Thursday, January 24, 2013

Attachment, Attachment Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder

New Series! 

Attachment. What exactly is attachment? An attachment is merely a ‘tie’ to someone. Attachment is the line between two points, where the points are people and the line is a relationship.  It isn’t quite synonymous with love and affection even though they can go together. In fact healthy attachment is considered to be an important foundation  for all relationships.

Attachment Theory itself is primarily an evolutionary theory of behavior. Think about it like this: infants need to be attached to a caregiver for survival. Without the instinct to seek close proximity to a caregiver, or attachment figure, to protect them from a threat , odds of survival would be greatly diminished. Infants become attached to adults or caregiver figures who are sensitive and responsive in their interactions, and who also remain consistent as caregivers for a period of time significant enough to create an attachment. Consistency is such a basic core component in relationships that many people don’t give it much consideration. Without consistency, it’s difficult to develop the necessary instinctive trust that is necessary to form healthy attachments. Parental responses are what lead to developmental patterns of attachment which in turn lead to that internalized core concept which guide a person’s feelings, thoughts, and expectations in future relationships. Attachment is the deep connection established between a child and caregiver that profoundly affects a child's development and ability to express emotions and develop relationships.

Relationships are important. Especially in infancy and early childhood. They shape your foundations. They shape the foundations for your very relationship abilities.

The precise definition of “attachment disorder” is still being discussed. Generally speaking though, it’s agreed that such disorders only arise following early adverse care giving experiences. Where some disorders (like BPD) have a neurological/biological component along with an environmental once, attachment disorders seem to be primarily a disorder of environment. However, when coupled with the predisposition towards emotional volatility/instability it can quickly escalate. I mention this because while the idea of attachment disorders sound like the same thing as Borderline Personality Disorder they’re not the same thing. They can certainly influence one another, but one is not necessary for the other. You can have attachment disorders and not be Borderline. You can be Borderline without the negative causation that creates an attachment disorder. However you can also be predisposed to the neurological components that create a Borderline Personality Disorder and have those traits exacerbated, compounded, by the detrimental circumstances that poor care giving creates in attachment disorders.  

Attachment disorders are a childhood diagnosis that can affect a person into adulthood. They  can be a precursor to what may eventually become Borderline Personality Disorder, but this is NOT ALWAYS THE CASE. I say this because I see all too often that people automatically assume that one leads to the other, or that one is simply the children’s version of BPD. Frankly I think this is because people don’t want to take responsibility for their part in their children’s developmental issues. But that’s my own biased and unprofessional opinion. As informed as it may be.

So why do some children develop attachment disorders while others don’t?

“The answer has to do with the attachment process, which relies on the interaction of both parent and child.

Attachment disorders are the result of negative experiences in this early relationship. If young children feel repeatedly abandoned, isolated, powerless, or uncared for—for whatever reason—they will learn that they can’t depend on others and the world is a dangerous and frightening place.”[1]

As children their attachment style (or pattern) is under developed, improperly developed, or just not developed at all. Attachment style develops as a result of early childcare experience. These styles include: Secure, Anxious-Ambivalent, Anxious-Avoidant, All Organized, and Disorganized. Attachment styles begin in infancy and childhood and develop into adult attachment styles. An attachment style is not necessarily a disorder though because while they may be problematic, they might not require clinical treatment to heal, just extra care.

In any event, we’ll get to those tomorrow… Stay tuned! 


  1. Always love your blog. Love your analysis and confession, however true it may or may not be (this IS the internet), and am always intrigued by the wild array of attitudes expressed by commenters on your Psychopathic Writing blog.

    1. Psychopathic Writing blog? I'm not the author of any blog the ones linked here. sorry.

    2. ::laughs:: Holy crap, that's Zhwaq haha, not me.

  2. Great post! What I don't understand is how Bpd can manifest itself by falling out of love more easily / ending the relationship (not in a fit of rage, but thinking you don't feel anything anymore). I've done this a couple of times in long term relationships. It's supposed to be a fear of abandonment, but it didn't feel that way to me - I just didn't feel connected / attached anymore. Comments appreciated!

  3. Im probably going to waffle, so apologies in advance, it pretty much lots of random thoughts Ive had about this. I think fear of abandonment can manifest itself by the subconscious numbing feelings of attachment in order to prevent against the potential for pain. In my experience if I feel intensely fond of someone this means they can hurt me, once those feelings reach love it takes the smallest disruption to the relationship for me to duck out because I feel such intense pain, totally disproportionate to the circumstances. I have done so much thinking about this. I find it painful for someone to tell me they love me, I followed this along, investigated why. Realised I am afraid to trust anyone even if they are there for me and prove themselves, if they love me and prove I can trust them I still hold back. I am keeping boundaries as firmly as I can but I dont set them to begin with, I fall into relationships so hard, so intensely, my feelings always take me by surprise, then I get hurt. I withdraw. Often I dont go back. Sometimes I do. When I go back I rarely risk commiting the depth of feeling I did first time round. Sometimes I want to feel deeply for them again but I just cant find it inside. Its got so painful now that I struggle to have real life friends, most friends now are txtg buddies or online. Less risk that way. I really struggle with physical or verbal interaction. Still need to think more on this. Sorry to ramble

  4. In his highly acclaimed book "Attachment in Psychotherapy" David J. Wallin explores the early childhood attachment factors underlying the development of borderline pathology - I've only read bits and pieces of it, but from what I gather, I think the unconscious need to devalue which results in "numbing feelings of attachment" or "falling out of love more easily" is driven more so by a fear of dependency rather than abandonment.

  5. That sounds interesting (re, comment above). Can you explain what is meant by dependency rather than attachment? Thks!

    1. Attachment is literally the link signifying how two people relate. Attachment isn't necessarily a full blown relationship of any kind, just the recognition that a relationship exists and the sentiment that exists between those two people proportionate to the type of relationship had.

      Dependency is a beyond attachment. It's attachment to the point of near obsession.

  6. I believe the "numbing of attachment" and "falling out of love" is inevitable at some point with borderline personality irrespective of your abandonment fears. You fall in love with a fantasy and inevitably become disappointed along the line so you fall out of love with the person. Also, you've learned to survive the chaotic environment of abuse with inconsistent caregivers since infancy and early childhood - that imprint is heavy in your unconscious and you are addicted to turbulence so a steady secure relationship after a while simply loses its appeal - No chemistry.

    I think the fear of abandonment is primarily manifest in the inability to trust. I don't know what abandonment or loss of connection might feel like to a borderline but I imagine it would be similar to the way I felt when I was little, and my hand would slip out of my mom's hand in a crowded street and I suddenly realize that I have lost sight of her and I can't find her. I'm instantly overwhelmed by terror and anxiety to the point of death - It would feel like drowning. So I can understand why it would be painful when someone tells you that they love you - It's like that which can kill you is also what you crave the most and here is someone dangling it in front of your face!

    When it's not just your heart but your very life you are putting on the line your ambivalence and hesitation is understandable.


Leave me a comment! It makes me feel good and less paranoid about talking to myself =)

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