CONTROVERSIAL ASPECTS OF BOWLBY'S ATTACHMENT THEORY

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12 ottobre, 2012 - 13:22
It scratches one's imagination to think how by the mid-fifties, when irrationalisttrends felt at the peak of their triumph in Europe and the United States,and their voice the only one that sounded loud and clear among intellectualcircles worldwide on any imaginable issue, be it art, politics, economics,the social sciences, music, the media, and so on, when true professionalcharlatans of the calibre of Foucault, Lacan, Melanie Klein, Levi-Strauss,Spengler kept, and still keep, the upper hand among the intelligentsia,a lone British psychoanalyst would leap into the arena and declare waron the long-standing myths pestering psychological thinking ever sinceFreud, brandishing the then already ragged banner of scientificism. Itmust have struck a dissonant chord in own Bowlby's brains or thereaboutsfor he decided, as a matter of sheer fact, to brandish the science banneron one hand and Freud's object-relations theory on the other.

Aswe will show, albeit the redoubtable importance of  Bowlby's work,inner theoretical contradictions and heavy compromises with psychoanalytictheory make the whole far from a monolithic, coherent, work, weaken itsvery bases, and, more importantly, determine a sterile fate and precludeany hope for progress to those entering the Attachment Theory field ofenquiry.

Forinstance, his compromise with psychoanalysis forced him to assert his wasan object-relations theory thus pushing him to add and heavily rely ona more than controversial argument: the Working Models theory, a naturalcorollary of an inner representational model, both totally unrefutablearguments and hence uninteresting for the scientific community.  Wewill demonstrate how both issues: object-relations theory and working-modelstheory fill attachment theory as a whole with hosts of conceptual and logicalcontradictions, which we feel must be underscored, so as not to identifyJohn Bowlby with a god-like figure, on the one hand; and on the other todisplay how current attachment theory and research, particularly in theUnited States, connives with, and thrives on, this spurious, dispensableparts of attachment theory.

BOWLBY'SSCIENTIFIC STANCE

Bowlby'sfirst attempts focused on countering psychoanalysis psychologism and replacingit by a more common-sense, everyday experiences both children and theirparents undergo, and which may be labelled "environmentalism", which enablehim to make a strong point against psychoanalysis' subjectivism, fantasies,inner representational world, and the like, since the hypotheses he advancedwere in keeping with empirical data, whereas, psychoanalytic introspectivespeculation was not liable to contrastability, and so it simply renderedit unscientific.

Let'srecall the three fundamental papers that, to my mind, make a tremendousdent in psychoanalysis' structure:
 

Thenext paper in the series, Separation Anxiety, was presentedin 1959. In this paper, Bowlby pointed out that traditional theory failsto explain both the intense attachment to mother figure and young children'sdramatic responses to separation. Robertson and Bowlby had identified threephases of separation response:

1.Protest (related to separation anxiety)

2.Despair (related to grief and mourning), and

3.Detachment or denial (related to defence).

Allof which proved Bowlby's crucial point: separation anxiety is experiencedwhen attachment behaviour is activated and cannot be terminated unlessreunion is restored.

Unlikeother analysts, Bowlby advanced the view that excessive separation anxietyis usually caused by adverse family experiences, such as repeated threatsof abandonment or rejections by parents, or to parent's or siblings' illnessesor death for which the child feels responsible.

Inthe third major theoretical paper, Grief and Mourning in Infancyand Early Childhood, read to the Psychoanalytic Society in 1959(published in 1960),
Bowlbyquestioned the then prevailing view that infantile narcissism is an obstacleto the experience of grief upon loss of a love object. He disputed AnnaFreud's contention that infants cannot mourn, because of insufficient egodevelopment, and hence experience nothing more than brief bouts of separationanxiety provided a satisfactory substitute is available. He also questionedMelanie Klein's claim that loss of the breast at weaning is the greatestloss in infancy. Instead, he advanced the view that grief and mourningappear whenever attachment behaviours are activated but the mother continuesto be unavailable.

Aswith the first paper, many members of the British Psychoanalytic Societyvoiced strong disagreement. Donald Winnicott wrote to Anna Freud: "I can'tquite make out why it is that Bowlby's papers are building up in me a kindof revulsion although in fact he has been scrupulously fair to me in mywritings". Because he was undermining the very bases of psychologism inpsychoanalysis.

Bowlby'sfirst formal statement of Attachment Theory, drawing heavily on ethologicalconcepts, was presented in London in three now classic papers read to theBritish Psychoanalytic Society. The first,The Nature of the
Child'sTie to his Mother was presented in 1957 where he reviews the currentpsychoanalytic explanations for the child's libidinal tie to the mother(in short, the theories of secondary drive, primary object sucking, primaryobject clinging, and primary return to womb craving). This paper raisedquite a storm at the Psychoanalytic Society. Even Bowlby's own analyst,Joan Riviere protested and Donald Winnicott wrote to thank her: "It wascertainly a difficult paper to appreciate without giving away everythingthat
hasbeen fought for by Freud". Anna Freud, who missed the meeting but readthe paper, wrote: "Dr Bowlby is too valuable a person to get lost to psychoanalysis".Thesethree papers were more than enough to tear the fantasy building of speculativepsychoanalysis to pieces. So why did Bowlby have to concede his was anobject-relations theory, when it sprang from the very reading of the papersthat 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 beprojected onto a real person (object-relation theory), or you distinctlyknow 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

Letus examine Bowlby's contradictions regarding this central arguments whichapproach personal relationships, psychology and psychopathology in a radicallynew way.

Inbook 1 of his trilogy, Attachment, page 16, he asserts: "Throughout thisinquiry my frame of reference has been that of psychoanalysis. There areseveral reasons for this. The first is that my early thinking on the subjectwas inspired by psychoanalytic work -my own and others'. A second is that,despite limitations, psychoanalysis remains the most serviceable and themost used of any present-day theory of psychopathology. A third and mostimportant, is that, whereas all the central concepts of my schema -object-relations,separation anxiety, mourning, defence, trauma, sensitive periods in earlylife -are the stock-in-trade of psychoanalytic thinking, until recentlythey 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 awayon those three feeble grounds: nostalgia, hegemony, and an example forother rebel stances (for instance, his own).

However,only seven pages later, he criticizes psychoanalysis' way of gatheringdata for its conclusions. Psychoanalysis relies on "a process of historicalreconstruction based on data derived from older subjects... "The pointof views from which this work starts is different... it is believed thatobservation of how a very young child behaves towards his mother, bothin her presence and especially in her absence can contribute greatly toour understanding of personal development. When removed from mother bystrangers, young children respond usually with great intensity; and afterreunion with her they show commonly either heightened degree od separationanxiety or else unusual detachment...Because this starting point differsso much from the one to which psychoanalysts are accustomed, it maybe useful to specify it more precisely and to elaborate the reasons foradopting it."

Andhe goes on: "Psychoanalytic theory is an attempt to explain the functioningpersonality, in both its healthy and its pathological aspects, in termsof ontogenesis. In creating this body of theory not only Freud but virtuallyall subsequent analysts have worked from an end-product backwards.Primary data are derived from studying, in the analytic setting, a personalitymore or less developed and already functioning more or less well; fromthose data the attempt is made to reconstruct the phases of personalitythat have preceded what is now seen."

"Inmany respects what is attempted here is theopposite. Using as primarydata observations of how very young children behave in defined situations,an attempt is made to describe certain early phases of personality functioningand, from them, to extrapolate forwards. In particular, the aim is to describecertain patterns of response that occur regularly in early childhood andthence, to trace out how similar patterns of response are to be discernedin later personality. The change in perspective is radical. It entailstaking as our starting point, not this or that symptom or syndrome thatis giving trouble, but an actual event or experience deemed to be potentiallypathogenic to the developing personality."

"Thus, whereas almost all present-day psychoanalytical theory starts witha clinical syndrome or symptom -for example, stealing, depression, or schizophrenia- and makes hypotheses about events and processes which are thought tohave contributed to its development, the perspective adopted  herestarts with a class of event -loss of mother-figure in infancy or earlychildhood- and attempts thence to trace the psychological and psychopathologicalprocesses that commonly result. It starts with the traumatic experienceand works prospectively."

Itis fairly evident that an approach such as the one advanced above cannotbut clash against classical psychoanalytic mores. Where psychoanalysisrelies on memories, Attachment Theory distrusts them. Where psychoanalysisasserts the natural site to perform research is the consulting-room, AttachmentTheory declares research must be done out of psychotherapeutic premises.Where psychoanalysis works retrospectively, trying to reconstruct the patient'sinfancy, Attachment Theory is determined to see by its own eyes what goeson during infancy and early childhood directly, dispensing with untrustworthyinformants. But this is exactly what the "new generation" of AttachmentTheorists is encouraging throughout the United States: Mary Main, AlanSroufe, Pat Crittenden, Phil Shaver, Kim Bartholomew, Charles Zeenah, EverettWaters, Hazan, Kobak, Cassidy, Bretherton, Weiss, and so on, rely exclusivelyon reports, self-reports: they interview a mother-to-be, or for that matter,anybody else, and ask her about her relationship with her mother. Fromher responses and the way they are made, they infer the kind of early attachmentthe adult must have had with her own real mother, as they are convincedpatterns of attachment endure unalterably throughout life. As to why theythink all this nonsense, we will elaborate on below. At any rate, I hopeit is crystal clear that present-day methodology amounts to about the oppositeto what Bowlby recommended half a century ago, and which he had come toadopt as a rejection of similar methods characteristic of psychoanalysis,a whole century ago. We advance the argument that American Attachment Theoristshave harked back to psychoanalytic methods simply because it is far lesswork, and much more popular. No parent likes to face the sad reality ofa distorted family context and severe alterations within relationships,such as role-reversal (if you call it overprotection, mother appears asloving and child facing a lifetime task, that of cutting the umbilicalcord with mother, which is, of course, his entire responsibility), covertauthoritarianism, outward permissiveness, perversions, physical, psychologicaland sexual abuse, coaxing, everyday coercion, and so on.

ButBowlby is even more emphatic concerning the unreliability of reports, letalone of self reports. On page 25 of Attachment and Loss: Attachment, hesays that psychoanalysts regard direct observation of behaviour as superficialand that it contrasts sharply with what is the almost direct access tophysical functioning that obtains during analysis. On page 26, he unambiguouslystates: "Now I believe an attitude of this sort to be based on fallaciouspremises. In the first place we must not overrate the data we obtainin analytic sessions " (let alone data obtained in interviews). Sofar from having direct access to psychical processes, what confronts usis a complex web of free associations, reports of past events, commentsabout the current situation, and the patient's behaviour. In trying tounderstand these diverse manifestations we inevitably select and arrangethem according to our preferred schema; and in trying to infer what psychicalprocesses may lie behind them we inevitably leave the world of observationand enter the world of theory (i.e., speculation). As regards infants orchildren's observations he firmly contends:" Since the capacity to restrictassociated behaviour increases with age, it is evident that the youngerthe subject the more likely are his behaviour and his mental state to bethe two sides of a single coin. Provided observations are skilled and detailed,therefore, a record of the behaviour of very young children can be regardedas 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 allthat seems to matter is adult attachment, and may God take care of thekids. Furthermore, we can see from these quotations from Bowlby's AttachmentI, that reality takes pride of place over fantasy, or inner representationalmodels, which amounts to be the same.
 

Moredifferences between the psychoanalytic approach and that of Bowlby's

1.Ethology

Inpage 27 of his Attachment I, Bowlby says: "Another way in which the approachadopted differs from traditional psychoanalysis is that it draws heavilyon observations of how mothers of other species respond to similar situationsof presence or absence of mother; and that it makes use of the wide rangeof new concepts that ethologists have developed to explain them."

"Amain reason for valuing ethology is that it provides a wide range of newconcepts to try out in our theorizing. Many of them are concerned withthe formation of intimate social bonds -such as those tying offspring toparents, parents to offspring,and members of the two sexes to each other, and so on. We now know thatman has no monopoly either of conflict or of behaviour pathology. A canarythat first starts building its nest when insufficient building materialis available not only will develop pathological nest-building behaviourbut will persist in such behaviour even when, later, suitable materialcan be at hand.. Ethological data and concepts are therefore concernedwith phenomena at least comparable to those we as psychotherapists tryto understand in man".

2.Theories of motivation: Instincts

Onpage 34 of Attachment I, Bowlby continues: " Since the theories that Freudadvanced regarding drive and instinct are at the heart of psychoanalyticmetapsychology, whenever an analyst departs from them it is apt to causebewilderment and consternation." The work of Rapaport and Gill (1959) providesa useful point of reference.

Intheir attempt to state explicitly and systematically that body of assumptionswhich constitutes psychoanalytic metapsychology, Rapaport and Gill classifyassumptions according to certain points of view. They identify five suchviewpoints, each of which requires that whatever psychoanalytic explanationof a psychological phenomenon is offered must include propositions of acertain kind. The five viewpoints and the sort of propositions each demandsare held to be the following:
1.TheDynamic: this point of view demands propositions concerning the psychologicalforces involved in a phenomenon; 2. The Economic: This demands propositionsconcerning the psychological energy involved in a phenomenon; 3. TheStructural: this demands propositions concerning the abiding psychologicalconfigurations (structures) involved in a phenomenon; 4. The Genetic:This demands propositions concerning the psychological origin and developmentof a phenomenon; and 5. The Adaptive: This demands propositionsconcerning the relationship of a phenomenon to the environment.

Nowthere is no difficulty with the structural, the genetic, and the adaptive.Propositions of a genetic and adaptive sort are found throughout Bowlby'swork; and, in any theory of defence, there must be many of a structuralkind. The points of view not adopted by Bowlby are the dynamics and theeconomic. There are therefore no propositions concerning psychologicalenergy or psychological forces; concepts such as conservation of energy,entropy, direction and magnitude of force are all missing, because of amodel of the psychical apparatus that  pictures behaviour as a resultantof a hypothetical psychical energy that is seeking discharge was adoptedby Freud almost at the beginning of his psychoanalytical work. "We assume,"he wrote many years later in the "Outline" as other natural sciences haveled us to expect, that in mental life some kind of energy is at work..."But the energy conceived is of a sort different from the energy of physicsand consequently is termed by Freud "nervous or psychical energy" (StandardEdition, 23, pp. 163-4)
 

Harkingback to what had been objected to: Object-Relations Theory - Working Models

 
Itlooks as though genial thinkers are also aware, too aware of the scientificcommunity social repercussions, and that it would put them on the publicplacard of ridicule, were it the case, they were proved wrong. As far asI know this has been going on since the Inquisition times. Galilei hadto backtrack officially lest he be burned at the pire. Copernicus spendshalf of his book on "The Revolutions of Celestial Spheres", trying to convincehis pope that his is but an instrumental hypothesis, concocted, not todisplace the EARTH from the centre of the universe, but an "as if" mannerto resort to more efficient predictions as to the positions of the astralbodies, a fundamental issue for kings, princes and popes in the wars theywere engaged in. Examples abound in the history of science: Lavoisier,Darwin, Freud, and now Bowlby.

WorkingModels, a mere change of terminology for "mental representations" (SeeBowlby's Scientific Stance)

Letus take a look at what he says in this respect on page 236 of his AttachmentII: Separation, under the heading of "Working Models of Attachment Figuresand Self":

"Thestates of mind with which we were concerned can conveniently be describedin terms ofrepresentational or working models". Bear this in mind,he equates representational models to working models. "in the working modelof the world that anyone builds, a key feature is his notion of who hisattachment figures are, where they may be found, and how they may be expectedto respond. Similarly, in the working model of the self that anyone buildsa key feature is his notion of how acceptable or unacceptable he himselfis in the eyes of his attachment figures.

Andagain, on page 237, he states: "...the formulation adopted is... a wayof describing... ideas traditionally described in such terms as "introjectionof an object (good or bad) and "self-image". So you see, what differenceis there between these formulations and current psychoanalytic thinking?None. Now this amounts to a very serious contradiction to a man who hadfought Freud's contention that neuroses are the result of a misdevelopedcomponent instincts which led to fantasies that made the patient ill, andfor so doing had presented evidence that environmental reality, and notinner representations, were  far more important -as a matter of factthe only relevant aspect to be taken into account- to a person's mentalhealth.

Sothere isn't one Bowlby and one Theory of Attachment: there are at leasttwo quite wide apart.

Onewhich unmistakably states mental health depends entirely on the relationshipsthe individual keeps with his attachment figures so as to make him saythat "the psychology and psychopathology of emotional life is the psychologyand psychopathology of affectional bonds". This we can call the "youngBowlby", or the "uncontaminated Bowlby".

Theother Bowlby which begins to appear in the seventies, two decades later,has little difference with a common psychoanalyst, and thus gives way toall that fake literature on attachment produced by American attachmenttheorists. For instance, just to underscore my previous assertion witha quotation from Bowlby's Attachment II: Separation, p. 239. He writes:"In terms of the present theory much of the work of treating an emotionallydisturbed person can be regarded as consisting, first, of detecting theexistence of influential models of which the patient may be partially orcompletely unaware of, and second, of inviting the patient  to examinethe models disclosed and to consider whether they continue to be valid..."What difference is extant between these naive words and those of makingconscious the unconscious and contrasting both? None.

Thedecadence we now observe pervades all of US university system and academiclife devoted to attachment is not even their own invention, they just followedthis gattopardism Bowlby himself had elaborated, consciously or unconsciously.

 

Bowlby, John (1958) TheNature of The Child's Tie to His Mother, International Journal of Psychoanalysis,39,350-73.

Bowlby, John (1960a) SeparationAnxiety, International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 41, 89-113.

Bowlby, John (1960b) Griefand Mourning in Infancy and Early Childhood.PsychoanalyticStudy of The Child,15, 9-52.

Bowlby,John (1969, 1982) Attachment and Loss, vol. 1: Attachment. London:The Hogarth Press.

Bowlby,John (1973), Attachment and Loss, vol. 2: Separation. London: TheHogarth Press.

Freud,Sigmund (1938) An Outline of Psychoanalysis, Standard Edition, 23,pp. 163-4.

Garelli, JC (1989) Critiqueof Psychoanalytic Reason. (In Spanish: Critica de la Razon Psicoanalitica.Buenos Aires: Troquel).

Rapaportand Gill (1959) Beyond Metapsychology, New York:  PsychologicalIssues

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