Child Psychology: What is disorganized attachment? 8 Characteristics of children with this type of attachment.

 What is disorganized attachment and what is its relationship to child abuse? In this article you will be able to know what it is and what its consequences are

Child Psychology

Attachment has a clearly evolutionary function since it allows to promote the autonomy capacity of individuals and healthy physical and psychological development. Secure attachment provides the necessary security to be able to explore the environment that surrounds us, a key aspect for learning. 

However, not all people develop a secure bond in the childhood and a clear example of this are those people who suffer abuse throughout this stage. Most of these end up developing a disorganized attachment. In this article you will discover what it is exactly, what its consequences are and what the treatment for attachment trauma is based on 

What is attachment?

Attachment is the emotional bond that is established between a child and their caregivers. Specifically, the Attachment theory postulates that the repetition of positive interactions between the child and their caregiver gives the child the perception that the world is safe. This security, according to this theory, would come from the child's feeling that he is worthy of the love of other people and that there are significant figures who will give him shelter and support if he needs it. 

Bowlby (important author of this theory) affirms that attachment can explain different psychological problems such as anger, emotional withdrawal, anxiety, etc. since these can arise as a consequence of an insecure attachment to significant figures. It is for this reason that the configuration of the first relationships can significantly influence future interactions with other people such as friends, partner, etc. even with oneself. 

What is disorganized attachment?

There are different types of attachment depending on the emotional bond that is established between the child and his / her caregiver. One of them is disorganized insecure attachment and this is characterized by a threatening bond where parents or caregivers behave in an unpredictable and hostile way. When we refer to unpredictable, we refer to the fact that the child cannot predict the behavior of their caregiver, remove the opposite of secure attachment, where the child, based on past interactions, knows that their parents will respond to their needs. 

It is estimated that 80% of children who have been abused have this type of attachment and it is usually common for their parents to have also had hostile caregivers and a disorganized attachment. The interaction they maintain is a mixture between approach and avoidance, so that the adult's behavior is characterized by being inconsistent and being little available to the needs of the child, resulting in care based on the mistreatment, abuse and violence. This pattern of relationship leads to disorganized behaviors in the child that alternate between the intense search to meet their needs and the rejection of significant figures for fear of their responses. 

Consequences of children with this type of attachment: 

  1. Hypervigilance: Children with disorganized attachment tend to be constantly alert, monitoring the caregiver's behavior in order to avoid a possible aggression or violent situation. Therefore, they will keep an eye out for possible indicators that can predict an assault.
  2. Low  self-esteem: The first contact we have with social relationships and with the world is through our parents or caregivers. The fact of not feeling loved in this first relationship will lead to feelings of guilt and self-rejection. That is why children with this type of attachment do not feel worthy of love. They tend to perceive themselves as insufficient and guilty attributing the abuse to characteristics of their way of being. Therefore, they tend to be insecure children and on occasions, they present hyperactive behaviors in order to attract the attention of the other people around them and thus obtain the attention that they do not find in their caregivers.
  3. Fear of caregivers: Children who have been abused by their caregivers end up developing fear of them, associating them with discomfort, guilt and sadness. In fact, this type of care can lead to the development of trauma since abuse and mistreatment occur, so much so that this type of experience makes them more susceptible to suffering post traumatic stress disorder.
  4. Fear of exploration: A secure attachment guarantees the child the certainty that their parents will meet their needs, so the child will not have to be attentive to the responses of their caregiver and will dedicate themselves to exploring the environment where they are (to through the realization of activities, new links, etc.). People with disorganized attachment are so afraid of abandonment as well as possible aggression, for which they avoid exploring the world around them for fear of being punished by their parents or, for fear of encountering people who treat them with violence. This fear ends up damaging cognitive development since they cannot be in contact with different stimuli.
  5. Dissociation: Children who live in situations of violence and abuse end up suffering from dissociation. Being in situations in which they cannot flee and that the figures in charge of their care are the ones that pose a threat, they lose contact with reality as Defense mechanism.
  6. Behavioral problems: The figures who are in charge of our care also function as a means to learn socially acceptable behaviors and one of the ways in which they are learned is through simple observation. Therefore, having experienced situations of abuse can lead to learning this type of behavior and reproducing it in other situations such as in the couple, in the institute, etc. In fact, people who have had this type of attachment during childhood are more likely to develop antisocial behavior.
  7. Mood disorders: The identification and emotional regulation begins to be learned from childhood through the containment of our parents. When children are not provided with strategies to regulate their emotions and complicated situations, they end up being more susceptible to suffering from mood disorders such as  depression.
  8. Cognitive problems: Our memory has a survival function and sometimes, in the face of traumatic events that are difficult to process cognitively, our memory It "protects us" by making that content inaccessible to memory. It is for this reason that people who have suffered abuse during their childhood can have gaps in their memories and, therefore, reasoning and speech with long lapses. 


Psychological treatment to treat traumas and / or problems related to attachment mainly focus on: 

  • Consolidate a secure bond with the therapist that facilitates both the exploration of painful aspects and the modification of those thought patterns that make it difficult to establish healthy relationships both with others and with themselves. An example of dysfunctional thinking What could be given in this case would be: " Everyone is going to hurt me and that is why I have to mistrust all the people with whom I interact ."
  • Analyze those behaviors, perceptions and feelings that are present today but that are related to the experiences of their childhood.
  • Emotional accompaniment to explore your current situation and how you establish relationships with others, analyzing both trends and expectations you have from others. 

There are experiences throughout our lives that are difficult to manage and sometimes cause us so much pain and discomfort that it becomes an impossible task for us to recover on our own. Time does not heal everything and choosing not to treat that pain can lead to a deterioration of our mental health. It is for this reason that it is important that in the event of any discomfort that interferes in our day-to-day lives, we go to a professional with the aim of being able to improve our emotional well-being

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