Those of us who experienced a dysfunctional relationship with our primary carer (e.g. our primary carer was abusive or neglectful, including having deprived us of affection/nurturing) when we were young may have developed REACTIVE ATTACHMENT DISORDER. This can mean that our brain development (both structural and functional) was adversely affected, leading to emotional and behavioural problems both in childhood and, later, in adulthood. (CLICK HERE to read my article on how early life trauma can physically harm the developing brain).
One of the most common outcomes resulting from this is that our ability to form healthy adult relationships is significantly impaired, leading to a great deal of personal suffering and loneliness.
Because of our problematic relationship with our primary carer, it is likely that, as children, we learned to believe that others cannot be trusted and that they pose a threat to our emotional well-being. We may well, therefore, be acutely suspicious of others and be quick to perceive faults in them (both real and imagined).
THE TRIGGERING OF MEMORIES OF OUR ORIGINAL DYSFUNCTIONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR PRIMARY CAREGIVER :
The reason that we are likely to continue to have difficulties in other relationships is that new relationships frequently trigger memories of our original dysfunctional relationship with our primary caregiver. This, in turn, gives us a propensity to react negatively to those who have INADVERTENTLY REMINDED US OF OUR CHILDHOOD ORDEAL (very often this will occur on an UNCONSCIOUS LEVEL).
BELIEFS OUR DYSFUNCTIONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR PRIMARY CAREGIVER MAY HAVE CAUSED SUFFERERS OF REACTIVE ATTACHMENT DISORDER TO DEVELOP:
The psychologist May identified several beliefs that sufferers of reactive attachment disorder are at risk of developing; I list these below:
1) That they must have somehow ‘deserved’ their treatment at the hands of the caregiver and, therefore, must be ‘bad’ or in some way ‘deficient’
2) Have a strong belief that they must be in control in order to survive and avoid further profound emotional hurt
3) That they can ‘never get anything right’
4) That they are ‘fully deserving’ of being thought of badly by others
5) Other people are essentially malevolent and to be despised
6) Others cannot be trusted (particularly those in authority as these people are especially likely to trigger memories of how they were treated by their primary caregiver in childhood)
7) That they will always behave badly as they are ‘an intrinsically bad person’ – this belief is the view their primary caregiver took (at least at times) which they have INTERNALIZED (i.e. they have absorbed this negative view of themselves, as if by osmosis, into their own belief system)
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE POSSIBLE CAUSES OF REACTIVE ATTACHMENT DISORDER :
Possible causes of reactive attachment disorder include :
1) Abuse in early life (physical/sexual/emotional)
2) Early separation from the primary caregiver
3) Being brought up in a chaotic/dysfunctional family (click here to read my article on the signs of a dysfunctional family. Or to read my article about how dysfunctional families can select and victimize a ‘scapegoat’ (often the most sensitive and vulnerable child of the family) click here).
4) Extremely inconsistent parenting
5) Repeated change of foster parents
6) Many house moves in early life
7) Maternal substance abuse (alcohol/drugs).
8) Severe maternal depression
9) Lack of emotional bonding between the mother and child (e.g. the mother lacks a maternal instinct, rejects the child or does not have sufficient mothering skills – in relation to the latter, this can sometimes be the case with extremely young mothers)
BELOW : A SIMPLIFIED MODEL OF THE FORMATION OF REACTIVE ATTACHMENT DISORDER:
POSSIBLE SYMPTOMS OF REACTIVE ATTACHMENT DISORDER :
Possible symptoms include :
– avoidance of eye contact
– extreme tantrums
– resistance against affectionate physical contact
– age regression (click here to read my article on age regression)
Reactive attachment disorder has the greatest chance of being successful treated if THERAPEUTIC INTERVENTIONS ARE MADE AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).