This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Adult Attachment Disorders: Dismissive

Child: Anxious Avoidant attachment.
Adult: Dismissive Attachment

As infants and young children, children with Anxious Avoidant attachment usually grew up in environments where their parents were not able to provide them with consistent and reliable emotional support, although their functional needs were met (ex. food, clothing, educational opportunities...). They grew up in an emotional void. They learned how to shut down their needs for care and comfort by focusing on play and exploration (ex. sports, school, music, working...) because it was too distressing to keep reaching out and not receive the love and support they needed. They were praised for their competence.

As adults they cope with distress by fending for themselves, focusing on achievement, shutting off dependency needs, and just carrying on. They tend to be loners, regarding relationships and emotions as being relatively unimportant. Their typical response to interpersonal conflict and stressful situations is to avoid them by distancing themselves (or organizing them). They have a difficult time with letting people in; they do not trust that others will really be there for them when they need them. It is comforting/ soothing for them to be by themselves. Their lives are not balanced: they are inward and isolated, and emotionally removed from themselves and others.

They desire a high level of independence, which often appears as an attempt to avoid attachment altogether. They view themselves as self-sufficient and invulnerable to the feelings associated with being closely attached to others. They often deny needing close relationships and seek less intimacy. They deal with rejection by distancing themselves from the sources of rejection.

{Marythemom: Obviously, this explains a lot about why I have serious difficulties in my relationship with my RAD kids who reject me constantly!}

People with a dismissive style of attachment disorder select relationships and lifestyles that prioritize work, achievement, and intellect over intimacy. Relationships with friends, parents, spouse, and children are important to them, but family and friends may complain they don't feel that important to dismissing individuals. This is because dismissing individuals value their individual strengths and abilities to solve problems over emotional connections in relationships. They are often highly successful because they can focus on problem-solving and disregard the emotional aspects of the situation.

On the whole, they seem to be strong, confident, capable people who have very little emotional distress. Negative emotions are considered private and sometimes seen as unimportant, or unnecessary, or as interfering with the problem-solving process. As a result, these emotions are often pushed aside and the individual is no longer aware of them fully. This creates a dilemma about becoming more connected emotionally to themselves and other people: to do so, they may have to first deal with their own underlying feelings of insecurity, rejection, unworthiness, sadness, and anxiety before they can be available to themselves and others.

I received the diagnosis of Dismissive Attachment Disorder when I was tested during Bear's recent intense neuropsych eval. The diagnosis does not come from dealing with my children's issues (although that has aggravated it); it comes from my childhood. I believe this diagnosis probably describes my father as well, and while my mom is an amazing woman, her bipolar disorder was not diagnosed and treated until I was in high school. There were times when she was dealing with her own mental illness and was not able to be there for her children.
I always knew I had attachment issues. This particular diagnosis surprised me though. I just assumed my attachment problem was more about trust issues, particularly with men. When we were dating, Hubby put up with a lot from me, and just wouldn't go away no matter how hard I tried to push him away. (Turns out he has a combination of Dismissive and Secure Attachment.) His staying with me no matter what has helped me heal toward an Earned Secure Attachment.
One reason I felt comfortable adopting teens, was that I assumed Hubby would be able to hang in there no matter what like he did with me and that I would be able to help the kids by emulating what Hubby did to help me. While I care about my kids, I wasn't able to feel his level of empathy. Hubby is hanging in there with the kids too but he isn't as devoted to them as he was to me.

The good thing is that my attachment issue actually helps me to approach discipline less emotionally. It is easier for me to stay calm. It is NOT helping me deal with Bear's attachment issues though. Instead I'm struggling to try to force myself to continue to connect with him. Most of the time, I just want to walk away from him.
In the letter written to me by the person that did Bear's neuropsych eval. She stated I was an excellent case manager for Bear, but I need to work on the emotional connection. We're still filling out a daily questionnaire, and one of the questions is, "How close to Bear did you feel today?" Every single day it feels wrong to answer, "Not at all" so sometimes I answer "Slightly" even though it's rarely true. I can't wait until we're done with this assessment.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your vulnerability in this matter. It has recently been suggested to me that my husband has Adult Attachment Disorder: Dismissive as well. We have been married for over 9 years, have 2 little boys (age 7 and 4) and he recently abandoned us. Everything you shared, describes him to a T. I don't doubt that he has this disorder--he was abandoned by his father at a young age and then abandoned again by his mother just before his senior year of high school. I'm writing because I'm desperate for our marriage to be restored. He cheated on me and literally RAN away and moved to another state. He has completely turned himself "off" as far as our relationship and past are concerned. I always thought we were so happy, but now, in hindsight, I realize how detached he really was. All he seems to want to do is push me and the boys away and forget about us. Would you have any advice on how I should handle our interactions going forward based on this disorder? I know your not a professional, but you may understand better than anyone I know because you have the same "disorder". thank you so much for your time.

marythemom said...

Here's some information I found on Adult attachment disorders. I'd also look at some techniques for dealing with someone who has Borderline Personality Disorder like Stop Walking on Eggshells or Asperger's Syndrome like Asperger Syndrome and Long-Term Relationships. I know that's not exactly what he has, but it does give some practical advice.

If I knew of something with great advice I'd be buying it too. Wish I could be more help. You're not the only person who asked my advice on this, but I don't have an answer.

Adult Attachment
Adult Attachment Disorder Cognitive Therapy with Attachment Challenged Adults by Margaret Meinecke, LCSW, CAC III
Adult Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Implications by W. Steven Rholes PhD (Editor), Jeffry A. Simpson PhD
Adult Attachment Issues Evergreen Consultants
Adult Attachment Problems and Treatment Evergreen Psychotherapy Center
Adult Attachment (SAGE Series on Close Relationships) by Judith A. Feeney (Author), Patricia Noller
Attachment Disorder - The "Child's" Point Of View by Kathy Gordon - from the ADSG
Attachment from Infancy to Adulthood: The Major Longitudinal Studies Klaus E. Grossmann PhD (Editor), Karin Grossmann PhD (Editor), Everett Waters PhD (Editor)
Attachment Theory and Research in Clinical Work with Adults by Joseph H. Obegi PsyD (Editor), Ety Berant PhD (Editor)
Attachments: Why You Love, Feel, and Act the Way You Do by Tim Clinton (Author), Gary Sibcy (Author)
Clinical Applications of the Adult Attachment The Developmental Needs Meeting Strategy (DNMS): An Ego State Therapy for Healing Adults with Childhood Trauma and Attachment Wounds by Shirley Jean Schmidt LPC DNMS Developer
Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy for Adults and Couples Dr. Arthur Becker-Weidman
Interview Howard Steele (Editor), Miriam Steele
Intensive Adult Attachment Therapy Institute for Attachment and Child Development
Parenting From the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell
How many parents have found themselves thinking: I can't believe I just said to my child the very thing my parents used to say to me! Am I just destined to repeat the mistakes of my parents? In Parenting from the Inside Out, child psychiatrist Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and early childhood expert Mary Hartzell, M.Ed., explore the extent to which our childhood experiences actually do shape the way we parent. Drawing upon stunning new findings in neurobiology and attachment research, they explain how interpersonal relationships directly impact the development of the brain, and offer parents a step-by-step approach to forming a deeper understanding of their own life stories, which will help them raise compassionate and resilient children.
Marythemom: This book had some exercises in it that helped me access and address my own childhood trauma – which helped me become a better parent to my traumatized children.

Patterns of Relating: An Adult Attachment Perspective Malcolm L. West PhD, Adrienne E. Sheldon-Keller PhD

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your comments on this matter. My son has been researching issues his fiancé has been suffering through and left me a note stating that through his research on his fiancé's issues (problem solver that he is), he feels he has this disorder and wants help to deal with it. At first, I was hurt and wanted to blame myself as a failure as his mother. While I was nurturing mother and bonded with him as a baby, I do have to admit that I probably wasn't the effective nurturer during his and his sister's childhood due to his father's substance abuse addiction. I became focused on that- dealing with it, protecting them from it,(I thought) and providing for my children in the disaster of living in that environment until I finally divorced his father when he was 14. I became focused on survival, returning to college to provide for them, and then working non-stop to keep a roof over their heads. That didn't leave much time for them. In this I am saddened at the after effects for them. His sister is OCD, and goes untreated, and now he feels that he has this disorder. Although I can fully see this in reflecting, he is self-diagnosing, which is dangerous, I know, and reflecting on how he responds to myself, his sister, and his step-father (who by the way is a very healthy person, but is pushed away by my son at every attempt he does to establish a relationship with him, since we married when he was 16). My son is now 22, working full time, and going to school but very distant. On the outside, looking in, a very good guy and very responsible. He wants help and said he doesn't want to continue this way...pushing me and my husband, his sister and soon-to-be wife away, like he does, by his problem-solving and intellectualizing everything. I am not sure which direction to send him - a psychologist, psychiatrist or Licensed Counselor...any thoughts would be appreciated. Not certain how this is treated and he is very anti-medication. Also, what part can we play as a family in helping him? Thank you for your time!

Anonymous said...

Before researching your attachment style, there is good evidence that being an introvert actually DOES make a person feel better with one on one personal enounters. Not everyone is an extrovert or even an ambivert, and it's important not to portray any of the expressive styles as abnormal just because the current trend in psychology circles is to favor the extrovert/herd profile over other valid expressions of self. Just sayin'.

marythemom said...

Anonymous #2 - sorry I somehow missed this comment. Maybe because I don't really know what to say. I do know your son doesn't need a psychiatrist, especially since he's anti-med - that's what they do, prescribe meds. You probably need a counselor who specializes in attachment issues. I like this website to find therapists, because you can search by specialties, insurance, even gender!

Anonymous #3 - I'm not sure what you are referring to - most of my family are introverts so I would never portray them as abnormal! Depending on my state of mind, I've scored as an extrovert or right on the line between extrovert and introvert which I guess would be an ambivert.

Anonymous said...

There seem to be lots of things that WE as the attached react too- but how can people around us help us to not react. I find that my partner delibrately does things to push my buttons- even when I have expressed how the actions will affect me negatively if they happen etc. It is hard to 'heal' if people around you are not helping the cause...
Any suggestions?!

Anonymous said...

My comment I wrote didnt work-
We know what sets us off as the ones being 'attached'- but how do we educate those around us to stop doing what sets us off. After years of explaining how actions affect me negatively- my partner still insists of doing them- and then blames me for the reaction- when its been made clear a hundred times why I act in a certain way..

marythemom said...

I've found that the book Stop Walking on Eggshells REALLY helps me understand why the people in my life with attachment disorders act the way they do, and more importantly how to handle it. It gives lots of practical advice. (borderline personality disorder and attachment disorders are VERY similar)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this.

I'm now acknowledging I have this attachment style due to my upbringing and I'm currently working on being more open, while forgiving myself for not being previously.

It's a bit difficult currently, as I'm in my first serious relationship (in the respect that I'm present) and tons of repressed stuff is coming up. Mainly, "Why aren't you here with me?" which is a big pill to swallow.

Thanks again for sharing and opening the floor. Especially to other women.

Ronald said...

Hi Mary,

Thank you for sharing your assessment and your thoughts regarding your fostering of children.

It recently came to light for me that I have a dismissive avoidant attachment. The symptoms I read describe me almost perfectly. I thought I was plain dysfunctional, so it's nice to finally have a label :).

My question is this: do you feel tht having this type of disorder has made being a parenting figure difficult? Perhaps even alarming considering the emotional needs you may not be able to give the child? Also, in these 2 years since you wrote this, have you made any improvements on your attachment?


marythemom said...

"Do you feel tht having this type of disorder has made being a parenting figure difficult? Perhaps even alarming considering the emotional needs you may not be able to give the child? Also, in these 2 years since you wrote this, have you made any improvements on your attachment?"

Ronald -
This is something I worry about, especially with Bob, who tends to be a lot like me - independent and emotionally a little distant, but I believe some of this is also from being a first born child (which Hubby and I are too). I wish I'd known about this a long time ago, because I think I would have been more conscious of being emotionally available to my bio kids.

I've been making improvements on my attachment all along (with the help of Hubby). This "label" has just helped me focus a little more on this area.

In a lot of ways this has made me a better parent to Kitty and Bear. As they become adults, I watch a lot of my friends struggle with being "overprotective," and being emotionally devastated when their child is being dismissive - especially when that child is being destructive to themselves and others. I feel I'm able to be more objective and more of a "case manager/ coach" which at this point my children need more than a warm, cuddly mom which they can't emotionally connect to anyway.