Attachment disorder can influence maladaptive behaviors. The most significant relationship in shaping mental health is the relationship formed between children and their primary caregiver(s). These relationships, to a large degree, determine who we will be as adults. Adolescents who did not have securely attached relationships as infants and children may suffer from attachment disorder. Attachment disorder in teenagers often manifests as low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety, which can lead to self-destructive behaviors such as substance use, promiscuity, eating disorders, and cutting.
What is Attachment Disorder?
Attachment disorder refers to a number of mood, behavior, and social issues that stem from a failure to form normal attachments with a primary caregiver in childhood. This can result in ongoing mental health issues even when the child reaches adolescence and adulthood. In addition, a child who is severely neglected or abused can suffer from a serious form of attachment disorder known as Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). RAD symptoms include lack of eye contact, self-destructive behavior, lack of conscience, lying, preoccupation with fire, cruelty to animals, and poor impulse control.
Attachment disorders are typically caused by either emotional enmeshment or physical or emotional abandonment in early childhood. In emotional enmeshment, the parent or caregiver looks to the child to fulfill their emotional needs. Emotional abandonment is when the parent or caregiver is unable to meet the needs of the child due to preoccupation with their own or another person’s needs. A parent’s mental health issues or substance abuse can be a reason for emotional abandonment of a child.
To start with, attachment disorder symptoms or RAD behavior need to be stopped, so the teen can start practicing new, positive behaviors. To heal attachment disorder, teens need to build self-esteem, with the support of mental health professionals. From there, they can learn to create authentic connections and relationships based on mutual trust, safety, and respect.