Attachment Trauma: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

A child holds a teddy bear as their parent walks away, showing the experience of attachment trauma

Introduction to Attachment Trauma

Childhood is a foundational time in one’s life. For many, their childhood was lacking in any manner of ways – child abuse, abandonment, trauma, or general lack of proper care from parent(s) or caregiver(s).


What we experience in our childhood has a major lasting impact on our mental state as adults in our ability to form and maintain healthy relationships. Many people who struggle with their mental health or in keeping strong bonds with others may blame themselves when in reality, they’re suffering from a circumstance they had little to no control over.


This phenomenon is called attachment trauma or attachment disorder – colloquially referred to as “attachment issues.” In this article, we’re going to explore what attachment trauma is, what causes it, and how to treat it.


What is Attachment Trauma?

Attachment trauma occurs when a child does not receive adequate levels of support, comfort, safety, and closeness from a parent or caregiver throughout their early mental development. Attachment disorders result in a wide range of symptoms depending on the specific circumstances that led to them.


Causes of Attachment Trauma

Complications in the relationship between a child and their caregiver(s) can result in attachment trauma.


While many think of trauma as resulting from a singular traumatic event, The Attachment & Trauma Network notes that, “early childhood trauma is just as likely (more so actually) to fall into the realm of chronic traumatic stress, especially in situations where children are exposed to repeated neglect, abuse and maltreatment.”


Environmental Causes of Attachment Trauma

Examples of chronic causes of traumatic stress include:

  • Repeated verbal abuse, physical abuse, or sexual abuse
  • Lack of emotional responsiveness from caregiver(s)
  • Caregiver(s) exhibiting symptoms of unaddressed mental illness
  • Caregiver(s) exhibiting unpredictable or manipulative behavior
  • Caregiver(s) who are emotionally distant or who express emotions in an unhealthy way
  • Caregiver(s) who only respond to the child when they cry, shout, or act out
  • Being raised without a primary caregiver – either through foster care, homelessness, or another circumstance
  • Overt or covert statements from the caregiver(s) that causes the child to believe they are “not good enough” or that they are unworthy of love

Familial Causes of Attachment Trauma

A caregiver’s lack of emotional closeness or availability can also occur from other instances, such as:

  • Death in the family
  • Divorce
  • Domestic violence
  • Serious or life-threatening illness in the family
  • Substance abuse issues, gambling issues, or another addiction


Attachment Disorder Symptoms

The existence of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) – a type of attachment disorder defined by a person’s emotional distance, lack of trust in others, or impulsive behavior – can become apparent in people as young as nine months old.


On the other side of the spectrum, children who suffer from abuse, neglect, and abandonment might also exhibit signs of Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED) – a disorder by which a child or adult is overly social, especially towards strangers, and seems to lack an understanding of social boundaries.


Oftentimes, people will be unaware that the circumstances of their upbringing were unusual in the first place, and thus might not know they suffered from an attachment disorder.


One of the goals of therapy is to bring those issues to the surface and to help the patient discover that the emotional stress they may be dealing with is a result of a traumatic childhood.


Attachment Disorder in Children


Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)

Children with RAD can exhibit symptoms from an extremely young age. A young child may have an attachment disorder if they:

  • Don’t smile, laugh, or giggle
  • Don’t make eye contact or avoid looking at their caregiver(s)
  • Don’t seek out or react to physical and emotional interaction with their caregiver(s)
  • Aren’t interested in playing games
  • Often appear sad or scared
  • Are irritated easily
  • Cry inconsolably
  • Don’t eat or maintain weight


Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED)

A child may be exhibiting symptoms of DSED if they:

  • Show no fear or anxiety around strangers
  • Lack an understanding of social boundaries
  • Don’t show any interest in checking in with or interacting with their primary caregiver(s)
  • Crave kindness and affection from complete strangers


Attachment Disorder in Adults

At present, there is no official diagnosis of attachment disorder for adults. However, the effects of a childhood attachment disorder can have long-term consequences if not treated. Adults with unresolved attachment disorders from childhood may:

  • Suffer from depression, anxiety, PTSD, or borderline personality disorder
  • Find it difficult to open up to people emotionally
  • Frequently blame themselves or feel guilt easily
  • Have trouble reading the emotions of others
  • Display anger issues
  • Resist the affection of others
  • Find it difficult to trust people
  • Find it difficult to relax, especially around others
  • Fear abandonment from friends and loved ones
  • Be paranoid, even around friends and family members


Similarly, children who exhibited symptoms of DSED that were never addressed in therapy may:

  • Lack social awareness
  • Make inappropriate comments to complete strangers
  • Be overly trusting of people they’ve never met


Attachment Disorder Treatments

Unresolved childhood attachment disorders can be addressed successfully through various means. The goal is to form healthy coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety while teaching the client how to start and maintain healthy, lasting relationships.


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a common type of therapy practice that aims to challenge negative thought patterns and create more positive associations with events that normally trigger their fear and anxiety.


CBT is goal-oriented – starting by determining what the client wants to achieve in therapy and then working towards that goal through various methods and techniques. A common CBT practice is exposure therapy, by which the client is asked to safely expose themselves to situations (or simulations of situations) that they associate as stress-inducing. The goal of this practice is to desensitize their fears.


Mindfulness Practices

Regular guided meditation is a popular method for addressing stress & trauma. The goal of meditation is to slow the mind down and to give the brain an opportunity to healthily process thoughts and emotions. Meditation forces the brain to focus on the present moment and to surrender past and future concerns that are out of your control.


Mindfulness can also include the practice of comfortably sitting with your thoughts. Even relaxing outside in the grass while appreciating the present moment can be a form of mindfulness.


EMDR Therapy

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy is a research-tested practice for managing trauma and PTSD symptoms. Research shows that EMDR therapy can eliminate PTSD symptoms in up to 90% of patients after just three 90-minute sessions. This makes EMDR Therapy one of the most successful treatments offered at Barn Life Recovery.


During EMDR Therapy, the patient is asked to briefly re-live a “target memory” of a traumatic event while moving the eyes in a specific movement akin to REM sleep. This pattern produces a way for the brain to reconsolidate traumatic experiences in a safe and comfortable environment.


Trauma Release

Each week, Barn Life Recovery hosts Trauma Release Wednesday, a free event available to anyone living in or visiting Orange County. Our practice consists of moving through several muscle movements and patterns to relax and body and release any trauma we may be holding.


This practice is appropriate for anyone regardless of age, gender, or diagnosis.


EMDR Therapy in Orange County, CA

If you or a loved one is exhibiting symptoms of childhood attachment trauma, Barn Life Recovery has a number of tools that can help. Our EMDR Therapy in Costa Mesa, CA, combined with regular therapy and mindfulness practices, has improved the lives of many. Try out the Barn Life experience for free by attending one of our upcoming events.

Share on social


All PPO plans are accepted and we are proudly a certified Tricare provider.

aetna logo
Anthem logo
Blue Cross Blue Shield of California logo
Cigna logo

Hear From Those We've Impacted

Barn life is probably one of the most amazing facilities you could ever attend when it comes to mental illness. This was the first place that popped up when I was searching for help and I’m so thankful that it did. The environment is very therapeutic, the staff is awesome, and the group discussions and activities were so helpful in me understanding what I was experiencing. Do not hesitate to be a part of this place. It’s literally a game changer. I was only there for 6 weeks but I wished I stayed at least 6 months. Ever since returning home, I’ve been much happier and my perspective has changed dramatically. I’ve done things and participated in events at my college that I never thought I would be able to do. This place is truly amazing and I’m forever grateful that I found this place.
Ariana E.
Ariana E.
18:05 30 Sep 22
Best for someone looking for spiritual healing in addition to their mental health healing.
Luka P.
Luka P.
03:26 17 Sep 22
Barn Life is uniquely special. As someone who has had long stretches of sobriety with "traditional" communities and methods, Barn Life stepped in when I started struggling during the pandemic and said "traditional" methods failed to help.The staff here are exceptional. This is a truly subjective statement, but it is my honest opinion that the people from the owner (Hi Matt!) to EVERYONE else works there because they believe in the work and want to share the tools they found.Barn Life and their little sibling, Peer Mental Wellness were the launchpad from a shell of an existence to person with self-love/respect, and a life-mission of personal development.
Steven D.
Steven D.
02:54 21 Aug 22
When I walked in I thought I'd teleported to east asia. When I finally got a chance to sit down , take in the scene, explore the culture and decor there ...I found signs and symbols that had me interested in a new way of thinking.Now, when I met the people I wasnt ever struck by how luxurious their suit was (some have cool tattoos) or anything aesthetic but more drawn towards the energy of the staff. Especially the owners and the reiki practitioner, they're the OG's of the place. You'll find Kevin has the same thing and was a huge pickup for the space. He's intro to the themes provide very cool concepts based on Greek myths and how most theologies are symbols for the psyche , and psychology really being the study of the "soul" as psyche in Greek is "soul".Tai chi is amazing, the have an instructor who's been connected to the space since it began.The Qi Gong instructor is awesome. You'll love her traditional, authoritative korean spunk and overall burning passion and unrelenting commitment to help people. She'll put in extra one-on-one time if you're really about it.And reiki with kristin is basically taking a trip without the need of external , psychotropic medications. Shes also very engaged with the community and if you're smart you'll stop in her office from time to time to talk about life or share art. She'll make you see the world in a different way.Last but not least the owner Matt is one of the most warm hearted humans I've ever met. Very well rounded and is probably the coolest one to pick the brain of. His office is usually open but most people dont have the balls to go in there and face him alone believe or not. Dont be soft. What I always loved about matt is when I'd walk in and say something, he never gave me advice. He usually would just agree with my analysis which would somehow guide me to answers, as if being a mirror of truth. The more I opened up to him, the more I felt a , "me too" presence. Hes a true ,genuine man, and will turn into a reliable friend quickly if you're just an honest, authentic and committed human being.And his wife alyssa has the same warm, lighthearted spunk. They both are the loving parents who sit back and watch for sure.Much Love to Barn
Alex W.
Alex W.
07:53 21 Jun 22
Difficult to put my experience of this place into words. A hidden gem of healing, a necessary step to take. If you are looking for change, the place is here—prepare to dive into your journey of self discovery, and enjoy the ride!
Vicki S.
Vicki S.
23:45 07 Mar 22
Barn life is a unique place. In my time, I feel like I came out with more tools and a happier outlook than I could have anticipated. Groups were incredibly interesting, and involved areas and perspectives on wellness and mental health that I haven’t encountered elsewhere, but have been crucial for me. The balance of eastern and western modalities felt like it gave me a lot of space and tools for introspection and growing to understand and like myself better. I feel as though I developed friendships and a support system that I’m incredibly thankful for. I’m grateful for everyone I attended barn with and everyone who led groups or worked there. It really is a special space!
Chris M
Chris M
03:05 03 Mar 22
I came to Barnlife in the middle of Covid and in the middle of a personal crisis.Simply being there, with the excellent staff and supportive clients around me day to day, lifted me up out of my mental despair and set me off to continue my life in a productive, successful and fulfilling way.So many of the staff members are outstanding, but I must say that Mathew Carver, the owner, is the heart and soul and light of this place. His groups and his genuinely caring personal attention truly saved my life.
Colette H.
Colette H.
22:57 02 Mar 22
This was a life changing experience. I came into who I am while here and was able to become comfortable in my own skin. The facility and staff are amazing and it is an extremely supportive community. Nothing like any other treatment program I've been to.
Nicholas C.
Nicholas C.
04:14 02 Mar 22
This is my first review, I just had to sing the praises of Barn Life Recovery, they have been instrumental in helping a family member of mine, the staff and environment are so welcoming- I have seen such a difference in my loved one, they have given him the tools and confidence to dig deep and live his best life, to respond not react. Forever grateful~Thank you!!!
Jessica D
Jessica D
18:00 25 Feb 22
I came to Barn Life in 2019 for support with my depression and anxiety. It was the hardest time in my life and I felt so welcomed and supported by the people here. My experience at Barn Life changed my life. I found community and I learned how to care for my mind, body, and soul. I highly recommend this place for anyone who is struggling mentally.
Alix G.
Alix G.
22:08 10 Jan 22
This is an amazing facility. I actually came to these guys a handful of years ago and had a great experience. They are very welcoming and make that first step a little easier. They are much more open minded and understand what it's like to be sitting in the chairs next to you as well. On top of everything, I had a not-so-great experience with the DMV recently and they required some old paperwork from years ago. Matt and Barn Life were able to help me out and get everything squared away. They truly went above and beyond and I would most definitely recommend them to others.
Ty M.
Ty M.
02:23 25 Apr 21
Barn life is not just a recovery community, it is a family of friends that will stay with me for life. The staff here has taught me things about myself that I never believed before. They helped me find a confidence in myself I didn’t know existed. I returned here after a relapse and deep depression and they accepted me with open arms. I am eternally grateful for this place and anyone should feel safe sending their loved one here.
Suzanne S.
Suzanne S.
19:23 16 Nov 20
This place is the best treatment center I could've asked for! I came in at my lowest I've ever been, and the staff welcomed me with open arms. I truly love everything this place has to offer, every service and group has helped me grow into my own again. I can finally look forward to life again. I would recommend this place to any age struggling with addiction or mental health issues, it is a magical place I swear to god.
Piper D.
Piper D.
22:56 22 Sep 20
This program saved my life. I’ve been to a lotttttt of other programs but this one is so unique and special I literally still talk about it even though I graduated a while ago. I wish everyone could experience how amazing Barn Life is!
Brittany D.
Brittany D.
21:55 17 Sep 20
Barn Life has truly taught me to love life again. I was a lost, broken, and cagey girl when I came here. With the tremendous amounts of love and hard work from the staff and other clients, I have transformed into the woman I was always meant to be.When I first walked in I felt like I found the home I had been searching for. Everyone of their staff members sincerely cares for each person that walks through their gates. The staff is impeccable and will not allow anything to stand in the way of helping any and everyone they meet. I appreciate every aspect that Barn Life has to offer.Every moment I spent in this facility, I will cherish for the rest of my life. I would not be here today without their help.Thank you all so much for being here and offering such a safe space for me to heal and learn to love again.
Justice I.
Justice I.
18:40 25 May 20
This place is so amazing it has really helped me turn my life around I am forever grateful to barn life I highly recommend it to anyone who is struggling
Melanie M.
Melanie M.
22:50 24 Jan 20
Words can't express how grateful I am for Barn Life Recovery. My daughter was desperately reaching out for help for many years and as her mother, I didn't recognize the depth of her despair, and I was limited in my understanding of what "help" she needed.With her insight and perfect understanding of her illness, her limitless research to find the professional help she needed and her persistent attempts to help me to understand what she needed from me,Barn Life Recovery was a glimmer of hope in what I perceived as a helpless and increasing darkness.She had to face many fears to board a jet alone and travel to California from Alabama.I'm so happy for her, she has been there for 2 months and is receiving the help she needs, physical, mental and emotional.I hope the rest of the country can follow their concept of "help".
Sylvia M.
Sylvia M.
13:05 10 Nov 19
Wonderfully compassionate people, very down to earth the team at barn life treats everyone proper af!
austin B.
austin B.
01:02 13 Oct 19
Barn Life is hands down the best recovery / mental health facility in Orange County, probably in California. I went there for 6 months and they saved my life. Unconventional, progressive, caring, fun. NOT your typical prison-like rehab place, it's a zen garden/dojo with art, reiki, tai chi, qi gong, and yoga with the best therapy Ive ever received as well as the most informative, personal groups. Matt and Alyssa Carver are the best people I know and I truly cant say enough about them as people or rehabilitation owners. No, no one paid me to say all this, lol. This is thanks from my heart.
Andru W.
Andru W.
04:20 20 Sep 19
I am alumni from Zen Recovery Path / a great place , and live a happy healthy life ever since / great peaceful place to recover // Namaste
Michael M.
Michael M.
01:06 11 Jul 19
My daughter has been at Barn Life Recovery now for two months. It was my last resort to send her 9 hours away from me. She has been in drug and mental health rehabs in and out for two years. This was my last stitch effort to save my daughter and get her back to herself. Alyssa and I spoke multiple times before deciding. Their willingness to do everything for her and the different teams they have work with them is amazing. My daughter is happy again and clean and sober. She loves it there in their outpatient program. They restore your faith in humanity. They help restore someone who is broken in so many places to themselves. They have put the light back in my daughters eyes. They are committed to helping each person who truly wants the help. They assist in helping them get jobs and be responsible members of society. I recommend their program to anyone wanting to recover from drug, alcohol and mental health.Thank you to all the people at Barn Life who have made my daughter smile and bring the light back to her eyes. I am truly grateful.DawnaLee
DawnaLee W.
DawnaLee W.
17:34 18 May 19
Through trial and error of trying to stay sober this program is definitely the most caring and supporting of them all if anyone needs help and is willing to help themselves I suggest barnlife they will for a fact give you the push you need and the tools to keep you going
Mason T.
Mason T.
06:10 14 Mar 19



Contact us by completing the form below or call us anytime, day or night.

MM slash DD slash YYYY

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Previous Next
Test Caption
Test Description goes like this