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Trouble Forming Emotional Attachments

by dwalcutt

For as long as I can remember people have been telling me I am depressed.  When I was young – in my teenage years- I tried counseling and complained that I was worried I didn’t know how to make friends or form emotional attachments to people.  This has continued even though I am now on medication for depression.  The only difference seems to be that I am now able to articulate what seems wrong.

Problem:  A lack of attachment.  I have friends, and they act like friends do, but where they seem to have an emotional attachment to me, I don’t feel anything.  I’ve been trying to talk through this with some of them, and mostly get that I should talk to a professional.  I have taken the time to look at everything around me to try and feel some attachment to something, some sentiment from things I own, and I still feel no attachment.  This worries me.

Question(s):  What could be wrong with me?  Could I simply have not learned how to make these connections?  Should I see a professional, and if so what type?

Hello, and thank you for your question. You may have what we would call an “Attachment Disorder” and these often begin in very early childhood.

According to Wikipedia, “Attachment disorder is a broad term intended to describe disorders of mood, behavior, and social relationships arising from a failure to form normal attachments to primary care giving figures in early childhood. Such a failure would result from unusual early experiences of neglect, abuse, abrupt separation from caregivers between 6 months and three years of age, frequent change or excessive numbers of caregivers, or lack of caregiver responsiveness to child communicative efforts resulting in a lack of basic trust. A person’s attachment style is permanently established before the age of three. A problematic history of social relationships occurring after about age three may be distressing to a child, but does not result in attachment disorder. The term attachment disorder is used to describe emotional and behavioral problems of young children, and also applied to school-age children, teenagers and adults. The specific difficulties implied depend on the age of the individual being assessed, and a child’s attachment-related behaviors may be very different with one familiar adult than with another, suggesting that the disorder is within the relationship and interactions of the two people rather than an aspect of one or the other personality. No list of symptoms can legitimately be presented but generally the term attachment disorder refers to the absence or distortion of age appropriate social behaviors with adults. For example, in a toddler, attachment-disordered behavior could include a failure to stay near familiar adults in a strange environment or to be comforted by contact with a familiar person, whereas in a six-year-old attachment-disordered behavior might involve excessive friendliness and inappropriate approaches to strangers.”

It could be that you were separated from one or both parents physically, or that Mom was depressed or Dad was emotionally distant. The result is often the same; we don’t learn how to attach and form deep trusting bonds when we are “supposed to” that is, in infancy and early childhood.

That doesn’t mean that a therapist can’t help you. One trained in this kind of problem can teach you how to trust more, risk relationships more and find deeply intimate and wonderful connections with people, but you can’t do this on your own.

You have identified the cause, and you need help in learning how to do this on our own. You can find a therapist at PsychologyToday.com one who is in your area and takes your insurance or offers a sliding scale. The same therapist will likely be able to help you with your depression as well.

Best of luck,

Dr. Diana Walcutt

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