The effects of trauma can impact any part of a person's life from infancy to adulthood. Some might not realize that their experiences even as young as two can impact their ability to form healthy attachments to others later on in life. If an individual has experienced neglect, abandonment, or abuse as an infant or a toddler, they can still experience long-lasting effects.
The Attachment Phase
Attachment trauma refers to harm that happened to a child or infant during the attachment phase. This period in development marks a point where young children learn how to develop social relationships with others, especially their caregivers. If a child has not been properly exposed to healthy attachment or care, this can affect their attachment style later in life.
How someone develops during this phase can impact how they deal with trust, bonding, and intimacy. This can determine how well they handle romantic relationships or friendships later on in life. If a person's early relationships with their caregivers were scary or nonexistent, this can cause a person to develop an insecure attachment style.
Hurt From the Very Beginning
While most people are not able to remember life before age three, it does not mean their experiences during this time did not affect their development. They might not be able to recall specific events in early childhood, but the experiences still affected how they form attachments with others.
What a child learns during initial development still affects their behaviors even if they do not remember them. For example, a child can still remember how to walk even if they do not remember learning how to walk. This can also be true with how a child learned how to form connections with others. A person might not have memories of early infancy, but the experiences still affect them psychologically.
Attachment trauma is not necessarily due to deliberate neglect or abuse.
Sometimes infants that were separated from their mothers in early childhood due to medical reasons can develop attachment trauma. Regardless of the cause, the effect still needs to be addressed in order for a person's “inner infant” to heal.
How It’s Different From Other Traumas
This specific type of trauma is defined by the part of the person’s life in which it occurred. Since the attachment phase occurs during the first three years of a person's life, it is only attachment trauma if it occurred during this specific developmental phase.
It is different than childhood trauma that occurred later in childhood. This is similar to relational trauma in that they both involve experiences like abuse or neglect by a loved one. Unlike attachment trauma, relational trauma can happen at any life stage.
The Different Attachment Styles
Depending on an individual's early childhood experiences, they may have developed unhealthy ways of forming attachments. Not many know about attachment theory and how early development affected how they maintain relationships with others. By knowing their attachment style, an individual can begin understanding what might be holding them back and how they can properly communicate their needs and differences.
Others with different attachment styles might not understand particular patterns and an individual may behave the way they do. They might come to other conclusions that do not accurately depict what is going on.
The different attachment styles include:
Secure Attachment: This is the healthiest attachment style. These people had stable relationships with their parents or caregivers. They have good self-esteem and long-lasting stable relationships.
Ambivalent Attachment: A person with this attachment style did not feel good when parents left, but was not comforted when parents were around. As adults, they might not handle the end of relationships well and have difficulty getting closer to others.
Disorganized Attachment: As children, they showed a mixture of avoidance or resistance to the attachment. As adults, they might take on the role of a caregiver, as they did when they were children.
Avoidant Attachment: This includes fearful-avoidant and dismissive-avoidant. In their childhood, they might not have sought out connection, and as adults, they struggle with intimacy and struggle with sharing feelings with others.
How to Heal Attachment Trauma
The best way to heal attachment trauma is through therapy. There are limitations to healing attachment therapy because there is a lack of evidence in the form of memories. What a therapist can do is look at an individual's current patterns of attachment and deduce from there what might have happened in early childhood to cause them to behave the way they do.
A therapist might ask a person questions about their self-image, the image they have of others, and why they feel the way they do about interpersonal relationships. These questions can help them uncover what might have been lost in this development phase.