Many of us have someone in our lives who has trouble forming relationships with others. It might be a coworker, a distant cousin or a neighbor. These individuals don’t seem to have anyone close to them. And even when you’ve tried to establish a bond with them, you’ve felt pushed away. You may have wondered why some people are like this.
It could be the condition known as reactive attachment disorder (RAD). This disorder typically develops in childhood, but a person can continue to display symptoms of RAD as an adult. Unfortunately, due to a lack of public knowledge, adults with RAD are often seen as weird, aloof, cold or introverted.
How Does Reactive Attachment Disorder Develop?
Reactive attachment disorder occurs when a child or infant doesn’t form a healthy, strong bond with their parents or caregivers. Typically, this happens because the child is neglected, mistreated or not held enough. Children with RAD disorder often have trouble expressing and controlling their emotions. As these formative years are critical in shaping who a person becomes, RAD can have a long-lasting impact.
RAD disorder can continue into adulthood and cause problems with relationship-building. Adults with RAD have difficulty forming romantic and platonic relationships. And if they can’t create meaningful bonds with others, they don’t get to experience positive, collaborative relationships.
RAD is one of many types of attachment disorders. One study of the general population found that only about 1.4% of people have reactive attachment disorder. This rare disorder is considered a severe stress-and-trauma response condition. RAD is often misdiagnosed as other conditions, such as autism, which can delay proper treatment.
Relationships are a significant source of happiness and comfort in people’s lives. If left undiagnosed and untreated, RAD can continue to negatively impact a person’s ability to live a happy, fulfilled life.
Symptoms of Reactive Attachment Disorder in Adults
The symptoms of RAD can change over time from childhood to adulthood.
Children with RAD may display the following symptoms:
- Not turning to their parents or caregivers in times of fear or need
- Having no response at the rare times the caregiver does show nurturing
- Not having an interest in being social with others
- Displaying negative emotions (sadness, fear, anger) at inappropriate times
- Reactive abuse — lashing out at the person who’s hurting them
Adults with reactive attachment disorder can show these signs and symptoms of their condition:
- Difficulty managing their emotions
- Low self-esteem and self-worth
- Lack of empathy
- Inability to show emotions of consciousness (guilt, remorse, regret)
- Difficulty establishing and maintaining relationships
- Behavioral issues (anger, impulsivity)
- Difficulty showing affection
- Control issues
- Distrust of others
- Feelings of emptiness and loneliness
- Lack of a sense of belonging
Causes of RAD
Being loved and cared for at an early age teaches children how to develop relationships. Reactive attachment disorder can develop when a child doesn’t receive adequate love, attention and caring. It’s seen in children who’ve lived in orphanages or moved around between foster homes. It also occurs in those who’ve been abused or removed from their primary caregiver.
Risk factors of RAD are seen in these examples of poor caretaking:
- Leaving an infant in a dirty diaper for hours
- Allowing a child to go hungry frequently
- Not comforting a child who’s in distress (e.g., allowed to cry for hours)
- Ignoring a baby for hours at a time
- Teaching a child that the only time they get attention is when they act out
- A home environment where a child is emotionally or physically neglected and abused
Symptoms of Reactive Attachment Disorder in Adults
The main symptom of RAD in adults is the inability to form meaningful, long-lasting relationships. At work or school, the inability to form relationships can hinder a person’s progress and ability to excel. In their personal life, a lack of close relationships can lead to depression, anxiety and poor anger management.
Typically, the individual wants to form relationships but can’t seem to make them work. Ultimately, this is due to a deep-seated feeling that they don’t deserve love and friendship since they never received it as a child.
Other signs of RAD in adults include:
- Eating disorders
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Learning disorders
- Behavioral disorders
Treatment Options for RAD
Reactive attachment disorder in adults is highly treatable with the right therapy. In therapy, the individual has to come to terms with their childhood and understand that none of what occurred was their fault. They must acknowledge how much that childhood trauma has negatively impacted them as an adult. Individual counseling can focus on repairing broken family bonds and learning to create new healthy relationships. If a person wants to confront and restore their family relationships, they can also enroll in family therapy.
Individuals with RAD are at greater risk for substance abuse or addiction. This means they may need to seek treatment for a co-occurring disorder. Although this can complicate matters as there are two challenges to overcome, it’s vital to address both. It may even be beneficial to choose a treatment program that lets them focus on both conditions simultaneously.
FHE Health Can Help
Reactive attachment disorder in adults doesn’t have to be a lifelong condition. Treatment is possible and can bring real results that make a difference in a person’s life. If you or someone you know is struggling with RAD, the mental health specialists at FHE can help. Start your journey toward recovery today by calling (844) 299-0618.