What is Insecure Attachment or Dysfunctional Attachment?

What is Insecure Attachment or Dysfunctional Attachment?

You are looking for information about insecure attachment? In that case, you are in the right place, because we have created the most complete article on the web in this regard. Keep reading and you will discover everything about this disorder that occurs in both children and couples.


  • 1 Attachment Theory
  • 2 Types of insecure or dysfunctional attachment
  • 3 The problems of insecure attachment

Attachment Theory

Before talking about insecure attachment, it is important to speak the Theory of Attachment. The attachment and the different types of links that exist were studied back in 1958, by the hand of John Bowlby. His studies in this regard are still relevant today.

We can define attachment as the existing link with the primary caregiver (usually the mother or father) and that is above any other type of biological need.

It is important to note that, throughout life, we develop attachments to a large number of people. Attachment to the mother is the most common and primary, but, over time, other attachments appear, such as the one you have for the couple.

In general, attachment develops in four phases, which are as follows:

  1. Phase 1: It lasts from birth to two months. During this phase, the child's social response is indiscriminate and adapts to any change. He will accept without problem anyone who offers the comfort he needs.
  2. Phase 2: Lasts from two to seven months. During this phase the social response is discriminated, that is, it prefers parents or family members, but there are no protests if they leave. This phase and the previous one correspond to an attachment under construction.
  3. Phase 3: Lasts from seven to thirty months. This is the critical phase, since there is a specific attachment that is characterized by pain in the face of separation and anguish towards unknown people.
  4. Phase 4: From thirty months. During this phase, attachment is associated with a goal and there is no longer fear or pain in the face of separation from the caregiver. Both this phase and the previous one correspond to the attachment itself.

Types of insecure or dysfunctional attachment

Insecure attachment is one of two types of attachment that exists (logically, the other type is secure attachment). Unsafe attachment is characterized in that the caregiver or reference person is lacking in the care that should be give or the kind of relationship you should offer.

This can occur both in the case of parents and children, as in the case of couples, and leads to the following circumstances:

Avoidance Attachment

It is a kind of emotional detachment. The avoidants are generated, for example in the family nucleus when the mother or the father is not available repeatedly or rejects the child, or when he approaches the child and is not emotionally stable. In this case the child adapts to the adult avoiding closeness and emotional connection with the parent. The emotional relationship between the two usually has a sterile quality, it is as if the father or mother did not enjoy the child and the child feels this lack of connection. It is not a kind of anxious attachment, these children are relaxed, because they feel that there is no need to try, convinced that they will not get what they need. People with this pattern express their discomfort by discounting or devaluing the importance of relationships. They inhibit emotions and express their anger by pulling people away. Basically avoiding intimacy. It's not that they do it all the time but it does have an avoidant pattern.

Ambivalent anxious attachment

In children it is generated due to the inconsistency in the emotional abilities of their caregivers. Because parents offer us confidence in the cost of their responses, children end up not generating expectations of response. The father or mother is usually anxious, unpredictable and the child does not find a support in that figure so that the child never finishes finding a figure with which to form a secure attachment, because it always seems to him in some way that he will Leave. Finally, children who generate anxious-ambivalent attachment styles are they seek the proximity of the primary figure and at the same time resist being reassured by them. They mix attachment behaviors with expressions of protest, anger and resistance. This is because their parents proceeded inconsistently, they were sensitive and warm on some occasions and cold and insensitive on others. These behavior patterns lead the child to insecurity about the availability of his attachment figure when they need it.

Disorganized attachment

The disorganized attachment is a behavior that is generated, like the previous ones, as a result of the attitudes that the parents show to the child in their day to day. The disorganized attachment appears after experiencing a accumulation of disproportionate or inappropriate responses by their caregivers. The exaggerated behavior of the adult disorients the child, does not give him security and generates additional anxiety. It is one of the most frequent in children victims of fear caused by situations of abuse, in which the child feels that there is no useful organized strategy to end situations in which he is attacked (beaten, insulted, vexed ...) or treated in a highly incongruous manner, being constantly at the mercy of the behavioral changes of their parents.

Just as in the avoidance attachment the child adapts by withdrawing from the interaction and disconnecting emotionally from the caregiver so as not to lose the attachment figure totally, and the anxious-ambivalent chooses to hyperactivate and increase the attachment behaviors to maintain this figure, the a child who develops a disorganized attachment is due to terror invading him since none of the above strategies is truly effective, since he is in a paradox without solution: he can neither approach nor avoid or escape the attachment figure that It hurts.

The problems of insecure attachment

When a child suffers from insecure attachment, some problems occur both in the short and long term. These problems have their own stages of development.. It should be mentioned that these problems also appear in couple relationships, although in a more subtle way since they are two adults.

Short term problems

In the short term, the problems that appear due to insecure attachment are stress, agitation and depression, and the phases that follow are the following:

  1. Protest phase: It is given between the hour and the week of the caregiver's absence. In this case, the child (or the couple) struggles to recover the figure, either with tears, with screaming or with WhatsApp messages. If the encounter with the figure occurs, the attachment is reinforced and the rejection of strangers is accentuated.
  2. Ambivalence or despair phase: In this phase there is an ambivalence towards the new caregivers. This phase is characterized by the loss of hope in recovering the previous care. During this phase, regressive behaviors and substitute symptoms increase. If the figure appears during this phase, there may be disinterest or hostility, which will be more serious the more time has passed.
  3. Adaptation or detachment phase: During this phase, the child (or the couple) shows interest in their surroundings again, forgetting the original attachment figures. You can establish new emotional bonds with the new caregivers.

Long term problems

In the long term, in the event that the child does not adapt to the situation or is unable to establish new attachment figures, the problems can be much more serious. There may be an intellectual delay focused on language, social problems or even mortality.

In the case of relationships, there can be a strong depression, with all the consequences that implies.

As you can see, insecure attachment is a real problem that occurs in both children and couples, and it is convenient to know what it is to be able to recognize it and try to put a brake on it as soon as possible.