What is attachment trauma?

In our last blog, we discussed how childhood trauma affects adult relationships. Today, we will learn more about attachment trauma and its impact on forming relationships in adulthood. Attachment trauma is a type of childhood trauma that can have severe implications on the development of relationships in adulthood. It is caused by a disruption in the bond between a child and their caregiver, which can be due to neglect, abandonment, or abuse. This disruption can lead to feelings of insecurity and mistrust that can have long-term effects on how an adult perceives and interacts with others.

Attachment trauma can lead to difficulty forming meaningful relationships, greater susceptibility to stress, difficulty regulating emotions, dependency issues, and impulsive behavior. It can also have long-term effects on an individual’s mental health and well-being. Understanding the causes of attachment trauma and its impact on an individual’s life is essential for providing effective treatment.

It is important to understand how our early attachment experiences shape us so that we can take steps to heal from the effects of attachment trauma. This type of trauma can have long-term impacts on how we view ourselves, as it shapes our abilities and expectations for relationships throughout life. The good news is that we can always work on healing these attachment wounds with the help of trauma-informed professionals.

Attachment trauma may occur in the form of basic interpersonal neglect (omission trauma) or physical, mental, or sexual abuse (commission trauma). In many cases, both trauma types are combined. Attachment trauma often leads to a “disoriented- disorganized” attachment.

Lahousen, T., Unterrainer, H. F., & Kapfhammer, P. (2019). Psychobiology of Attachment and Trauma—Some General Remarks From a Clinical Perspective. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00914

Understanding Your Attachment Style

Attachment is an incredibly important concept to understand, as it shapes the way we interact with others and how we form relationships. From infancy, we learn if we can depend on important people in our lives to keep us safe – or not. This learning process starts in our nervous system and develops into a pattern of behavior that plays out throughout our lives.

Depending on how your relationship with your caregiver was when growing up, you could develop any of these 4 attachment styles: secure, anxious, avoidant, or disorganized. Each style affects how we interact with others in our adult life. By understanding the effects of attachment trauma, we can better understand ourselves and our relationships with others.

  1. Secure attachment:
    • You feel secure within yourself which means you feel safe when you are close to others and when closeness isn’t available.
    • It is experienced in the body as regulation. Which means you can process and manage your emotions well enough.
    • You feel calm, open, confident, and trusting
    • You have a strong sense of self, can communicate and attune to a partner’s needs
  2. Anxious:
    • You believe you need the closeness of others in order to feel safe within yourself and the world.
    • You have a sensitive nervous system. So you are prone to feelings of anxiety, worry, fear, and frustration.
    • You have a deep fear of abandonment. Which makes you want to be physically and/or emotionally close to your partner. It comes off as clingy.
  3. Avoidant:
    • You do not believe that you need the closeness of others. In fact, you do not believe in closeness.
    • You often experience feelings of apathy, numbness, and disinterest.
    • If the relationship becomes too emotional or threatens your independence, your body goes into total shutdown (numbness). You respond by immediately disconnecting.
  4. Disorganized:
    • You want people close but not too close because it overwhelms you. If others are not close, you feel relieved followed by anxiety.
    • You experience confusion and exhaustion. Your nervous system is in freeze response often.
    • You desire to be close but also fear vulnerability. This makes it difficult to truly connect with others.

By understanding the effects of attachment trauma, we can better understand ourselves and our relationships with others. The good thing about attachment styles is that they are not set in stone. This means you can gradually work on moving from insecure to secure attachment.

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