attachment style may think that rejection is inevitable no matter what they do and therefore shy away from any relationship, be it romantic or platonic.
Furthermore, disorganised adults usually negatively perceive themselves and other people. Research has also found that people with this attachment style are more likely to develop depression and social anxiety. Some studies additionally suggest that those with disorganised attachment are more likely to develop substance use disorders and demonstrate aggressive behaviour.
In addition to the above, further research into the fearful-avoidant attachment style has revealed that this particular type of attachment may influence how people view sex and intimacy. One study found that people with a disorganised attachment style were more likely to have more sexual partners throughout their lives and were more likely to consent to sex, even when they did not want it. This may be due to a combined desire for intimacy and emotional distance, with the disorganised individual engaging in casual relationships to hold others at arm’s length.
Causes of Disorganised Attachment
When babies are born, they immediately bond with their parents or caregivers. These caregivers cater to their physical and emotional needs, providing a safe space for the child to return to. However, if the caregiver does not provide a safe space for the child when they are distressed, the child cannot form a secure bond and will instead develop an insecure attachment style.
Children may also develop a disorganised attachment style if their parent or caregiver exhibits frightening behaviour. This behaviour may include physical, emotional, sexual abuse, or shouting at the child instead of providing reassurance for any fears and distress. Other responses that may contribute towards a disorganised attachment style include:
- Laughing at a child in distress
- Shouting at a child to stop them crying
- Only soothing a child very briefly before losing patience and shouting
- Ignoring a child’s cries for long periods at a time
The disorganised attachment style was the last attachment style to be identified by researchers. Psychologists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth were instrumental in identifying secure, anxious, and avoidant attachment, but researchers Main and Solomon later added disorganised attachment in 1986.
Coping With Disorganised Attachment
Many people may not realise that they have a disorganised attachment style. Although it can be challenging to cope with, there are ways to improve and change this attachment style to a more secure form. For those with disorganised attachment, there are several ways to help:
- Become educated – Read into disorganised attachment and identify some of the traits. This enables adults to gain insight into some patterns that may influence their relationships and inner dialogue.
- Improve communication – To improve communication, adults should speak more openly about what makes them anxious in a relationship. They should also seek reassurance when needed.
- Talk to a therapist – Attachment is intrinsically linked to trauma. If a child does not have their most basic needs for affection and love met, this can stay with them for years, and the world can be overwhelming, even as an adult. Talking to a therapist can help people feel more connected to themselves and help them connect to others as well.
However, a disorganised person may have trouble opening up, even to a therapist. It may feel too close to intimacy, and they could withdraw and refuse to attend sessions after only a few weeks. This reluctance can be improved by seeking a therapist with experience in treating the root causes of disorganised attachment.
Healing from a disorganised attachment style is a challenging but worthwhile process. The ability to form healthy relationships can positively impact many people’s lives for the better for years to come.
A disorganised attachment style can make it incredibly difficult to form and maintain relationships. It can stem from childhood abuse, trauma, or an emotionally unavailable or distant caregiver. However, it is possible to heal and change a disorganised attachment style by engaging in therapy and self-reflection to identify negative thought patterns and learn how to alter them.
If you have a client or know of someone struggling with anything you have read in this blog, reach out to us at Khiron Clinics. We believe that we can improve therapeutic outcomes and avoid misdiagnosis by providing an effective residential program and outpatient therapies addressing underlying psychological trauma. Allow us to help you find the path to realistic, long-lasting recovery. For more information, call us today. UK: 020 3811 2575 (24 hours). USA: (866) 801 6184 (24 hours).
 Murphy B, Bates GW. Adult attachment style and vulnerability to depression. Pers Individ Dif. 1997;22(6):835-844. doi:10.1016/s0191-8869(96)00277-2
 Favez N, Tissot H. Fearful-Avoidant Attachment: A Specific Impact on Sexuality? J Sex Marital Ther. 2019;45(6):510-523. doi:10.1080/0092623x.2019.1566946
 Main, M. & Solomon, J. (1986) Discovery of a new, insecure-disorganized/disoriented attachment pattern. In T. B. Brazelton & M. Yogman (Eds), Affective development in infancy , pp. 95-124. Norwood, New Jersey: Ablex.
 Reis S, Grenyer BFS. Fearful attachment, working alliance and treatment response for individuals with major depression. Clin Psychol Psychother. 2004;11(6):414-424. doi:10.1002/cpp.428