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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Thursday Therapeutic Thought - Disorganized Attachment Style

Alright. Our last week on attachment styles! Either you are eagerly awaiting this last installment or you're rolling your eyes and saying, "Thank the Lord she's getting on to something else next week." :)

We've already covered Secure, Ambivalent, and Avoidant attachment styles here, here, and here. Next on the list, and LAST, is the Disorganized Attachment style.

Picture by Leo Reynolds

Unfortunately, this style seems to be a catch-all for the infants who didn't clearly fall into one of the other styles. In Ainsworth's Strange Situation, these were the children who show a lack of attachment behavior altogether. When reunited with their caregivers after being left alone with a stranger, the children displayed dazed behavior, sometimes seeming confused or apprehensive in the presence of their parent. They were avoidant, resistant, or a mix of other behaviors.

Main and Solomon (1986) proposed one factor that might contribute to this attachment style is that of inconsistent behavior on the part of the child's parent. A parent who alternatively comforts the child but also frightens the child could result in this type of attachment confusion where the child isn't sure whether to seek shelter from the parent or seek reassurance from them.

Here's another one of these great breakdowns from

Clinton and Sibcy describe these persons as having a "shattered self." Here's a great quote that sums up a person living with disorganized attachment style (which isn't a "disorder," folks).

"These sudden shifts from one attachment strategy to another often leave those closest to them confused and frustrated while the 'disorganized' persons themselves feel trapped in a chaotic world, one of rapidly shifting emotions, impulsive behaviors, and muddled relationships" (Attachments, p. 95).

Pople with this attachment style have both a negative self dimension and a negative other dimension. They do not believe they are worthy of love or that they are capable of getting the love they need without being angry or clingy and they do not believe that others are trustworhty, reliable or able to meet their needs. In addition, Clinton and Sibcy add an internal belief in the other dimension that these people believe others are abusive and that they deserve the abuse.
Inevitably, many children who show disorganized attachment come from abusive homes. Abuse comes in many forms, and while not to capitalize on the plights of others, exposing these types of abuse in our characters' backstories might actually help shed some light on it. There is psychological abuse with sarcastic put-downs, harshness, rejection or inconsistency; emotional neglect where the child gets nothing - no physical touch, warmth or connection; physical abuse that can run the gamut from beating and punching to burning and poisoning; sexual abuse/incest - from fondling to full intercourse; exposure to severe marital conflict where the child's sense of security is threatened because a fight between their parents escalates into a scream fest or violence; addictive behavior with drugs or alcohol that usually acconpany other types of abuse (i.e. alcoholic single mom with low self-esteem dragging a child with her into an abusive relationship because it's all she thinks she can get).

So, some characteristics of the disorganized attachment style, or "shattered self," are as follows:
  • may commit to a goal during the fervor of an emotional high only to drop the commitment when the high fades
  • no internal sense of self-value
  • have trouble learning from past experiences and inability to consider future consequences
  • lack of self-reflection
  • has trouble self-soothing and regulating emotions
  • can have chronic feelings of depression (known as dysthymia) and are prone to slipping into deep depression
  • feels emotions that might be totally out of proportion to the triggering event (can happen during a flashback)
  • when faced with new stressors, can experience extreme helplessness rather than focusing on problem solving
  • can have self-blame and guilt and "learned helplessness," in which they believe nothing can be done about their situation
  • can be overcontrolling as they react to a persistent sense of powerlessness
  • relationship distress - 2 extremes: either they are a control freak or a doormat
  • compelled to repeat their trauma and turmoil by three ways:
  1. faulty selection - selecting partners who treat them as their original abusers did
  2. distortion - fitting present situations to their past (looking at things through a lens colored by the past)
  3. provacation - they behave in such a way as to provoke others to abandon them or behave aggressively toward them
Wow. Lots going on with this style. Consequently, this style can be one of the hardest to treat in counseling. Internal views with such an overarching global reach can be hard to reorganize. Hard, but not impossible...with Christ on our sides, anything is possible.

Now that we've conlcuded our attachment study, I hope that you've gotten some great information to apply to your characters. Bookmark these pages if you need to to come back to. Or go and buy the book by Drs. Tim Clinton and Gary Sibcy. Attachments: Why You Love, Feel and Act the Way You Do. (Click on the title for a link to Amazon.) It's an excellent read and a goldmind of information for yourself and for your characters.

Hopefully you've enjoyed this in-depth exploration of attachment styles and it hasn't been too boring or technical. Sorry...sometimes I just get carried away with this stuff!

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Katie said...

I'm going to bookmark all of these. Every single one. So helpful when first creating a character. :)

Jeannie Campbell said... one true you girl. :) glad it's helpful.

Tess said...

These posts have been interesting...but a little sad. I don't know why, but I think it's sad to know there are people in our world who feel so lost and have such difficult issues. The thought of a 6 year old taking a role of parent makes my heart sink.

Now,I know we are theoretically talking about characters, but still... :(

BUT it also makes me feel like I want to be a better mom, sister, friend, I want to build HEALTHY attachement to those in my life.

Now, that's a worthy goal :)

Jeannie Campbell said...

tess, it IS sad. our actions as parents DO affect our children. it's jsut up to us to make that effect positive and healthy, as you said. i think it's great that these posts have opened your eyes to what CAN happen, but what WON'T happen to YOUR children! :)

Wondering Soul said...

hey Jeannie,
I'm trying to understand this disorganised attachment stuff right now and this has really helped me.
I'm still confused but some of the things on your bullet point list are so accurate... It's kind of hard to be cynical about it (which I have been).
Thanks for writing.
I've never been to your blog before but will definitely come back to read more. x

Numeronx said...

Good article, i think you shoulda left the "Christ on our side! comment at the end out though.... I can imagine your article could be deemed less worthy by nonreligious individuals like myself(and to i big degree, i suspect, of ateist/agnositics with theese attachment issues in much higher degree)

Chris said...

I have disorganized attachment. I'm still having a hard time believing my therapist truly care about me and is very patient with me even I'm seeing her three times a week. It's overwhelming and unreal. However I'm committed to the process because I like what I'm feeling right now and need to trust it. Sometimes I feel she's an angel on my shoulder although I still want her to help me and figure out how to push her away. It's a process :)

Unknown said...

I finished psychology bachelor studies myself and my final research was about the relationship between attachment styles and identity development. I realized I have disorganized attachment myself (not the worst form of it, but still), and this not only disrupts my personal relationships, but also makes it hard to believe I can be different than my parents, that I can have a career, a profession and be really good at something, doesn't matter how strong I desire it. I want to believe that it is possible to change constructively this attachment style not only "with the help of god" (which for me, of course, is total nonsense), but in some more realistic way. I cannot afford going to therapist right now (I was going for about 6 months, maybe, but it needed much more time, I didn't have enough money, so I stopped), so is there any other way I could help myself, what do you think? It is very very complicated to explain what's happening with me for others (as knowledge about attachment and all the processes involved are very uncommon for nearly everybody), and it feels so hard to find my way and myself all alone, without any direction...

Anonymous said...

To Simona: I have/had a disorganised attachment too - it sure is painful when you have no clue what's going on! :(

One of the things I've found really helpful is the book by Marsha Lucas "Rewire your Brain for Love". It combines interpersonal neurobiology with mindfulness meditaiton - basically it has all these meditations/exercises you can do progressively to help you brain link up so it can become more securely attached. :)

So you 'earn' the secure attachment style over time by practicing and working those inner muscles (and I can let you know that you DO come to feel differently inside. Much better! Much more calm. Much happier. And relationships start to work). <3 It's a journey, but it's sooo worth it. Good luck to you! I know that you can become secure ... nobody is destined to stay in the pain of disorganised attachment.

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