I have called the blog, “Detached” mostly because of how the psychiatric illness called Reactive Attachment Disorder has fundamentally altered my life and contributed greatly to my thinking about who and what we are as a species. Attachment is the bond we have to other people. It is innate and profound. Attachment is also on a spectrum from very secure to completely detached from others. Most of us, in this day and age, have significant attachments mainly to those near and dear. In our evolutionary past, we lived with smaller groups and typically had a fairly high degree of attachment to most of the others who we lived among. As human societies grew in numbers and complexity, this attachment to others has been on a slow and gradual decline, almost imperceptibly over many, many generations.
Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is the canary in the coal mine that is letting us know that this detachment has become extreme and that things have gone terribly wrong. RAD is typically diagnosed in children who have been severely abused and/or neglected from the earliest moments of life during crucial brain development. Not all children who have been through horrors develop RAD, and children who were not abused but suffered from another trauma (medical condition of child or mother, or adoption, for example) can develop RAD. This condition leads to a wide array of symptoms and behaviors that merely describing cannot even begin to encapsulate the experience of living with someone who is detached.
Recognizing attachment disorder is a lot like noticing other things once they come to your attention, like suddenly realizing how few yellow cars there are once it becomes a game to spot them. Now that I’m aware, I have been astounded to realize how prevalent and pernicious some level of detachment is. Attachment is the grease to make all the social machinery work. Without it, so much that is unhealthy and destructive follows. This detachment cripples both the person who suffers from extreme lack of attachment and their families, but also to the larger society that comes into contact with these persons. I’ve drawn on y understanding of our social evolution to try to make sense of how it’s even possible to have so many people suffering from this unusual disorder.
At this point, it would be relevant to distinguish between a few different concepts. I am writing about attachment in a couple of different ways that are distinct, but intertwined. “Attachment” is generally understood to be the bond that a child has with his or her primary caregivers. According to Psychology Today, “The attachment experience affects personality development, particularly a sense of security, and research shows that it influences the ability to form stable relationships throughout life. Neuroscientists believe that attachment is such a primal need that there are networks of neurons in the brain dedicated to setting it in motion and a hormone to foster the process, oxytocin.”
But I’m broadening out that definition to include the general sense of connectedness we feel toward others. This concept is often not described as “attachment”, but as “community” or “family ties”. And yet, this connectedness is attachment. It isn’t the same attachment that is so crucial in the early stages of our lives that without it we don’t develop properly. But it is crucial to happiness and well-being. It is essential to a compassionate society. If we feel little or no connection to those around us, we may not be attachment disordered as individuals, but it is a symptom of the attachment disorder of our society.
Individuals with Reactive Attachment Disorder are the byproduct of a deeply dysfunctional society that is loosing it’s capacity to care for it’s people.* RAD is an extreme symptom how how wrong things are going. This blog is in part a purging of so much that’s built up over an exceedingly hard decade and a half of my life, part conversation around how I’ve endured and part effort to make sense of it all. In these experiences, as a stay-home mom with an intense curiosity to understand the world around me, I have given much thought to how attachment has lead to personal and societal cohesion and lack thereof leads to downfall. I have had to learn to find joy and beauty through difficult times and seek the stories of goodness as a way to get through the day.
*It is important to note that some degree of detachment-induced mental illness will exist in a society regardless of how healthy and functional that culture is. It is also important to remark that Reactive Attachment Disorder can also be caused by early medical conditions or pain that an infant or young child is unable to understand, and this situation is likely present throughout time and not related to current conditions of society.