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Dysfunction Interrupted-The Effects of Attachment Problems on Planning Your Life

Dysfunctional homes and environments can create a myriad of difficulties related to life planning skills and emotional success and the one that I see the most in clients is an inability or reluctance to plan for the future.  You might not even understand the importance of a life plan or road map.

If you have been abandoned, or threatened with abandonment, emotionally or physically, you may not believe that anything lasts so why bother? You may just live by the seat of your pants, ready to run or move to protect yourself from further pain.

If you have been physically or emotionally abused, you may still be reeling from confusion, anxiety and/or depression and not be sure where to focus your mental energies for your well-being.

Both of these scenarios can create attachment disorders or difficulties that can last a lifetime. Besides the problems with relationships and trusting others, it seeps out into many life scenarios that you may have thought were unrelated. As mentioned above, there is the ongoing belief that nothing lasts. This can become a deep seated belief in your brain that affects how you go through life in areas such as work, community and bonding with others.

Are you the person who has no pictures on the walls or still lives in boxes months or even years after a move? No personal effects at work on your desk? No personal effects in your home? Is your thinking and planning short term and focused on just getting by for now?

Do you prefer to be alone or with a couple of friends and not get involved with groups or events? Do you go from one partner to the next and not think long term about children, friendship, empty nest with this person and so on? Your main thought may be “if it doesn’t work out I can always get a divorce.”

Some of this results from the belief that you have no control over your own life. A home or background that leaves you feeling abandoned or unsafe also leaves you feeling that you have no control. After all, you are not calling the shots in those situations, you are on the receiving end of them. This can leave you with a sense of helplessness and a brain that goes into basic survival mode.

If you medicate yourself with drugs or alcohol to avoid the emotional pain it interferes also with future planning, numbing you to your own life and stealing the clarity you need to make and carry out a sound plan.

The problem with not having a plan or seeing the need for one is that time is going to pass anyway, it may as well pass with you being the happiest you can be, not feeling like you are existing in the shadows.  Taking charge of your life, digging in and creating a niche for yourself will bring you the satisfaction, belonging and self actualization that you need to feel fulfilled.

If those basic emotional needs are not met, you can find yourself at middle age or later years with many regrets and not much time left to recreate things. At that point it is apparent that the dysfunctional background and patterns have stolen much of your life, not just your early years. That is why it is important to get a plan now, wherever you are and not let attachment or any other emotional ills steal another minute of your time. You can have a lifetime plan and still work on getting the bugs out.

Here is what I recommend if you are struggling with finding your niche.

  1. Sit and write a description or a list of your ideal life, one that includes how many friends you would like, your finances, activities, family life, all of it.
  2.  Sit also and write out your eulogy. What would you like to be remembered for when you are gone, what type of family or social legacy would you like to leave?
  3. Now make a roadmap of how to accomplish the things on the map. If you are like others with attachment difficulties you may have a hard time even coming up with these as they don’t feel like something you can control. But you can and you can learn that as you go, don’t worry about that now, just think through these questions in lots of detail.
  4. Wherever you are career wise, dig in and claim your space. Even if its not where you want to be ultimately, you will feel better feeling you are a part of things than feeling like you have a foot out the door. It doesn’t mean you are stuck there.
  5. Same with your city and living arrangement. Dig in, belong. Join things. When you do this and start to experience that sense of belonging you may find you are in just the right place. It may take a few attempts to find the right place. You’ll find it, keep looking.
  6. Don’t let the term attachment problem or difficulty define who you are. It is just a term, not a life sentence. Once you understand how you are affected by it you can turn things around.
  7. Even if you are reading this in horror, thinking this just isn’t you and you would hate doing these things, give it a try. Most people with attachment disorders are horrified at the prospect of all this connectedness at first. It may seem like a lot of work.
  8. Get your self esteem in order. This is usually the first step in correcting attachment difficulties as it is the part of you that was harmed. There are many wonderful resources including psychotherapy that can help you with this work. Low self esteem often underlies depression and anxiety.

Once you are cognizant of the cause of something it becomes easier to correct. For you, you will learn to do away with dysfunctional thinking patterns that came about due to no fault of your own. Your brain developed these as a defense mechanism to protect you from further pain. You can thank it for that and then teach it some new ways to think now that you are on your own, hopefully away from the toxicity that created the problems in the first place.

Emotional success depends on feeling in control of yourself and your destiny to the degree any of us can. The feelings of  hope and  belonging can carry you through tough times and insulate you when bad things happen. Facing the world feeling alone and like you don’t fit anywhere breeds despair.

Dysfunction Interrupted-The Effects of Attachment Problems on Planning Your Life

Audrey Sherman, Ph.D.

Dr. Audrey Sherman is a licensed psychologist, coach and the author of the book Dysfunction Interrupted-How to Quickly Overcome Depression, Anxiety and Anger Starting Now. Her expertise is in defining, describing and transforming dysfunctional behavior and thought patterns learned in childhood or beyond that keep you anxious, depressed, angry, stuck in unhappy and unproductive relationships, jobs and more. Dr. Sherman developed the Dysfunctional Patterns Quiz and other free resources to help you determine the effects of these on your life. She works with individuals, conducts live and online workshops and trains others in her programs. To learn more about Dr. Sherman, you can visit her website.

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APA Reference
Sherman, A. (2018). Dysfunction Interrupted-The Effects of Attachment Problems on Planning Your Life. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 11, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Oct 2018
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