attachment issues and young adults

Overcoming Attachment Issues as a Young Adult

Throughout adolescence, attachment issues stemming from insecure attachment in childhood may manifest through frequent fighting with parents and a desire to be more independent, which may seem like a normal part of being a teenager living at home. As a young adult, attachment issues may begin to affect other relationships in one’s life. Young adults who are preoccupied with their social struggles often carry around a sense of shame and lack a stable sense of self that can reinforce feelings of depression and anxiety.

Types of Attachment Issues 

Anxious attachment styles may include:

  • Feelings of anger or helplessness in relationships
  • Anxiety around and mistrusting of strangers
  • Separation anxiety 
  • Reluctance to get close to others
  • Fear of rejection and abandonment
  • Desire for attention and validation

Avoidant attachment styles may include:

  • Social isolation
  • Overestimating self-reliance
  • Emotional detachment or lack of emotional awareness
  • Unwillingness to be vulnerable with others
  • Fear of being clingy or needy
  • Being more likely to seek out relationships but stay at a distance or avoid them altogether 

Disorganized attachment styles may include:

  • Often unpredictable combination of avoidant and ambivalent attachment styles
  • Switching between caregiving and pushing others away
  • Attraction to others who are similarly disorganized 
  • Being more likely to seek validation from others

Signs and Symptoms of Reactive Attachment Disorder

Reactive attachment disorder, or RAD, is the most serious form of attachment disorders. Common signs and symptoms may include:

  • An aversion to touch and physical affection. Children and young adults with RAD often flinch or laugh when touched. Rather than producing positive feelings, touch and affection are perceived as a threat.
  • Control issues. Most young adults with reactive attachment disorder go to great lengths to remain in control and avoid feeling helpless. They are often disobedient, defiant, and argumentative.
  • Anger problems. Anger may be expressed directly, in outbursts or lashing out, or through manipulative, passive-aggressive behavior. Younger children with RAD may hide their anger in socially acceptable actions, like giving a high five that hurts or hugging someone too hard.
  • Difficulty showing genuine care and affection. For example, people with reactive attachment disorder may act inappropriately affectionate with strangers while displaying little or no affection towards their parents.
  • An underdeveloped conscience. Young adults with reactive attachment disorder may act like they don’t have a conscience and fail to show guilt, regret, or remorse after behaving badly.

Why is it Important to Work on Attachment Issues?

Attachment issues are at the root of a lot of mental health struggles and unhealthy coping mechanisms. When individual therapy is solely focused on learning healthier coping skills and processing negative experiences, it ignores the end goal of these strategies: feeling more connected and supported. 

Learning about how one’s attachment style has contributed to their worldview can help young adults reframe how they see difficult situations and feel more empowered. A secure attachment style means you feel that you have a safe base from which you can explore the world, grow, and develop as an individual, with friends, and in intimate relationships.

Some ways young adults can work on overcoming attachment issues include:

Setting Boundaries

Many young adults with anxious attachment styles struggle to let go of the desire to please their parents and other people that they are close to. As a result, they may bend over backwards to do things for others, even if they are not self-serving. They often have trouble saying no or making independent choices without seeking other people’s advice or approval. 

As a transition program for young adults, our style of family therapy more closely resembles parent coaching. This informal style of therapy encourages young adults to self-advocate and express their goals assertively. This also helps parents take a step back and shift their role as a parent of an adult, rather than a teenager. 

We also discuss topics like dating safety and conflict resolution in the workplace during community meetings to help young adults brainstorm healthier ways to set boundaries in different areas of their lives. 

Establishing Healthy Independence

A lot of young adults with avoidant attachment styles may have felt early in life that they couldn’t depend on their parents and tried to grow up too quickly. They may have taken on “adult roles” or hanging out with older friends in an attempt to feel more independent. Often, this may have meant skipping typical adolescent experiences in order to “do adult things” without being emotionally prepared. After leaving high school and continuing to try to do things on their own, they may struggle with balancing responsibilities. 

Staff at transition programs for young adults are considered mentors, rather than authority figures, that help young adults navigate what it might look like for them to be more interdependent–asking for help when appropriate and trusting their ability to succeed independently.

Identifying Relationship Values

Young adults with anxious or avoidant attachment styles are more likely to recognize their style of relating to others as part of “how they do relationships” and accept the consequences that come along with it. On the other hand, young adults with disorganized attachment styles that exhibit a combination of the previous two styles may struggle to describe what they look for in relationships and how they connect to others.   

Part of our recreation programming involves helping young adults identify why they do the things they do and which values their actions are in line with. Living a value-driven life can help young adults feel more confident about their future and more secure in their relationships, as they gravitate towards people who have similar values and goals.

Treatment Options for Attachment Issues

If your young adult is suffering from a severe attachment problem, especially reactive attachment disorder, seek professional help. Extra support can make a dramatic and positive change in their life. Some treatment plans may include:

  • Family therapy. Typical therapy for attachment problems includes both your young adult and you. Therapy often involves fun and rewarding activities that enhance the attachment bond, as well as help parents and other siblings in the family, understand the symptoms of the disorder and effective interventions.
  • Individual psychological counseling. Therapists may also meet with your young adult individually.. This is designed to help them directly with monitoring emotions and behavior.
  • Special education services. If your young adult is still in school, specifically designed programs within their school can help them learn skills required for academic and social success, while also addressing behavioral and emotional difficulties.
  • Parenting skills classes. Education for parents and caregivers centers on learning about attachment disorders as well as other necessary parenting skills. Parenting a young adult with attachment issues can feel confusing or even overwhelming at times. There is no shame in asking for help to deal with the unique set of challenges that come with attachment issues. Parents are also encouraged to seek out their own individual therapist, as well as support groups. It can make a huge difference to talk with other parents who understand your struggles in a way that friends or other family members may not. 
  • Transitional programs. Some young adults who have attended a therapeutic boarding school or a residential treatment program for attachment issues may not feel ready to return home after completing their program. Even with all of the skills they have gained through their program, returning home without the safety net of their therapeutic support can be intimidating. A transitional program allows these young adults to step down from a more intensive program to practice more independent living skills, while also working with clinicians and living with a community that understands their struggles. Transitional programs like Journey Home Young Adult incorporate individual and family therapy to help students continue to build their coping mechanisms and healthy life skills. Transitional programs can help young adults ease back towards their home life and prepare for a successful transition from program to home. 

Journey Home Young Adult can help

Journey Home Young Adult is a transitional living program for teens ages 18-23. This program addresses emotional, behavioral, and mental health disorders that teens may face. Common presenting problems include depression, anxiety, attachment issues, academic struggles, and low self-esteem. Journey Home creates an environment conducive to healing where teens can learn healthy coping skills while becoming more well-equipped to launch into adulthood. 

Each student’s treatment plan will be individualized and customized to meet their needs, advance their goals, and help them lead a happier, more productive life. With all of these services, we focus on our Five Core Principles to guide our whole-person approach to growth and development. These provide the foundation for the rest of the work while at Journey Home Young Adult. The Five Core Principles include specific skills and goals for each student to strive toward, with bi-weekly treatment team meetings to assess progress and provide feedback. This comprehensive approach provides the structure, support, and mentoring for teens to move on from Journey Home Young Adult as empowered young women, ready to successfully launch into their lives. Students leave this program feeling empowered, happy, and healthy. We can help your family today!

Please contact us at 855-918-0032 to learn more about our relationship-based program.

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