This is the fourth part in a series on attachment theory. I am summarizing my reading of A Secure Base, by John Bowlby. Bowlby was one of the premier researchers on attachment theory, which is the basis for attachment parenting.
Chapter 2, A Secure Base
We left off with a new finding of an alternative theory to why babies seek to be close to their mothers. An alternative model had been found. Ducklings and goslings who clearly were attached to their mothers and yet, the need for food was not an issue.
Using this new framework to define attachment, Bowlby began to examine traditional psychoanalysis regarding the phenomena that Freud pointed to: love relations, separation anxiety, mourning, defense, anger, guilt, depression, trauma, emotional detachment, sensitive periods in early life, etc.
Instead of working backward, from adults with these diagnoses, Bowlby began to trace childhood traumas toward these adult states. Additionally, instead of making leaps from his subjects’ thoughts and feelings, Bowlby instead made observations of children in certain settings, including their own expressions and from there built a theory of personality development.
In formulating a new theory, Bowlby added to his research a study by Harlow that said in a study of Macaque monkeys, a soft doll was preferred over a hard one, the only noticeable difference was the texture of the doll.
While attachment behavior is most obvious during childhood and more clearly articulated during times of sickness, fatigue or stress, it is always present. Knowing that a there is another person available who will be sensitive and responsive gives a secure feeling, thus allowing world exploration without anxiety. At any age, it is an important part of human development and acts like an insurance policy.
Because Bowlby approached his new theory with observation of behavior, it was regarded by some as simply another form of behaviorism. One reason for this is that attachment and attachment behavior is not always distinguished. Attachment is the predisposition by one person to seek proximity to another person and especially under certain conditions. Attachment behavior is any behavior that is engaged in order to maintain that proximity. Attachment behavior may change based on differing conditions, but an enduring attachment is usually reserved to only a few people. When children fail to show discrimination with attachment behavior that is a clear sign that the child is disturbed. The reason for this is that the behavior is not being activated. This results in an emotionally detached child and, eventually, adult.
This emotional detachment results in what cognitive psychologists call a “false self” or narcissism. This behavior is caused by certain information being blocked, thus leaving the person without the use of attachment behavior and results in the inability to love or experience the feeling of being loved.
While developing his new framework, Bowlby learned of another physician, Margaret Mahler,who was interested in how people arrive at the self. Not comparing the two frameworks, but instead, using her theories to strengthen his own, Bowlby noticed the closeness in which they related. Mahler’s theories include some of Bowlby’s that children need to “refuel” in order to develop.
Bowlby describes his research on maternal deprivation as extremely rewarding and finds that the amount is not just ample, but extensive. In the late 1970s, a principal finding was the two or more adverse events multiplied many times over the potential for psychological disturbance. One example was a study of depressive disorders in women. The group of researchers, Brown and Harris, continued this research on into the 1980s. The findings showed that not only were numerous adverse events likely to cause psychological disturbance, but they just continue to multiply. For example, people brought up in unhappy or disrupted homes were more likely to have illegitimate children, become teen mothers, or have unhappy marriages and/or get divorced. These adverse events snowball, one making the next one more likely. While the earlier events were set apart from the later ones, they were found to be the cause of personality disturbances that caused the adverse events to happen initially.
These patterns of maternal deprivation were traced to psychological disturbances from generations past. For example, a mother who grows up to be anxiously attached, would likely seek care from her own child, thus causing that child to become anxious, guilty and perhaps, phobic. These generational leaps were found to be most serious.
Research on how parents’ childhood experiences effect the way they treat their own children began in the 1980s, but Bowlby estimated that it seemed likely to be one of the most fruitful areas of research.
Bowlby spent much time developing his theory because, as a peer told him, “‘There is nothing so practical as a good theory, and, of course, nothing so handicapping as a poor one.'” His hope was that eventually his theory would prove useful in helping parents learn, for certain, how to best promote healthy personality development. Once that is known, then parents will know what is best for their children and then society will be able to provide it.
Woo hoo. That is some heavy stuff. Good, but heavy. Sorry I’m a day late. I’m off to go find something silly to even this out with.