The Genesis of Attachment Problems
by Linda M. Ikeda, R.N., MFT
How many of you have your own children or have cared for an infant? What do you do when a baby cries? Of course, you would try and determine what it was that the baby needed. Was she hungry? Was he in pain? Did something frighten her?
Crying is a signaling behavior that is hard-wired into the brain of infants. What would happen to an infant if they cried because they were hungry and no one consistently fed them? Or cried because they were in pain and no one was able to comfort them? Children learn to trust during their first year, the first year cycle of life, by having many, many needs, signaling for help (since they are totally dependent on others for the meeting of their needs), and having their needs met appropriately. If their needs are not appropriately met, they will NOT learn to trust and all further emotional development will be impacted. Children’s sense of themselves and the world around them is directly related to their relationship with their primary caregivers.
When children fail to attach in the normal way, we say that they develop “REACTIVE ATTACHMENT DISORDER” which is an imprecise diagnosis in my opinion but is what we have in the DSM IV. Any of the following occurring before the age of 36 months can be the cause of problems with attachment:
- In utero trauma (substance abuse, alcohol, drugs, domestic violence)
- Mother’s ambivalence about pregnancy (mother may have been a victim of violence during gestation; pregnancy may be a result of a trauma; mother may know she is relinquishing her baby for adoption)
- Neglect – the most destructive of all because of early brain development which occurs, or NOT, in response to attuned relationships
- Maternal abandonment or relinquishment
- Sudden separation from primary caretaker (illness or death of mother, or severe illness or hospitalization of infant)
- Undiagnosed or painful illness such as colic or chronic ear infections (the ongoing pain feels to the baby like their needs are never met)
- Chronic maternal depression
- Several moves and/or placements (relative care, foster care, failed adoptions)
- Being in the care of others with poor parenting skills such as inferior daycare, etc.
- Child physical, sexual, emotional abuse
- Neurological problem in child which can interfere with perception of or ability to receive nurturing
The early stages of attachment disorder always start off with a child being frustrated and depressed since his or her basic needs are not being met.
How do we tell if children suffer from Reactive Attachment Disorder?
Signs/Symptoms of Attachment Issues
- superficially engaging and charming
- lack of eye contact except when lying – power and control issue
- indiscriminate affection with strangers
- lack of ability to give and receive affection on parents’ terms – it’s all about control
- extreme control problems (sneaky)
- destructive to self and others
- cruelty to animals
- chronic crazy lying – lying even when the truth is obvious, “I didn’t eat the chocolate!” when her face has chocolate all over it
- impulse control problems (stealing)
- hypervigilant – often look ADHD
- lack cause and effect thinking – not learning from experience
- lack of a conscience
- abnormal eating patterns: hoarding, stealing, gorging (there won’t be enough for tomorrow or refusing to eat b/c mom put love in it)
- inappropriately demanding and clinging
- poor peer relationships
- preoccupied with fire, blood, and gore
- persistent nonsense questions and chatter to prevent thinking their thoughts and feeling their feelings, kind of like white noise
- abnormal speech patters (What?!)
- presumptive entitlement issue – “I am here to be served”
- triangulation of adults – splitting, false allegations of abuse
Unattached children are often:
- Rigidly focused on controlling all adults and any new situation in order to feel safe;
- Consistently manipulating rather than trusting because their trust was broken;
- Have little experience with empathy from an adult responsive to their best interests;
- Have numerous deficiencies in affective, behavioral, and cognitive development;
- Anticipate new trauma, constantly generalizing from old trauma;
- Constantly experience shame and rage;
- Deny the “bad self,” while not experiencing themselves as good;
- Work to convince the therapist that the new parents are “bad” too.
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