This is a very real topic, and one that is hard to think about. Most people think about attachment related to infants. Healthy attachment to caregivers gives kids the stepping stones that they need to be successful in life. As kids grow up, they learn to trust others through healthy attachments, and they go off into the world able to manage relationships well. What happens to kids who didn’t get that attachment? How do they do? How does this disorder look when those children reach adulthood?
When I started my career, I worked in the foster care system. I started seeing many kids with attachment issues, and started doing research. Over the years, there have been more studies, and more information coming out, but the focus became that first 3-5 years of a child’s life, when they are totally dependent on parents or caregivers to get what they needed. What I learned during that time in my career I have carried with me for many years, and it still helps me today, when I work with patients.
A child’s ability to feel safe starts with their needs being met by parents. They learn that they will be fed, changed, cared for and loved. They begin to trust the caregiver, and believe that the caregiver will be there for them to care for them. That gives them the courage and ability to explore and learn new things, try new things, and grow. It affects brain development, other developmental skills, and even their mental health. I know what you are thinking, but studies have been done on infants related to mental health and it’s amazing to watch.
So what happens to the child that is neglected? They struggle, on so many levels. Neglect happens in a range and can be as simple as a caregiver who is emotionally unavailable, to the child that is left in a crib for hours, with wet or dirty diapers, or hungry with no response. These children suffer from mental health problems, relationship problems, problems in school, and problems in life. They struggle to trust and connect to other people, feeling that they are alone. They lack empathy for others and take lives without concerns, and are often misdiagnosed with depression, anxiety, ADHD, or defiance.
I hope that all children are loved and cared for so they never have these issues, but it happens more that I would like to admit. I have provided support to so many families raising kids with attachment issues and it has to be one of the hardest mental health issues to treat, but it is so rewarding when it works. Make no mistake, if you have this issue in your family, get support from a therapist that is trained in Attachment work. It is very specialized and a therapist who is not trained can do more harm than good.
As children grow into adults, they struggle in job settings, social settings, and college settings. They have trouble connecting with other people. They may have anger issues, or many other aggressive issues, and end up in jail or in the prison system. They will struggle until they find someone to trust, that will stick with them while they try to push them away. It’s a hard road, but it can be done.
Attachment disorders are a struggle for anyone, whether it’s the person with the disorder or the family trying to provide support. It requires therapy, support, patience, and time (usually years, even with the support of multiple professionals). If you or someone you know is struggling with this issues, get help as soon as possible. Don’t wait. It won’t get better with time. If fact, it can get worse. It’s the only way that you can bring happiness back to your family.