Sunday, March 6, 2011

John Bowlby: Father of Attachment Theory (or why teachers helped me survive)

John Bowlby: Father of Attachment Theory--excerpts

"I wouldn't send a dog away to boarding school at age seven".

His theories were very unpopular in his time, but are now held to be crucial regarding becoming a healthy adult.

[H]is interest was probably increased by a variety of wartime events involving separation of young children from familiar people; these included the rescue of Jewish children by the Kindertransport arrangements, the evacuation of children from London to keep them safe from air raids, and the use of group nurseries to allow mothers of young children to contribute to the war effort.

Melanie Klein as mentor/antagonist: She was his supervisor; however they had different views about the role of the mother in the treatment of a three-year-old boy. Specifically and importantly, Klein stressed the role of the child's fantasies about his mother, but Bowlby emphasized the actual history of the relationship. Bowlby's views—that children were responding to real life events and not unconscious fantasies—were rejected by psychoanalysts, and Bowlby was effectively ostracized by the psychoanalytic community. He later expressed the view that his interest in real-life experiences and situations was "alien to the Kleinian outlook".

Bowlby drew together such limited empirical evidence as existed at the time from across Europe and the USA. His main conclusions, that “the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment” and that not to do so may have significant and irreversible mental health consequences, were both controversial and influential.

According to attachment theory, attachment in infants is primarily a process of proximity seeking to an identified attachment figure in situations of perceived distress or alarm for the purpose of survival. Infants become attached to adults who are sensitive and responsive in social interactions with the infant, and who remain as consistent caregivers for some months during the period from about 6 months to two years of age.

Parental responses lead to the development of patterns of attachment which in turn lead to 'internal working models' which will guide the individual's feelings, thoughts, and expectations in later relationships. In Bowlby's approach, the human infant is considered to have a need for a secure relationship with adult caregivers, without which normal social and emotional development will not occur.

As the toddler grows, it uses its attachment figure or figures as a "secure base" from which to explore. Mary Ainsworth used this feature plus "stranger wariness" and reunion behaviours, other features of attachment behaviour, to develop a research tool called the "Strange Situation Procedure" for developing and classifying different attachment styles.

The attachment process is not gender specific as infants will form attachments to any consistent caregiver who is sensitive and responsive in social interactions with the infant. The quality of the social engagement appears to be more influential than amount of time spent.

I did not have a close relationship with anyone in my biological family, except perhaps my younger sister, who has often remarked upon how I helped protect her from the depredations of my brother. I did not have a caregiver. My mother tried but she always focused on my flaws and how they reflected on her. For some reason, although my brother manifested extraordinarily strange behavior [I won't go into specifics here], she didn’t define him by his pathology. She blamed herself, whereas I was responsible for my degraded situation.

In terms of snatching affection, I took catch as catch can. I did have many people who focused on me as an object of derision especially when my family moved to a more homogenous, very affluent community, but I felt pride in my academic and both academic and social achievements in college. My brother was a bully. He fully admits that, but he says he couldn’t help it because he was bullied by my mother. The reality is that people learn about love or lack of love from their parents and transfer that knowledge onto their own children, and so on and so forth.

Now that I think about it, I guess my teachers were my caregivers, who seemed to give me affection and praise which I so sorely needed. Sometimes, maybe a lot of times, teachers are the only adult figures that seem to care about their students.

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