Want to learn how to heal disorganized attachment?
Disorganized attachment can have a big impact on your relationships and life. Fortunately, you can heal your attachment style and move towards secure attachment.
(Want to figure out if you have a disorganized attachment style? Take this quick quiz to find out.)
What is disorganized attachment?
Disorganized attachment is one of four attachment styles, based on research by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. The attachment theory they developed together with other researchers explains relationships between humans based on our earliest interactions with our primary caregivers.
These attachment styles can be divided into secure and insecure attachment styles. We’ll look at these next.
Secure and insecure attachment
Three attachment styles are insecure, including disorganized attachment, and one is secure.
Those with insecure attachment styles typically have difficulties forming emotional connections with others. Usually, their caregivers weren’t able to offer that connection in childhood, but insecure attachment can also form in adulthood (for instance, from partners with insecure attachment). Besides disorganized attachment, insecure attachment styles include anxious and avoidant attachment.
Anxious attachment means that the anxious person clings to their partner and needs a lot of approval from them, while those with avoidant attachment pull back. They will easily feel smothered and that too much is expected of them.
Disorganized attachment (also called fearful avoidance) is a mix of these two attachment styles. Those with disorganized attachment crave and fear connection at the same time.
People with the fourth attachment style, secure attachment, tend to be able to attach to others in a healthy way. They are often people who have long-term relationships and are in general happier in their relationships. What’s more, emotional connection is a core need for humans, so those with secure attachment are more likely to be happier than those with insecure attachment.
Attachment styles are divided among the population in the following way:
- Secure attachment: 50%
- Anxious attachment: 20%
- Avoidant attachment: 25%
- Disorganized attachment: 5%
What does disorganized attachment feel like?
Those with disorganized attachment are both anxious and avoidant. They deeply yearn for love but are simultaneously desperately fearful of being abandoned or rejected or like they’re not worthy of love.
They have usually experienced trauma or neglect in their childhood and many of those with disorganized attachment, or Spice of Lifers as I like to call this attachment style, grew up with caregivers who suffered from substance abuse or unresolved trauma. In fact, disorganized attachment is a trauma response and a result of unresolved parenting.
Caregivers with disorganized children were unable to emotionally connect with them and displayed dissociative behaviors toward their child. Children’s survival instinct is to behave in a way that increases their likelihood of survival, which, in the case of a child with disorganized attachment, means that they try to please their caregiver, while also withdrawing.
Disorganized attachment can feel like a state of confusion. If you have disorganized attachment, you might see your partner as a place of safety one moment, but the next, you vilify them. You bounce between these states, without ever feeling like there is a steady ground in your relationship.
However, your life experiences also help you develop unique strengths. You might be passionately expressive and creative, highly charismatic and have potential for deep compassion for others.
Your ability for feeling strong emotions makes you appreciate the subtleness in various areas of life (arts, music, and literature, to name a few) that others often overlook. Hence my name for this attachment style, Spice of Lifers. They truly feel the contrast in life.
In this video, I talk more about what it means to be a Spice of Lifer:
Can disorganized attachment be “cured”?
Can you heal disorganized attachment?
Yes, you can. Many of my students have studied my course Disorganized Attachment 101 and made profound realizations about themselves and how they can heal their attachment style.
For instance, Jitka is just one of my students who has succeeded in working on her attachment style:
Similarly, Helena has progressed in healing her attachment wounds:
As research shows, those with insecure attachment can move towards secure attachment. And as they move towards secure attachment, they’re able to connect with othersmore healthily and find more fulfilling relationships.
That said, there is no easy “fix” to your attachment theory. We’ll look more at healing this attachment style at the end of this article.
But first, let’s find out what you might experience in your dating life as someone with disorganized attachment.
Disorganized attachment and dating
What does disorganized attachment look like in dating?
Disorganized attachment is an insecure attachment style, which means that you have trouble forming emotional connections with others.
You typically see love as something there’s a limited amount of in the world. Due to your attachment style, you have certain behavioral patterns, such as overgeneralizing, vilifying your partner, and lacking boundaries.
This video is all about what it means to date as someone with disorganized attachment:
But what are some of the signs your dating life might be deeply affected by your attachment style? Let’s take a look.
You subconsciously sabotage your relationships
You tend to subconsciously sabotage your relationships. Your feelings go from hot to cold before a relationship can even get off the ground. Ultimately, your behavior might make your partners say things like “you’re too intense,” which triggers you even more.
You also overgeneralize easily. You might think things like “I like staying in and he likes going out, so it means our relationship is doomed and will never work.”
And you tend to resort to black-and-white thinking. You might be a provocateur in social situations, even if you don’t mean to and you don’t hold back when punishing those you see as undeserving or “bad”.
Plus, you may also feel that power struggles (or that there is a constant battle for emotional control in a relationship) are needed to feel connected to people around you.
You often feel like you can read your partner’s mind and that you should be able to control discussions. Alternatively, you don’t take any responsibility in conflict. Either way, your ability to show empathy and feel for others coupled with your attachment patterns can lead others to see you as “manipulative”, which we’ll look at next.
Your partners might see you as manipulative
Sometimes, those with disorganized attachment might be referred to as “gaslighters” or be seen as manipulators but the problem with this term is that gaslighting involves malicious intent. Disorganized attachment involves childhood trauma and the fact that you might (falsely) deny saying certain things or behaving in a certain way doesn’t mean you are trying to gaslight others.
In the same way, you might try to manipulate people to act in the way you want them to act. Again, that doesn’t mean there is intent to hurt others.
Consequences of disorganized attachment
What are then the consequences of disorganized attachment?
Because your behavior is often unpredictable and erratic when you’re trying to build connections, it can lead you to lose important relationships in your life, including romantic partners.
You might also feel lonely, without having the tools to meet your emotional needs. You have a hunger for feeling seen and like you belong, but at the same time, you never quite feel satisfied or that you fit in — or that you’re even worthy of connection.
And you’re extremely hard on yourself. Because of these perfectionistic tendencies, you find it difficult to see the gray areas in others and, as a result, you’re hard on them, too. This includes partners, who feel hurt by never quite meeting the bar you’ve set for them.
Disorganized attachment can sometimes be linked to serious mental health problems, such as borderline personality, depression, and anxiety disorders. These are separate from what we are discussing here and you should always see a mental health professional if you need a diagnosis or are suffering from mental health disorders.
Who are individuals with disorganized attachment attracted to?
The reason many of those who have an insecure attachment style stay stuck in their patterns is that they tend to attract others with insecure attachment styles. Their dynamic reinforces their beliefs about love and connection and so, they’re unable to move towards a secure attachment style.
This is called the “anxious-avoidant trap.”
For those with disorganized attachment, this can mean that you attract avoidant or anxious partners or partners with disorganized attachment. They reinforce your beliefs about relationships and that you can’t have the connection you yearn for.
You and your partner are constantly feeling triggered because for you, your partner is both a source of comfort and a threat. It feels like there’s no way to relax into the relationship or regard any conflict as an opportunity for deepening intimacy.
No unhealthy relationship can be sustained without retraining the nervous system or psychotherapy. So, as someone with a disorganized attachment style, you “prove” to yourself those deep beliefs that you hold; that you are inherently unworthy and relationships are a game of power dynamics. And you relive this loop over and over again.
So, how do you deal with this? Simple: you’re often quick to break things off.
And that’s what we’ll look at next.
(Want to learn if you have disorganized attachment? Take this quick quiz to find out.)
Disorganized attachment and breakups
When do those with disorganized attachment break things off and why? And what does a breakup involving someone with a disorganized attachment style look like?
You might recognize this pattern…
You meet someone and become enamored with them. Your new relationship feels exciting and fun! You have a good time and it’s easy to connect on a surface level with your partner.
That means: great conversations, good sexual chemistry.
But as the relationship deepens and the intimacy turns from dazzling and exciting to something more mundane, your warning signals go off and you start to distrust and doubt your partner.
On the one hand, you want their love and affection. But on the other, you both fear being rejected or abandoned and you are terrified of being controlled or invaded.
This makes you pull back. You either feel bored or jealous and go from hot to cold.
Your partner becomes increasingly frustrated with your moodiness and arguments ensue. This only reinforces your belief that they are flawed and you break it off with them. You think, “I might as well leave them before they leave me. I can’t remember what I liked about them anyway.”
Then, days later, you regret your decision and try to get your partner back. Maybe you text them late one night and say you miss them.
Because of their attachment style, they might respond and say they miss you too…And it all starts over again.
Fortunately, you can break this pattern and get that connection you crave. Here’s how.
How do you fix a disorganized attachment style?
Now you know what it means to be disorganized. But how do you heal this attachment style?
Here’s the process and how you can use it to overcome disorganized attachment.
How to heal disorganized attachment
As someone with disorganized attachment, you live in survival mode and a state of highs and lows feels familiar to you. However, to heal your attachment style, your challenge is to welcome more static stages of relationships.
The first step is to practice self-compassion and establish supportive relationships, such as with a therapist. You’ll get a more objective view of your own inner critic and be able to trust and enjoy the emotional stability in your relationships.
But that’s not all. You need to dig deep and reframe your identity, because it’s your identity that’s keeping you stuck. That’s what we’ll look at next.
How to shift your identity
Your attachment style is deep-rooted in your identity; your genetics, your brain, your autonomic nervous system, and your neurotransmitters.
Healing your attachment style requires you to shift your entire identity and how you approach your identity.
In the next section, we’ll look more at what the deep work looks like that will shift your identity.
But first, let’s talk through what it means to shift how you approach your identity. You see, if you have disorganized attachment, you identify yourself with certain things, such as not being worthy of being cared for.
You think that a secure person would never feel those same feelings. Which isn’t true; the difference is that a secure person doesn’t make them part of their identity. They, instead, can separate between external events and their own self-worth.
If someone behaves poorly towards them, they don’t think “I deserve this,” but instead, “this person’s behavior does not show that I’m not deserving of love. It just shows that they have things to work on, separate from me as a person.”
That’s the shift you, too, need to make. Now, let’s look at the deep work that will, eventually, shift your identity toward a more secure person.
The three steps of healing disorganized attachment
Your attachment style is a behavioral pattern you’ve carried with you since your childhood. It’s based on your survival instincts, so it’s safe to say that it’s a deep wound.
Fortunately, you have tools at your disposal to heal your attachment wounds.
Therapy is one step, but to truly heal your wounds, you need to go even deeper.
Healing disorganized attachment is threefold. The treatment must address mind, body, and spirit.
Mind: On the level of the mind, you need to reframe negative beliefs about the self and the world to open up to possibilities in life. You stop recreating painful scenarios, something you’ve been doing because they feel familiar and safe.
Body: On this level, you work with loosening and integrating energy that has constellated around negative limiting beliefs and patterns of energetic armoring and construction in the nervous system and limbic brain.
This step requires experiential interventions, such as creative arts interventions, which tap into your creative life force energy. This is vital for accessing the real you and healing a fundamental self-wound.
The body level is needed to build a more robust emotional vocabulary. It helps you articulate what it is you really want and need and set boundaries, which reduce your anxiety internally, but also in your relationships. Plus, you’re less likely to feel triggered in a stressful situation.
Spirit: At this level, you strive for posttraumatic growth, which requires you to adopt a new belief system and identity that promotes increased organization, mental and emotional coherence, and a deeper experience of personal meaning and connection to the collective consciousness.
You learn how to orient yourself in relation to your own inner wisdom and spiritual compass, instead of obsessively preoccupying yourself with attempting to control everyone to avoid uncomfortable feelings.
Disorganized attachment books
What are some books you can get started with right away?
For a deep dive, check out my Attachment Style 101 courses.
And if you’re looking to first familiarize yourself with the topic, here are a few of the most prominent books on attachment theory:
“Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love”, authors: Amir Levine and Rachel Heller
This book is an introductory book to attachment theory that will help you figure out your attachment style.
“Wired for Love: How Understanding Your Partner’s Brain and Attachment Style Can Help You Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship”, author: Stan Tatkin
Our brains work in a very predictable way. We respond to security, attachment, and rituals. This book explains how you can build greater empathy for your partner (and yourself) using these predictable patterns.
“Attachment Theory in Practice: Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) With Individuals, Couples, and Families”, by Susan M. Johnson
And finally, “Attachment Theory” helps you use EFT to treat depression, anxiety, and relationship problems.
Over to you!
There you have it! Now you know how to heal disorganized attachment.
I’d love to know:
What is your #1 question about healing disorganized attachment?
Let me know in the comments below!
(Do you have disorganized attachment? Take this quick quiz to find out.)
Hmm. I think this attachment style is not well-understood due to being rare. I have a disorganized attachment style, and this article doesn’t speak to me accurately. I NEVER feel “confused” (in the place of confused, I offer you “misanthropic”). I always know exactly how I feel about a person – how much I like or dislike them, and what I like or dislike about them. But the bottom line is that I’m pessimistic about humanity, and I don’t find most people to be trustworthy or deserving of my time, and that is why I walk away.
I’m mostly solitary, I have low social motivation, and I don’t really care for keeping friends. I’m content when I’m single, and I lack the “hunger” for relationships that most people have. I never seek out relationships or crave them, but I’m open to dating when a good opportunity comes my way. I’ve had a lot of fun with casual dating, getting to know people on a superficial level for a few weeks, and then withdrawing because I’m selective about who I respect and want to spend my time with. The intention from the start is usually to have fun, not to build a bond. It’s never a wild rollercoaster of emotions, it’s more like a period of superficial connection followed by emotional detachment. My love life and my social life are both very quiet and uncomplicated. It’s peaceful.
Yet I know I’m not dismissive-avoidant because I lack the active desire for “freedom” – I am open to the idea of connecting with other people when good opportunities present themselves. I think of this attachment style as a somewhat tempered version of dismissive-avoidant. My best friend in college had the same attachment style, and she was never confused, desperate, lonely, or a train-wreck either. She was a loner who was a bit detached from the world, stayed far away from all kinds of social drama, and lived an uncomplicated life. I don’t think either of us is exceptional – I just think this attachment style is foolishly misrepresented.
I felt the opposite from this! And I found this article extremely helpful.
Thank you so much for writing this. This article was amazing and very humanizing, both highlighting the positive skills people with this style may have, and offering a constructive perspective on how to move forward for the painful parts. I really appreciate you and your compassionate approach in your work. I will take your course.
I vary rarely reply, however this subject is really hitting home for me. I recently became aware of these attachment styles and have been reading as much as I can find. Over and over I connect to the discussions on disorganized attachment and find myself amazed as if my life is being described very conveniently in “black and white”…lol. It is even funny that I find myself after reading the comment above by DS that I feel the need to suggest that they may wish to consider the possibility that maybe they more closely relate to an avoidant personality. As mentioned my attachment style apparently can lead to me not being able to hold back expressing myself and with that realization as I write this, it is one more example for me to believe I just might have stumbled upon a knowledge base I can trust and may find a version of myself that I have longed for, and have missed living for far too long. Anyways, no offence intended to DS, I am just expressing what I sensed… felt, apparently as can be expected. I hope you find the support you are looking for. I appreciate the views and information expressed here, and I am considering taking your course. thank you Briana