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What Are the Signs of Attachment Disorder in Adults?

By Drue Tibbits
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Adult attachment disorder is a term used to describe the emotional dysfunction of someone who cannot form intimate, caring bonds with others. The dysfunction may manifest itself as either a rejection of close relationships or a constant demand for them. Many of the signs of attachment disorder in adults overlap with those found in other conditions, such as borderline personality disorder. Signs of a disorder that avoids or rejects intimacy include excessive criticism of others, argumentative behavior, and provoking anger in others. Those who have an intense need for relationships, may be possessive, jealous, and have a heavy dependence on their partners.

Behavioral patterns that continually block any possibility of loving relationships may indicate an attachment disorder. These behaviors are usually self-protective mechanisms to prevent intimacy. On the other side of the spectrum, a person who has an overwhelming desire for a relationship may not seem to have this problem, but may be using attachments as a way to counter insecurity. Many of these individuals risk losing their partners as a result of their constant demands for closeness.

There are four distinctive attachment styles: secure, fearful-avoidant, dismissive-avoidant, and anxious-preoccupied. Two of these styles — fearful-avoidant and anxious-preoccupied — are considered an attachment disorder. People who are fearful-avoidant are afraid of relationships and distance themselves by acting cold, impersonal, and aloof. They engage in destructive behaviors designed to push others away. Those who are anxious-preoccupied demand constant reassurances from their partners, are unwilling to allow their partners any personal space, and may continually question their partners' fidelity.

In theory, this inability to enter into secure relationships stems from childhood events. Children who were abused, abandoned, or had emotionally distant parents may grow up to have issues developing healthy relationships. A child raised in a succession of foster homes or shipped from one relative to another may find, once he is an adult, that he has issues with trust and believing in the permanence of a partner. Adults with an attachment disorder are at risk of raising children to have the disorder as well.

The treatment of attachment disorder in adults involves therapy and, possibly, sessions with a psychiatrist. Often, the therapy involves both group and individual counseling. Therapists may use role-playing to help patients work through traumatic events of their childhoods. If the patient has a partner, the partner may be asked to attend counseling sessions as well.

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Discussion Comments
By anon997732 — On Feb 20, 2017

EMDR is an easy five minutes twice a day brain exercise that has been extremely helpful for me. Don't give up people.

By anon996813 — On Oct 16, 2016

Oddly enough, family dynamics have led me to seek out destructive relationships. Never getting enough love from my Mother and being treated as a lesser by the rest of the family, I followed women whose hearts I could never win.

I am on the mend, 18 years clean and sober, also seeking the serious spiritual church of Jesus Christ. Would love to spend the rest of my life with a soulmate. I will seek counsel to achieve some kind of normal expectations. Also I found that because of this condition of attachment disorder, I actually will allow anger and negativity in my life because it's familiar. A new revelation. It's so hard to say goodbye to yesterday, even though it really sucks.

Sixty years old and still hopeful.

By anon994647 — On Feb 25, 2016

I am concerned that I have some form of attachment disorder. I struggled to maintain subsequent relationships in my early 20s after one particular relationship ended, and would almost deliberately push people away, having panic attacks at the thought of being in an intimate relationship. What I didn't realize was that when those relationships ended I almost forgot about them immediately, and forming new relationships was painful, I put it down to shyness.

I eventually started a relationship with a girl who I tried to push away but she wouldn't be pushed away; I realized I had an issue and that there was something worth persevering with. After 9 years together we married, although I was anxious about marrying, having children, etc. We were married for a similar term and although not perfect we did seemingly understand each other and made allowances for one another's idiosyncrasies, but after some difficulties and stresses (I think we both suffered with depression at the same time) I struck up a relationship with a person I did know but with whom I mostly spoke online. Whether as a result or because of other stresses I had a nervous breakdown and left my wife for the other person.

I am now scared how little remorse I feel for what I did, and also scared that I don't feel strongly for the new person in my life. I did used to have a lot of anxieties as a child despite being brought up in a caring and supportive family home. I used to mope a lot as a child, preferring my own company, and I had a mini bout of depression (hopelessness, morbidity) in my 20s but got out of it myself. My wife, in the early part of our relationship, did once hit me because I was moping, I can see now what I was doing was reverting to type, it was the only time she ever did it but I fear it may have affected me. Certainly we were never great communicators when married.

My wife did tell me that she didn't see me have a genuine emotion in all our time together and my sister has remarked that I don't seem to ever seem genuinely elated by anything, as if I am rather joyless.

I don't want to be on my own, but I think my anxiety suggests me being left with my own thoughts isn't helpful (though I don't fear I'll harm myself), however I just can't seem to genuinely attach to anyone and I must have caused untold hurt to the one person who did care, even though our relationship wasn't great. We did fun things, I always did stuff to show I cared but I am not sure I can say that I loved her (this might just be my current mental state affecting me).

By anon992531 — On Sep 14, 2015

My mother was/is evil. She couldn't cope with us four children. We're all messed up in our heads, which she used to bang together! My brother is the lucky one; he died at 18 in a motorcycle accident, fleeing from her.

My father was a big drinker, but at least she left us alone when he came home (drunk), which wasn't often. None of the family speak to me any more. They say I'm a liar and am making it all up, even though they were there! My older sister gets drunk, opens up to me (begs my forgiveness for not supporting me) but tells my parents everything I have said the very next day! She is not getting another chance to hurt me!

I've been married three times, but no one can stick it! I don't blame them! I am so loving inside but feel so worthless! I was never held in a grown ups arms when I was little, and I crave that now! She tells me that my sister is evil and has "put things in my head" then she tells my sisters the same about me! Consequently, we don't get along!

Should I forgive my Mother? I mean, God, she must've had it rough to turn out so evil! I grew up hearing the story of how i was a twin! She tried to abort the pregnancy, bled heavily and was thrilled! Only to discover a few months later that she was still pregnant! That was me, a survivor! What a lovely little anecdote for all our family gatherings!

Can anybody find me somebody to love? Queen -- one of my favorite songs! I do have wonderful children and they do care/worry about me! At least I got something right!

By anon991298 — On Jun 10, 2015

anon334419, I feel your pain.

Although I haven't been officially diagnosed, there is no doubt I have an Attachment disorder. My romantic and sexual history can be boiled down to a single, extended nightmare of a relationship that I forced myself into out of sheer desperation. Previously I had only pursued the unobtainable, but I decided to step it up and pursue the painfully inevitable.

My solitary nature has induced others to believe I may be gay, which is flattering because it means they believe I am attractive and therefore must be in a romantic relationship. The truth is I am in this constant state of emotional dissociation, which makes it easy for me to drop any relationship -- friendship or familial -- at a moment's notice, but impossible for me to be authentically intimate with anyone, let alone a romantic partner.

In my childhood, this was a strength as it allowed me to survive. In my adulthood, it is a weakness that threatens my survival, especially in this technologically "connected" age.

I agree with anon334419: An attachment disorder is a horrible and lonely affliction.

By anon991265 — On Jun 08, 2015

I've been married to a man with attachment disorder. He's argumentative, doesn't keep his word, has no emotion other than anger where I'm concerned and he remains quiet in situations where he should speak up for fear he'll "go ballistic." It's quite true that one of the symptoms is a lack of empathy. They see the world & the people in it with a cold perspective. It's very painful and from what I've read, difficult for these people to overcome, assuming they even want to.

By anon990610 — On Apr 29, 2015

Someone told me that I could have an attachment disorder but I sincerely believe I just have severe ADHD. I am getting a really good evaluation (I hope) at UCLA soon. I will have to ask what they test for in their behavioral health center. I want to know exactly what all my comorbidities can be, if I have other issues.

It is hard to say what can be the exact condition or disorder when so many of these mental disorders have overlapping symptoms and signs. It would take a highly trained professional to be able to sort it out in some cases, where ADHD enters in, in particular.

Good luck and make sure you pursue your own health and well being, everyone! I would save the money up and pursue a truly comprehensive evaluation where they test for many different things. This should take time and not be rushed. Then the therapy must be as comprehensive and help you sufficiently to match the level of your disorder. So never give up. Be persistent and don't let a family member, a husband or anyone else hold you back from pursuing your own wellness.

I myself didn't get therapy for the past 15 years because I got married and my husband didn't believe in Psychology. (We had started to go to church, which is good. but it was an effort to save our marriage from our psychological problems that were unaddressed and we were mostly ignorant of.)

Now my husband has lung cancer and he's very sad that we don't have a lot of time left. I have committed myself to pursuing my own recovery and wellness so that I can be a better support and helper to him and our daughter. He and I are experiencing more grace and forgiveness now, in the face of catastrophic illness than we ever did in church. He is more understanding of my failures, which are many. I am more understanding of how much he's been angry with me the past 15 years.

By notable914 — On Feb 01, 2015

Oh I've known I've had this for about 10 years but it doesn't make it any easier to cope with or find help for it. I guess it gives a reason for the intense pain and loneliness I've always gone through but there seems to be no answers and I've looked -- unless it's super expensive and even then you wonder if it would help or not. I also was told that it can be called emotional deprivation disorder but that this isn't an actual definition or diagnosis.

All I can say is that it is very real and my faith in God is all that has got me through and it's been so tested because it seems to be getting worse instead of better, and so often the pain is so intense that I can't feel God there with me. I do struggle because relationships don't seem important to others the way they do to me. What to me feels like life and death, seems to be neither here nor there to someone else.

I stuff what I feel, usually, except for a few people who hear all the pain over and over and how I cope is to write it all out. I've always been a "good person" and felt I had a lot of potential, but this disorder has taken over my life and my thoughts. The emotional distress is so bad, and of course because I don't connect well or often, it feeds on itself.

I've become so desperate and have questioned God as I struggle with anyone I get close to and because of it. I just isolate more often than not. Lately, I just feel really selfish because of this and feel like a pretty awful person to struggle so much. I literally beg God to find help for me but I can't find it anywhere. The past is probably like so many others who have this and doesn't matter so much anymore, but coping with life and the present has become increasingly difficult. It just goes on and on. I will throw this out there to anyone who knows how you go about getting help for this.

By anon982082 — On Dec 17, 2014

I am 31 and have an attachment disorder. I get overly attached and clingy to adult/motherly type ladies and then obsess and fantasize about them being my real mom. I crave nurture, love, hugs and affection from them. I know I am like this because my mom emotionally neglected me as a baby and I was socially isolated for several years after being born. I don't know many people who are like me. I wish I did because then, I wouldn't feel so alone. I hate having this attachment disorder crap!

By anon960770 — On Jul 12, 2014

My significant other thinks I may have an attachment disorder but I don't believe I do for the fact I do like being around other people and I know I feel love for others. I have two sons and I like being with them. I have trust issues because every time I tried to get close to somebody I was assaulted.

I know I have PTSD and probably also ADHD which I've shown signs of since I was a kid. I have anxiety and depression too. I feel close to others in a lot of ways and every one of us humans need that human touch. I have been hurt physically and sexually numerous times whenever I tried to have the human touch so of course I always have that in the back of my mind that I will get hit or sexually assaulted again. I had to raise myself pretty much when I was a kid.

I was always left alone at the house while my Grandfather/adoptive dad worked at his job and he was raised also with hardly any love and human touch by his own parents. My grandfather wasn't even blood related to me or my biological mom. He died three years ago from brain and lung cancer. It affects me every year too when it gets close to the anniversary of his death or even near his birthday.

By anon953321 — On May 25, 2014

@anon926674: I'm so sorry to hear your story. It saddens me deeply. To think that a mother could be so wicked as to turn against her own flesh is sickening. Shame on her. She will have to answer to God for this! I'm so glad you take comfort in your animal friends. They are pure and love unconditionally and are very healing. In some of the roughest times of my life, God made sure I had a pet to be my companion! I thank the Lord for those blessings.

My mother was treated horribly by her mother throughout her childhood. Distant, cold, nasty, neglectful and downright abusive, she treated my mom with constant disdain until my mother left home when she was able. I believe my mom has an attachment issue because of her treatment as a child. I half-think I might have an attachment disorder also because of the turbulence of my childhood and the coping mechanisms I learned to use because of my mom's depression and yo-yoing emotional states.

I forgive my mom, though. I know it's not her fault and she's coping the best/ only way she knows how. I look to God and Jesus Christ to help me and to heal the brokenness. The Holy Spirit is my guide and when I feel broken, I lift myself up to the Lord. Please lean on Him when times get rough; He understands our pain and is the only one equipped to handle such distortion of human emotions! I will pray for you and all the people who suffer with this or because of this. May God bless us all.

By anon952588 — On May 21, 2014

I have a daughter with this disorder. I love her so much, but have to detach from her enough to not get hurt. I am a very passionate mom and it can hurt when she is so detached. She is adopted and spent years in an orphanage. She has a twin who is very healthy. I also have an older daughter and we had a very loving relationship with her. The Lord has given us wisdom on this. Just ask the Lord to help you all.

By anon951866 — On May 18, 2014

This is the legacy of western society isn't it? Broken families filled with people who don't know how to bond with each other, how to love and so drift further and further into destructive addictions that drive the destruction of the planet. You want to know why the technology is taking over too? Because of our bizarre autistic disconnection from each other and nature through countless generations of unhealed wounds transmitted down the family lines by people who have no idea what they are doing because they're all stuck in their heads so much. Oh our vaunted delusional boot strap 'independence', this is where it comes from!

By anon942830 — On Mar 29, 2014

Is there anyone in the Massachusetts area who suffers from RAD? I cannot find good treatment, that is, without paying 12-35 thousand dollars that I don't have. I know this is a catch-22 because we don't want to attach, but if we want help we could start a support group. I'm looking for help.

By anon938401 — On Mar 09, 2014

Wow I'm glad I stumbled upon this. Rejection has been such a recurring theme in my life that I think I've developed attachment disorder. I've never had any close connections in my life. My family has always been distant, it's always been hard for me to form friendships, and I've also never had a romantic relationship of any kind.

I fell for a guy recently and I ran him away with all of the weird crap I was doing. When I wasn't being completely distant and avoidant, I was being possessive and clingy (not extremely so, but enough to be a red flag).

Then I recently met a friend who genuinely cares for me and looks after me and I'm avoidant with her as well. Sometimes I don't answer her calls or reply to her texts and I don't know why. I want to build a friendship with her but I'm scared

I feel that being abandoned by my parents and not having a family that supported me emotionally during childhood is the cause of all of this. I remember being this way for as long as I can remember. I remember being a loner as early as kindergarten and not really being able to connect with the other students and simply playing by myself. I remember not being able to hug my childhood friend after playdates and such.

By anon937513 — On Mar 05, 2014

I think it is safe to say that my fiance and I both have/had attachment disorders. I am anxious-preoccupied and he is fearful-avoidant. Ironic isn't it? I don't like that these are classified as "disorders". It makes it seem like what we have is terminal and I don't think that it is.

He stayed by my side through the thick of my obsessive, clingy behaviors and I feel like I'm starting to be able to form a more secure attachment as a result. I want to help him too. I'm just at a loss right now as to what I can do to be helpful. We are both in couples and individual therapy, which is a great start.

I just want to somehow help him learn that he will not get hurt as a result of opening up to me.

By anon926674 — On Jan 20, 2014

I know now that I have attachment disorder. I was shunned by my mother all my life. I was never treated like my friends mothers treated them. I can't get close to anyone, trust no one, allow no one into my personal life because it gives them ammo against me. No one comes around me unless they need something, then as soon as they get it they are gone. I was shut out of my family my whole life by a jealous mean hateful mother. She made sure that I was left out of everything to do with my family, then tell her lies that I chose not to be there. Every holiday or family function I was made to feel unwanted and unwelcome.

I went no contact seven years ago with this thing called mom and I will never go back. She can't hurt me anymore, but the pain is always there. Her meanness and hateful ways and words follow me everywhere. She invades my dreams. Every holiday now I feel so left out as I see other people having family moments. I tell anyone who asks that she is dead because she is dead to me now.

I know I will always be alone and I will die alone, and in the end she won. I have never been able to build friendships and relationships due to the non trust issue. I have in my older age now completely cut off contact with other people and choose now to adopt and foster my animal babies. I love to bottlefeed and raise up tiny baby animals. This brings me so much joy and I know that I could never ever hurt anyone or anything on purpose.

My animal babies will never hurt me and as I look around each night and see them around my bed that I am so blessed to have them and know what unconditional love really is. It brings me so much peace in my sad life.

By anon924002 — On Jan 01, 2014

I have RAD. People keep telling me I have BPD. No, I have traits of it, but not BPD. It's RAD. I do not want treatment for it. I do not see the point in that. I like staying distant. I don't want relationships. I don't want intimacy. I am perfectly happy with not attaching to people.

To be truthful, I do not understand the point of attaching to people. Why? It's setting everyone up to be hurt later on. Sorry, but relationships are totally overrated.

By anon356858 — On Nov 29, 2013

The diagnosis doesn't mention what they are angry or argumentative about. What is the topic or subject that makes them angry? The psychologists get caught up on the behavior and not why that person is acting that way. What are their reasons and motivations? hey pathologize it rather than seek to understand.

That's why modern psychology is nothing more than a ploy to control the masses. Can't have people running around with righteous anger now and saving the planet. I also highly suspect that the majority of them have never looked at themselves under the lens clearing psychedelics, either.

By anon355195 — On Nov 14, 2013

OK, so I now have a label for a disorder that manifests in so many ways in my life.

So, what's the answer? How do we get help? I can't afford the extensive time or money that it'll seem to require. What practical steps can I take? What's the underlying emotional need that I should be finding healthy ways to meet and repair damage to? What self talk should I be using? I'm willing to do the work. I just need a starting point. Answers, comments, suggestions? --Wanting to get over it and get on with it.

By anon350706 — On Oct 07, 2013

My mum was brought up in care and I've always felt she has an attachment disorder. I feel our relationship has been on her terms, she's so demanding, but struggles to be there for me. At the moment we're talking about her 70th - what she wants me to buy her and where she wants me to take her. I had my 40th this year and she told me she wasn't going to celebrate with me because she doesn't like birthdays (and she didn't).

Anyway, no matter, I'm a big girl and I've cultivated friends who are more like family, but it still makes me sad. I'm just on here looking for inspiration / understanding of how to help her. I feel so sad that my mum couldn't think of a single friend to celebrate her birthday with, other than me.

I can't believe I'm posting. It's my first time ever! I like being anonymous, though.

By anon343580 — On Jul 31, 2013

For everyone struggling: attachment disorders are often just another way of saying "developmental trauma." There is help in a therapy called "somatic experiencing" that was developed by Peter Levine and Laurence Heller. For more information, read "Healing Developmental Trauma" by Heller and LaPierre.

By anon334419 — On May 12, 2013

I don't even understand how someone with attachment disorder has a partner. I have been diagnosed with it, am 37 and have never had a boyfriend. I've managed some drunk sexual encounters, but no one ever wants to date me. I always thought I was just too ugly to love, although everyone says I'm very attractive -- that is, everyone but men I'm interested in. It's a horrible and lonely affliction.

For me, it's still very hopeless, and people are always looking perplexed or talking behind my back, speculating on whether I'm gay (if I were, I would have no problem with it). Because they don't understand the problem, it just makes it that much more confusing, frustrating and lonely.

By anon308270 — On Dec 10, 2012

My earliest memorable cognitive thought was that interpersonal relationships weren't worth the pain of separation or rejection.

I have never formed a lasting relationship, I never had friends, and there is no one at all from my past with whom i have any ongoing relationship, not even my family, with whom I have not spoken in years. When I see happy relationships they are foreign to me. Seeing others' success causes me indescribable hopelessness, followed promptly by jealousy, hate and rage.

I alternate constantly between the facade I attempt to maintain in order to feel liked, and the reality of my underlying emotional state where I'm still just a ticked off, confused kid.

By anon306931 — On Dec 02, 2012

I really hope that this can be cured. My dad suffers from RAD. I guess that in his childhood he was disregarded because his older sibling was handicapped and all his mum had seven children and a dad that was an alcoholic.

I wish I could help him! I want it so much, but some of the RAD cannot be mended I guess, especially when it occurred in the state when he was a baby. Well, here is still hope for it!

By anon281570 — On Jul 24, 2012

I believe I have an attachment disorder. I developed PTSD as a child and received no help. I continued to university and then collapsed in on myself.

The hardest thing is that I'm aware of it and I've researched the implications. I don't want to create an unhealthy or dependent future for myself and recoil at the thought of suffocating someone I love and yet I want support too. Professional help is difficult and takes an agonizingly long time.

Also, whenever I try and get close to someone on 'even' terms, it often ends with me getting my wings burned because I chicken out of divulging the truth. I'm scared that doing so will leave me rejected.

So you see, it's quite a paradox to get around. Oh and the last twist: if I do find someone who likes me after all the crap I've gone through, I'm not entirely sure I'd trust that he wasn't in need of help himself!

By anon275188 — On Jun 16, 2012

I am 99 percent certain that my father has RAD. He was adopted when he was about 2 and we don't know what happened to him before that.

I have been searching all night to try to find another person whose parent has/had RAD. All I can find are things about raising children with RAD. I would love to talk to another adult daughter who was raised by a parent with RAD.

My whole life, I have been wondering what in the world was wrong with his brain and why I could never (and will never) be able to gain his trust or a genuine emotional relationship with him. He's a very good person; he just has no social skills and does not like to be touched/hugged, etc.

I always chalked everything up to his "control issues", OCD-like behaviors and his previous alcoholism. But now he has been sober for 20 years and although many things got better since then, he is still so socially awkward it's kind of painful to watch. Is there anyone else out there like me?

By anon265790 — On May 03, 2012

Well, but have you ever thought that if a man has an attachment disorder and it overlays with young age and image of a freedom-needing man (say a media image) there will be no counseling together because he simply acts in a way that ends the relationship. If a woman doesn't go by herself, he rejects her. He usually says on this occasion that he has difficulties letting anyone close, prefers his freedom, spreads his wings fully when he is alone, solitude is intoxicating, solitude is strength etc.

I know what I'm saying, because my ex had an ADS. There is no room for counseling, no room to form a bond unless I would be a virgin until a wedding night and forced a man into a formal marriage by playing difficult to get. When they hunt they behave normally. When their hormones are down, hell starts. So my ex had withdrawn into being fully alone and photographing birds. Birds are better than humans. He also seems to have no moral paradigms, no sense of what is good or wrong. He behaves like Dexter from that series.

He knows how to play nice when he wants to obtain something profitable from other people, be it a better position at work, or an affair with a woman.

I don't argue that these people may have been mistreated or suffer, but heck, I suffered my portion of hell with this "relationship". I need counseling now and am on medication for a year because I was rejected with no reason on my side.

By icecream17 — On Sep 03, 2011

Judging by this article, I think that my father definitely had attachment disorder. He was more of the fearful avoidant type because he was always a loner and very difficult to have a relationship with him.

He could also be argumentative and very critical especially with respect to my mother. My father would say things that would make a person so angry that it was hard to understand at the time what triggered it.

I remember him telling me that when he was a kid his parents divorced and his mother blamed him for the divorce. He had a troubled childhood and was always kicked out of schools because of his behavior.

He was finally sent to military school in Georgia and in the summers instead of coming home he went to camp in North Carolina. He felt rejected by his parents especially his mother, and I think that this was the source of his pain. I really believe that this is why my father was the way he was, but now at least I know the name of the condition that he suffered from.

It is so hard to have a relationship with someone like this especially when it is your father.

By MrSmirnov — On Sep 02, 2011

@manykitties2 - That sounds an awful lot like a girlfriend I used to have back in college. She was extremely clingy and would go into jealous rages at the littlest things. She always wanted to spend time with me and if she couldn't she would cry.

I suppose at the time I suspected something was wrong with her, but I guess it was pretty likely that she had some sort of attachment disorder. I guess she had a pretty rough time growing up so I imagine that could have contributed to the condition.

Has anyone ever actually liked the attention from someone with attachment disorder?

While I can understand how someone being aloof all the time would be a problem, I am sure there are those that crave attention too.

By manykitties2 — On Sep 01, 2011

If you ever find out that you are in a relationship with someone who has attachment disorder it is a good idea to seek counseling together. Attachment disorder can be tricky to deal with as you never really know how much your significant other needs you.

I was in a long-term relationship with someone who was possessive and terribly jealous. They also had to be around me at all times or they panicked and would freak out.

At the time I thought they just really loved me and I wanted to give them all the attention they needed, but it turned out to be too much in the end.

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