Attachment disorder in adults refers to various difficulties associated with reading emotions, showing affection, and trusting others. Attachment disorders often begin in childhood and can affect everything from a person’s self-esteem to the satisfaction they feel in relationships. Mental health treatment can help people with attachment disorders become more aware of their attachment styles and learn how to communicate their needs properly to prevent depressive or anxious symptoms.
Attachment disorders are based on attachment theory, which is how we connect, trust, and attach ourselves to others. This theory focuses on relationships, such as the dynamics between a child and a caregiver or the relationship between two romantic partners.
There are four types of attachment styles:
These attachment styles usually emerge in childhood, and they continue to impact the types of relationships the individual has throughout their life.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), there are two childhood attachment disorders - each of which produces symptoms that ebb and flow over time - reactive attachment disorder and disinhibited social engagement disorder. However, an adult who is suspected of having an attachment disorder must have shown symptoms between the ages of nine months and five years.
In the same cases, children receive appropriate treatment for attachment disorder, but if not, the individual may struggle with long-term problems like self-esteem and relationship problems in their adulthood. Below we discuss the two main types of attachment disorders in adults:
Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) is a rare condition that takes root when a child doesn’t maintain healthy attachments with caregivers. Those struggling with RAD usually don’t find comfort in others. For this reason, they rarely show positive emotions when socializing with caregivers. Instead, they may be sad, irritable, or unhappy.
This lack of a positive or proper attachment often happens when the child doesn’t have their needs met, often in situations of neglect or abuse. Because RAD focuses on symptoms present in young children, the DSM-5 states that signs must be recognized before the age of five.
Below are common reactive attachment disorder symptoms in adults:
Disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED) is a disorder that impacts one’s ability to form strong, meaningful, and long-term relationships with others. Children with this condition also won’t usually show a typical fear associated with strangers. Instead, they tend to be overly friendly or preoccupied with gaining a stranger’s attention.
Like RAD, DSED emerges in childhood and is often a response to a lack of proper care from a caregiver. Some children with this condition also grew up in settings like orphanages and shelters and received little one-on-one attention.
Common disinhibited social engagement disorder symptoms include:
Attachment disorder symptoms in adults usually present themselves in childhood. Attachment disorders are formal psychiatric disorders that can affect individuals in their adulthood if they did not receive proper treatment as children.
Attachment disorders are also linked to childhood trauma, neglect, and abuse. For this reason, individuals with attachment disorders may also struggle with co-occurring disorders like anxiety disorders, depression, ADHD, eating disorders, and more.
Our Banyan Mental Health Center can help people with attachment disorders learn to manage their symptoms, process trauma, and manage any co-occurring mental health disorders they have. Although we do not specialize in attachment disorder treatment, we do offer other programs at our treatment center for mental health that can help adults with attachment disorders understand the source of their disorders and symptoms.