Attachment Disorders Series #3: Understanding Adult Attachment Disorder

You’ve probably heard of reactive attachment disorder (RAD) in children. It’s a rare condition that develops when a child doesn’t attach emotionally with their caregiver. But did you know that adults can have attachment disorders, too?

Basics of attachment

Healthy, secure attachment develops through early nurturing experiences. Trust develops when an infant expresses a need, and their caregiver meets that need consistently enough.

However, trust is disrupted if a child’s needs for care and affection aren’t met enough—usually due to neglect, abuse, or abandonment. It’s important to note, though, that any kind of negative childhood experience can break trust, even in a healthy family. (Natural risks to secure attachment aren’t a caregiver’s fault.)

Attachment is conditional. It depends on whether the child believes their environment is safe and that someone will consistently care for them. If anything causes doubt, secure attachment is threatened. And that disruption can carry into adulthood.

Symptoms of adult attachment disorder

Formal RAD diagnosis in adults is uncommon. But if you or someone you love had a chaotic childhood, ask yourself if you can relate to these two main symptoms of adult attachment disorder:

· A deep inability to trust another person, even a spouse or close confidant.

· The feeling of being in a constant state of survival or hypervigilance.

Also, pay attention to how you cope with difficulties. Your behaviors can point to your attachment style, which can be healthy or disrupted.

Attachment styles

One of four attachment styles develops during infancy and typically follows an individual to adulthood:


A secure infant wants to be with a parent, is upset when the parent leaves, and is consoled when the parent returns. This child has a secure attachment style and grows into an adult who’s comfortable with their own autonomy. They easily manage disappointments and hurts.


An ambivalent child feels insecure. They develop a push-pull method of relating because of inconsistent parenting care. This morphs into a preoccupied or entangled attachment style. This adult can’t let go of abuses and betrayals, but they don’t let anyone get close enough to comfort them either.


An avoidant infant shows little or no desire for comfort. It’s a defense that results from cold, non-nurturing, rejective, or abusive caregiving. In adulthood, avoidance expresses itself by having a positive view of self and a negative view of others. This person has an unwillingness to acknowledge or deal with relational difficulties. They minimize, ignore, or dismiss others’ feelings.


A child with a disorganized attachment style displays hypervigilance, zoning out, or rocking back and forth. These reactions of confusion and terror are generally regarded as evidence of abuse. In adulthood, it’s marked by a disorganized or unresolved lifestyle — addictions, isolation, or a string of failed relationships.

Finding help

Adult attachment disorder is treatable! For deeper insight and a path to recovery, read Inside: Understanding How Reactive Attachment Disorder Thinks and Feels.

And read our complete article for a list of more recommended resources: Can Adults Really Have Attachment Disorder?