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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.