Bowlby’s first attempts focused on countering psychoanalysis psychologism and replacing it by a more common-sense, everyday experiences both children and their parents undergo, and which may be labelled “environmentalism”, which enable him to make a strong point against psychoanalysis’ subjectivism, fantasies, inner representational world, and the like, since the hypotheses he advanced were in keeping with empirical data, whereas, psychoanalytic introspective speculation was not liable to contrastability, and so it simply rendered it unscientific.
Let’s recall the three fundamental papers that, to my mind, make a tremendous dent in psychoanalysis’ structure: Bowlby’s first formal statement of Attachment Theory, drawing heavily on ethological concepts, was presented in London in three now classic papers read to the British Psychoanalytic Society. The first, The Nature of the Child’s Tie to his Mother was presented in 1957 where he reviews the current psychoanalytic explanations for the child’s libidinal tie to the mother (in short, the theories of secondary drive, primary object sucking, primary object clinging, and primary return to womb craving).
This paper raised quite a storm at the Psychoanalytic Society. Even Bowlby’s own analyst, Joan Riviere protested and Donald Winnicott wrote to thank her: “It was certainly a difficult paper to appreciate without giving away everything that has been fought for by Freud”. Anna Freud, who missed the meeting but read the paper, wrote: “Dr Bowlby is too valuable a person to get lost to psychoanalysis”. The next paper in the series, Separation Anxiety, was presented in 1959.
In this paper, Bowlby pointed out that traditional theory fails to explain both the intense attachment to mother figure and young children’s dramatic responses to separation. Robertson and Bowlby had identified three phases of separation response: 1. Protest (related to separation anxiety) 2. Despair (related to grief and mourning), and 3. Detachment or denial (related to defence). All of which proved Bowlby’s crucial point: separation anxiety is experienced when attachment behaviour is activated and cannot be terminated unless reunion is restored.
Unlike other analysts, Bowlby advanced the view that excessive separation anxiety is usually caused by adverse family experiences, such as repeated threats of abandonment or rejections by parents, or to parent’s or siblings’ illnesses or death for which the child feels responsible. In the third major theoretical paper, Grief and Mourning in Infancy and Early Childhood, read to the Psychoanalytic Society in 1959 (published in 1960), Bowlby questioned the then prevailing view that infantile narcissism is an obstacle to the experience of grief upon loss of a love object.
He disputed Anna Freud’s contention that infants cannot mourn, because of insufficient ego development, and hence experience nothing more than brief bouts of separation anxiety provided a satisfactory substitute is available. He also questioned Melanie Klein’s claim that loss of the breast at weaning is the greatest loss in infancy. Instead, he advanced the view that grief and mourning appear whenever attachment behaviours are activated but the mother continues to be unavailable.
As with the first paper, many members of the British Psychoanalytic Society voiced strong disagreement. Donald Winnicott wrote to Anna Freud: “I can’t quite make out why it is that Bowlby’s papers are building up in me a kind of revulsion although in fact he has been scrupulously fair to me in my writings”. Because he was undermining the very bases of psychologism in psychoanalysis. These three papers were more than enough to tear the fantasy building of speculative psychoanalysis to pieces.
So why did Bowlby have to concede his was an object-relations theory, when it sprang from the very reading of the papers that it was a theory about personal relationships. We insist in this distinction, as it is sometimes overlooked the fact that both theories are incompatible. Either you are related to an ambiguous inner object which happens to be projected onto a real person (object-relation theory), or you distinctly know who you are related to, who you are for the other party in the relationship, why you are related, what you expect from the relationship in each interaction, and so on.
BOWLBY’S CONTRADICTIONS Let us examine Bowlby’s contradictions regarding this central arguments which approach personal relationships, psychology and psychopathology in a radically new way. In book 1 of his trilogy, Attachment, page 16, he asserts: “Throughout this inquiry my frame of reference has been that of psychoanalysis. There are several reasons for this. The first is that my early thinking on the subject was inspired by psychoanalytic work -my own and others’.
A second is that, despite limitations, psychoanalysis remains the most serviceable and the most used of any present-day theory of psychopathology. A third and most important, is that, whereas all the central concepts of my schema -object-relations, separation anxiety, mourning, defence, trauma, sensitive periods in early life -are the stock-in-trade of psychoanalytic thinking, until recently they have been given but scant attention by other behavioural disciplines”.
So as we can see, he has a first sentimental reason to stick to psychoanalysis, a second consensual reason, and a third pedagogical reason. One wonders, what on earth did psychoanalysis need Bowlby for to drum the practice away on those three feeble grounds: nostalgia, hegemony, and an example for other rebel stances (for instance, his own). However, only seven pages later, he criticizes psychoanalysis’ way of gathering data for its conclusions. Psychoanalysis relies on “a process of historical reconstruction based on data derived from older subjects…
“The point of views from which this work starts is different… it is believed that observation of how a very young child behaves towards his mother, both in her presence and especially in her absence can contribute greatly to our understanding of personal development. When removed from mother by strangers, young children respond usually with great intensity; and after reunion with her they show commonly either heightened degree od separation anxiety or else unusual detachment…
Because this starting point differs so much from the one to which psychoanalysts are accustomed, it may be useful to specify it more precisely and to elaborate the reasons for adopting it. ” And he goes on: “Psychoanalytic theory is an attempt to explain the functioning personality, in both its healthy and its pathological aspects, in terms of ontogenesis. In creating this body of theory not only Freud but virtually all subsequent analysts have worked from an end-product backwards.
Primary data are derived from studying, in the analytic setting, a personality more or less developed and already functioning more or less well; from those data the attempt is made to reconstruct the phases of personality that have preceded what is now seen. ” “In many respects what is attempted here is the opposite. Using as primary data observations of how very young children behave in defined situations, an attempt is made to describe certain early phases of personality functioning and, from them, to extrapolate forwards.
In particular, the aim is to describe certain patterns of response that occur regularly in early childhood and thence, to trace out how similar patterns of response are to be discerned in later personality. The change in perspective is radical. It entails taking as our starting point, not this or that symptom or syndrome that is giving trouble, but an actual event or experience deemed to be potentially pathogenic to the developing personality. ”
” Thus, whereas almost all present-day psychoanalytical theory starts with a clinical syndrome or symptom -for example, stealing, depression, or schizophrenia – and makes hypotheses about events and processes which are thought to have contributed to its development, the perspective adopted here starts with a class of event -loss of mother-figure in infancy or early childhood- and attempts thence to trace the psychological and psychopathological processes that commonly result. It starts with the traumatic experience and works prospectively. ”
It is fairly evident that an approach such as the one advanced above cannot but clash against classical psychoanalytic mores. Where psychoanalysis relies on memories, Attachment Theory distrusts them. Where psychoanalysis asserts the natural site to perform research is the consulting-room, Attachment Theory declares research must be done out of psychotherapeutic premises. Where psychoanalysis works retrospectively, trying to reconstruct the patient’s infancy, Attachment Theory is determined to see by its own eyes what goes on during infancy and early childhood directly, dispensing with untrustworthy informants.
But this is exactly what the “new generation” of Attachment Theorists is encouraging throughout the United States: they rely exclusively on reports, self-reports: they interview a mother-to-be, or for that matter, anybody else, and ask her about her relationship with her mother. From her responses and the way they are made, they infer the kind of early attachment the adult must have had with her own real mother, as they are convinced patterns of attachment endure unalterably throughout life. As to why they think all this nonsense, we will elaborate on below.
At any rate, I hope it is crystal clear that present-day methodology amounts to about the opposite to what Bowlby recommended half a century ago, and which he had come to adopt as a rejection of similar methods characteristic of psychoanalysis, a whole century ago. But Bowlby is even more emphatic concerning the unreliability of reports, let alone of self reports. On page 25 of Attachment and Loss: Attachment, he says that psychoanalysts regard direct observation of behaviour as superficial and that it contrasts sharply with what is the almost direct access to physical functioning that obtains during analysis.
On page 26, he unambiguously states: “Now I believe an attitude of this sort to be based on fallacious premises. In the first place we must not overrate the data we obtain in analytic sessions ” (let alone data obtained in interviews). So far from having direct access to psychical processes, what confronts us is a complex web of free associations, reports of past events, comments about the current situation, and the patient’s behaviour.
In trying to understand these diverse manifestations we inevitably select and arrange them according to our preferred schema; and in trying to infer what psychical processes may lie behind them we inevitably leave the world of observation and enter the world of theory (i. e. , speculation). As regards infants or children’s observations he firmly contends:” Since the capacity to restrict associated behaviour increases with age, it is evident that the younger the subject the more likely are his behaviour and his mental state to be the two sides of a single coin.
Provided observations are skilled and detailed, therefore, a record of the behaviour of very young children can be regarded as a useful index of their concurrent mental state”. As anybody can appreciate, nothing of the kind is being carried out in the late nineties, where all that seems to matter is adult attachment, and may God take care of the kids. Furthermore, we can see from these quotations from Bowlby’s Attachment I, that reality takes pride of place over fantasy, or inner representational models, which amounts to be the same.
More differences between the psychoanalytic approach and that of Bowlby’s Ethology In page 27 of his Attachment I, Bowlby says: “Another way in which the approach adopted differs from traditional psychoanalysis is that it draws heavily on observations of how mothers of other species respond to similar situations of presence or absence of mother; and that it makes use of the wide range of new concepts that ethologists have developed to explain them.
” “A main reason for valuing ethology is that it provides a wide range of new concepts to try out in our theorizing. Many of them are concerned with the formation of intimate social bonds -such as those tying offspring to parents, parents to offspring (See my Outline), and members of the two sexes to each other, and so on. We now know that man has no monopoly either of conflict or of behaviour pathology.
A canary that first starts building its nest when insufficient building material is available not only will develop pathological nest-building behaviour but will persist in such behaviour even when, later, suitable material can be at hand.. Ethological data and concepts are therefore concerned with phenomena at least comparable to those we as psychotherapists try to understand in man”.