A basic guide to attachment issues
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Attachment issues are emotional issues that can develop in young children who experience interrupted, underdeveloped or unstable relationships with their primary caregivers. These caregivers of those with attachment issues often did not pay attention or meet the child’s physical and emotional needs during early childhood and infancy. The child then develops an insecure attachment style as a result. These insecure attachment styles can follow a young child all the way through their teenage years. They can last even into adulthood. Fortunately, attachment issues can be changed with the right kind of support and treatment.

What’s the difference between attachment issues and attachment disorders?

Attachment issues and attachment disorders are different. Attachment issues are a milder form of an interrupted or underdeveloped attachment bond with a primary caregiver. Someone with attachment issues are more likely to fear abandonment from the people around them or don’t believe that they can trust those around them. These issues are generally divided into four categories: secure attachment, anxious attachment, avoidant attachment and disorganized attachment. Attachment disorders are a severe form of attachment issues. They exist at one end of the attachment spectrum. These disorders can result when a child’s physical needs are unmet by their caregiver. There are two primary types of attachment disorders that a person can have: reactive attachment disorder (RAD) and disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED). Both of these attachment disorders are most often found in young children or teens who have experienced trauma and/or abuse, been through the foster care system, or were removed from a primary caregiver. 

What are some causes of attachment issues?

Researchers suggest that about 60% of adults have a secure attachment style. These adults believe they can trust those around them and have experienced healthy emotional development. It’s suggested that around 40% of people have insecure attachment styles. Their relationships with others usually involve mistrust, anxiety, unpredictability and other negative elements. Attachment problems can stem from a variety of circumstances. The issues usually stem from infancy and early childhood, including:

  • Crying with no response or attention from a caregiver
  • Being hungry for hours
  • Not having diaper changes for hours as needed
  • Little to no social interaction 
  • Attention from caregivers that’s only received when behaving poorly
  • Not knowing when to expect their needs to be met
  • Going through an unexpected or extended period of distance from their caregiver
  • Going through multiple caregivers
  • Having an emotionally unavailable caregiver

How can attachment issues affect teens?

Attachment problems often develop early on during infancy and early childhood. They can affect a person even into early adulthood. These are just a few ways that attachment issues might appear in a teenager’s life:

  • Negative self-image — One way attachment problems can show up in teenagers is through negative self-image. A teen who didn’t receive the appropriate responses from their caregiver is less likely to hold themselves in high esteem.

  • Mental health disorders — Teens with attachment issues are at a higher risk of developing certain mental health disorders. These include depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), eating disorders and suicidality.

  • Substance use disorders — Teens with insecure attachment styles are more likely to develop substance use disorders as a way to cope with their emotions. In an effort to find a way to numb or dull the pain they’re feeling, they may resort to substance use.

  • Self-harming behaviors — Some teens with insecure attachment styles may resort to self-harming behaviors. These behaviors are often made in an attempt to express or cope with the negative feelings they experience. Some individuals perform self-harm to exert control over their own lives. The reasons for performing self-harm vary but often appear in teens who are struggling with attachment problems.

While these are just a few of the more extreme ways that attachment issues can appear in a teen’s life, there are many subtler, nuanced ways. Attachment issues can cause teens to mistrust those around them, including their parents, teachers and other adults. It can lead them to develop anxious feelings while interacting with others. It can also lead a teen to become more withdrawn from others. 

Lightfully can work with you to improve your attachment issues and your relationships with others

Our mission at Lightfully is to provide high-quality mental health care to various types of clients through a focused approach to process-based therapy. The framework of our clinic consists of evidence-based, clearly defined, data-driven and whole-person-centered care. We have extensive experience working with clients to improve their attachment issues, and we’d like to help you work through yours.

Lightfully offers various levels of care to both adults and teens: Residential Treatment, Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), and Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP), also referred to as our Day Treatment Program. We also offer a Virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (vIOP) for adults. If you’re a teen experiencing the effects of an attachment disorder or have some form of attachment issue, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

Change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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