Reactive affective disorder: symptoms, causes and treatment

A kiss, a hug, a caress … all of this has something in common: in most cases they are carried out with affectionAnd most of us are awakened by feelings of warmth and affection. Imagine for a second that you were transposed into the karmic world of Earl. Or what we did, but without any affection or emotion. We also imagine that we have always felt secondary, unimportant to our loved ones. How would we feel? How would we relate to others?

It would not be uncommon for this to cause us serious limitations, which would mark and hinder our development as people and our social relationships. This is what happens to people with reactive affective disorder. Let’s see what it is.

    Reactive affective disorder: main symptoms

    Reactive affective disorder is one of the disorders related to trauma and stressors. It is also a new disorder included in the latest version of the reference manual of clinical psychology and psychiatry, the DSM 5.

    Reactive Affective Disorder is characterized by the presence in children over nine months of age of a pattern of behavior in which there is a high level of emotional and affective inhibition towards their caregivers, Not to seek and even avoid contact and consolation within themselves when a stimulus or a situation arises which frightens them or causes them pain or agitation. In general, the subject feels unimportant and valued, and does not have a strong emotional connection with him.

    This pattern of inhibition is maintained not only with their caregivers but also at the social level, expressing difficulties in reacting emotionally to the social environment and often manifesting irritability, sadness or fear of caregivers and all in situations which do not involve a threat. They often express few positive feelings or emotions in social interactions.

    The symptoms described above can be seen before the age of five, and it is important to note that they can only be diagnosed if the diagnostic criteria for autism are not met. In that sense, it’s easy observe a certain similarity between certain aspects of the symptomatology of the two disorders, But there are big differences. One of these is its cause, which in the case of reactive disease has been identified and is in fact part of its diagnostic criteria.

      the causes

      The causes of reactive affective disorder, a condition in fact at its diagnosis, are mainly found in insufficient care during the first years of life. The subject did not receive sufficient affection or did not meet their emotional needs and basic physiological care, affection and protection and / or care.

      It is more common in families where parents have poor parenting skills or where they tend not to express their feelings. It is common to occur in unstructured families, which do not provide or supplement the basic needs of the child.

      It is also possible that domestic violence has occurred, whether physical or not, whether or not directed against the child in question, or sexual abuse. However, this does not mean that it cannot occur in families without great socio-economic difficulties, the decisive fact being that they have not met or have not been able to sufficiently meet the needs of the family. ‘affection, or have been excessively ambivalent in the expression of affectivity to the subject in question.

      They may also have minor ailments who have undergone several changes of primary caregivers (for custody matters), or those who have been educated in institutions and settings such as orphanages or auspices in which they have not received enough time or care. their emotional needs. It should be noted that the experience of these circumstances should not cause trouble.


        The treatment of reactive state disorder is complex and requires a multidisciplinary approach in which professionals from psychology, medicine, social work, education and the field can come together.

        The subject must be able to establish a strong link with a referral caregiver who offers emotional support. This is why subjects with this type of disorder often benefit from the use of family therapy, not only to treat the subject but also to establish appropriate educational guidelines in cases where there is a deficit in parenting skills.

        It is essential to work on the emotional component with the child. In this sense, it will be very useful the use of therapies dedicated to strengthening the subject’s self-esteem, As well as social skills training. Cognitive restructuring has made it possible to change the dysfunctional cognitions that the subject may have on the social bond.

        It should also be borne in mind that some cases arise in a context of serious neglect of the needs of the child, with circumstances which even endanger the life of the subject. like the existence of drug addiction on the part of the parents. In this aspect removal of guardianship or custody by a judge may be necessary whether temporarily or permanently.

        Bibliographical references:

        • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth edition. DSM-V. Masson, Barcelona.

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