Disorganized attachment forms in childhood and can determine how you interact with romantic partners as an adult. Healing from disorganized attachment can take time, but it’s possible.

When you’re an infant, you develop attachments to your primary caregiver. Attachment styles concern whether your primary caregivers met or didn’t meet your needs in childhood.

If you had inconsistent parenting, you might likely experience insecure attachments to romantic partners or other people in your life as an adult.

Some people experience periods where their attachments to their caregiver are secure, consistent, and stable. At other times, those same caregivers may have been inconsistent with meeting your needs. In this case, you may have developed a disorganized attachment style.

Disorganized attachment is an insecure attachment style that likely forms due to inconsistent or unpredictable parenting.

When caregivers respond to the needs of their children and are consistent in how they react to them, the children will most likely have a secure and healthy attachment style. In disorganized attachment, caregivers will often be inconsistent.

In times of stress, children may not know how their primary caregivers will react because they often react chaotically, which can be confusing. Due to this, people with disorganized attachments may not feel safe or secure with others.

It’s common for people with disorganized attachment to want intimacy but then reject it out of fear. If you experience disorganized attachment, you may want to be close to others but put up walls to avoid vulnerability.

Disorganized attachment can cause an individual to respond in ways that sometimes are hard to understand.

2015 research suggests that you may have a disorganized attachment style if you exhibit these signs:

  • wanting to be extremely close or extremely distant from others
  • difficulty being vulnerable with others
  • anxiety when others want to be close to you
  • challenges with emotional regulation
  • low self-esteem
  • fear of being abandoned
  • inconsistent in your relationships with others
  • depression
  • avoidance of others

These challenges can cause significant problems at work, school, or relating to others in daily life.

Signs of disorganized attachment in children vs. adults

Children and adults may display signs of disorganized attachment differently.

Children with disorganized attachment might:

  • scream for their caregiver, then move away when their caregiver responds
  • display facial expressions exhibiting fear
  • appear as if they’re in a trance
  • become disoriented
  • freeze when approached by their caregiver

Adults with disorganized attachments may exhibit similar symptoms but with romantic partners or close friends.

Adults may:

  • desire to be close to romantic partners but pull away after seeking comfort
  • fear that they’ll be abandoned
  • seek support but in incoherent or inconsistent ways
  • avoid intimacy
  • experience high levels of anxiety
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Disorganized attachment is often the result of unpredictable parenting that can confuse infants and children, creating fear.

Research on attachment styles proposed by psychologists, Mary Main and Erik Hesse, suggests that disorganized attachment develops from caregivers displaying terrifying behavior that instills fear in a child, which is most often a daily interaction.

Working through disorganized attachment is difficult, as you may experience a lot of anxiety or self-critical thoughts. Managing disorganized attachment takes some work, but with time, you can manage the challenges of having a disorganized attachment style.

1. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness practice has many research-backed benefits, such as:

  • reducing stress
  • lessening anxiety
  • improving depression
  • easing pain

When you’re being mindful, you’re remaining non-judgmental of thoughts and feelings happening in the present moment. Mindfulness practice can help you become more aware of thoughts and feelings, especially those that might occur if you have a disorganized attachment style.

2. Talk with a therapist

Because attachment styles are often formed in childhood, managing disorganized attachments and moving to more secure attachments doesn’t happen overnight.

It can be helpful to see a therapist trained in attachment theory or who does attachment work to manage depression, anxiety, or other issues that may arise from disorganized attachment.

3. Practice open communication in relationships

Open communication can take practice, but it can be beneficial for relationships. When communicating openly, you’re being honest about your needs and feelings and expressing your thoughts and emotions.

When you do this, you foster healthy relationships allowing your needs to be met and allowing yourself to meet the needs of others.

4. Take space when you need to

You may find that when you start working through disorganized attachment, you may need some space from others to reflect or get a handle on how you’re feeling.

This feeling is typical, and having some time alone is healthy. Space doesn’t mean isolating yourself from those important to you, but you can have time to yourself, and it’s beneficial to do so.

Disorganized attachment forms due to parenting that can cause fear and are often unpredictable. While disorganized attachment can be managed, it doesn’t happen overnight.

Seeking professional help and engaging in self-care practices can help you deal with disorganized attachment.

If you have suicidal thoughts or depression from disorganized attachments, consider contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, open 24/7, 365 days a year, for support. For resources about healing from an insecure attachment style, you can visit The Attachment Project.