Love & Relationships

How To Recognize The Signs Of A Disorganized Attachment Style

“What’s your attachment style?”

It’s a simple yet probing question that has made its way into modern dating culture as a casual icebreaker and do-tell dating app prompt. It may seem like just another relationship buzzword ridden by internet self-diagnosis, but understanding your attachment style can provide you with the self-awareness for how to show up in relationships and heal your approach along the way.

What Are Attachment Styles?

Attachment theory proposes that the emotional bonds we form with our primary caregivers in childhood influence our relationships throughout life. These bonds typically fall into four categories: secure, anxious, avoidant, and disorganized attachment.

Of these attachment styles, the wildcard of the bunch is disorganized attachment, which combines the neediness of anxious attachment with the aloofness of avoidant attachment, all wrapped up in one.

Signs of a Disorganized Attachment Style

“In relationships, behaviors associated with a disorganized attachment style are: individuals who struggle with feelings of insecurity and loneliness, and have trouble trusting others,” Dr. Janet Brito, an AASECT certified Latinx sex therapist and founder of The Sexual Health School and Hawaii Center for Sexual and Relationship Health, tells xoNecole. “This pattern may strain the formation of maintaining secure bonds, and result in chaotic relationships.”

Originating from inconsistent and often traumatic childhood experiences, individuals with disorganized attachment — also known as fearful-avoidant — feel tugged between needing closeness and sudden withdrawal.

According to Dr. Brito, a key sign that an individual may have a disorganized attachment style is their hesitancy to trust the people around them. “They may demonstrate inconsistent behaviors (stay close, go away) or fear of rejection or abandonment,” she explains. “Others may struggle with seeing themselves in a negative light, having a hard time self-soothing, and becoming easily overwhelmed.”

Root Causes of a Disorganized Attachment Style

Perceived fear is central to the development of a disorganized attachment style. Grasping how the experiences within a person’s formative years shape their attachment style is essential to managing and healing the wound. “Some common causes are a history of childhood abuse, such as emotional neglect and unresolved trauma,” Dr. Brito explains.

She adds, “Due to the childhood caregiver demonstrating unstable patterns and inconsistency in expressing affection, individuals in adulthood may struggle with trusting their instincts and trusting others to provide emotional comfort and safety.”

Disorganized Attachment Style In Relationships

Adults with a disorganized attachment style often face a paradox in relationships: the desire for love and connection while simultaneously fearing intimacy and anticipating rejection and hurt. This fear stems from early experiences with unpredictable caregivers, leading them to view partners as similarly unreliable. Consequently, they struggle to trust and accept emotional support, expecting disappointment as an unavoidable outcome.

“The relationship may appear unstable and unpredictable. Individuals may create close bonds and then abruptly and suddenly withdraw,” says Dr. Brito. “Trust is a big issue; therefore there may be lots of conflict around issues of emotional reliance.”

This mindset often results in self-sabotage or choosing partners who reinforce their fears, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of failed relationships. Although a disorganized attachment style differs from an avoidant style, both involve a fear of intimacy and a tendency to avoid close emotional connections.

“An individual who demonstrates a disorganized style may exhibit behaviors that are a mix of yearning for closeness, but also pushing others away, whereas an individual who demonstrates an avoidant attachment style may avoid emotional closeness,” she says. “Despite their desire for closeness, their fear of being hurt keeps them in a cycle of avoidance and expectation of rejection.”

Healing Through Disorganized Attachment Style

Thankfully, the attachment style we’re nurtured into doesn’t have to be the one that we’re stuck with forever. With the right support, therapy, and a curious approach to the journey, healing this complex attachment style is well within reach.

Prioritizing self-healing and becoming curious about your attachment style is important, as it fosters holding a curious attitude toward understanding your patterns,” Dr. Brito advises. “Seeking a therapist to assist you to increase self-awareness is beneficial. Valuing your self-worth, and adopting narratives that are empowering can be helpful too, as well as surrounding yourself with a supportive network that models secure bonds.”

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This article is in partnership with SheaMoisture

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Gail Bean

When I was a child, one of my favorite pastimes was theater. There was something so fulfilling about being on stage and connecting with the talented individuals breathing life into characters and stories. So naturally, I entered college as a theater major, hopeful of creating more of these moments; I ended up switching later on. However, the love for the craft never left, and my respect for actors only grew. And every now and then, I watch a movie or television show, come across a new actor, and think to myself, ‘Ooh, you can tell they’re for real about this.’ This background brings me to the present and our conversation with NAACP award-winning actress Gail Bean.