Addressing Adoption and Attachment Issues at Elevations
It is a myth that attachment disorders only happen in adopted children. Attachment issues may result from any kind of relational problem early in life, with family members, siblings, or even friends. They not only affect relationships, but self perceptions and abilities to achieve their goals. The beliefs that teens develop about relationships early on in life can be hard to disrupt, but learning about healthy boundaries and participating in positive social activities can help teens change these beliefs. Residential treatment centers, like Elevations, specialize in addressing adoption and attachment issues by helping teens develop the skills to maintain healthy, meaningful relationships with friends and family.
What is Insecure Attachment?
Attachment refers to the ability to form emotional bonds and empathic, enjoyable relationships with other people. Relationships with family members typically model attachment style later in life with both friends and intimate partners. Teens who struggle with insecure attachment often become anxious and withdrawn around other people. They have often learned that their needs will be met inconsistently or not at all and are sensitive to perceived rejection.
My initial approach of how to detect potential insecure attachments in clients was to defer to attachment behavior theory where certain situations (i.e. adoption, abusive primary caregiver, etc) led to an inability to form a secure bond with the primary caregiver. This view broadened as I worked with clients who had developed strong bonds with a primary caregiver, yet still experienced an inability to develop and sustain secure attachments.
Signs of insecure attachment may include:
- Avoidance of eye contact.
- Avoidance of physical contact.
- Rejection of touch or attempts at emotional connection.
- Frequent, inconsolable crying.
- A tendency to self-comfort.
- A lack of interest in socializing.
The Role of Developmental Trauma
Attachment may be better understood as a form of developmental trauma. Many teens who struggle with attachment issues seem to be experiencing symptoms of trauma even if they haven’t reported specific incidents. Attachment issues tend to be ongoing, while many traumatic events are recurrent, or involve multiple, isolated events.
Life experiences outside of adoption that affect attachment issues may include:
- Birth trauma
- Medical issues
- Parents’ separation or divorce
- Parent death
- Any form of abuse by a relative or trusted individual
Developmental trauma often includes pre-verbal experiences contributing to disruptions in the attachment process. This means there are no words, memories, or images to therapeutically process or address these experiences.
I’ve seen students feel hopeless about what the future looks like because they can’t remember anything related to the trauma which caused their attachment issues. When I explain how trauma is held in the body, and healing from these preverbal experiences is possible with somatic-based therapy (using physiological sensations as the primary role of reprocessing trauma), I’ve seen their hope surface.
How Trauma Affects the Body
Trauma impairs the brain’s nervous system’s ability to interpret accurate “life-threatening danger” and tends to communicate this danger when an actual threat is not present (i.e. the flight/flight/freeze response without immediate danger in the moment). Therapeutic techniques, like somatic awareness and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), help individuals gain awareness about their “window of tolerance” and whether their nervous system is in “hyperarousal” or “hypoarousal.” With this awareness, they are better able to implement strategies they’ve learned to bring the nervous system back to baseline.
As teens gain this self-awareness and psychoeducation, they gain a sense of safety, autonomy, and “control” that empowers them to “dig deeper” in therapy and ultimately experience the healing they need.
A Relationship-Based Approach to Healing Attachment Issues
Elevations commonly works with adolescents who have experienced significant histories with mental health struggles and a level of disruption of attachment development. The therapeutic process is complex, as is the impact of those life experiences. We believe that relationships heal relational trauma. Trust and safety in the therapeutic relationship is foundational to the healing process.
Elevations RTC Can Help
Elevations RTC is an all gender residential treatment center for teens ages 13-17. Our students struggle with anxiety, depression, ADHD, self esteem, and attachment issues. We follow an intensive interdisciplinary approach that offers college preparatory academics, therapeutic recreation activities, and individual, family and group psychotherapy. Elevations gives students the skills and confidence they need to transition to the real world and lead healthy, happy lives.
Contact us at for more information. We can help your family today!