I’ve had a few readers of late inquire about whether psychopathy could be the result of an attachment disorder. I’ll have a chance – if I remember – to relay this question to my therapist – who has, in passing, mentioned the possibility to me – in the near future, but I want to lay some groundwork before we get there. Attachment disorders at their heart are very simple to understand; for one reason or another an individual simply does not form bonds with others. The classic case is the child that does not attach to her mother due to abuse or negligence, for instance. So what does this have to do with the antisocial spectrum? Well, it would certainly seem plausible that an individual that is unable to form bonds would be hostile or otherwise indifferent toward others, hallmarks of antisocial behavior.
Callousness could be explained as a means of giving others – whom are in the perpetual out-group of the one with an attachment disorder – what they “deserve.” A lack of trust would follow almost immediately from the definition of an attachment disorder. Asocial, brooding, behavior could result from one who feels perpetually “left out” or otherwise indifferent to the state of others. Narcissism could arise from being the center of one’s world – since all others cannot enter that world as it would require bonding. So on and so forth. The one argument that sways me most regarding this topic is that of hostility born from a belief that one cannot depend on others for anything. Resentment and potential antisocial behavior would find such a state to be a perfect breeding grounds.
I’m not completely sold on the theory, however. There are still well-documented neurological differences between psychopaths and neurotypicals (and psychopaths and ASPD individuals, for that matter). Facets such as impulsivity or an inability to plan for the future do not seem to follow from the definition of an attachment disorder. I know that in my case, that I have many relatives who are antisocial, suggesting a genetic link. However, I cannot deny the abuse I suffered at the hands of my parents either. I do not form bonds of any sort; I trust no one and I depend on no one. I think that the reality is that the comorbidity of antisocial disorders, including psychopathy, and attachment disorders is complex and not easily understood. Should I remember, I will pick my therapists brain on this subject.