Disorganized Attachment Style - Signs and How To Overcome It

The disorganized attachment style is a mixture of both anxious and avoidant attachment styles, which are both insecure attachment styles.

Disorganized attachment can lead to relationships that are unstable, finances that are chaotic or nonexistent, work that is inconsistent or poorly done, parenting behaviors that lack consistency and focus. 

How a Disorganized Attachment Style Develops

Usually, a person with this style has experienced some form of childhood trauma. This often takes the form of abuse or neglect in their childhood environment, usually by their primary caregiver. Parents who are struggling with marital issues, depression, unresolved loss, or other trauma in their lives can also cause disorganized attachment in a child.

Nearly 80% of maltreated infants have a disorganized attachment style. 

They may have had a primary caregiver who treated them inconsistently, or who was abusive. Their attachment figures may have neglected them and didn't provide any sort of emotional support. Neglect may not have been purposeful and may have been due to a caregiver who had their own physical, mental, or emotional issues that took precedence.

This may have resulted in the child being unable to regulate themselves emotionally unless they had healthy caregiving from others (i..e., grandparents). 

Children with a disorganized attachment style may feel unsafe and afraid in their own homes and lives.

A person with this style may also have experienced trauma outside of their home environment with other attachment figures. This may have looked like abuse or neglect at school from teachers/coaches who were supposed to be caring but were instead hurtful or bullying.

Signs of a Disorganized Attachment in Adults

Signs include feeling symptoms of anxious and avoidant attachment styles mashed together.  

For example, a person may deeply want intimate relationships while also feeling unable to fully commit because of their fear that people will leave them or hurt them in some way (i..e., fear of abandonment). 

They might feel that others people are always a threat due to sensitivity due to trauma growing up. 

A person with this attachment style may also have trouble regulating their emotions, which can lead to outbursts of aggressive behavior or sadness that are not appropriate for the situation at hand (i..e., emotional dysregulation).  They may also have difficulty dealing with stress.

They might be impulsive and act without thinking about what they're doing because it's easier than dealing with their emotions. A person with this style also has a higher likelihood of mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and low self-worth.

A person with this attachment style may also have trouble regulating themselves and might be prone to self-harm or substance abuse and erratic behavior (i..e., impulsivity).

Other signs include fear of rejection yet desire for intimacy paired with difficulty connecting with and trusting others.

This may look like a need for closeness coupled with pushing other people away. 

Learn about your type of attachment with the Attachment Style Quiz now! 

The Disorganized Attachment Style in Relationships 

Individuals with this style may be attracted to people who are unavailable or abusive because that was the parental behavior they were used to growing up.

Their romantic relationships may often be dramatic or tumultuous with a lot of fighting. However, for some individuals with this style, they tend to be more avoidant and not want to get close at all, preferring casual over long-term romantic relationships.

Their relationships are often characterized by a lack of trust for the other person. They may find it difficult to feel like someone else will have their back when needed and that they won't just be abandoned again.

People with this style aren’t rejecting intimacy with others, they’re just afraid of it. They fear disappointment, rejection, and hurt. However, since they view others as unpredictable they tend not to believe or trust their partner, even when they assure them everything is okay. This can turn into prematurely ending relationships to try to stop the other person from hurting them. 

Disorganized Attachment Styles at Work

A person with a disorganized attachment style may have many difficulties in their work environment. This includes difficulty with organization, time management, and meeting deadlines.

They may also have a hard time focusing on tasks or projects for long periods of time because they are always waiting for someone else's approval. For example, they may feel like it doesn't matter if the task they’re working on is done now instead of later when their boss comes back from lunch when they can be seen “working”.

They may also have difficulty with achieving goals because they are always waiting for someone else to give them the go-ahead.

Individuals with a disorganized attachment style may also have difficulty in their relationships at work, such as not being able or willing to take on any new projects. They may instead do only what is asked of them.

They might be more likely to make bad decisions such as not showing up or quitting without notice. This is due to the emotional dysregulation and impulsivity they feel. 

As a boss, the person with a disorganized attachment style may be more likely to be inconsistent with employees. They may vacillate between wanting to be liked and being harsh. 

Disorganized  Attachment and Parenting

The person with this style may also struggle in their parenting because they struggle to give the child consistency, reliability, or predictability. The parent with this style may have changeable behavior depending on how well things are going at the moment.

The person with this style also has difficulty in parenting because they have difficulty providing discipline and boundaries because they are always waiting on someone else to provide it.

They may be more likely than others to have difficulty regulating emotions. They may be quick-tempered at times but then turn around and act like nothing happened the next minute. 

This can be confusing to the child and leads to difficulty in trusting the parent. This can lead the child to feel depressed because the child isn't sure where to turn for nurturance. 

The child of a parent with a disorganized attachment style craves affection but also feels as though they can't trust their parent to give it to them. 

The children of the parent with a disorganized attachment style will be more likely to also have a disorganized attachment style. The parent with this attachment style may be more likely to have children who struggle with their own emotions because the parent doesn’t know how to navigate their own strong emotions. 

Disorganized Attachment Styles and Finances

The person with this style will likely have trouble in their finances. 

Their finances may be chaotic and they may find it difficult to stay on track financially. 

They might be more likely to make bad decisions when it comes time for spending and saving money, which can lead to problems down the road. For example, they may spend all of their paychecks on things that are not necessary. 

This type may feel that they don’t know how long they'll be able to hold onto their money before they lose it. In essence, the person with the disorganized attachment style doesn't trust that their money will be there for them when they need it so they may spend it as fast as they make it. 

Their net worth is something they may have never thought about and they may not be very focused on it. 

When communicating with their partner about finances, the person with the disorganized attachment style may be more likely to make excuses for their behavior, such as blaming the partner or saying that they don't have a choice.

Disorganized Attachment - Relationships with the Other Types

The person with a disorganized attachment style will generally have challenging relationships, particularly with others who have insecure attachment styles.  

For example, anxious romantic partners may make the person with the disorganized style feel like they are being smothered and will feel the need to push away. 

They may also be more likely than someone with an anxious attachment style, for example, to have a one-night stand or try out new partners without much thought about how it might affect their relationship. 

Because of their fear of trusting others they may be trying to secure a backup partner in case things go wrong in their core relationship.   

The avoidant attachment style will often want more space and independence than the disorganized individual which can strain the relationship and cause the disorganized person to feel even more insecure and less trusting of their partner. 

Discover your attachment styles with The Attachment Style Quiz

How to Improve a Disorganized Attachment Style

There are many ways to begin improving a disorganized attachment style.  

The first step is to identify the attachment style by taking The Attachment Style Quiz.

  • Once you’ve identified your style and then find a therapist who specializes in this area. Therapy is a great way to help move toward an “earned secure attachment style”. Therapy can be done individually or in groups, and it's an opportunity to learn new skills that will make relationships easier and can help people with this style overcome unresolved trauma.
  • Mindful meditation can help by teaching people to identify how they are feeling. Identification of feelings without judgment can help reduce emotional reactivity when something happens. Strong emotions are inevitable, however, responses to those emotions are often able to be modified once the person is aware of them.
  • Journal writing is a great way to process thoughts and feelings. It can help with emotional identification, understanding feelings, and seeing patterns in relationships so that you can stop the patterns which are no longer useful. 
  • Determine what you need most right now and communicate those needs with other people. Learn to communicate more effectively and openly in your relationships with good communication skills.
  • Learn what creates fear of abandonment in your relationships and what makes you feel a lack of trust. When these feelings arise, you may feel poor self-worth. It may be best to take a time-out and leave the situation temporarily. Cultivating awareness of how you feel will help you be more present and make new decisions.
  • Learn self-soothing techniques for your emotions.  You might have difficulty regulating your emotions and self-soothing when feeling overwhelmed or abandoned can give you more choice over your resulting behaviors.
  • Develop healthy relationships and healthy attachments as a secure base. These relationships can assist in overcoming a disorganized attachment style by providing an opportunity for healing through love that is not conditional on performance.
  • Self-care and self-acceptance are great ways to help with feelings of abandonment and insecurity. When you love, accept, and nurture yourself you feel less dependent on others to provide it for you. 

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