Many people who have a lot of great qualities manage to still screw up their relationships, jobs, health, or other important areas of their lives. We chock it up to being “stupid,” having bad luck, ignorance, or other reasons that still don’t quite explain why someone who has so much going for them would just keep failing in some important area of their lives. There is an often overlooked explanation for sabotaging good things in life, over-reacting to relatively minor stressors, or in some other way being irrational in making behavioral choices which have significant negative consequences.
Secure emotional bonding with parents often goes wrong somehow. The reasons are usually environmental (for some reason parents don’t provide a secure predictable relationship with the child, or there is severe trauma); or the child can have physiological or neurological conditions that prevent them from feeling secure in general. The child never fully feels safe and secure in the relationship and carries that sense of insecurity into adulthood, generalizing that insecurity into all relationships. They end up coping with it in various ways which usually involve either being overly dependent in relationships, avoiding close relationships; or some combination of those relational styles (going from dependent to avoidant) which creates inconsistent behaviors in relationships.
These relationship dysfunctions can affect many different types of relationships (personal, work , etc.) and other areas of life such as health and substance use. When a person feels insecure in relationships they also feel insecure in their own identity and sense of self. Then, everything can be thrown off course, and the world is a confusing place.
This “Attachment Disorder” is believed to affect at least half of the adult population. This high prevalence can account for the current divorce rate of over 52%, among other things. Some people have only a small degree of attachment issues, so the overall number of people affected to some degree is likely much higher than 50%.
Attachment Disorder is a fairly common diagnosis of children and can be effectively treated. Unfortunately the field of psychiatry does not officially recognize the disorder in adulthood, despite its obviously lingering and growing consequences after it has been left untreated in childhood; and despite the fact that numerous clinicians and researchers do recognize it.
It can be very effectively treated in adulthood. First the disorder must be recognized by the affected individual. Next identify the specific relationship patterns that are problematic (avoidant, dependent, inconsistent). Then with professional help new rational thought patterns about self-identity and self-worth can be established, along with more realistic perspectives about people in general (e.g. “there are degrees to which you can trust people, and having a few faults is normal”). It is essential for new effective behavior patterns in relationships to be taught, so relationship re-education is needed.
Of course, if the root cause is on a physiological or neurological level, medical intervention is necessary as the first step in treatment. Also, if the root cause is severe trauma, then specialized treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder must be primary.
In my own case, the etiology was fairly mixed and complex (many causes). It required very effective psychotherapy including Cognitive Behavior Therapy for irrational thinking, and EMDR therapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I required medical intervention for a lifelong severe illness. A vital component of my treatment (initiated by a secular Clinical Psychologist) was spiritual reprogramming through spiritual re-education, meditation and prayer in order to give me the ultimate in a secure, trusting close relationship with a Higher Power.
There are varying degrees of Attachment Disorder, from severe to mild. If you can identify with any degree of Attachment Disorder know that help is available from therapists who are familiar with Adult Attachment Disorder.
It’s really not your fault. You can get on with a much happier, effective, fulfilling life.
Christopher Knippers, Ph.D., 02/18/2019