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What is attachment disorder?

Attachment, in the context of psychological and mental disorders, refers to the bond that is formed between a child and a caregiver during the first couple of years of the child’s life. the first year of life is considered a year of needs - needs for food, shelter, touch, movement, smiles, eye contact and so on. When a child feels the need, he or she expresses it, usually through crying. The caretaker is supposed to recognize the need and satisfy it. This happens hundreds of thousands of times in these first years of a child’s life, and as a result the child develops trust and a belief that the world is a safe place.
Attachment is also reciprocal - the child and the caregiver form a deep and nurturing bond.

When this primary attachment is lacking or not functioning properly, it leaves deep and serious consequences for the child, who has trouble trusting and connecting with others and forming meaningful relationships. The world is no longer a safe place, which causes the child to believe he or she must be hypervigilant in order to avoid getting hurt. This, in turn, makes it difficult for others to provide and express care, love and protection.

In addition, children who have not received proper care in the first years of life have abnormally high levels of stress hormones that affect the way in which the brain develops. It is believed that this leads to the lack of social and ethical values, to aggressive and antisocial behavior.

Causes of attachment disorder

There are many reasons why the bond between the child and the caregiver fails to form properly. Impaired attachment can be caused by different factors, such as premature birth, fetal exposure to trauma, maternal drug abuse or alcoholism in pregnancy, unwanted pregnancy, postpartum depression, adoption or other forms of separation from the birth mother, hospitalization, painful medical interventions, child abuse, child neglect, multiple caregivers, for example frequent changing of foster homes, insensitive parenting and many more.

Signs of attachment disorder

A child with attachment disorder will be manipulative, superficially charming, cold or hostile towards caregivers, cruel, destructive, obsessed with fire, death, gore, accidents, irritable, lacking self control, untrusting, suspicious, with poor personal hygiene, lack of interest in school and children games, chatty, defiant, remorseless. Such child will lie, steal, hide or hoard food, fight with friends and peers.

The caregivers, on the other hand, feel demoralized, helpless, exhausted, troubled by guilt, but also angry and frustrated, even hostile.

Attachment disorder should be diagnosed and treated as early as possible, otherwise it will lead to serious emotional and psychological issues and disturbances in the adulthood.

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