Why Do I Have Attachment Problems?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

I’ve been having some issues with getting attached to people for quite some time now. I’m not sure what it is about the person but when I meet someone who fills the role of a caregiver I become completely attached almost right away. They usually are professional relationships with teachers, profs., and even therapists and it becomes very difficult for me to detach myself from them even though I would very much like to. I end up coming to the conclusion that I wish I’d never met them and I usually feel guilty about it, I feel like there is something wrong with me because it’s been happening since I was a young child. Back then it was easier for me to become close with someone and for the relationship to still be healthy, I also found it easier to detach myself from them. As I got older however it shifted and I didn’t feel it was okay anymore to become close with a teacher even if I wanted to. Now I feel like it’s not really within my control and even though I know that the relationship must remain as a professional one I still have problems adjusting to their inevitable departure from my life.

I actually was reading about borderline personality disorder and I matched some of the symptoms dead on. Sometimes I think it might have to deal with the relationship I have with my mother. As a child I always used to fantasize about being from a different family and the people that I would get attached to sometimes I would see as being my mother. She wasn’t at all affectionate with me and today I have issues with expressing myself emotionally and asking for help. My father was in and out of my life until I was 11 when he split for good. Even when he was in my life he had issues with loving me, my mother told me on many occasions that he would often be quite cold to me and only really pay attention to my brother which whom he still is in contact with today. My brother sometimes pities me because my dad seemed to love him and not me.

Growing up was quite hectic, my family all have substance abuse issues and I was taken away when I was four to live with foster parents after my parents left me in the middle of the night. In fact none of my family really ever shows much affection towards one another and have major communication problems. They tend to hold things in then let it all out when they’re drinking. As a child they never turned on me but now that I’m older my odds of them attacking me are just as high as any other family member. I’ve been having problems adjusting to that but hopefully I can develop a thicker coat of skin to handle it.

I don’t really have healthy ways of coping with things. My main tool is self harm which tends to help though it’s now become more of an addiction than a release. I suffer from major depressive disorder, PTSD and an array of anxiety disorders which I was recently hospitalized for a few months ago after I overdosed on painkillers. I tend to hold things in and that’s kinda what I’ve been working on in therapy. I guess I’m wondering why I’m like that and what can I do about it so that it doesn’t cause me so much distress anymore?

A. It does not seem that you had a healthy attachment with your mother or father. Healthy, stable relationships were never modeled for you. Neither parent was emotionally available to you. Your father was not in your life long enough to really get to know him and when you and he did interact, he essentially ignored you. It’s human nature to want safe and stable relationships with others. Ideally these relationships are supposed to occur with your parents. When an individual lacks these stable and important relationships with their parents they often spend their adult lives attempting to secure these attachments with others. Because you never had a true bond with your parents you’re searching for healthy attachments with others whom you’ve deemed as safe (teachers, therapists, etc). It makes sense that you would have a difficult time with attachment given your history. The above explanation might help explain “why” you have trouble with attachment.

Individuals with borderline personality disorder have problems developing healthy relationships. Attachment is usually a problem for them. They also fear abandonment. Again, it makes sense for individuals with borderline personality disorder to have difficulty in relationships because many have had interrupted or troubled attachments with their primary caretakers.

It is possible that you have borderline personality disorder but if you do please know that it is a treatable disorder. If you are currently in treatment you should ask your therapist about whether you have the disorder. If you do your therapist might alter your current treatment regimen.

You asked what you could do to stop the distressing attachment problems you experience. Since you’re currently in therapy it would be helpful if you focused on this issue. Does your therapist know this is an issue for you? I hope so.

You can learn a new way of interacting with people. A good therapist can teach you how to behave in relationships. He or she can model “healthy behavior” for you. He or she can also analyze your relationships with others and point out what areas need to be adapted or improved. The goal for therapy should be to teach or model for you what a healthy relationship is like. Dialectical behavior therapy is a biopsychosocial mode of treatment that has been proved to work well with individuals with borderline personality disorder. It may be helpful for you. Take care.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 23 Feb 2009

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2009). Why Do I Have Attachment Problems?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/02/23/why-do-i-have-attachment-problems/