The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Attachment disorder and the Christian pilgrimage

Attachment disorder is commonly defined as behavior stemming from one's failure to bond with a primary caregiver during early childhood. This can result in challenges for a person in forming relationships later in life and can be devastating to both those suffering from the disorder and to their loved ones. Thus, attachment disorder in this context is not beneficial.

But being on a spiritual pilgrimage and having attachment disorder traits as they relate to the things of the secular world can be positive. Jesus said in John 17:15-16: "I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world." As followers of Christ we live in the world but do not belong to it. As human beings on this side of God's kingdom we must live with all of the shortcomings and evil with which this world confronts us daily.

In our society with all of its high-tech gizmos, we are never far from hearing about things that can depress us. In a moment's notice we can have more information at our fingertips than we could ever use in a lifetime. But what good is most of it as it relates to our relationship with our Lord?

The question is "How can we live in the world and not be part of it?" What we need is a little bit of attachment disorder as it relates to the concerns of the world. In Matthew 26:41, Jesus tells us to "stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." How do we stay awake and pray in this noise-filled and extremely busy society in which we live? By doing what Jesus often did: going away and praying as part of a disciplined spiritual life.

We must frequently detach ourselves from the world physically, mentally and, most importantly, spiritually in order to become the person God wants us to be on this side of the kingdom. Thus, in this context, Christians on their spiritual pilgrimage should embrace attachment disorder traits as they relate to the world's stresses and follow Jesus' practices of a disciplined life of prayer. We do this so that Christ's light and love can be shown through us to a sometimes dark and evil world.


Gary Sterner

Gary Sterner

Posted at 1:52 pm (U.S. Eastern) 11/23/2010

Diagnostic categories for mental disorders are sometimes not that helpful but with interpersonally disabled persons the Attachment Disorder model can help a therapists do the difficult work that would seem imposible otherwise. It seems a stretch to equate a model for understanding a very fragil, isolated person to the idea that we would benefit from not attaching to things of this world.  Gary Sterner, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist, Retired.

Posted at 4:31 pm (U.S. Eastern) 11/23/2010

Desire and grasping after things in life can lead to much suffering. I like the theme of detachment and appreciate Mr. Jones for sharing it. Although Advent is about waiting, it could also be about detachment and letting things go. So much unhappiness in life is tied to the fact that most of us are either hanging on to things and even people until our knuckles are white, or dreading what life may bring us. Much of my prayer life involves letting go, which is where peace is ultimately found.

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