Key Takeaways

  • Disorganized attachment is a type of insecure attachment style. Adults with disorganized attachment may have trouble managing their emotions and opening up to others. 
  • With access to therapy and self-help strategies, it’s possible to change your attachment style and develop healthier bonds with yourself and others. 

Attachment theory is the idea that people’s early experiences with their childhood caregivers impact how they feel, behave, and interact with others as adults. 

While people with a secure attachment style are more likely to feel safe and satisfied with their close relationships, having an insecure attachment style creates an increased risk for anxiety, low self-esteem, and relationship issues

One type of insecure attachment style is disorganized attachment, which involves poor emotional regulation and trouble trusting others.

What is disorganized attachment?

Disorganized attachment, sometimes referred to as fearful avoidant attachment, is an insecure attachment style characterized by inconsistent and unpredictable behavior in relationships. 

People with a disorganized attachment style desire closeness and connection with others, but are also fearful of becoming close with others. Even when they’re in a healthy relationship, they may struggle with vulnerability and continue to look for signs of rejection or betrayal from their partner.

Other signs of disorganized attachment in adults include:

  • Difficulty opening up to others
  • Trouble managing stress and emotions
  • Giving off mixed signals 
  • Feeling unworthy of love and security
  • Intentionally sabotaging relationships by picking fights or hurting others
  • History of short relationships 
  • Trouble self-soothing 
  • Negative view of self and others

What causes disorganized attachment?

Disorganized attachment is associated with adverse childhood experiences, like trauma, abuse, and neglect. When people grow up in harsh home environments, they’re less likely to develop secure bonds as a child or meaningful relationships later in life. 

In many cases, disorganized attachment stems from having an inconsistent or unpredictable caregiver. Your caregiver may have demonstrated erratic behaviors, acting soothing and nurturing one day and then angry or overwhelmed the next. Instead of offering safety and security, they may have neglected your needs or mocked your distress.

How does disorganized attachment affect relationships?

If you or your partner have a disorganized attachment style, it’s helpful to understand some of the ways this can impact your relationship.

  • Mental health concerns: Adults with disorganized attachment may struggle with managing their emotions, leading to mood swings, anxiety, or depression
  • Trust issues: Having an insecure attachment style, like disorganized attachment, can make it difficult to trust other people. People with this attachment style may be wary of their romantic partners, actively waiting for disappointment, rejection, or betrayal.  

Five ways to heal a disorganized attachment style

A disorganized attachment style can make it difficult to manage your emotions and form meaningful connections with others. Luckily, your past doesn’t have to impact your future forever. By taking the time to acknowledge your past trauma and learn new coping methods, it’s possible to change your attachment style and develop healthier bonds. 

Here are five ways to heal a disorganized attachment style.

1. Try talk therapy

Talk therapy is a great resource for anyone who’s interested in understanding their emotions, identifying harmful habits and behaviors, and developing healthier coping methods. Attachment-based therapy is a type of therapy that can treat issues like unresolved childhood trauma, relationship issues, and anxiety disorders. It’s considered an effective form of treatment for people who experience low-self esteem, emotional vulnerability, or fear of abandonment. 

2. Connect with yourself

Journaling is a powerful tool for connecting with your thoughts and emotions. It can help reduce stress, increase self-awareness, and allow for greater emotional expression. Journaling can also help you identify your emotional triggers, like when your partner acts distant, forgets important events, or gets too close to you emotionally. 

If you’re not sure where to start, consider one of the following journaling prompts to help you prioritize your personal growth.

  • Write a letter to your younger self. What advice or encouragement would you give yourself as a child or teen?
  • Write a letter to someone else, like your childhood caregiver. You probably won’t actually send the letter, but it can help you release any painful memories or uncensored thoughts and feelings.
  • Try stream-of-consciousness writing, a free-flowing style of journaling that allows you to capture an unfiltered glimpse into your mind.

3. Practice open communication 

People with disorganized attachment often feel like they’re unworthy of healthy, loving relationships. One way to reset that mindset is by learning how to more effectively communicate with others. Open communication encourages people to share their thoughts and feelings instead of suppressing them. 

This can lead to healthier boundaries, less conflict, and greater trust in your relationships. Open communication can help people learn about their emotional triggers, as well as develop greater empathy for their partner through understanding their perspective. 

4. Consider lifestyle changes 

In addition to talk therapy, there are various lifestyle changes and self-help strategies that can help people with emotional regulation. For example, grounding techniques like breathing exercises, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation are effective tools for managing emotions during triggering situations. It’s also important to prioritize the mind-body connection by taking care of your physical well-being through regular exercise, a balanced diet, and getting enough sleep

5. Build healthier relationships

Another way to heal a disorganized attachment style is to surround yourself with secure attachments. Building stable, supportive, and committed relationships can help people create a more secure attachment style and improve their overall quality of life. 

Find care with Rula

An insecure attachment style can take a significant toll on your mental health, romantic partnerships, and ability to connect with others. The good news is that, with the right support, it’s possible to better understand and manage your emotions. 

In three minutes or less, Rula’s therapist matching tool can help you find a world-class therapist who accepts your insurance  — and who is available to see you as soon as this week. 

More From Rula

July 18, 2024
How long do manic episodes last, and what causes them?

How long a manic episode will last depends on the type of mania and the individual person.

July 17, 2024
How to stop being codependent

Overcoming codependency and creating healthier relationships is possible with the right support.