“Disorganized Attachment” Is TikTok’s Most Misunderstood Attachment Style

“An attachment style isn’t a medical or mental health diagnosis,” says Dr. Abrams. “It is helpful information about a set of patterns someone may display, and understanding this and working with it can be best accomplished through work with a therapist who uses attachment theory in their clinical work.”

According to the psychoanalytical theory, these childhood experiences can play a part in shaping our future romantic (and platonic) relationships. “How we attach to our current partners, based on attachment theory, mirrors the manner in which we attached to our early caregivers,” adds Lori Lawrenz, PsyD, a Hawaii-based licensed clinical psychologist. “Our current attachment style is formed in our early years but results in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that impact the way we act in our adult relationships and connect with others.”

To over-simplify even further, attachment styles essentially boil down to this: If your childhood caregivers were consistently loving, supportive, and attentive, you’ll have an easier time forming and maintaining healthy relationships as an adult. If they weren’t, you’ll struggle with these types of connections. That being said, Laura Young, a social worker in Charlottesville, VA, previously told Allure that minor fluctuations during the first year of a child’s life won’t doom them to particular attachment style or romantic future. “The research varies some, but ‘good enough’ parenting is typically classified as being tuned in to your child — if it’s an infant, soothing them to full calm — 50 to 70 percent of the time,” she says, citing a statistic from this 2020 study.

Which attachment style are you?

Dr. Abrams explains that most people fall into one of the two major categories of attachment: secure or insecure. Insecure attachment can be categorized even further into anxious, avoidant, and disorganized attachment.

But just because you identify as one of these attachment styles doesn’t mean that you are forever labeled as such. Dr. Abrams says there’s flexibility for attachment styles to change over time. These labels serve as more of a default setting for most of us and are really meant to be tools to help us understand ourselves and our habits more intelligently and once again: aren’t hard and fast classifications. Dr. Lori breaks down the three more popular attachment styles here:

Secure

This style may more often be formed when a child can approach a parent for soothing and can be comforted by their caregiver. “This translates as an adult to being able to connect with a partner and engage in relationships that involve comfort, honesty, and the ability to share feelings openly,” she says.

Avoidant

This style can be formed when a child has a parent who has difficulty accepting or responding appropriately to the child’s needs. “When a parent minimizes the child’s needs or when the child is forced to take the role of caring for the adult’s needs, this type of attachment style can develop,” she says. “The child may learn to shut down their needs and rely on self which leads to pushing others away.” When the child grows up as an adult, they can’t (or won’t) commit in relationships, and are prone to keep partners at arm’s length to avoid that sense of closeness that is reminiscent of the unmet needs that occurred in childhood.

Anxious

This style may be formed when a child cannot rely on their parent to be there for their needs. “The child does not develop feelings of security toward the parent as the parent cannot be relied upon,” she says. “The child does not explore their world; they stay close and become clingy and demanding to get their needs met.” When the child grows up as an adult, they are often jealous, clingy, and possessive.

What is a disorganized attachment style?

TikTok’s broad consensus would define a disorganized attachment style as a combination of being both avoidant and anxious, but that is only somewhat correct. Dr. Lawrenz says there’s not much research out there on the category, but it is noted that he can present itself as a fear of abandonment or getting emotionally close to someone.

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