What Causes Attachment Disorder?

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  • Written By: Marco Sumayao
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 19 January 2020
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Attachment disorder, also referred to as reactive attachment disorder, is believed to develop as a result of an individual's failure or inability to form meaningful attachments to caregivers during the early years of life. Unlike most childhood psychological disorders, there is little to no evidence for genetic factors playing a role in the development of attachment disorder; the definition of the issue in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth edition (DSM-IV), describes it as a result of faulty nurturing. Children under the age of 5 who experience abuse or neglect from their parents or caregivers are more likely to develop the disorder. These factors are mitigated by the child's attachment style, temperament, and degree of emotional and intellectual maturity. Patients suffering from the disorder are also at risk of maintaining these issues, resulting in poor social relationships well into adulthood.

Studies have found that patients with attachment disorder tended to have negative experiences with their primary caregivers during early childhood. While some weren't given sufficient attention as children, others were given excessive attention. A number of patients appeared to have developed the disorder as a result of the absence of a parent figure, or as a reaction to an overbearing caregiver. Inconsistent parenting was another factor that contributed to an impaired ability to form meaningful attachments. Individuals who suffered physical or emotional abuse during early childhood also had a tendency to develop the disorder.


A number of experts suggest that attachment disorder develops from a caregiver's inability to adapt to the child's attachment style. Children with a secure attachment style — those who freely explore their environment while the caregiver is present, are distressed with her absence, and relieved by her return — are the least likely to develop the disorder. Those with the more atypical anxious-resistant, anxious-avoidant, and disorganized styles are at higher risk of forming attachment disorder.

The child's temperament can also play a role in the development of attachment disorder. Cheerful children, for example, tend to attract more of the caregiver's attention, which could have an impact on how the child is reared. The child's intellectual and emotional maturity is another factor contributing to the development of the disorder. Children who are remarkably mature for their years are better-equipped to deal with any inconsistencies in parenting styles and are more resilient against the emotional impact of abuse and neglect. This explains why individuals with similar backgrounds can have significantly different attachment profiles.


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