What are Insecure Attachment Disorders?

A theory of attachment mother to child is not a mere matter of food and learning, it has been observed to be motivated by proximity, with the purpose of survival. Infants who attain and retain attachment to their primary caregivers are more likely to survive threats to survival.

There is now an understanding of 4 patterns of attachment between child and care giver. These four patterns have been continued to be studied and described as:

  1. Secure – the individual sees themselves as worthy of love and can effectively get what is needed. The view of others is that they are available and willing to give comfort and protection. I’M O.K., YOU’RE O.K.
  2. Ambivalent – the individual is not worthy of love and unable to effectively get attention. Others are available and willing to give comfort and protection. YOU’RE OPINION OF ME IS MORE VALUABLE THAN MY OWN OPINION OF ME.
  3. Avoidant – the individual is worthy of comfort and protection and able to get what is needed through self effort. Others are not to be trusted, are not willing or available to give comfort and protection. Emotions are suppressed. I DON’T NEED YOU.
  4. Disorganized – the individual is not worthy of comfort and protection and not able to get what is needed. Others are not trusted, not willing or available to give comfort and protection. COME HERE, GO AWAY. I HATE YOU, DON’T LEAVE ME.

As you can see, attachment answers 2 questions all children ultimately seek to answer based on how they were given care by their caregivers: Am I worthy of being loved? Are other people reliable and trustworthy?

How do insecure attachment patterns occur?

Childhood Trauma

Emotional abuse Frequent moves
Physical abuse Loss of caregiver
Sexual abuse Depressed parental care
Pre and Peri-birth trauma Prolonged unmet needs
Neglect Bullying
Adoption Domestic violence
Foster care Medical trauma
Abandonment Automobile crashes
Surrogacy Mentally ill caregiver

What kinds of challenges do insecurely attached persons have?

Impaired Emotional Self-Regulation
When children are severely stressed, their survival (Fight or Flight Response) mechanisms become chronically activated, dedicating all their energy to being “alert” and “on guard” for “survival mode.” They operate from a paradigm of fear in an attempt to ensure safety and security.

The lower limbic system in your brain, which has been called our reptilian brain, is what takes the sensory and motor data coming up the spine and in through the head’s senses (vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touches to face) and interprets this environmental data and determines fright, flight or flee response. It is not your rational, higher thinking brain, the pre-frontal cortex. Children of chronic trauma or one significant single event of trauma have hyper-alert limbic systems and are trained to look for the threat from the raw environmental data it receives or perceives.

Attachment security promotes affect regulation (emotional regulation). When secure attachment takes place the caregiver expands the infant’s opportunities for positive affect and minimizes negative affect. The presence of visual and auditory signals of loving interplay between infant and parent is mutually satisfying promoting pleasure and excitement. We now know that the mother’s emotion-regulating right cortex has profound effects on the infant’s fast maturing right frontal, especially the right orbital, pre-frontal cortex.

Infants cannot hold the maturity or reasoning to cope through these traumas. Infants use gaze aversion when stimulation is too intense but returns to fazing when they feel reorganized. A loving parent is able to respond to this nonverbal cue by their infant and reduce the stimulation immediately.
In homes or settings where a decrease in the painful overstimulation does not occur, the infant uses gaze aversion constantly so there is no redirect to the situation so desensitization does not occur. This creates the avoidant organization in insecure attachment.

Impaired Cognitive Development
The prefrontal cortex is involved with executive functions such as planning, working memory, set shifting, error deletion and correction and inhibiting our more primitive responses. Common sense also tells us that children cannot easily learn when their energies are required for survival: emotional, physical, or social. The brains of insecurely attached or “unloved” children are shaped differently that does not support long-term survival (Louis Cozolino, 2006).

Impaired Social Development
The family of the infant is the infant’s first experience of relationships. When the caregiver is not trustworthy, safe or loving and may be quite the opposite – abusing, the child’s brain does not develop appropriately. From birth until death, our brains are being formed and adjusted by our relationships.

When insecurely attached individuals are threatened or have unmet needs there is an appraisal system that activates the attachment system. This increases the hypervigilance to the attachment figures and pushes the person to seek proximity and the aid of an attachment figure. These regulatory efforts are supported by the beliefs regarding the availability and responsiveness of the attachment figure. Such efforts may seem counter-productive, such as lying, avoiding difficulty conversations, jealousy, poor impulse control of anger, bullying, ignoring pouting or punishing the attachment figure. These efforts are unconsciously trying to get the attachment figure to understand their sense of threat, control the threat or attempt to prevent abandonment by the attachment figure.

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