Do you think you or someone you love has attachment disorder (RAD)? Are you in a relationship with someone who had RAD as a child, or shows warning signs of running hot and cold with affection in your relationship?
Adults who had disruption from caregivers when they were children, often continue to have attachment issues into young adulthood and beyond.
These relationship issues in adults affect parenting, marriage, boyfriend/girlfriend relationships and even things like the ability to get and keep a job, manage schedules, and more.
If you are a caregiver who wants to know what your child with RAD, read on to understand what they may experience as an adult with RAD.
Reactive Attachment Disorder is typically associated with children but can occur in adults. Typically adults are not diagnosed with RAD in adulthood because it is a condition of childhood.
Adults who were not treated for RAD as children are most commonly diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, or antisocial personality disorder. While not always true, some adults with these diagnosis developed the condition due to broken attachments during their earliest childhood years of ages 0-3 years.
An adult with RAD can experience a number of symptoms including an inability to form healthy relationships.
There is treatment available for RAD in adults. We have included information below that has helpful resources.
While there is much hope and progress that can be made, keep in mind that people who did not form healthy bonds as babies will likely always have some relationship issues, ranging from mild to severe.
RAD in Adults: Adults with Attachment Problems
According to peer reviewed articles, there is a high correlation between RAD and personality disorders in adults. Meaning that a child who meets the diagnostic criteria of Reactive Attachment Disorder is much more likely than the general population to develop a personality disorder as adults.
RAD is thought to develop when a child is unable to bond with a caregiver during early childhood. This can occur due to abuse or neglect of the primary caregiver but that is not always the case. A child must show signs of Reactive Attachment Disorder before the age of 5 years old to meet the diagnostic criteria of RAD.
RAD can also occur in instances where a child is abruptly removed from their primary caregiver and is unable to form additional attachments.
In the case of my children, they would likely have never developed RAD if their foster placement was a loving, caring home. While my children were removed from their biological family for legitimate safety concerns, they continued to be deprived of stable, nurturing caregivers while in foster care.
An adult with RAD didn’t necessarily get there because of “bad parents”. They may not have an attachment disorder because they were unloved. A disruption in connection during formative years has lifelong impact, which includes how children with RAD will be affected as adults. This can occur for many reasons including illness, hospitalization, maternal depression or domestic violence.
While RAD is not technically diagnosed in adults, it is common for a child with RAD to continue to have difficulty with attachments as an adult. Perhaps the child was never diagnosed with RAD, but has symptoms of RAD in adulthood that become apparent during romantic relationships, adult friendships, or staying connected with parents and extended family.
In fact, boyfriends, girlfriends, or spouses are often the first to recognize that something is amiss and that RAD might be a possible diagnosis for their husband, wife or significant other. They might ask, “Does my husband or wife have RAD?” and wonder how to find answers.
Symptoms of RAD in Adults
RAD can cause significant interference into adulthood. Attachment injury in adults can present as thought distortion, intense emotional dysregulation and destructive behavior.
Some warning signs of adult attachment disorder may include:
- Detachment: An adult with RAD may keep others at a distance. It may feel like there is a wall between them and others.
- Impulsivity: Adults with RAD may quit jobs on a whim or make drastic life changes purely based on emotions in the moment.
- Withdraw from connection: For example, an adult with RAD may begin to pull away when they feel like a meaningful relationship is forming. This can occur with friendships, coworkers or romantic partners. They might also run back and forth, or hot and cold, because they want connection yet are afraid of it. This leads to a push-pull dynamic that is hurtful and confusing for the other person.
- Sense of distrust: RAD adults may believe that nobody can be trusted and hold a general view that the people are not worthy of trust.
- Lack of belonging: An adult with RAD may feel like they don’t belong in their family or community. They may feel like they are destined to stand out and just don’t fit in anywhere.
While RAD in childhood focuses on the relationship with the caregiver, attachment injuries impact the ability for connection across all areas.
The good news is there is treatment available for adults, and it may even be more effective than childhood treatments for RAD because an adult may desire to get well and form healthy attachments.
How to Treat RAD in Adults
A hallmark of childhood is a lack of control. Children with RAD are desperately seeking a sense of safety and security.
Children with RAD believe having control will provide that sense of safety. Yet, being a child is contradictory to being in control of where you live and who you live with.
As adults, we are provided options and resources to determine where we want to live and who we chose to share our lives (and home) with.
An adult with RAD is more likely to engage in unhealthy attachments in adulthood, but they may also be more motivated to seek treatment. If they have the ability to choose who they are with, they are more likely to be open to seeking help to improve that relationship.
An adult with RAD is also more likely to have an underlying personality disorder or traits that could otherwise not be diagnosed in childhood.
Personality disorders associated with adults with RAD include those with severe social impairment such as:
- Schizoid Personality Disorder
- Borderline Personality Disorder
- Histrionic Personality Disorder
- Narcissistic Personality Disorder
- Antisocial Personality Disorder
Treatment is available but may need to start with an updated diagnosis to determine the appropriate treatment. In adulthood, there may be more buy-in to the treatment model and new skills may be more readily utilized.
Problems in adulthood may provide the needed motivation to engage in treatment. A romantic partner may be the driving force for a RAD adult to be willing to seek therapy.
Impact of RAD on Romantic Relationships – Detachment
A hallmark symptom of Reactive Attachment Disorder is emotional withdraw and an inability to have meaningful connections.
Being in a romantic relationship with a partner who is emotionally withdrawn and unable to comfortably connect can create a lot of difficulty.
An indication of relationship difficulty for an adult with RAD may include:
- Control Issues: The adult with RAD may try to control what their partner wears, who they speak with and other decisions.
- Anger Issues: Adults with RAD may have difficulty with rages or out of control anger responses.
- Resistance to Love: An adult with RAD may be resistant to affection or a partner who shows an interest in commitment.
RAD in adulthood can cause many areas of concern but it is treatable. There are treatments available and unhappiness and turmoil does not have to be the norm.
Do you believe you or your significant other has RAD? Share about it in the comments.
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