Disorganized Attachment

Last Updated: April 24, 2024

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Meta Title: Navigating Disorganized Attachment: Understanding and Healing
Meta Abstract: Have you ever been puzzled by your reactions in close relationships? This confusion might stem from disorganized attachment patterns. Let's unravel this together to understand ourselves better and how we relate to others.

Key Takeaways

  • Disorganized attachment often stems from early relational traumas, leading to complex behaviors in close relationships.
  • Recognizing and understanding disorganized attachment patterns is crucial for beginning the journey toward healing.
  • Moving toward secure attachment involves professional support, self-compassion, and practice in forming healthier relationships.
  • Healing from disorganized attachment is challenging but achievable, offering the promise of more fulfilling and stable relationships.

Disorganized Attachment Defined

Dealing with disorganized attachment styles is like having mixed signals in your heart. You might feel the pull to get close to someone but then suddenly want to bolt in the opposite direction.

It's a bit of a rollercoaster, with ups and downs in how you approach relationships. One minute, you're seeking closeness, and the next, you're pushing it away, trapped in a cycle that can feel confusing and exhausting. It's a style that makes trusting and building stable adult relationships tough, but understanding it is the first step towards healthier connections.

In this look into the disorganized attachment style, we'll untangle some of these mixed signals. We'll explore what it feels like, why it happens, and how someone can start to heal and build healthier relationships, even when their first instinct might be to put up walls or push people away.

Signs of Disorganized Attachment Style

Those with a disorganized attachment style (also known as fearful-avoidant attachment or anxious-avoidant attachment) often exhibit a complex array of characteristics own behavior that can be perplexing to both themselves and those around them. Here are some key features:

  • Mixed signals: They may simultaneously display behaviors that seek closeness and behaviors that push others away.
  • Difficulty trusting: Trusting others can be a significant challenge, stemming from early experiences of betrayal or unpredictability from caregivers.
  • Fear of rejection: A heightened sensitivity to rejection or abandonment, often reacting strongly to perceived signs of distancing.
  • Emotional turbulence: Experiencing intense and sometimes unpredictable emotions, which can lead to erratic behavior.
  • Self-perception and views of others: They might struggle with self-esteem and often view relationships with skepticism, expecting hurt or betrayal.

How Disorganized Attachment Develops

Disorganized attachment, one out of three insecure attachment styles, typically arises from a child's experiences with caregivers or a primary attachment figure who is unpredictably responsive or frightening.

This inconsistency creates a confusing situation for the child, where the source of safety is also a source of fear. Here are the key factors that contribute to the development of disorganized attachment:

Inconsistent or Unpredictable Caregiving

Children develop disorganized attachment when an attachment figure in their life fluctuates unpredictably between warmth and responsiveness to detachment or neglect.

This inconsistency leaves the child without a clear strategy for getting their needs met, leading to confusion and anxiety about how to approach romantic relationships.

Early Childhood Trauma or Abuse

Exposure to traumatic events, including emotional, physical, or sexual abuse by a caregiver, can lead to disorganized attachment.

In these cases, the child’s natural inclination to seek comfort from a caregiver is complicated by the fear and pain associated with abuse, creating a disorganized approach to attachments.

Caregiver’s Unresolved Trauma or Loss

Children can also develop disorganized attachment when their caregivers have unresolved trauma or loss. The caregiver's behavior may be influenced by their own unresolved issues, leading to erratic or frightening behavior that the child cannot understand or predict.

Emotional Unavailability

When caregivers are emotionally unavailable or unresponsive to a child’s physical or emotional needs, especially during times of distress, it can contribute to a disorganized attachment style.

The child learns that emotional support is unavailable when needed, leading to confusion and mistrust in forming healthy relationships.

Understanding the Spectrum of Attachment Styles

Attachment theory posits that our early relationships with caregivers form the basis for our attachment styles—patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving in relationships.

Beyond disorganized and anxious attachments, the spectrum includes secure, avoidant, and insecure styles, each with distinct characteristics, many of which can be seen as an unhealthy attachment style.

  • Anxious attachment style: Marked by a craving for closeness or need for constant reassurance coupled with fear of abandonment, this style of controlling behavior often arises from inconsistent or overly intrusive caregiving.
  • Disorganized or anxious-avoidant attachment style: Those with fearful-avoidant attachment often oscillate between a desire for intimacy and a fear of rejection, leading to a pattern of pushing others away while craving closeness. This style typically stems from caregivers who were frightening or inconsistent in their responses. 
  • Secure attachment style: Characterized by comfort with intimacy and independence, secure attachment to seek support that forms from consistent and responsive caregiving. Individuals with this style tend to have healthy, resilient relationships.
  • Dismissive avoidant attachment style: Those with dismissive avoidant attachment often prioritize independence to the point of distancing themselves emotionally from others. This style usually stems from caregivers who were emotionally unavailable or dismissive.

What Triggers Disorganized Attachment Style

“If an organism is stuck in survival mode, its energies are focused on fighting off unseen enemies, which leaves no room for nurture, care, and love. For us humans, it means that as long as the mind is defending itself against invisible assaults, our closest bonds are threatened, along with our ability to imagine, plan, play, learn, and pay attention to other people’s needs.” Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.

When you have a disorganized attachment style, certain things can really trigger those tangled feelings inside you.

Hot and Cold Behavior

If someone you're close to switches up how they act towards you—a lot of warmth one day, then cold the next—it can throw you for a loop. This back-and-forth can remind you of the mixed signals you might have gotten growing up, making it super tricky to feel steady and secure with them.

Stressful Times

High-stress situations, whether it's stuff going on at work, personal challenges, or just the day-to-day grind, can push your buttons. When things get too much, it can take you back to feeling overwhelmed, just like when you were little.

During these times, you might be swinging between wanting someone to make it all better and feeling like you need to handle it all by yourself.

Getting Close to Someone

Opening up and sharing the real, deep-down you with someone can feel scary. The closer you get to someone, the louder that little voice inside you might start to worry about getting hurt. It's a weird mix of wanting that closeness but being pretty scared of it because of how things went down in the past.

Noticing when these kinds of things are starting to get to you is a big deal. It's all about seeing those moments for what they are and knowing they're stirring up old feelings. It's a step towards figuring out how to deal with those feelings in a way that feels right for you, helping you build the kind of relationships you really want.

How to Date with Disorganized Attachment Style

Dating with an insecure attachment style can feel like navigating an emotional minefield. Your heart wants to find love and connection, but part of you braces for the worst. This mix of wanting to get close and fearing intimacy defines the disorganized or insecure attachment style.

But don't worry, dating with this kind of attachment isn't impossible. Here are some tips on how to navigate the dating world when you're wrestling with these insecurities:

Communicate Openly

Open and honest communication is key in any relationship, but it's especially crucial when you're dealing with insecurities. Be upfront with your partner about your feelings and fears.

It's okay to say you're feeling vulnerable. This kind of honesty can actually strengthen your connection.

Set Boundaries

Knowing your limits and communicating them clearly to your partner is essential. Boundaries aren't about pushing someone away; they're about ensuring that you're both comfortable and your needs are being met. This clarity can help reduce the unpredictability that triggers your insecure attachment reactions.

Seek Support

Dealing with an insecure attachment style can be challenging, and there's no shame in seeking help. Whether it's talking to a therapist who understands attachment theory or leaning on trusted friends for advice, having a support system can make a world of difference.

Go at Your Own Pace

Don't feel pressured to move at someone else's pace. It's important to go at a speed that feels right for you. If you need to take things slowly to build trust and feel secure, any partner worth their salt will understand and respect that.

Focus on the Present

Try not to let past hurts dictate your current relationship. This is easier said than done, but focusing on the present and taking things one step at a time can help you build a healthier, more secure attachment with your partner.

Dating with an insecure or disorganized attachment style isn't always easy, but it's definitely possible to build meaningful, loving relationships. It takes self-awareness, communication, and a bit of bravery, but the result—a connection that feels safe and fulfilling—is absolutely worth it.


While a disorganized attachment style may present challenges in forming and maintaining connected and healthy relationships, it also offers a unique opportunity for growth.

By confronting and understanding your fears, learning to communicate your needs effectively, and practicing self-compassion, you can begin to rewrite the narrative of your relationships.

This journey is about building a foundation of trust within yourself and with others, gradually moving toward relationships that are based on mutual respect, understanding, and genuine intimacy.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the behaviors of disorganized attachment?

People with disorganized attachment may show a mix of behaviors or contradictory mental states, including intense desire for closeness followed by withdrawal, difficulty trusting others, sensitivity to rejection, and unpredictability in their emotional responses.

They often struggle with viewing relationships as both a source of comfort and fear.

What does disorganized attachment feel like?

For those with disorganized attachment, relationships can feel like being caught in a storm of conflicting emotions. There's a constant battle between the need for intimacy and the fear of getting too close, leading to feelings of confusion, anxiety, and helplessness in close relationships.

How do disorganized attachments show love?

Complexities in expressing love can often be signs of disorganized attachment or a fearful-avoidant attachment style. Those of us with these attachment patterns may struggle with regulating our emotions and behaviors in relationships, leading to inconsistent or contradictory displays of affection as we grapple with inner conflict and fears surrounding closeness and dependency.


Attachment in Adults | Wikipedia

Attachment Theory | Wikipedia

Attachment Theory: A Guide to Strengthening the Relationships in Your Life | Thais Gibson

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma | Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.

Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love | Dr. Sue Johnson


The contents of this article are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is always recommended to consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making any health-related changes or if you have any questions or concerns about your health. Anahana is not liable for any errors, omissions, or consequences that may occur from using the information provided.