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Attachment Theory and Psychoanalysis

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This book undertakes to demontrate that the relationship between attachment theory and psychoanalysis is more complex than adherants of either community generally recognize. Beginning with a brief overview of attachment theory and some key findings of attachment research, and continuing through psychoanalytic approaches from Freud to Daniel Stern, this book offers a unique contribution to our understanding of our the subject.

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1. Introduction to Attachment Theory

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Attachment theory is almost unique among psychoanalytic theories in bridging the gap between general psychology and clinical psy-chodynamic theory. Many have noted the gulf that exists to this day between theories of the mind that have their roots in empirical social science (largely psychological research), and clinical theories that focus on the significance of individual experience in determining life course, including psychopathology. Paul Whittle (in press) recently described this discontinuity of theories as a fault line that runs across the entire discipline of psychology. Indeed, it is easy to discern the fault line between the tectonic plates of psychoanalysis, where giving meaning to experience is seen as the primary cause of behavior as well as the royal road to its therapeutic change, and the abutting plate of experimental psychology, with its emphasis on parsimony, insistence on reliable observation, and abhorrence of rhetoric and speculative theory-building. Yet attachment theory has a home on both sides of the fault line. How can this be?

 

2. Key Findings of Attachment Research

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It is beyond the scope of this brief monograph to offer any kind of comprehensive summary of the findings of three decades of attachment research. Certain empirical observations have already been alluded to above. In this section we shall briefly overview selected findings that have contributed to the development of attachment theory and/or are likely to have a bearing on its evolving relationship to psychoanalysis. There are, fortunately, excellent recent reviews of this work; in particular the edited volume by Cassidy and Shaver (1999) represents a definitive summary, and Allen’s (2000) monograph is an accessible yet authoritative integration of clinically relevant findings.

THE MEASUREMENT OF ATTACHMENT IN CHILDHOOD

Advances in attachment theory have, in part, been driven by discoveries concerning individual differences in attachment behavior in infants and adults. Research on the determinants of attachment security critically depends on reliable and valid measures of attachment class. A range of instruments and coding systems are available to as-sess attachment classification. As most findings to be considered here depend on these instruments, it is helpful to consider briefly what they are based on and what they offer.

 

3. Freud's Models and Attachment Theory

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It is misleading to attempt to trace commonality and differences between Freud’s thinking and current attachment theory. Freud’s theory does not represent a homogenous corpus (Sandler et ah 1997). Traditionally, his contribution is divided into four phases. The first is the pre-psychoanalytic phase, covering a series of papers, mostly on neurological topics; second is the affect-trauma model, during which Freud put forward the view that the etiology of neurosis rested in the actual events of childhood development (Freud and Breuer 1895); third is the topographical model, which emphasized fantasy driven by biological drive states (Freud 1900, 1905); the fourth phase included the dual instinct theory (Freud 1920) and the structural model of the mind (Freud 1923). Each of these phases has distinct points of correspondence with and divergence from attachment theory, and a skillful Freud scholar could readily construct a picture in which the originator of psychoanalysis is seen as a either a friend or a foe of attachment theory.

 

4. Structural Approaches: The North American Structural Approach

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Freud’s (1923) introduction to the tripartite (or structural) model did not mark the end of the emphasis placed on instincts in his topographical frame of reference. His sequence of stages of libidinal development remained the cornerstone of his theory until the introduction of ego psychology by Heinz Hartmann (1946), first in Vienna and then in New York. A crucial advance proposed by Hartmann was that of secondary autonomy (1950). He illustrated how behaviors observed in adulthood could not be traced back to childhood in terms of their function. Thus, proximity seeking may be rooted in the mother-infant relationship, but in adulthood it may be put to quite a different purpose than the one for which it was originally established. To assume such equivalence, a common assumption at the time, Hartmann suggested was a genetic fallacy (Hartmann 1955). The autonomous ego was likely to adapt behaviors in the service of optimizing current adjustment.

Hartmann’s ideas spread quickly in the post-war psychiatric community of North America. Ego psychology, as it came to be known, detailed the ways in which this structure (the ego), oriented towards internal and external adaptations, came to form a coherently functioning organization that was more complex than the sum of its parts (Hartmann 1952). Within this framework the ego came to be seen to have a developmental line, with fixation points to which, under pressure, an individual might return (Arlow and Brenner 1964). While regressions in the ego are generally considered pathological, Kris (1952) emphasized that they may serve adaptive functions in, for example, artistic or creative sensitivity. Modern structural theorists (see for example Boesky 1989), retain the notion of the tripartite model but dispense with problematic notions such as psychic energy. They retain the central premise of the ubiquitous nature of intrapsychic conflict (see Brenner 1982).

 

5. Modifications of the Structural Model

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There are three major modifications of the structural model, all associated with figures involved in work with children, that have points of contact with attachment theory. These are: a) Freud’s daughter, the originator of child psychoanalysis, Anna Freud; b) the American analyst, a pioneer of infant observation, Margaret Mahler; and c) the British colleague of Anna Freud at Hampstead, Joseph Sandler, who contributed enormously to refining the most commonly used concepts of psychoanalysis.

Anna Freud was one of the first psychoanalysts to adopt a coherent developmental perspective on psychopathology. Her model (A. Freud 1965) was both cumulative and epigenetic, each developmental phase constructed on the previous one. She argued that psychological disorder could be most effectively studied in its developmental evolution. Her theory was based on the metaphor of developmental lines (A. Freud 1963). She asserted that it is the profile or patterns among these lines of development that best capture the nature of the risk faced by the individual child. The lines, which are described in terms of their respective beginning and end points, included dependency to self reliance to adult object relations; from irresponsibility to responsibility in body management; from egocentrism to social partnership, and so on. Un-evenness of development was considered a risk factor and treatment was seen as incorporating a developmental component (developmental help) to restore the child to the path of normal development (A. Freud, 1970, Kennedy and Moran 1991).

 

6. The Klein-Bion Model

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The rise of object relations theories in psychoanalysis was associated with a shift of interest towards developmental issues. Regardless of particular theoretical models, psychoanalysis has moved increasingly towards an experientially based perspective. These approaches inevitably emphasize phenomenological constructs, such as the individual’s experience of himself or herself, and theory has become increasingly concerned with relationships. Thus, the gap between attachment theory and psychoanalysis has narrowed considerably.

Object relations theories are, however, diverse and do not have a commonly agreed-upon definition (Kramer and Akhtar 1988). In an insightful book, Akhtar (1992) distinguished between a number of object relations theories on the basis of the vision of humankind they offered. The classic view, rooted in a Kantian philosophical tradition, holds that striving towards autonomy and the reign of reason is the essence of being human. By contrast, the romantic view, to be found in Rousseau and Goethe, values authenticity and spontaneity above reason and logic. In the classic view, humans are seen as inherently lim-ited but able to overcome, in part, their tragic flaws, to become “fairly decent” (p. 320). The romantic view sees humans as intrinsically good and capable, but vulnerable to restriction and injury by circumstance. The classic vision approaches psychopathology largely in terms of conflict, while the romantic view frequently sees maladjustment in terms of deficit. Maladaptive, destructive action is viewed as a consequence of deep-rooted pathology in the classic view, while the romantic view understands such acts as manifestations of hope that the environment might reverse the damage done. The romantic view is more optimistic, seeing human beings as full of potential and the infant as ready to actualize the blueprint of his destiny. The classic view is more pessimistic. Conflict is seen as embedded in normal development. There is no escape from human weakness, aggression, and destructiveness, and human life is an unending struggle against the reactivation of the inevitable vicissitudes of infancy. In the romantic view there is primary love; in the classic view it is seen as a developmental achievement.

 

7. The Independent School of British Psychoanalysis and Its Relation to Attachment Theory

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Unlike the previous psychoanalytic orientations, the British School should not be considered a unified approach. Fairbairn (1954, 1963) was perhaps the key theoretician. Winnicott (1948, 1958b, 1971a), Balint (1959, 1968), Khan (1974, 1978), and Bollas (1987) may be considered some of the key contributors. These workers do not subscribe to a single coherent framework; hence, their usual collective description as “the Independents” is probably highly appropriate (see Rayner 1991).

The Independents abandoned the libidinally driven structural model and developed a “self-object” theory, in which parts of the self are seen in dynamic interaction with each other and complementary internal and external objects. Self and affect become crucial agents of motivation and for Fairbairn (1954) there is no emotion without the self and no self without emotion. Winnicott (1958b) postulated an inherent desire to develop a sense of self, a desire that could be hidden or falsified.

Fairbairn (1952a) asserted that the basic striving was not for pleasure but for a relationship. Pleasure and anxiety reduction followed the attainment of a desired relationship between self and other. There was a further important shift away from unconscious contents and repression and towards the notion of incompatible ideas. Fairbairn suggested that the loss of optimal intimacy will give rise to “splitting” in the ego and these conflicting multiple self-object systems are seen as the developmental roots of psychopathology. In contrast to Mahlerian and other ego-psychological rooted theories that emphasize separation, British object relations theories focus primarily on attachment and attempt to understand the development of the individual as a unit in interaction. The self is seen as being comprised of, and its integrity and continuity being maintained by, the gestalt of past and present interpersonal relationships. Guntrip (1969) emphasizes the importance of studying relatedness, or what he refers to as “the emotional dynamics of the infant’s growth in experiencing himself as ‘becoming a person1 in meaningful relationships, first with the mother, then the family, and finally with the ever enlarging world outside” (p. 243). While Guntrip does not completely neglect the development of the individual as a separate entity, his focus is on attachment and relatedness: “Meaningful relationships are those which enable the infant to find himself as a person through experiencing his own significance for other people and their significance for him, thus endowing his existence with those values of human relationship which make life purposeful and worth liv-ing” (p. 243).

 

8. North American Object Relations Theorists and Attachment Theory

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British object relations theory has influenced North American psychoanalysis over the last thirty years. In some cases (such as the Kleinian influence on Kernberg) this is openly acknowledged. In others (such as Winnicott’s influence on Kohut) this is left for the reader to discover. Here we will consider only three of the major North Ameri-can object relations theorists from the point of view of attachment theory: Arnold Modell, Heinz Kohut, and Otto Kernberg.

ARNOLD MODELL

Modell (1975) attempted to integrate British object relations theory with the structural model by distinguishing two classes of instincts: libidinal and aggressive id instincts, and the newly recognized ego instincts for object relations. Object relations instincts are not strictly speaking biological in nature and are characterized by interaction processes rather than discharge. They are gratified by stimuli in the environment if responses from others are identified that fit with specific needs. Modell sees affects as object-seeking. The main aim of this ego instinct is mastery over the id. This is achieved through identification with good objects. The failure in the taming of the id becomes the major route to psychopathology.

 

9. Modern Psychoanalytic Infant Psychiatry: The Work of Daniel Stern

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Daniel Stern occupies a unique place in psychoanalysis (Stern 1985). He has been able to bridge the gulf between developmental is ts and psychoanalysts in a highly successful and productive way. Many might not regard his contribution as strictly speaking “psychoanalytic,” as his database is infant research rather than clinical observation. In this respect, however, he follows the tradition of Rene Spitz and Mar-garet Mahler as psychoanalytic developmentalists.

His primary concern is with the development of self structure. He distinguished four stages of early self formation: 1) the sense of emergent self (0-2 months) involves the process of the self coming into being and forming initial connections; 2) the sense of core self and the domain of core relatedness (2-6 months) are based on the single organizing subjective perspective and a coherent physical self; 3) the sense of subjective self and the domain of intersubjective relatedness (7-15 months) emerge with the discovery of subjective mental states beyond physical events; and 4) the sense of verbal self forms after 15 months.

 

10. The Interpersonal-Relational Approach: From Sullivan to Mitchell

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The most rapidly evolving theoretical orientation within psychoanalysis of the last decade of the twentieth century (and perhaps the first decade of the twenty-first) is the so-called relational or intersub-jective approach. Many major figures are contributing to this orientation. Its identifying tenet is perhaps the assumption that the psychoanalytic encounter is co-constructed between two active participants with the subjectivities of both patient and analyst contributing to generate the shape and substance of the dialogue that emerges. There are a great number of brilliant major contributors more or less committed to relational/ intersubjective views, including Ogden (1994), McLaughlin (1991), Hoffman (1994), Renik (1993), and Bromberg (1998), to name just afew in this most fertile of fields (other major contributors working within this framework include Daniel Stern, Jay Greenberg, Lewis Aron, Stuart Pizer, and Stephen Mitchell). Their views are all somewhat different and a definitive intersubjective-relational view has yet to emerge. Having reviewed interpersonal approaches in the early 1980s, Merton Gill was said to have come to a conclusion analogous to Ghent’s witty description of a psychoanalytic political grouping that agreed to affiliate under a common designation and then avoided defining the often very different concepts that each had in mind when using a term (Mitchell 1996). Stephen Mitchell has been singled out for discussion here because the links between his views and those of attachment theory show the greatest overlap and appear most productive in their convergence.

 

11. Psychoanalytic Attachment Theorists

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A number of major authors in attachment theory have been significantly influenced by psychoanalytic ideas. In fact, in the case of these authors the two theories overlap so much that it is difficult to assign primogeniture. The views of these authors are intellectually very close to the present writer’s ideas, and the task of a comprehensive re-view of their work belongs to a more impartial critic. Here I would simply like to acknowledge that the bringing together of psychoanalysis and attachment theory is a major thread in the writing of several significant intellects and contributors to the field by highlighting some of their key ideas. The reader interested in the possibilities of integration of these two fields should closely examine the work of these authors.

KARLEN LYONS^RUTH

The work of Karlen Lyons-Ruth has been covered at several points in this volume: her groundbreaking research into the nature, causes, and consequences of disorganized attachment in infancy (Lyons-Ruth et al. 1999a), her views on the relationship of separation-individuation and attachment (Lyons-Ruth 1991), her contribution to the work of the Boston Change Process Study Group (Lyons-Ruth 1999), and elsewhere. The extensive coverage of her work is entirely appropriate since she has worked hard on both sides of the chasm, both on the tectonic plate of psychoanalysis and that of attachment theory. In brief, she is one of the few in the current generation of psychoanalysts who is simultaneously making a contribution to the advancement of empirical science and psychoanalytic theory.1In this context I would like to briefly review her psychoanalytic model of disorganized attachment— the relational diasthesis model (Lyons-Ruth et al. 1999a).

 

12. Summary: What Do Psychoanalytic Theories and Attachment Theory Have in Common?

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As psychoanalytic theory cannot, at its current stage of evolution, be reduced to a singular coherent set of propositions, in this volume we have been forced to consider points of contact between attachment theory and particular traditions of psychoanalytic thought. Here we summarize the points of contact between the two approaches in more general terms, offering illustrative arguments to put to rest the prevailing view of incompatibility between these two frames of reference.

PERSONALITY DEVELOPMENT IS BEST STUDIED IN RELATION TO THE CHILD’S SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT

As we have seen, Freud and Bowlby both began their theoretical contributions with concern about the psychological consequences of early deprivation (Bowlby 1944, Freud 1954). Freud’s celebrated turn-ing away from the seduction hypothesis (Masson 1984) did not compromise his position on the pathogenesis of childhood trauma (Freud 1917, 1931, 1939). Conversely, modern psychoanalytic readers might criticize Bowlby for the therapeutic realism of his approach, and his emphasis on the therapeutic qualities of cathartic recollections of traumatic events (Bowlby 1977). However, Bowlby’s attention to the representation of experience (Bowlby 1980a) was not a return to the naive realism of Freud’s early theories. It represents an elaboration of the fourth phase of Freud’s theory, the structural model (Freud 1923). Freud, like Bowlby, recognized that anxiety was a biologically determined epiphenomenal experience linked to the perception of both external and internal dangers (Freud 1926b), the psychological template for which was loss of the object. The move toward recognizing that adaptation to the external world had to be an essential component of the psychoanalytic account, and that such an account necessitated a reorganization of the theory in terms of a quasi-cognitive structure (Schafer 1983) is the essential common background for both ego psychological and attachment theory elaborations of the classical psychoanalytical model.

 

13. How Can Attachment Theory Benefit from Psychoanalytic Insights?

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It would be foolhardy to maintain that psychoanalytic critiques of attachment theory are altogether misguided. In important respects psychoanalytic formulations are significantly in advance of the understanding that attachment theory is able to provide. A more complete integration of psychoanalytic and attachment theory would demand that attachment researchers address these areas of discrepancy and elaborate on their formulations in the direction of making them more compatible with a psychoanalytic framework.

What are the shortcomings of current attachment theory from a psychoanalytic standpoint? First, attachment theory should pay more attention to systematic distortions in the child’s perceptions of the external world. The relationship of actual experience and its representation is greatly complicated by the fact that comparable caregiver behavior may be experienced and encoded differently by different infants (Eagle 1997). While contextual factors, for example, small differences between the caregiver’s behavior towards two siblings (nonshared environment), may account for some of these effects, distortions in the child’s perception due to internal states of fantasies, affects, and conflicts are also likely to play a part.

 

14. Conclusion

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Attachment theory and psychoanalytic theory have common roots but have evolved in epistemologically distinct ways. Attachment theory, far closer to empirical psychology with its positivist heritage, has been in some ways method bound over the past fifteen years. Its scope was determined less by what fell within the domain defined by relationship phenomena involving a caretaking-dependent dyad and more by the range of groups and behaviors to which the preferred mode of observation, the strange situation, the Adult Attachment interview, and so on, could be productively applied. This sheltered the theory from a range of ideas that clinical psychoanalysts evolved, particularly in the context of analytic work with increasingly severely disturbed, chronic personality-disordered individuals. Psychoanalytic ideas have rarely taken into consideration relevant observations from the field of attachment and, conversely, a paradigm-bound attachment theory has felt it had little to benefit from the clinical discoveries of psychoanalysts. Yet both bodies of knowledge are progressing towards the same endpoint, which is perhaps still some way off: a developmental understanding of personality and psychological disorder. This book has attempted to il-lustrate that distinctions made by attachment theorists are frequently closely linked to distinctions generally accepted within particular psychoanalytic traditions. Attachment theory may share more with some psychoanalytic traditions than others but this does not mean that even “distant cousins” of attachment theory (e.g., modern Kleinian theory) do not cover similar ground, albeit from a radically different perspective. Taking psychoanalytic theory as a whole, many important discoveries of attachment theory can be seen to have been observed on the couch as well as in the laboratory. There are some areas familiar to psychoanalytic clinicians where attachment theory has not yet ventured. Bringing the two approaches into closer contact, beyond creating lively debate, has the potential greatly to enrich both traditions. Such a dialogue may highlight where attachment theory methodology may be applied for the exploration of psychoanalytic work and ideas. For example, attachment status may be used as a measure of outcome for psychoanalytic treatment. The focus of attachment research may additionally be broadened to incorporate areas beyond its traditional domain of social development in the context of the dyad.

 



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