The Difficulties of Disorganized Attachment Style


Disorganized attachment style may be labeled as the most complicated attachment style among romantic relationships. Also known as “fearful avoidant,” this attachment style arises when one’s source of safety becomes a source of fear. Such individuals will often feel conflicted on how to behave in relationships, drifting from being anxious to being completely avoidant all in the hopes of soothing their fears. Moreover, inconsistent and erratic behaviors and reactions are often witnessed. This is usually due to an underlying confusion about the reliability of their caregivers which may often be linked to unstable early life experiences.

The development of disorganized attachment may stem from biological predispositions alongside an upbringing within a fear-inducing environment. Infants have a natural tendency to seek proximity to their caregivers, however, when an attachment figure is also the source of fear, intuitively, the infant begins to avoid them. Nevertheless, it is important to note that “not every child who has been abused develops a disorganized attachment style, and not every individual with a disorganized attachment style was abused in childhood.” 

Although a caregiver may not acquire abusive characteristics, they also may not be a source of safety to the child. The caregiver may be too busy to have provided the proper attention that the infant needed or would seem to be absent and leave for long periods of time. Additionally, the child may have been brought up to be independent and get through things on their own. Another common prerequisite of disorganized attachment is being betrayed, rejected or cheated on in a past relationship which caused hindrance to trust again.

Those with disorganized attachment display features of both anxious and avoidant attachment styles. Generally, one may lean one way more than the other. Since they could never develop a consistent strategy to get their needs met, they either project extreme love and affection or completely withdraw. They yearn for closeness but are still afraid of the abandonment and betrayal that has come with it in the past. In relation, since their caregivers were not able to help them in regulating their emotions, they had to resort to alternative ways to regulate such distress, often by dispersing it or by heightening its display to receive attention. Consequently, due to their inability to self-soothe, they tend to be emotionally reactive and act in ways that they later regret. This may bring a sense of guilt later on, but in that moment, they believed they were protecting themselves from emotional harm.

Principally, individuals with a disorganized attachment style find it difficult to date, as they rarely connect with anyone and mostly feel comfortable alone. They generally avoid dating altogether to protect their peace, as they hate how frantic truly loving someone may make them feel. Therefore, they find tranquility and control when on their own, whilst ignoring their craving for intimacy. However, this excessive solitude may allow them to feel desperately lonely, but falling into relationships that extract all their emotional intimacy may have them stop dating. Such individuals are incredibly fearful of falling in love with someone who does not want them, or they may fear that they will never be completely certain about anyone, so they stop putting in the effort to try. This may cause the individual to overanalyze the relationship to the extent where they begin to seek reasons to leave or self-sabotage due to their lack of trust.

Put simply, disorganized individuals fear both intimacy and abandonment, leading to contradictory “approach and avoid” behavior. Therefore, they rarely let their guard down as deep down they do not trust others. The inability to trust without any valid or evidential reason causes them to struggle to communicate their feelings to the extent that they find it easier to simply just pull away. Nevertheless, it is vital to understand that disorganized attachment develops due to reasons beyond anyone’s control, therefore it is important to practice compassion towards oneself and develop a sense of self-awareness in order to properly recognize and comprehend one’s thoughts, feelings and emotions without any sort of negative judgment or confusion.

Featured image by: Johns Hopkins School of Public Health

Hana Abulkheir
Hana Abulkheir
Second year behaviour and social science student from Egypt but primarily lived abroad. Interested in mental health in well-being.

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