Spiritual Attachment Disorder (SAD)

Once upon a time, there was a loving Parent who walked with his children in peace and security—Paradise. But then something terrible happened: separation. The children were disconnected from their Caregiver. The relationship was severed because of rebellion, because of sin. Now, to this day, those children wander the Earth seeking to fill the void that was created in the loss. But, as they desperately attempt to connect with the world around them, only emptiness is found. Nothing can replace what once was. Nothing can make the children whole again except a reconnection to their life source.

This phenomenon of the Fall, the separation of God and man, has essentially created an Attachment Disorder (AD).

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What is AD and what are the repercussions?

AD is a psychological theory which describes what happens in a person’s life as they mature without having properly attached to a primary caregiver. Here attachment means “the affectional tie between two people” (Nancy L. Thomas, When Love is Not Enough, 5). Primarily, we are talking about the bond between the mother, or primary caregiver, and the child. This relationship is absolutely, the most important relationship in a child’s life for it will inevitably form the pattern of relationships for the rest of that child’s life.

Now speaking specifically of AD, it is defined as “the condition in which individuals have difficulty forming lasting relationships. They often show nearly a complete lack of ability to be genuinely affectionate with others. They typically fail to develop a conscience and do not learn to trust” (Thomas, 5). This damage mainly occurs within the first three years of life when a child is abused or separated from one primary caretaker, and it causes the child to grow up with an inability to trust others to take care of them. Therefore the child rebels against authority or any attempts from others to help manage their life. Since the child never successfully attached to their caregiver, they will be unable to attach to anyone else. They are essentially disconnected from the rest of humanity.

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In spiritual terms, we all suffer from an attachment disorder. We all suffer from Spiritual Attachment Disorder (SAD) because sin has torn us from our Primary Caregiver. Consequently we have difficulties in trusting our Heavenly Father. We spend our lives trying to find meaning and purpose elsewhere. We put our identity into anything and everything. But nothing fits, so our entire livelihood suffers. If we do not know God’s love, then we can never receive nor give proper love.

How to overcome?

For those afflicted by SAD, the human race, the true Father has a message: “On the day you were born, you were unwanted, dumped in a field and left to die. But I came by and saw you there, helplessly kicking about in your own blood. As you lay there, I said, ‘Live!’ And I helped you to thrive like a plant in the field. You grew up and became a beautiful jewel” (Ezekiel 16:5-7).

God did not abandon us. We rebelled against him. We created our own detachment. But God offers to bring us back regardless. To assist children dealing with AD, therapists help the children to learn some basic functions of life: establishing respect, teaching self-control, establishing healthy boundaries and expectations, forming responsibility, teaching the child to think for themselves, and building a positive self-image. Not surprisingly, God does those same things for us. Ultimately, when a person has formed an attachment disorder throughout their life, they must allow Christ to transform their mind (Romans 12:2). It requires a complete overhaul—a total rewiring of the brain.

One last fascinating point on remedying AD is that of holding therapy in which the caregiver simply holds the child to offer comfort and security. “Holding therapy has been documented by research to be highly effective. Since 1972 it has been safely used with excellent result” (Thomas, 22). As God’s children, we often just need to run into the arms of our Heavenly Father. We only need to rest in his embrace to find protection and provision. We can find that he is indeed trustworthy. In him is found peace, security, and identity.

At some point, everyone leaves us, everyone fails us, whether a person dies, moves, or disappoints. But God never leaves us nor forsakes us. He is the only one who is always there and never fails. Stop striving. Rest in him today!

Finley is a Master’s research student at Liberty University. He and his wife Carmen serve as house parents at His House Children’s Home in Miami, helping children who have been disconnected from their earthly caregiver to reconnect with their Heavenly Caregiver.

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2 Responses to “Spiritual Attachment Disorder (SAD)”

  1. This is fascinating how you related our spiritual brokenness from the fall to being an attachment disorder. I study Psychology heavily, so this really hits home with me. I have a question. What would you say to a person who is exactly opposite of the avoidant side of the attachment disorder? What if the person has an aching longing to be close to God but feels and sees God as indifferent and uninvolved most of the time, therefore, the person feels hopeless and goes back and forth with trusting and distrusting God?

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  2. Hi Rachel, thank you so much for your comment!

    Psychology certainly fascinates me as well. My wife is actually the one with a Master’s in counseling though! I’m afraid there’s no easy answer to your question (there rarely are easy answers to these sorts of issues). I would probably start with a couple of preliminary steps: 1) You will mostly want to listen to the person express themselves freely. Especially, if they are willing and vulnerable enough to open up, then you definitely want to offer compassion and understanding. God is not self-conscious or lacking in self-esteem. He can handle our doubts and questions. He has no need to be defensive. 2) It may be helpful for the person to first consider “why” they feel this way about God; why does God seem indifferent/uninvolved? 3) If appropriate, you may gently remind the person that our feelings, while neither right nor wrong, do not equate to truth. Whether we trust God or not has no difference in the truth of God. Much of this is simply normal. Faith and trust do not mean the absence of doubt. One could argue that faith requires a degree of doubt. So one of the important things to remember is to not get stuck in sorrow over these doubts. Even Jesus expressed deep sadness on the cross at the feeling of abandonment as His Father turned away. No one has ached or longed more than Christ, so we can take comfort in Him because He understands.

    My counselor wife also had some thoughts:
    There are a few different words for the opposite of avoidant…anxious, preoccupied, fearful, dismissive. I’m not sure if that would exactly fit in this situation because an aching longing to be close to God is actually a very healthy and natural desire, something put in us by God that should be met. God says that when we seek Him with ALL OUR HEART, He will be found by us. The problem is more in their perception of God. For this, I would wonder about the person’s perception of their primary caregiver or some other important figure in their life – does this person also see them as indifferent? Counseling is a wonderful resource that can help a person to unpack these feelings and discover where they come from. These feelings and perceptions don’t come from God or what we learn of Him from Scripture, so they must come from some other place, and discovering that is the beginning to a healing process and seeing God as He truly is – all-loving and desiring a relationship with us.

    Hope any of that helps!

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