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Attachment Issues Signs, Causes, and How To Overcome

Attachment issues are difficulties forming and sustaining healthy emotional connections, often rooted in early childhood experiences and past relationships. These issues can lead to insecure attachment styles, such as anxious, avoidant, or fearful in adults and ambivalent, avoidant, or disorganized in children. 

Insecure attachments arise in childhood when caregivers are unresponsive, inconsistent, neglectful, or abusive, potentially continuing into adulthood through abusive relationships. Signs of attachment issues in adults include superficial relationships, trust issues, emotional regulation difficulties, and unhealthy self-esteem. 

Children with attachment issues may exhibit poor academic performance, attention problems, anxiety, and an inability to trust others. Severe attachment issues in children can result in attachment disorders like Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) or Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED), characterized by withdrawn behavior or indiscriminate sociability, respectively. 

Causes of attachment issues include unresponsive parenting, dysfunctional family dynamics, and traumatic experiences, among others. Overcoming attachment issues involves identifying and reflecting on the problems, challenging negative beliefs, developing emotion regulation, learning effective communication skills, and seeking therapy. Helping a teenager with attachment issues requires responsiveness, trust-building, open communication, emotional validation, and encouragement of professional help if needed.

woman sitting on ground sad attachment difficulties

What are attachment issues?

Attachment issues are the difficulties in forming and sustaining healthy emotional connections in relationships, often due to early childhood experiences and previous close relationships that affect attachment styles. People with attachment issues develop insecure attachment styles. Adults with attachment issues develop insecure attachments, like anxious, avoidant, or fearful attachment styles. Children with attachment issues develop insecure attachments, including ambivalent, avoidant, or disorganized attachment styles.

When a child’s primary caregiver, often a parent, is unresponsive, inconsistent, neglectful, or abusive, secure attachment development is disrupted. In adulthood, abusive relationships can also lead to attachment issues.

The term “attachment issues” is commonly used to describe insecure attachment patterns in adults, although children may have similar problems, more directly referred to as insecure attachments.

What are the signs of attachment issues in adults?

Attachment issues are not a medical diagnosis, but adults with attachment issues often have the following 13 signs.​1–4​

  1. Superficial relationships and difficulty with intimacy: People with attachment issues struggle to form close, healthy relationships. Some are emotionally distant, avoid physical affection, and feel uncomfortable with emotional vulnerability. Others are overly dependent.
  2. Trust issues: They have difficulty trusting others and are suspicious, guarded, or overly cautious.
  3. Trouble regulating emotions: Some people suppress and dismiss emotions, while others have mood swings or intense emotional reactions in distress.
  4. Unhealthy self-esteem: People with attachment difficulties often have low or unhealthy self-esteem. Some people need constant reassurance because they don’t feel worthy of love, while others focus on themselves as the only dependable source of support to avoid disappointment.
  5. Fear of commitment: They may struggle to settle into long-term relationships.
  6. Fear of abandonment: People with attachment issues have a deep-seated fear of being abandoned or rejected by others. Some become clingy and needy, while others are jealous and possessive.
  7. Hypervigilance: They constantly scan for signs of rejection or abandonment and may interpret neutral behaviors as negative threats.
  8. Control issues: They must control others or situations to feel secure, straining the relationships.
  9. Conflicted relationships: They may have frequent misunderstandings, fights, or difficulties in communication, pushing others away or damaging the relationships.
  10. Risk of mental health disorders: Attachment difficulties often result in mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a 2013 study by the University of Manitoba involving 5492 participants. 
  11. Risk of personality disorders: Insecure adults are also at risk of developing personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder, as revealed in a 2007 study published in the European Journal of Personality.
  12. Risk of addiction: Various studies have found that insecurely attached adults are more likely to develop addictions, like alcoholism or substance use disorder, including a 2019 study at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany.
  13. Risk of domestic violence: Adults with insecure attachment are at higher risk of being involved in domestic violence as victims or perpetrators.
  14. Intergenerational transmission: Insecure adults often mirror their parents’ lack of sensitivity and responsiveness when they become parents, causing insecure attachments in their own children.

What are the signs of attachment issues in children?

Here are the signs of attachment issues in children.​5–8​

  1. Poor academic performance
  2. Attention problem
  3. Anxiety
  4. Lack of emotion regulation
  5. Unable to trust others
  6. Inability to make and sustain friendships
  7. Behavioral problem
  8. Oppositional behavior, especially toward parents or other authorities
  9. Lack of empathy, compassion, and remorse
  10. Bully or victim of bullying
  11. Eating disorder
  12. Attachment disorders

What are attachment disorders in children?

Severe attachment issues in children can result in attachment disorders. There are two types of attachment disorders.​9,10​

  1. Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD): Children with RAD exhibit a pattern of inhibited, emotionally withdrawn behavior towards their caregivers. They actively or fearfully disengage from caregivers, seeking little comfort from them in times of distress. They tend to lack social and emotional reciprocity, have difficulties with emotion regulation, and tend to develop depressive symptoms. RAD diagnosis is linked to more exposure to violence or physical abuse in the family.
  2. Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED): Children with DSED show indiscriminate sociability, readily engaging with and seeking comfort from adult strangers or unfamiliar adults. They tend to lack developmentally appropriate discretion and restraint around these adults. And they may approach and interact with them without hesitation, often disregarding their own safety. There is a link between attachment disorder and externalizing behavior problems. These children are more likely to show attention-seeking behavior or act unpredictably. They also have problems making and maintaining friendships.

Note that an accurate diagnosis of attachment disorder can only be performed by trained professionals. If you suspect a child has an attachment disorder, please seek mental health professional help.

What are attachment disorders in adults?

There are no formal diagnoses of attachment disorders in adults in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). However, unresolved attachment issues can manifest in adults in ways that resemble the symptoms of RAD or DSED.

What causes attachment issues?

Attachment issues in adults are caused by one’s attachment history, early childhood experiences being a notable part of it. The Attachment Theory, formulated by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, suggests that attachment security can significantly affect a child’s emotional growth, identity formation, and world perceptions. The prevailing understanding is that unresolved insecure attachment in childhood can lead to stunted neurological development that continues to cause attachment issues in adulthood.

Here are 12 early childhood experiences that could lead to attachment issues later in life if unresolved.

  1. Unresponsive parenting
  2. Poor parenting skills due to controlling, emotionally distant, or immature parents
  3. Dysfunctional family
  4. Frequent caregiver changes
  5. Institutional or orphanage care
  6. Forced separation from parents
  7. Death of a parent
  8. Parental mental health conditions
  9. Parental substance abuse
  10. Parental alcoholism
  11. Child abuse
  12. Child neglect

However, the human developmental process is complex. Other factors such as the following may contribute to developing adult attachment issues.​11,12​

  • Temperament: A child’s inborn personality traits can interact with the caregiving experiences and influence attachment security in complex ways. For example, a 2012 study by the Kosin University College of Medicine in Korea found that children with slow-to-adjust or irritable temperaments were more likely to conflict with their parents, leading to less responsiveness from the caregivers and more insecure attachment.
  • Trauma: Significant trauma or adverse events such as domestic violence or intimate partner violence (IPV) in adulthood can sometimes disrupt previously secure attachments.

Do I have attachment issues?

You may have attachment issues if you can identify with the following.

  1. Inability to manage stress
  2. Intense anger, hostility, or mood swings
  3. Inability to create and maintain emotionally reciprocal relationships
  4. Avoidance of intimacy
  5. Avoiding social interactions
  6. Sensitive to criticism
  7. Excessively self-conscious or worried about how others view you
  8. Lack of empathy
  9. Low self-esteem or highly critical of self
  10. Views self as unlovable or too good for others
  11. Negative view or overly critical of others
  12. Views others as untrustworthy or undependable
  13. Difficulty asking for help
  14. Compulsive self-reliance or workaholic
  15. Passive withdrawal
  16. Low levels of perceived support
  17. Difficulty getting along with co-workers, often preferring to work alone
  18. Overly pushy or controlling
  19. Unresponsive to your children if you are a parent
  20. Irritated by your child’s emotions

It’s important to note that only trained professionals can accurately diagnose and help you with attachment issues. Should you suspect you or other adults have attachment issues, consulting with a mental health professional is recommended.

Why do I have attachment issues?

Your attachment issues most likely stem from an insecure attachment experience in childhood. Your parents or primary caretakers might be unresponsive, or there were situations where your parents could not be responsive to your needs. Having a traumatic experience is another possibility for your attachment issues.

What does it mean to have attachment issues?

Having attachment issues means you have difficulties developing and maintaining relationships with others. These difficulties can impact your professional interactions and ability to work with others. In your personal life, such issues may hinder your ability to establish a deep connection with your partner. If you are a parent, this could manifest as an unresponsive approach to parenting, making it challenging to develop emotional attachments with your children.

How to overcome attachment issues

Here are 13 steps to help you overcome attachment issues.​13​

  1. Identify your attachment issues: To fix attachment issues, first, you must know what the issues are. Determine what your obstacles are in relationships. Ask trusted co-workers, friends, and your partner to help you identify things that need fixing. Journaling can also help you think through your issues.
  2. Reflect on the problem and take responsibility: Relationships have two parties, and issues may not always be yours. However, reflecting on your behaviors and feelings in relationships can help you identify patterns you can change.
  3. Challenge inner negative beliefs: Negative beliefs about yourself and others often stem from past hurts. Challenge those beliefs and replace them with more positive, realistic relationship attitudes.
  4. Process unresolved issues: Examine your childhood and past relationship and process unresolved wounds. Finding closure helps prevent projecting past hurts onto new relationships.
  5. Develop emotion regulation and stress tolerance: Learn to tolerate and manage difficult emotions like anger, jealousy, and sadness.
  6. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness helps you develop self-awareness to catch yourself getting emotional or repeating negative patterns. You can learn mindfulness through meditation, yoga, or other self-reflecting exercises. These practices also help you develop emotional regulation.
  7. Develop effective communication: Learn to express your needs and feelings healthily and assertively. Don’t expect your partner can mind-read. Open communication can strengthen relationships and build mutual understanding.
  8. Learn to handle disagreements: Practice dealing with conflict in relationships directly, calmly, and constructively instead of reacting or lashing out.
  9. Have self-compassion: Stop being critical of yourself. A 2016 study from Grove City College found an association between accepting and being kind to yourself and earning a secure attachment in adulthood.
  10. Seek new experiences: Reach out to trusted friends and families who can help you feel safe and develop trust to form an earned secure attachment. These people can also be your support network to help you develop healthy relationship patterns.
  11. Take small risks: Learn to trust others and allow yourself to rely on them for support. Start with less threatening situations to challenge your avoidance tendency.
  12. Seek therapy: An attachment-focused therapist can be a surrogate attachment figure who provides the new experiences you need to feel secure and develop new relationship skills.
  13. Consider group therapy: Sharing experiences with others who have similar issues may provide a sense of community, reduce isolation, and offer new perspectives on overcoming attachment issues.
  14. Stay patient and committed: Overcoming attachment issues takes time and effort. Recognize your progress, even if small, and stay committed to the journey towards healthier relationships.
  15. Practice responsive parenting: Being responsive helps your child form a secure attachment by paying attention, being attuned to their emotions, and supporting them emotionally when needed.

How to help a teenager with attachment issues

Here are steps to help a teenager with attachment issues.

  1. Be responsive: Be physically and emotionally present to support the teenager’s emotional needs.
  2. Establish trust and safety: Create a safe and predictable environment where the teenager feels secure. Consistent routines, clear expectations, and following through on promises help create predictability.
  3. Be firm and kind: Set and maintain firm but kind boundaries to model healthy relationships.
  4. Discipline to teach, not punish: Focus on teaching acceptable behavior using reasoning rather than punishment to build trust.
  5. Be autonomy-supportive: Give reasonable freedom and autonomy to help them grow independence. 
  6. Observe without judgment: Notice how they react to closeness, separation, and conflict to understand their underlying fears and needs.
  7. Be flexible: Adjust your parenting style and family rules according to their needs and specific circumstances.
  8. Promote open communication: Encourage open dialogue about feelings and experiences. Listen attentively without judgment.
  9. Valiate and emotional coach: Don’t dismiss their feelings. Accept and validate their difficult emotions. Teach them how to notice and name their emotions. Give them vocabulary so they know how to express their emotions verbally.
  10. Co-regulate to teach emotion regulation: Be attuned to their emotions and help them regulate emotions patiently. Understand that mood swings are inevitable in teenagers until they master regulation skills.
  11. Build skills: Teach calming techniques like deep breathing or mindfulness exercises to manage intense emotions.
  12. Build self-esteem: Celebrate their strengths, positive behaviors, and achievements to help them build self-esteem.
  13. Encourage social interaction: Help the teenager build supportive relationships outside the family. Participation in group activities, sports, or clubs can foster a sense of belonging and improve social skills.
  14. Encourage professional help: Explain that therapy is a positive step toward healthy relationships and development
  15. Consider family therapy: Sometimes, the dynamics within the family contribute to attachment issues. Family therapy can address these dynamics and promote healthier interactions within the family unit.
  16. Model healthy relationships: Demonstrate healthy emotional expressions and interactions in your relationships. Teenagers often learn by example. If you need help with your own attachment issues, do so and model how to seek help.
  17. Be patient and persistent: Healing and building secure attachments take time. Consistently offering support can make a significant difference even when faced with challenges.
  18. Educate yourself: Understanding attachment theory and the impacts of attachment issues can better equip you to support the teenager. Resources, books, and workshops can be valuable. Learn about different attachment styles: secure, anxious-ambivalent, avoidant, and disorganized.


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    * All information on is for educational purposes only. Parenting For Brain does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician. *