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Do I Hold On or Let Go? A Guide to Understanding Disorganized Attachment Style



To understand the thoughts and feelings of someone with a disorganized attachment style, let’s first dive into understanding how we, as humans, develop an attachment style.


Based on John Bowlby’s attachment theory, our expectations for how love should be is influenced by our early relationships with our primary caregivers. In other words, the responsiveness and availability of our caregivers to meet our physical and emotional needs in our early years impacted how we learned to view the world and ourselves. These different ways our needs were or were not met developed our attachment style, which influenced our perceptions of self and the world. The 4 styles of attachment include secure, anxious, avoidant, or disorganized. 


The word I think of when I hear disorganized attachment style is “confusion.” Disorganized attachment style can be defined by inconsistent or unpredictable behavior. This attachment style forms when primary caregivers become a source of fear, instead of a sense of safety. Factors such as stress and trauma often create conditions for disorganized attachment, which leads to the attachment to become less about meeting needs and soothing through connection, and more on survival needs to defend and protect themself. Later in life, this attachment style can negatively impact relationships with self and with others. 


Someone with a disorganized attachment style may struggle with:

  • Negative view of self and others

  • Fear emotional intimacy

  • Uncomfortable with closeness and distance from others

  • View themselves as unworthy of responsiveness, at the same time not trusting partners' intentions

  • Seek less emotional closeness and frequently suppress or deny feelings

  • May experience freezing, states of rigidity, “stuck” repetitive behaviors, or flooding of emotion

These common behaviors of disorganized attachment can lead to difficulty forming meaningful connections with others -  in other words “Do I hold on or let go?”


If you are reading this and believe you have a disorganized attachment style - let’s take a moment and sit with compassion for your body’s efforts in protecting you. Remember - disorganized attachment is an adaptive survival strategy with the purpose of keeping you safe. These patterns and behaviors have served purpose in meeting your own needs thus far. 


Will I be like this forever?


The answer is no! It is possible to change your attachment wounds by working with a psychotherapist to process your past trauma, identify current triggers impacting the here and now, build self compassion, and learn ways to build secure attachments for the future.


Schedule a consult with any of our amazing attachment-based therapists here.


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