Eating Disorders and Attachment

Recently there has been an uprising in the amount of research done on the theory that a lack of healthy attachment in infancy plays a large roll in the development in eating disorders.

Today we will be exploring what healthy attachment looks like and how to recreate what may be lost.

One of the first recovery exercises we have our clients do is to write their Life Story. Then, we ask that they read the story of their life (birth to present day) during Process Group with the other women in the house and staff. Quite often I have noticed the consistency of the clients to have an incident of trauma early in life. The incidents vary from a mother who had PTSD, a parent that traveled consistently or was struggling with mental illness. Coincidentally there has been quite a bit of research on the roll attachment plays in the development of eating disorders. Helping our clients to heal and grow from the loss of attachment is our goal. However, repairing lost bonds is an intricate and lengthy process.

What is Attachment?

For those unfamiliar, attachment theory describes the dynamics of long-term relationships between humans. Its most important principal is that an infant needs to develop a relationship with at least one caregiver for social and emotional development to occur normally. Attachment theory came about after World War II, homeless and orphaned children presented many difficulties; psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby was asked by the UN to write a pamphlet on the matter. Later he went on to formulate attachment

Infants become attached to individuals who are sensitive and responsive in social interactions with them, and who remain consistent caregivers and protectors during the period of six months to two years of age. When an infant begins to crawl and walk they begin to use attachment figures (familiar people) as a secure base to explore from and return to the caregiver/protector. Caregivers’ responses lead to the development of certain patterns of attachment; these lead to internal working models which will guide the individual’s perceptions, emotions, thoughts and expectations in later relationships. Separation anxiety or grief following the loss of an attachment figure is considered to be a normal and adaptive response for an attached infant. These behaviors may have evolved because they increase the probability of survival of the child.

The Basics

The basics are that the style of the early attachment relationship to your primary caregiver is crucial in determining personality, values, and psychological health. Securely attached children use their caregiver as a base to explore the world and have a high trust in themselves and others. This is generally fostered by a caregiver who skillfully attends to the needs of the child. The three major insecure styles (dismissing/avoidant,preoccupied/resistant, fearful/disorganized) all have more undesirable qualities that theoretically lead to negative psychological states in adulthood. Despite the difficulty in researching the causal elements, the theory has been around forever for a reason.

Symptoms of a Child with Reactive Attachment:

*See if you recall any of the following behaviors in your childhood.

Aversion to touch and physical affection: Children with reactive attachment disorder often flinch, laugh, or even say “Ouch” when touched. Rather than producing positive feelings, touch and affection are perceived as a threat.

Control issues:  Most children with reactive attachment disorder go to great lengths to remain in control and avoid feeling helpless. They are often disobedient, defiant, and argumentative.

Anger problems:  Anger may be expressed directly, in tantrums or acting out, or through manipulative, passive-aggressive behavior. Children with reactive attachment disorder may hide their anger in socially acceptable actions, like giving a high five that hurts or hugging someone too hard.

Difficulty showing genuine care and affection: For example, children with reactive attachment disorder may act inappropriately affectionate with strangers while displaying
little or no affection towards their parents.

An underdeveloped conscience: Children with reactive attachment disorder may act like they don’t have a conscience and fail to show guilt, regret, or remorse after behaving badly.

Types of treatment for reactive attachment disorder:

Treatment:  Treatment for reactive attachment disorder usually involves a combination of therapy, counseling, and education, designed to ensure the individual has a safe living environment, develops positive interactions with others, and improves peer relationships.

Medication: While medication may be used to treat associated conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or hyperactivity, there is no quick fix for treating reactive attachment disorder.

Family Therapy: Typical therapy for attachment problems includes both the clients and his or her parents or caregivers from childhood.

Individual Psychological Counseling: Therapists meet with the client individually to help give words and understanding to the emotions they felt as a child .

Play Therapy: Such as Sand Tray, helps the inner child to re- learn appropriate skills for
interacting with peers and handling other social situations.