Chaotic Love, Disorganized Attachment

I grew up in a chaotic household. If there wasn’t some form of physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse actively occurring, there was a sensation of walking on eggshells until some form of abuse began again. Always waiting for the other shoe to drop, I learned that love was chaotic, love was loud, love was angry, and safety was sporadic.

I used to believe that I had anxious attachment, as there was an overwhelming fear that I would be abandoned and I clung to people so they would not to leave me (spoiler alert: that never works). My biological dad was not a part of my life since I was very young, my parents separated multiple times, my teenage boyfriend died horrifically, friends have died in combat…anxiety reigned supreme when I thought of my relationship attachments…and then…I realized the chaos I had experienced in childhood transmuted almost every romantic relationship I had as an adult.

I expected chaos…and when I didn’t get it, I would become uncomfortable. This wasn’t what love is supposed to be like…calm, supportive, kind? And if I wasn’t in a relationship where I doubted my self-worth, where I was worried about getting cheated on, or hit, or yelled at, or left and returned to repeatedly, I would create chaos MYSELF, because chaos was “home”.

I think that’s what professionals call “self-sabotage”.

If my partners weren’t good to me, I felt “good”. I settled into the pattern of walking on eggshells, waiting to be (insert abuse of choice here), and doing my damnedest to be worthy of that chaotic love. I knew the next move; getting someone to treat me like shit felt like a “win”, an “AHA, see, you’re bad too” moment, and I could finally be comfortable in the chaos. And if my partners were good to me, I would wreck havoc.


Over the last year, I have realized I am way more disorganized than anxious in my attachment style…which feels way worse than simply having an anxious, avoidant, or, certainly, secure attachment. If we look at attachment theory as a line with secure attachment in the middle, anxious is one side and avoidant is the other. If anxious or avoidant, you are able to do some “simple” exercises to move towards secure attachment. (I say “simple” because I have been practicing self-soothing for a while and realized that would’ve worked much faster if I was simply anxiously attached. I am not saying anxious attachment is easy). HOWEVER, if you are disorganized, the “line style” of attachment theory doesn’t work. Instead, like a pendulum, you swing rapidly from anxious to avoidant, unable to get a grasp on what a healthy, sustainable relationship looks like; there is no centering on a secure attachment for very long. Your mindset and emotions are like Newton’s cradle.

It is fucking awful.

Disorganized attachment is defined as “fear without a solution”, “craving security without a way to get it”, and “having power struggles, untrusting”. It typically comes from having a chaotic childhood home, where a child feels unsafe but has their basic needs met. Parents generally mean well but are incapable of, or unable to, provide a stable home. A child then does not know what is safe or who to trust. They do not know how to self-soothe, they do not know their own boundaries, and they can turn into caretakers of their parents at a young age. As adults, these sensations exacerbate, and the child becomes either abused or abusive (emotions are explosive) in their adult relationships, probably continuing the cycle with their own children.

Having disorganized attachment paired with abandonment issues manifests as me having an extremely fatalistic view on relationships. If there is a slight disagreement, I automatically assume it is over and immediately begin detaching to protect myself from the emotional turmoil that will take place with a breakup. I will shove them away, having a “me against you” instead of an “us against the problem” mindset…because how am I supposed to feel like there is an “us” if you are leaving? Arguments in my childhood home ended with an explosion of abuse; wouldn’t this be the same experience? Desperately craving love and emotional closeness, I will pull away and collapse inward. Then I panic as the relationship begins to teeter because I have pulled away and rush back…only to realize that the idea of a long term relationship with vulnerability without an end in sight is fucking terrifying…so I shut down again. Repeat. At least once a month.

I’m exhausted writing about it; imagine experiencing it.

Having a fatalistic view of relationships means I cannot see past the next fight (which might be a fight *I* create), because I need to be ready to leave, ready to be wholly independent instead of interdependent, and the amount of vulnerability I would need to give to a person long term is enough vulnerability to destroy me. Of course I crave stable, non-chaotic love…but there is a deep desire for me to have chaos again…the craving becomes visceral and I feel like I am fighting an internal battle not to destroy a calm relationship.

How does one overcome disorganized attachment? As my therapist, Dave, has been unpacking (and repackaging) my experiences, I am able to see threads of where my actions and reactions come from (duh, isn’t that the point of therapy?). Dave is able to see connections I cannot (or refuse to) see and delivers them with kindness. Disorganized attachment is tied to abuse and PTSD, and it seems like it is hard to move towards secure attachment without addressing those gigantic blockers. I have been working on boundaries, kindness towards myself, self-soothing, and attempting to trust people as they earn my vulnerability and trust (how exactly that works for a recovering codependent is beyond me).

This is complex trauma, and this is what unraveling it looks like. None of our actions stand alone and we are not without faults. But hopefully we have a Dave in our life that can guide us through the chaos.

Writer’s Note: I usually skip the sappy shit about my therapist when I am reading these posts to him because it is embarrassing. Dave refuses to read my blog (a boundary we both have) and so he wasn’t aware of how much I appreciate him…until a few weeks ago, and he got all teary-eyed and thanked me for telling him. I hated every second of it…because I don’t want to show vulnerability with a man who knows psychology AND all of the crazy stuff I have experienced. And yeah, yeah, yeah, we are delving into sex and control as well. I hate it.

Writer’s Note #2: If you are my family and you have even a REMOTE desire to text/call/email/or send me a pigeon invalidating my childhood experiences, I suggest you 1) don’t and 2) stop being in denial and ask yourself if shooting a TV in the house is your idea of a non-abusive household. I have asked that you stop reading. “If someone tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide you didn’t.”