Our attachment to our parents or primary caregivers in our initial infancy years of life shows the importance of having a strong, secure emotional and physical bond with our parents or primary caregivers. There is now a lot of evidence to support the validity of Attachment Theory and how our early years affect our ability to form close relationships as an adult. Our loving relationships are too largely defined by the kind of bonding we experienced as a child with our parents or primary caregivers. Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby, two developmental psychologists, are attributed to the development of Attachment Theory in the 1960s and 1970s. However, the disorganized-disoriented attachment style was later identified by Mary Main in the 1980s. This fourth form of attachment is better used to categorize odd, unusual, contradictory or conflicted stress-induced behaviors that occur between the parents or caregivers and the child in their initial infancy years. Let us understand the disorganized-disoriented attachment style in detail and explore how this attachment style affects a loving relationship.

What is a Disorganized-Disoriented Attachment Style?

The disorganized-disoriented attachment style is an insecure attachment style. The strange situation test is a famous experiment that observes the behaviors attributed to the Attachment Theory. In this experiment, the child’s behavior is observed in different scenarios like when in the presence of the mother, in the presence of a stranger, and when the child is left alone. Some children exhibit behavioral disorganization or disorientation in this experiment. They show signs of wandering, confused expressions, freezing, undirected movements, or contradictory patterns of interaction when they see the mother or stranger. This attachment style is categorized as a disorganized-disoriented attachment style.

What causes the Setup of a Disorganized-Disoriented Attachment Style?

One of the most common reasons for a disorganized-disoriented attachment style is the parent’s or primary caregiver’s failure to respond appropriately to the child’s distress. When a parent inconsistently responds to the child’s emotional needs or distress, it can lead to a disorganized attachment style. For example, the child might not be comfortable sleeping alone. When the baby cries for help, the parent might ignore or never respond or make fun of it. Though sometimes parents respond with kindness and support, such inconsistent and inappropriate responses and behaviors from the parents or primary caregiver can lead to the development of a disorganized-disoriented attachment style. This attachment style is related to intergenerational parenting patterns which means the parents might well have been on the receiving end of unhealthy patterns from their parents too when they were young.

The common signs of a disorganized-disoriented attachment style in children are:

  • They are most likely attention seekers
  • They do not have self-soothing skills
  • They do not show any behavioral strategy for coping well with stress
  • They tend to focus on tasks to their limits
  • They find difficulty in speaking out about their emotional needs
  • They tend to be fearful
  • They might show aggressive or erratic behaviors
  • They generally have low self-esteem and poor social skills
  • They have less control over their negative emotions

How does a Disorganized-Disoriented Attachment Style affect Adults? 

Childhood traumas and unhealthy attachment patterns with parents or the primary caregivers will lead to disorganized-disoriented attachment patterns in adults. They show a fearful attachment style. Some of the common signs observed in disorganized-disoriented adults are:

  • An extreme and constant fear of rejection
  • Low self-esteem and difficulty connecting with others
  • Show extreme closeness or extreme distance in relationships
  • Inconsistency in romantic relationships
  • Constant fear of abandonment
  • Might show contradictory mental state and behavior
  • Stay anxious about others intentions
  • Trust issues leading to lack of secure attachments
  • Difficulty in finding emotional intimacy with people

Can you Work to Change a Disorganized-Disoriented Attachment-Based Personality?

If you recognize you have a disoriented-disorganized attachment style, there are a few ways you can work to change it. Here are three approaches:

  • Consistency in Relationships and a Loving Relationship – By seeking out consistency in relationships, you can work to heal attachment wounds. You can choose to stay with the right partner who is emotionally available, consistent, kind and trustworthy. This can help you to build healthier, safer, and more secure bonds.
  • Be Patient – It takes time, practice and dedicated effort to change an attachment style and to develop secure relationships. You need commitment, awareness and a willingness to avoid reacting and a daily mindset to work on yourself.
  • Professional Support – It is recommended to work with a highly skilled professional counselor, therapist or coach if you have a disoriented-disorganized attachment style. They can help you to work through and change this attachment style to a secure attachment style, but it will take time and work.

How does a Disorganized-Disoriented Attachment Style Benefit an individual?

Attachment styles have benefits. Most disoriented-disorganized individuals show characteristics like:

  • They fall in love quickly
  • They seek closeness in a relationship but they don’t become close
  • They work to preserve relationships they care about
  • They work hard on maintaining their loving relationship

How can you Build a Better Loving Relationship with a Disoriented-Disorganized Attachment-Based Partner? 

If you are with a person with a disoriented-disorganized attachment style, it will have an impact on the quality of your loving relationship. People with this attachment style struggle to have consistent or clear ways of engaging with others and their loving partner. Given the kind of confusing, adverse or traumatic experiences they have had during their initial infancy years, they will have a constant fear of abandonment or rejection. They will have trust issues with their partners. They will show a constant fear even when you may show positive loving behaviors and emotions. Since their outlook on themselves and others are negative, they tend to make the relationship more stressful unconsciously. Though they might crave intimacy, they have deep fears of abandonment.

The first thing to acknowledge is that the trust issues and struggle to bond with your partner comes from childhood trauma. You should avoid internalizing the behavior and actions of a disorganized-disoriented partner as this will worsen their fears. Make sure you listen to their fears and insecurities and help them to heal from their adverse or traumatic experiences. We recommend working with a highly skilled professional counselor, therapist or coach to succeed with a disoriented-disorganized attachment-based partner and to build a healthy loving relationship.

A disoriented-disorganized attachment style is often the result of traumatic experiences in early childhood. When the child is a victim of frightening or violent behaviors from parents or caregivers, they are more likely to become disoriented-disorganized individuals. This attachment style can lead to different psychological issues such as anxiety disorders, depression, and other behavioral problems.

Can someone Change from a Disoriented-Disorganized Attachment Style to a Secure Attachment Style?

The good news is that it is possible to change from a disoriented-disorganized attachment style to a secure attachment style. However, it takes healing from the past trauma and constantly working towards personal growth. The fact is that attachment styles are formed as coping mechanisms to situations during childhood. When you understand and acknowledge your attachment style and wounds, it becomes easier to practice healthier ways of building relationships. Again, we recommend working with a highly skilled professional counselor, therapist or coach to change an insecure attachment style to a secure attachment style.

How common are Disorganized-Disoriented Attachment-Based  Individuals?

According to studies, 20-40 percent of people have some form of disoriented-disorganized patterns. Children who have experienced sexual, physical, or verbal abuse in their early life often develop into disorganized-disoriented attachment-based individuals.

Summing Up

The disorganized-disoriented attachment style is one of the insecure attachment styles found in individuals who have had troubled childhood experiences. When a child goes through physical, emotional, or sexual abuse in their early childhood, it can lead to a disorganized-disoriented attachment style as an adult. As adults, they have low self-esteem and tend to show a higher rate of behavioral problems. Having a disorganized-disoriented attachment style can impact relationships and loving relationships negatively. However, it is possible to heal from traumatic experiences and build successful relationships and a successful loving relationship by working alongside a highly skilled professional counselor, therapist or coach. Reach out to us if you feel you want to change and we can help.