Attachment Disorders

By Dr. Silvernail

Attachment Disorders

More and more children are failing to develop secure attachments to loving, protective caregivers. These children are left without the most important foundation for healthy development. They are flooding our child welfare system with an overwhelming array of problems – emotional, behavioral, social, cognitive, developmental, physical and moral – and growing up to perpetuate the cycle with their own children. Research has shown that up to 80% of high risk families (abuse and neglect, poverty, substance abuse, domestic violence, history of mistreatment in parents’ childhood, depression and other psychological disorders in parents) create severe attachment disorders in their children. Since there are one million substantiated cases of serious abuse and neglect in the U.S. each year, the statistics indicate that there are 800,000 children with severe attachment disorders coming to the attention of the child welfare system each year. This does not include thousands of children with attachment disorder adopted from other countries.

Attachment disorder is transmitted from generation to generation. Children lacking secure attachments with caregivers commonly grow up to be parents who are incapable of establishing this crucial foundation with their own children. Instead of following the instinct to protect, nurture and love their children, they abuse, neglect and abandon. The situation is out of control. Consider the following:

Children who begin their lives with compromised and disrupted attachment are at risk for serious problems as development unfolds:

• Low self-esteem
• Needy, clingy or pseudo-independent
• Decompensate when faced with stress and adversity
• Lack of self-control
• Unable to develop and maintain friendships
• Alienated from and oppositional with parents, caregivers, and other authority figures
• Antisocial attitudes and behaviors
• Aggression and violence
• Difficulty with genuine trust, intimacy and affection
• Negative, hopeless and pessimistic view of self, family and society
• Lack empathy, compassion and remorse
• Behavioral and academic problems at school
• Perpetuate the cycle of mistreatment and attachment disorder in their own children when they reach adulthood.

Secure Attachment
If children come to expect that their mothers will be there when needed, they tend to develop secure attachments. We can see this secure attachment in the child’s going to the mother for comfort when scared, concerned, hungry, or sick, for example. What differentiates these children from children with insecure attachments is not how hard they cry when they are upset, or how long it takes them to settle down, but rather their ability to use their parent to help them settle down. A child who feels safe and feels heard is more likely to have a secure attachment.

Avoidant Attachment
When children come to expect that their parents will not be there when needed, they develop insecure attachments. Children whose parents and caretakers are rejecting of their bids for reassurance tend to develop avoidant attachments. There are a number of ways parents might be rejecting. Take, for example, a boy who falls off a chair and comes crying to his mother. Rather than hug the child, one mother says, “Look at the bird in the tree”; another mother says, “You’re a big boy, you don’t need to cry”; whereas still a third says, “I told you not to get up on that chair.” In all three instances, the child has gotten the message that he will not be reassured when hurt. If this characterizes the mother’s usual response to the child, the child will then develop the expectation that the mother will not be available when he is distressed.

Such children tend to develop avoidant attachments. For example, they may first look to the parent and then turn abruptly away (seeming to remember that they should not look to the parent for reassurance), or may just appear indifferent to the parent’s presence. This strategy makes sense, and can be seen as adaptive with this parent – the child is asking no more of the parent than the parent is willing to give. Mothers of children with avoidant attachments are often dismissing or devaluing of their own attachment experiences (Wilson)

Resources for Attachment Disorders

Dr. Silvernail is A Licensed Mental Health Counselor with a PhD in Psychology and
 Addictionology Counseling. Darlene has held post in the United States Army, was a Police Officer for the Harford Police Department before finding her calling as a counselor of human services. In the last 15 years Darlene has held numerous leadership positions in outpatient programs, residential treatment programs and counseling centers. She has over 26 years of experience developing and implementing quality educational programs in the field of addictions treatment and psychology. Dr. Silvernail teamed up with the women of PWN Books to write a series on empowerment. In all Darlene has authored and co-authored ten books. This series has not only found a steady following, but woman across the nation have experienced the Empowerment Series first hand through the seasonal conferences and workshops.