Overcoming Attachment Difficulties

One of the consequences of childhood abuse, neglect or trauma, is attachment difficulties which persist into adulthood.

overcoming attachment issues

These attachment difficulties may manifest as trouble connecting with other people, or even trusting those closest to you.

However it is possible to overcome attachment difficulties, no matter how long-held they may be!

What is Attachment?

Attachment is the primary drive to connect with other people or to belong. It is important in early childhood to form an attachment with parents or caregivers as a form of protection from danger. This relationship forms a model for us to interact with the world and people in it.

Secure Vs Insecure Attachment

Whether attachment is secure or insecure depends on personal experience of childhood rather than fact. If we feel unsupported, unloved, or unsafe in childhood, we may be at risk of an insecure attachment, which can then go on to influence relationships with family, friends, and romantic relationships in adulthood.

Disruptions in attachment may come from distressing events such as trauma, loss, and abuse, though it can also be the result of more mundane events which disrupt the bond between parent and child. Even excessive earaches in childhood can damage a child’s sense of safety. For a child, pain is an extreme experience which damages their sense of safety when it is unable to be alleviated, while a parent feels helpless and distressed at seeing their child in pain.

Poor attachment in early life can lead to many issues in later life such as:

  • Depression and anxiety;
  • Over-expressing needs, attention is drawn to our distress (externalising);
  • Under-expressing needs, we defensively turn away from our distress (internalising);
  • Difficulties coping with overwhelming emotion;
  • Difficulties experiencing and expressing anger;
  • Trouble trusting and building deeper connections;
  • Discomfort with other people’s distress;
  • Difficulties making and/or maintaining friendships;
  • Conflict in relationships with family, friends and romantic partners.

Overcoming Attachment Difficulties

So how do we recover from these early experiences? If you have read this far you are on the right track! Recognising the problem is a solid first step as attachment difficulties are not as well known as depression and anxiety, and can be overlooked.

Treating attachment difficulties in adulthood focuses on building a secure and trusting relationship from which to begin development of a new “model” of the world. This experience will be highly personal and tailored to suit the individual attachment concerns, as no two childhood experiences are the same.

So how can this be provided in therapy? After a thorough assessment of attachment history, a “map” is developed of the models developed over time for interacting with the world, focusing on unhelpful patterns, and identifying the essential ingredients for a new “corrective” attachment experience. This new experience will then be developed in therapy through highly supportive Interpersonal Therapy, emphasising exploration and reflection on attachment experiences and relating to others.

If you are experiencing difficulties with attachment, or are maybe just unsure and would like to discuss it further, I welcome you to make an appointment with me.

Dr Rose Gillett clinical psychologistAuthor: Dr Rose Gillett, B Psych (Hons), D Psych (Clin), MAPS.

Rose Gillett is a clinical psychologist, working with children, adolescents, adults and couples. She is passionate about helping her clients achieve their goals, and has particular interest areas in attachment concerns in adults and young people, PTSD, and alcohol and drug addiction

To make an appointment with Clinical Psychologist Dr Rose Gillett, try Online Booking – Loganholme or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129.

References:

  • Adshead, G. (1998). Psychiatric staff as attachment figures. Understanding management problems in psychiatric services in the light of attachment theory. The British Journal of Psychiatry; the Journal of Mental Science, 172, 64-69.
  • Berry, K., Barrowclough, C., & Wearden, A. (2007). Adult attachment styles and psychosis: An investigation of associations between general attachment styles and attachment relationships with specific others. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 42, 972-976.
  • Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Attachment (2nd). New York: Basic Books.
  • Hankin, B. L., Kassel, J. D., & Abela, J. R. Z. (2005). Adult attachment dimensions and specificity of emotion distress symptoms: Prospective investigations of cognitive risk and interpersonal stress generation as mediating mechanisms. Personality Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 136-151.
  • Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2007). Attachment in adulthood. Structure dynamics and change. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
  • Safford, S. M., Alloy, L. B., Crossfield, A. G., Morocco, A. M., & Wang, J. C. (2004). The relationship of cognitive style and attachment style to depression and anxiety in young adults. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 18, 25-41.