Attachment Plays a Role in the Development of Eating Disorders

Posted on July 24, 2017

Insecure attachment has been found to be a major factor of eating disorder development (Bruch, 1982). Attachment is innate in humans and motivates infants to stay close and look for caregivers, especially in harmful situations (Mikulincer and Shaver, 2007). It determines our sense of security and perceived support we get from others.

People with secure attachment are generally optimistic, feel safe and worthy and are better able to regulate their emotions. They are confident that others will help them when needed. People with insecure attachment are unsure that others will help them, and do not feel that they are worthy of the love others show them. As such, they have different coping strategies for negative events and emotions. Two insecure attachment patterns are anxious and avoidance (Bowlby, 1973). Anxious persons are sensitive to the responsiveness of people, but expect low responsiveness from others. Avoidant persons deny their need for attachment and intimate relationships.

These unhealthy patterns of attachment add to psychological and social problems when they become coping strategies. The dysfunctional thinking patterns of insecurely attached people makes them more prone to distress, and puts them at a risk for self-destructive acts like eating disorders (Tasca, et al. 2009). Being concerned about eating and weight directs their attention from feelings of helplessness and vulnerability to goals that can be measured and seen externally (Wedig and Nock, 2010). Some people with anorexia feel in control of their eating and weight, when every other area in their life seems to be out of their control.

Eating disorders usually begin in the adolescent years (Gander et al., 2015). It typically begins with small goals for weight loss. This weight loss is often accompanied with a positive response from their friends or adults. The positive emotions they feel towards these compliments is slowly associated with weight loss and a way to cope with negative emotions over time. This becomes habitual and dieting becomes gratifying (Walsh, 2013).

Research has shown that a person’s attachment pattern and sense of security can be improved (Ginot, 2015). For example, being in a relationship with a reliable person can increase the person’s perceived sense of security.

Therapy may help as well. Reflective awareness and reappraising cognitions can create neuroplastic changes in the client’s unconscious, and increase their ability to create secure attachments (Amianto, 2016). The client’s brain structure, which has already been shaped in early life, remain the biggest challenge in changing and building more secure relationships. As such, younger patients will show better results to treatment.

Category(s):Attachment Issues, Eating Disorders

Source material from Psychology Today

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