Attachment and Human Survival

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What is it about childhood experiences that influence the kind of adult we become? For John Bowlby and others who developed Attachment theory, much of the answer lies in the quality of early attachments to our primary caregivers. When those attachments are secure, we can develop a safe sense of self. When insecure, we may go on seeking safety throughout our lives, in inappropriate and painful ways. Attachment, argued Bowlby, is a matter for individual and species survival.Using principles pioneered by Bowlby, this volume explores the importance of attachments to individuals and communities. Drawing on the work of leading figures in the field of Attachment research and clinical practice, this book introduces readers to the basic ideas and applications of Attachment theory. Chapters explore, for example, the role of attachment experience in brain development, the cultural and institutional contexts in which attachment systems operate, the political consequences of personal suffering and the uses of Attachment theory in psychotherapy. 'We are convinced that knowledge of the conditions for secure attachments should be at the heart of our institutional, cultural and political life. It should inform the ways we parent, create social policy, shape the economy, and govern our domestic and international political relations.'We have written [this book] for a wide, lay audience. It is our hope that it will encourage readers to understand that the ways we treat our children shape our quality of life, that the responsibility for emotional health and human development belongs to us all, and that attachments matter from the cradle to the grave.'- From the IntroductionContributors:Joan Woodward; Daniel J. Siegel; Marci Green; Marc Scholes; Peter Marris; Jeremy Woodcock; Felicity de Zulueta; and Chris Purnell.

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CHAPTER ONE: Introduction to attachment theory

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Joan Woodward

I hope that this introduction to Attachment Theory will help those to whom it is unfamiliar to realize that in some sense they have “known” about it ever since they can remember. I believe that this is because Attachment Theory is a theory of human development that makes sense to us all if we are able to examine our lives with honesty. We may be reluctant to apply it to ourselves, for all sorts of reasons, but it is a theory that we can readily understand and we can often quite easily see how it applies to other people that we know well.

Dr John Bowlby took over ten years to write his book Attachment, Separation and Loss, in which he first formulated Attachment Theory. He wrote it originally as three separate books, over the period of 1969 to 1980, though they are now put together as one. He defined Attachment Theory as: “A way of conceptualising the propensity of human beings to make strong affectional bonds to particular others”. (Bowlby, 1979) He came to this conclusion after spending years observing the relationship between children and their mothers. He chose to study the maternal-child relationship because of its universality. It exists not only in all human cultures but also in the animal world. The detailed observations that Bowlby made led him to recognize that we humans, like some animals, have an instinctive behaviour pattern that leads us to make these strong affectional bonds to particular others. He saw that these bonds are quite different from the generalized, so-called “dependency needs” described by earlier psychoanalysts. (Bowlby thought that some analysts described these needs in disparaging ways.) Indeed, he believed that strong affectional bonds exist throughout our lives and are not something “babyish” to grow out of. Furthermore, these bonds are highly particular in that they are directed at a few individuals in a clear order of preference. Nearly everyone knows immediately who their closest attachment figure is. Babies know this even before they are able to articulate it. Most people can list three or four other attachment figures in descending order following their primary one without difficulty and then find that they do not differentiate much after that.

 

CHAPTER TWO: Attachment and self-understanding: parenting with the brain in mind

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Daniel J. Siegel

Introduction

The word “attachment”, and the idea that early attachments matter throughout life, can evoke a wide range of responses from parents, policy-makers, educators, and others concerned with how children develop. For some, it signifies a positive experience of the relationship between child and parent. For others, a sense of dread may emerge with the idea that somehow what has happened early in life will determine destiny without hope of liberation from patterns of the past. The old notion, a misinterpretation of the field of attachment research, is that our early life experiences somehow determine our fate without a chance for change. Such a view gives rise to a sense of hopelessness: What is the point of learning about attachment if it just tells you that you are helpless to make a change as an adult? The fact of the matter is that this fatalistic notion is wrong. Carefully conducted scientific studies have shown us that it is not what happened to you that matters most in determining how you raise your children; instead, it is how you have come to make sense of your early life experiences that is the most robust predictor of how your children will become attached to you. Amazing, but true! In this chapter I will invite you to sit down with me and explore the wonderfully intriguing ideas and accessible practical implementations of the science of attachment.

 

CHAPTER THREE: Education for what? Attachment, culture and society

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Marci Green and Marc Scholes

Human society is made by people. As infants, we seek attachment with our primary care-givers for our comfort and security. This intimate environment of conversation and exchange is our first contact with the world “out there”. That world is the larger environment inhabited by others, whom we gradually come to meet through family, neighbourhood, jobs, and community. These social settings influence the abilities of our primary care-givers to meet our needs, but they are also part of the wider social networks in which we come to live as children, adolescents, and adults.

We are social beings who think, feel, and do things in relation to others, and these relationships make life and society possible. Through these relationships, we develop a sense of self. This happens first through our intimate, face-to-face exchanges with our primary care-givers, and then through our wider connections with others. In the course of our development, we take into ourselves (internalize) many of the values and beliefs of our culture, as we learn what are considered appropriate ways of thinking and behaving in the society in which we live. This knowledge then becomes part of our sense of self. Ideally, there will be a comfortable fit between our sense of self, the expectations of others, and the rules of membership in the wider society, particularly if our social institutions and culture can meet our attachment needs. But, what happens if our social institutions and culture fail to do this; if the dominant values and expected ways of behaving are at odds with our need to seek and maintain secure attachments? This conflict—between our need for secure attachments, and the values that societies generate and reward-threatens the mental health of individuals and communities.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: Attachment theory and ageing

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Joan Woodward

In Victorian times the prescription for children—now thankfully blown away—was that they should be “seen but not heard”. In our society today, elderly people are neither “seen” nor “heard” in the sense of being fully valued, or perceived as playing any worthwhile role. This attitude to elderly people not only denies their attachment needs, but by and large makes it impossible for them to be met. It contradicts the core belief within Attachment Theory that attachment needs are vital from “the cradle to the grave”. This chapter attempts to raise some of the reasons why the elderly are seen in this way. It particularly emphasizes how the cultural issue of sexism so strongly influences the different way ageing is experienced by men and women. It goes on to explore the different stages of ageing, with the inevitable ageist attitudes that accompany them. Finally, it suggests how the attachment needs of the elderly could be put into practice in the area of housing, which would reflect the change in attitude that is so desperately needed.

 

CHAPTER FIVE: Attachment and social policy

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Peter Marris

Introduction

From birth, children are ready to begin the relationship which, more than any other, will form their personalities. Within their first year, unless they are very unlucky, they become uniquely attached to their primary care-givers—mother, especially, father or grandmother, or their adoptive parents. As they grow, and the attachment evolves, so their confidence grows with it. They begin to explore the social world that attachment opens to them, and they learn to trust or mistrust it, as they have learned to trust or mistrust the attachment itself. So this first relationship to our parenting figures profoundly influences who we grow up to be, and how we see the world we make for ourselves. Secure and nurturing childhoods foster adults who, whatever their difficulties, have an inner confidence to withstand the misfortunes of life, and an ability to love and trust. Insecurity fosters mistrust, self-contempt, loneliness, hatred, and revenge. All too often, those whose yearning for attachment has been abused or neglected in their childhood inflict the same cruelty on their own children. You would think, then, that every society would do its utmost to protect and support a relationship so fundamental to our well-being. It would do all it could to give mothers and fathers the time and energy they need to bond with their children. It would encourage parental leave and flexible employment schedules. It would try to prevent changes that disrupt families and the networks of kinship and mutual support on which they depend. And it would try to ensure that every family was guaranteed basic economic security. Yet the ideas which guide the policies of modern nations contradict these simple and seemingly obvious prescriptions in almost every way. In this chapter, I will try to explain how and why this is so, and how, instead, we could use our understanding of attachment to change them.

 

CHAPTER SIX: Torture, political violence and attachment

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Jeremy Woodcock

Introduction

In this chapter we seek to understand the impact of torture and organized political violence on ordinary people and see how violence that is overwhelming affects people’s emotional attachments. In reaching an understanding of how violence may fundamentally alter survivors’ emotional attachments, we need to learn that torture and political violence do not happen in isolation. They are part of a wider global political picture and many people who are survivors of political violence fly into exile and become refugees in order to escape with their lives. The result of this is that attachments are not only altered by violence but also are fundamentally changed in very practical ways by separation and loss.

War, political atrocity and vulnerability

Since the end of the Second World War and the formation of the United Nations it is staggering to realize that there have been over 170 wars in which well over 30 million people are estimated to have died, and the greatest number of those have been civilian deaths. Political regimes have used violence to enforce their rule and most often community leaders and other prominent people, such as teachers, doctors, religious leaders, and local politicians have been made the target of oppression. This is because oppressive regimes and political movements realize that if local leadership is broken, resistance to them will be harder to organize and maintain. Often, whole groups and communities have been subjected to violence. Social networks, neighbourhoods, whole family groups, people’s histories, and whole ways of life have been destroyed deliberately and indiscriminately. This often happens because regimes characterize the “enemy” as less than human. In doing this they weaken the fundamental resistance in themselves and their soldiers to killing the innocent.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: Human violence is a preventable disease

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Felicity de Zulueta

Introduction

T A Tho would believe, amid such violence and destruction, \l\l that human beings are actually programmed to be V V sociable, friendly, and even loving to one another? Whether we are, or not, depends very much on our early attachment experiences, and how we are then treated in the course of our lifetime.

This chapter reflects on how personal suffering may come to be expressed in violent ways. We begin by exploring attachment relations as part of a wider social nexus of family and community attachments, and by understanding the importance of group connections and values in shaping our understanding of our “selves”. We then consider how failed attachments may come to be experienced and expressed through domestic violence, violence that is enabled by gender inequalities. Finally, we turn more generally to reflect on the “cultures” of violence in which we live. Societies that culturally condone and legitimate violence, through, say, ideas about “acceptable” uses of punishment, create the conditions of their own destruction.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: Attachment theory and attachment-based therapy

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Chris Purnell

June was becoming increasingly desperate to get through the checkout and get home. Her two-year-old son, Adam, sitting in the front of her supermarket trolley, was tired and irritable. He screamed in frustration as he struggled to free himself from the trolley seat, and held out his arms towards his mother demanding to be picked up.

There was little that she felt able to do to pacify him as she struggled to pack her shopping into bags. She turned and smiled apologetically to the woman behind her in the queue in response to the disapproving gaze that was focused upon Adam. A man standing behind the woman visibly winced, his nerves jangling, as Adam let out another piercing shriek. June thrust payment for her shopping in the direction of the cashier with one hand and reached towards her son with the other in a further attempt to calm him. The cashier smiled sympathetically as she gave June the change for her shopping.

Thankfully, June put the money into her purse and wheeled the trolley out of the shop. Immediately she stopped and picked Adam, still screaming, out of his seat and held him. For a few moments he continued to scream as she spoke gently into his ear and held him to her, then he began to calm as the physical closeness and her words reached him through his protest. His crying reduced to a whimper as he snuggled against her, feeling reassured and comforted by the physical contact.

 

CHAPTER NINE: Their daughter, my self: a personal journey

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Anonymous

Editors’ note. On a visit to the United States in 2001 to attend a seminar on attachment, Marci Green met up with a remarkable woman. In the course of their few days they shared their views on attachment, they spoke about this book, and the issues that it should cover. Out of that discussion came her extraordinary offer to write this personal account of her experiences of failed attachment and the processes by which she came to establish a secure base within herself with the help of an attachment therapist. We were honoured that she was willing to share this autobiographical narrative and believe it is a fitting chapter with which to bring this book to a close. We are truly grateful for this contribution.

* * *

January 1994

She sits down beside me, collecting my hand. Exposing my wrist to feel my pulse, she says, “Count back from 100, subtracting seven as you go”.

I wonder if this is a game, or an entrance exam. Either way, she is waiting. Anxious good will sets me in motion, and so I begin.

 

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