How to Heal Disorganized Attachment: Self-Regulation Tips

disorganized attachment style - relationship triggers

When considering how to heal disorganized attachment, it’s essential to understand how to self regulate emotions and actions. However, adults with a disorganized attachment style may find self-regulation difficult.

This article covers the typical triggers for the disorganized attachment style as well as how someone with this style emotionally responds to them unhealthily, as well as tips for self-regulating emotions in more balanced ways.

It does so by covering the following topics:

  • What self-regulation is
  • How someone with secure attachment responds to emotional triggers
  • How disorganized attachment style develops in childhood
  • Why disorganized children struggle to regulate their emotions in a healthy way
  • How an adult with disorganized attachment responds to situations that trigger them
  • The common situations that might trigger someone with a disorganized attachment style
  • Self-regulation tips for healing your disorganized attachment style, or for helping someone with disorganized attachment

Healing disorganized attachment through healthy self-regulation

Healing disorganized attachment requires effective self-regulation strategies, but people with this attachment style were not modeled healthy self-regulation as children, so they often struggle as adults to understand how to balance their emotions.

Self-regulation is the ability to control your emotions and the actions that you take in response to them according to what is appropriate for the situation at hand. This ability is the key to successfully maintaining healthy relationships, problem-solving when there’s a conflict, and having a stable sense of self-confidence.

What not many people know is that our ability to control our emotions, as well as how we respond to them, is influenced by our attachment style. Therefore, whereas it’s important to understand when to trust our emotions, it’s equally important to know when our attachment style is influencing how we self-regulate.

Secure Attachment Style Self-Regulation

Having a secure attachment doesn’t mean that you’re in total control of your emotions, but securely attached people can typically self-regulate healthily. This means that they’re more likely to be empathetic and sensitive to their own and other peoples’ emotions and can set appropriate boundaries.

Such a skillset makes securely attached people more likely to feel emotionally stable and satisfied in their intimate and close relationships: They’re comfortable being in a couple, but also secure enough to be by themselves.

6 ways that a securely attached person might respond to an emotionally provoking situation:

  1. Being aware of how their emotions and thoughts influence each other
  2. Writing down what they think and feel
  3. Trying meditation or therapy
  4. Exercising to relieve stress and increase endorphins
  5. Practicing being aware of their thoughts when they’re emotional
  6. Removing themselves from an emotional situation if it is becoming uncontrollable

However, the way that someone with a disorganized attachment style self-regulates might look quite different…

*Bear in mind that attachment styles are often incorrectly seen as rigid. Even though they do have stable traits, it doesn’t mean that you will automatically fill every criterion because you have this attachment style–some elements might apply to you, but others might not.*

Healing disorganized attachment through healthy self-regulation

Disorganized Attachment Style

How does disorganized attachment develop in childhood?

A child might develop a disorganized attachment style (referred to as fearful-avoidant attachment in childhood) if their caregiver(s) repeatedly doesn’t meet their needs, such as responding appropriately to their child’s feelings or expressions of distress. A child might also develop this attachment style if their caregiver acts frighteningly towards them or others, or is abusive. Such acts don’t just happen every once in a while, but instead it’s their go-to pattern of behavior.

For example, on the first day of Kindergarten, a child might react fearfully to being left alone with unfamiliar people. Instead of soothing the child, their caregiver might shout at them or punish them to get them to stop crying. As a result, the child might not feel safe expressing their emotions.

Ultimately, the child ends up feeling perplexed about their caregiver: They simultaneously love them and crave their affection, but also fear them.

Adults with a disorganized attachment style may react in the following ways when their emotional attachment system is triggered:

  • Seeing relationships as threatening
  • Having difficulties with opening up to their loved ones
  • Reporting that they don’t feel anything or have emotions
  • Behaving unpredictably when faced with an emotional situation
  • Responding to emotional situations with angry outbursts
  • Experiencing difficulties with trusting others with their feelings
  • Deciding not to show outward expressions of emotions
  • Pushing for closeness because deep down they want to feel loved and safe with their partners

Depending on the person’s individual circumstances, the situations that trigger them can be aligned with either the anxious-preoccupied or avoidant-dismissive attachment styles. They may either withdraw from emotional situations or become overly emotional in a bid for affection and closeness. Behavior such as this is highly damaging to an intimate relationship, so it’s clear that if a disorganized attacher wants to establish and maintain healthy relationships, they need to learn healthier ways to self-regulate.

Fortunately, with some practice, it is possible to gain control over our emotions–even if you have a disorganized attachment style. Being open to communication, challenging your inner-critic, and considering therapy can help you to manage your emotions in a healthy and constructive way.

Self-Regulation to Help Overcome Disorganized Attachment

Many people wonder how to heal disorganized attachment. Whereas healing disorganized attachment requires more than self-regulation, it’s still a great place to start. Self-regulation means that you manage your emotions and actions in regard to what you want in the long-run, so basically, it means thinking about what you desire out of the situation before you act. To do so, you may need to understand the typical relationship triggers in relationships for the disorganized attachment style–as well as how you usually respond to these triggers.

8 emotional triggers for adults with a disorganized attachment style

A partner acting in one of the following ways may trigger an unhealthy emotional response for someone with a disorganized attachment style:

  • Behaving inconsistently (anxious dimension)
  • Seeming distant or distracted (anxious dimension)
  • Forgetting important events, such as a birthday or anniversary (anxious dimension)
  • Coming home late or failing to notice something new (e.g. a new haircut) (anxious dimension)
  • Attempting to become emotionally close (avoidant dimension)
  • Acting unpredictable and making a situation feel out-of-control (avoidant dimension)
  • Requiring dependence in the relationship (avoidant dimension)
  • Confronting them with intensity or creating an emotional situation (avoidant dimension)

Have a think about these triggers. Do you find that you identify more the anxious triggers or the avoidant ones? If you’re anxiously triggered, then you might try to self-soothe by attempting to grow closer to your partner. However, if you identify more with the avoidant triggers, then you might self-soothe by taking space away from a loved one.

Healthy self-regulation when you have a disorganized attachment style

Regardless of whether someone with a disorganized attachment style identifies more with the anxious or avoidant dimensions of attachment, healthy self-regulation or self-soothing for the disorganized attachment style typically results in one of the following responses to triggers:

  • Acknowledging that their attachment system is triggered and why
  • Actively choosing to respond in a balanced way
  • Employing self-soothing strategies
  • Resisting repressing your emotions
  • Not allowing emotions to explode in angry outbursts
  • Feeling safe expressing needs and desires to loved ones
  • Trusting others to not hurt or abuse them
  • Trusting in themselves to make healthy choices

Six self-regulation tips for disorganized attachment

The following tips are useful if you want to overcome a disorganized attachment style or if you are wondering how to help someone with disorganized attachment.

1. Recognize the role of your attachment style

Your attachment style plays a large role in the situations that upset you and how you respond to them. Self-awareness includes educating yourself on your triggers and how your system is primed to react to these triggers in certain ways. Once you recognize these triggers and reactions you can self-soothe by actively noticing when your emotions are escalating and choosing to respond in more healthy, balanced ways.

2. Practice communicating your feelings

Constructively discussing your feelings is a more functional way of managing emotions than repressing them or allowing them to explode. It can also help strengthen the bond of a relationship as you’re demonstrating trust in the other person.

For example, instead of holding your anger in and directing it towards yourself, or else allowing it to explode at your partner, you recognize that you’re starting to feel angry and clearly communicate it to your partner in the following ways.

4 examples on how to communicate to your partner when you are angry (for people with disorganized attachment):

“I feel upset, and here’s why___________. You might struggle to understand, but for some reason, it really bothers me.”

“Would you mind if I took a little time to wind down? When __ happened I started to feel angry, so I need to take a little time to myself.”

“I feel hurt. I know that you probably didn’t intend that, but I’m worried about our relationship because of _.”

“Would you mind staying in more frequent contact with me so that this doesn’t happen again?”

3. Take personal space when you need it

If you find that you align more with the traits of an avoidant attacher, then you might find that you will still need to take personal space in order to manage your emotions.

And that’s perfectly fine. Taking emotional space in a relationship when a conflict is starting to escalate is probably the constructive thing to do–it may even help the relationship to grow.

If you sense that an argument is building, you could say to your partner;

“Look, things are getting a little heated at the moment. Can we take a break for a couple of minutes and talk about things after?”

Here are some more things that someone with disorganized attachment could say in a relationship if they need space, but don’t want to create friction:

“I am grateful that you’re always there for me, and when I feel ready, I promise that I’ll talk to you about this.”

“I understand that it’s really important for us to discuss this, but I feel like I need a couple of minutes to clear my head. Can we talk about this then? I’ll be able to open up about it with some time.”

“There are so many positives about us as a couple. Let’s take a breather and come back together to talk about them.”

Try to be mindful that whereas these scripts would be effective with a securely attached person, an anxious attacher might find them triggering to their emotions because they desire closeness to another person, so expressing a need for space is a cause of fear for them.

4. Challenge your inner critic

Distrust of others and feeling like loved ones will judge or reject you for expressing emotions is compounded by the way someone with a disorganized attachment style thinks–their inner critic. Someone with this attachment style may maladatively cope with triggers by repressing their feelings, because they tell themselves that others might leave them for expressing what they really feel.

First of all, it may be helpful to learn how to identify these thoughts, as they may only be partly conscious (This guide on recognizing negative automatic thoughts from Harvard University may help. Then challenge them by learning to agree to disagree with them. Think of times when there was evidence to prove the opposite of the thought.

For example, if you think “I can’t let them know what I really feel–they’ll think I’m looking for attention and just use it against me,” try to think of a time when someone that you cared about was really there for you. Doing so can help you to realize that your inner critic isn’t always right.

How to heal disorganized attachment with therapy

5. Practice open communication and take time to think about your needs

Someone with disorganized attachment might have difficulty expressing their needs to their loved ones because they fear a negative response. Communicating your needs clearly and effectively takes some practice, so be gentle and kind to yourself.

Take some time to think about what your needs are and how best to express them to your partner (it might be worth noting their attachment style for this).

Using “I” statements and keeping a calm tone of voice will prevent your partner from feeling offended. Be gentle towards them and yourself during this process. In time, you will learn that talking about your feelings is better than bottling them up.

6. Try therapy

Therapy is a great way for you to figure out your unhealthy ways of self-regulating as well as why you’re doing it. Together with a therapist, you can work through your attachment triggers and brainstorm some healthy ways of dealing with your emotions that won’t damage you or your relationship.

If you prefer to go the route of a workbook, we recently released our first series of attachment style digital workbooks.

Disorganized Attachment Workbook

Disorganized Attachment Workbook

If your relationships often take you on an emotional rollercoaster, this book might just be the step you need to take to begin your journey to positive change!

Our new disorganized attachment digital workbook includes:

  • 193 pages with 36 practical exercises
  • How disorganized attachment affects you in over 10 different areas of life
  • Groundbreaking and up-to-date research on disorganized attachment
  • An easy-to-digest intro to attachment theory
  • Case studies, summaries, and reflection sections

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