Sarah Turner, Ph.D.

    Psychotherapy for Individuals, Couples, Families & Children

Attachment Disorders


The basic cause of a person's inability to relate to himself/herself and others with love is this childhood state of feeling unlovable which persists into adulthood. Attachment Disorder is a mental and emotional condition occurring during the first three years of life where a child does not attach, bond, or trust his or her mother or primary caregiver. It stems from the lack of connectedness in the person's most significant relationship and manifests itself as fear of connection taken to the extreme.



Dr. John Townsend says in his book, Hiding from Love: How To Change the Withdrawal Patterns That Isolate and Imprison You:

“Attachment deficits occur in different forms. There's a common denominator, however: a lack of connectedness in the person's significant relationships. The detached person was not "met where he was" in some way. At times this lack is blatant, such as the emotionally cold or hostile family. It's clear that here the need for constancy [in being and feeling connected] was not met. Other times, it is more subtle, as in the superficially warm family that appears to be intimate. In this case, there's generally a withdrawal of the warmth when painful subjects are brought up. The developing child learns that she can be attached when she doesn't have needs or problems. But her hurts and fears go deep inside into an isolated place in the heart, where they may stay for a lifetime. Since God created us for bonding, it's part of our very essence. . . We are created to bond in either a growth-producing or a death-producing manner. If we cannot bond to loving relationships, we will bond to something else that is not so loving. This is the root of the addictive process.”

Risks for Attachment Disorder:

• Drug or alcohol use by mother during pregnancy

• Unwanted pregnancy

• Caring for the infant on a timed schedule, or other self-centered parenting

• Sudden abandonment or separation from mother (death of mother, illness of mother or child, or adoption)

• Physical abuse, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse

• Neglect of physical or emotional needs

• Several family moves and/or daycare or foster placements                       

• Inconsistent/inadequate care or daycare                                                

• Unprepared mothers, poor parenting skills, inconsistent responses to child

• Mothers with depression                                                                       

• Undiagnosed or painful illnesses (ear infections, colic, surgery) Symptoms of Attachment Disorder:

• Superficially engaging, affectionate, charming, or phony behavior

• Lack of eye contact

• Oppositional and defiant behaviors

• Extreme control problems

• Sneaky or bossy personality

• Affectionate with family and others at the child's discretion -- not on others' terms • Destructive to self, others, or property

• Cruelty to animals

• Lack of conscience, empathy, remorse, compassion

• Impulsive behavior, lack of self-discipline or self-control

• Obvious lying

• Stealing

• Poor peer relationships

• Inappropriately demanding or clingy

• Manipulative behavior

• Learning difficulties or disorders

• False allegations of abuse

• Preoccupation with fire (or fire-setting), blood, gore, and violence

 Attachment-disordered children are guided only by what they want at the moment. Their focus is self-centered and selfish and there is no concern for how their behavior impacts others. Behavior and attitude is similar to those diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder (termed conduct disorder for individuals under 18 years of age). Additionally, there are almost always co-existing diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), bipolar disorder, depression, and/or ADD / ADHD. Because children’s early attachment relationships govern other relationships throughout life and future behavior, the earlier the intervention the better.


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