Insecure and Disorganized Attachment

“As an undergraduate student in psychology, I was taught that multiple personalities were a very rare and bizarre disorder. That is all that I was taught on ... It soon became apparent that what I had been taught was simply not true. Not only was I meeting people with multiplicity; these individuals entering my life were normal human beings with much to offer. They were simply people who had endured more than their share of pain in this life and were struggling to make sense of it.”

― Deborah Bray Haddock, The Dissociative Identity Disorder Sourcebook

Insecure and Disorganized Attachment

Image: "still life" by Elisabeth D'Orcy


Parents and other caregivers are meant to serve as sources of comfort and reassurance for the children under their care. Young children rely on their caregivers for survival, so it's imperative that caregivers and children attach early on so that the child's needs can be met. When this is done correctly, secure attachment is the result. Secure attachment helps a child learn to recognize, name, and regulate their emotions, to self-soothe, and to form healthy attachments later in life. It teaches a child that the universe is fundamentally a safe place, that other people are good, and that the child is good. It teaches a child how to recognize their needs, fulfill their needs, and for help when they need it.

In contrast, insecure attachment teaches a child that their needs don't matter or that others cannot be relied on for help. The universe is no longer perceived as safe nor the child as good.

In the case of avoidant attachment, a caregiver is unavailable or unwilling or unable to meet the child's needs. The child learns that they cannot exhibit open attachment towards the caregiver because they cannot expect their attachment to be returned. The child must avoid angering the caregiver and preventing their basic needs from being met. However, beyond the child's outward appearance, physiological signs of distress are revealing.

However, some caregivers are available sometimes but not other times, and the child cannot predict when they can or cannot approach the caregiver with desires for attachment. In this case, anxious attachment will be the result, and the child will stay as close to the caregiver as possible, missing out on natural opportunities to explore and develop, in case the time at which they are not there is one of the times in which the parent might be willing to care for them. This can lead to separation anxiety that is not soothed by the caregiver's return and to general hypervigilance.

Disorganized attachment is the final type of insecure attachment and occurs when a child is not given a chance to properly attach to their caregiver because the caregiver serves as both a source of comfort and a source of fear. This may occur when the caregiver is at times abusive but must still be relied on for the child's survival.  It may also result from a type of role-reversal known as parentification in which the child is made responsible for a caregiver's well being instead of their own. A caregiver who is frequently frightening, visibly frightened, or uncommunicative may also be a cause. Regardless, the effect for the child is confusion, disengagement, and fear. The child will alternate between avoidant attachment, anxious attachment, and dissociation as they try to respond appropriately to the parent and have their needs met.

Disorganized attachment is associated with identity confusion, dissociative disorders, borderline personality disorder, and reactive attachment disorder.

Our mother was a very dominant woman and very mentally ill, which made it hard to feel comfortable at home. We remember a lot of arguments and fights between our mom and dad, mom and sister, and mom and us. You never knew when someone would've done something wrong in her eyes. Our dad and we learned to stay away whenever possible and our sister usually went headfirst into the discussions.

Needless to say, we didn't feel secure at home, and we fled to our best friend's house as often as possible.