What It’s Like To Have an Attachment Disorder

Imagine yourself working on a 1000 piece puzzle. Like any strategic puzzle solver, you separate the outside pieces from the middle ones. Once that is completed, you connect the corners and outside edges for the frame. Now comes the hard part, when you have the remainder 985 pieces to figure out how they all place. You pick up one piece and try to start jamming it in several spots, then grow tiresome and throw it, only to find yourself picking it up and trying again. This cycle happens over and over again and eventually you give up.
The same puzzle of life plays into teens who have attachment issues. These teens begin to forcefully jam her relationships into places that don’t quite fit and then the next moment they throw it all away.
As I think about attachment disorders in teens, there has always been an usual mixture of anxiety, anger, and hopelessness. Deeper in each teen is an innocent girl begging to be loved, to feel a deeper connection, but lost on how to get there.

Healing Attachment Disorder in Teens

A particular girl that taught me personally about attachment disorders is “Ruby” (not her real name). Ruby had a rough background, which I believe explained all the anger built up within. While she was undergoing attachment disorder treatment, I was truly convinced that she hated anyone who came in contact with her. That was until one day, as all the parents came to visit for parent weekend, I noticed that Ruby was one of the few who would still be with staff. Looking into her eyes, I realized that Ruby had so much hurt and longing to belong in her eyes. Then it all clicked. Ruby’s attachment disorder created so much fear of rejection that she pushed anyone away that got close. Ruby had tried to force her puzzle pieces together so often that she had given up trying.
I must not have been the only one to see this because from that day on, I noticed the girls and staff start to challenge Ruby on the “push-pull” pattern is often a part of attachment disorders. After multiple power struggles, eye rolling, and isolating, Ruby started to come around. Her self-worth was heightened and she became more vulnerable in her community. Soon after, she became a leader with her peers and started to teach others how to manage their anxiety in relationships.
As Ruby’s days at Sunrise were coming to a close, I observed how much change and growth she accomplished. One day that stood out was watching Ruby talk with another girl who was struggling with the same attachment disorder problems. The girl had been refusing all day and pushing away every relationship she could. Ruby just walked up, gave the girl a hug, and cried. It was so powerful because, at that moment, Ruby was able to release all the anger and fear of rejection.

Life After Attachment Disorder

Ruby said there were three things about Sunrise and the relationships she formed that she didn’t think she would have:

  1. Family
  2. Home
  3. Love

Ruby had accepted herself and allowed herself to finally be free. It was such a phenomenal experience to watch Ruby in her Sunrise journey as she discovered her true self and accepted the love both from her community and the love within.
So whenever you are dealing with attachment disorders in teens, it takes consistency, tough boundaries, and a whole lot of love. At first, it may feel like you’re walking blind, knee deep in mud. But if you are willing to be patient and work on the “puzzle” with your teen, you all will be able to see the beautiful picture it was always intended to create.

Taylor Amosa is a Residential Supervisor at Sunrise Residential Treatment Center