Disorganized Attachment

All you have to do is glance over the chart above to see how clearly childhood trauma can affect us as adults.  This particular area known as “Disorganized Attachment”, is usually established within the first year of life with the predominant parent.

Basically speaking, when the parent becomes the protector and comforter, as well as the one who hurts me, this creates “Disorganized Attachment”, which will be described basically below.

Why is this important?

Look at the adults column above.  You can clearly see that many behaviors related to temperament, and other factors, may also be rooted in this particular disorder.  This bolsters our confidence in the “process” that we use to help people.  The second step of :journaling” is intended to uncover these types of childhood trauma that are still affecting us and dictating behavior patterns in adult relationships.  Without dealing with these issues effectively it’s clear that approaches of “behavior modification” will have little to no lasting results alone.

Here is a brief overview of “DA” adapted from the research of the Weinhold’s.

The Dynamics of Disorganized Attachment

Individuals with DA often have a history of relational or developmental trauma during the first year of life that involve experiences of physical and/or emotional abuse, and rejection. When near an attachment figure, they experience two conflicting signals from their brains that cause them to fragment psychologically and dissociate.

The first brain signal comes from fear-based relational experiences infants have with their mothers or primary attachment figures during their first year of life. They instinctively react with fear when their mothers dissociate or show facial expressions or behaviors that make them appear scary or dangerous. Infant’s brain stems automatically activate protective reactions that help them quickly retreat from their “scary mother.”

The second brain signal comes from the part of infants’ brains that wires them to attach to an adult figure for protection and safety. ( This is also a healthy spiritual reality, as the parent should have this role in the life of a child). This  wiring to attach is inherent, and fires unconsciously.

When children fear their attachment figure, they face an irresolvable paradox: the mother, (parent), becomes both the source of protection and the source of alarm.

These two conflicting messages short-circuit the child’s brain [and spirit.] This short-circuit is visible in children’s eyes as a “freeze” or shock reaction. The child’s body stops moving, and they loose their ability to communicate. The Andrenal Stress Response causes the blood to be pulled from their extremities and into their core. Their skin color turns white, and their eyes bulge and stop blinking. When the signals from the brain to both flee and to attach are intense, the freeze reaction actually sends infants out of their bodies into dissociation.

Characteristics of Disorganized Attachment

Research on Disorganized Attachment identified the following typical behaviors in infants.

  1. Sequential display of contradictory behavior patterns, such as strong attachment behavior suddenly followed by avoidance, freezing, or dazed behaviors.
  2. Simultaneous display of contradictory behaviors, such as strong avoidance with strong contact-seeking, distress, or anger.
  3. Undirected, misdirected, incomplete, and interrupted movements and expressions; for example, extensive expressions of distress accompanied by movement away from rather than toward the mother.[Parent].
  4. Stereotypic, asymmetric movements, mistimed movements, and postures such as stumbling for no apparent reason and only when the parent is present.
  5. Freezing, stilling, and slowed “underwater” movements and expressions.
  6. Direct indications of apprehension regarding the parent, such as hunched shoulders and fearful facial expressions.
  7. Direct indications of disorganization and disorientation, such as disoriented wandering, confused or dazed expressions, or multiple, rapid changes in affect.

Again, this is crucial in working with adults in troubled relationships, especially where traditional approaches to help have failed.  While there are potentially many underlying causes of relational problems, many with spiritual implications as well, there is no doubt that this aspect of developmental trauma should be looked at as an underlying, root cause of dissociative and dysfunctional relationships.

As always, DO NOT SELF DIAGNOSE.  If this or any other disorder is something that concerns you or seems to be active in your life, seek professional help.

Adapted/ Barry and Janae Weinhold, PhD / BH
With referenced research by Mary Main, PhD

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