How is attachment related to trauma?

In past videos I have talked about attachment styles, and reactive attachment disorder, and you can click the links in the description to learn more about those topics! But today we are talking specifically about trauma and how (or why) it’s linked to attachment issues. All attachment disorders fall under the DSM umbrella called “Trauma and stressor-related disorders” meaning that attachment issues are most often caused by trauma or stress in childhood. This umbrella also covers reactive attachment disorder, disinhibited social engagement disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), acute stress disorder, and adjustment disorders. They also placed this chapter near anxiety disorders, OCD & related disorders, and dissociative disorders because they believe there is a close relationship between all of those diagnoses.
Now let’s get into why trauma and attachment are connected.
Attachment is defined as: the emotional bond that is formed between objects in order to establish a sense of security and safety. And although attachment begins in infancy, the need for “attachment relationships” continues throughout our life, meaning that once we have a safe and secure attachment to our mother or primary caregiver, we will also seek out friends and other family members to support us and help us figure out who we are. Even if we are traumatized, having safe and secure attachment to many caregivers in our life can help us be more resilient and overcome the trauma more quickly.
That in a nutshell is why attachment is linked to trauma. When we are children and something scary happens, we run to the person or persons who can make us feel safe. Having that secure and healthy attachment to a caregiver gives us that safe place, but if we never had that connection, we don’t know where to go to feel safe. And in turn, the world can become a very terrifying place. Many of my patients who grew up with an emotionally neglectful, or abusive mother or father have reported that when something scary happened they found themselves frozen, unable to move or fight there way out of it.
Being in that frozen state leaves us more vulnerable to trauma. If we are unable to fight or run away from a scary or potentially harmful situation, we could get hurt.
I also want to add in that even if our primary caregiver is there for us and we healthfully attach, if we are then subjected to repeated trauma (at the hands of someone else) we can feel that no one and nowhere is safe, and in essence exhibit all the symptoms of someone who never had a healthy attachment. Just something to keep in mind, because attachment issues can be exacerbated by trauma or even created by it.

I know that’s a lot of information to take in, but I hope that helps you better understand the link between trauma and attachment. In a way not having a healthy attachment can leave us more vulnerable to trauma, and being traumatized can affect our ability to feel connected and safe with our primary caregiver.

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My video on RAD:
My video on Attachment Styles:
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