Becoming Attached: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love, by Robert Karen, PhD. Oxford University Press, 1998
Pg 6: Secure attachment was seen as a source of emotional health, giving a child the confidence that someone will be there for him and thus the capacity to form satisfying relationships with others. Insecure (or “anxious”) attachment, on the other hand, could reverberate through the child’s life in the form of lowered self-esteem, impaired relationships, inability to seek help or to seek it in an effective way, and distorted character development. Subsequent research suggested that close to a third of the children in middle-class homes suffer from insecure attachment and that it tends to be transmitted from one generation to the next. In poor, unstable homes the percentage is higher.
Attachment research aroused great excitement in the field, partly because it finally offered empirical evidence for the origins of some of our psychological problems, but also because questions about child rearing that had only been speculated about could now be answered with greater authority.
Pg7: How do we come to use certain futile strategies in a vain effort to get the love we (often unconsciously) feel was denied us as children? How do we pass on our own parenting style to our kids? Attachment researchers have examined the fantasies that accompany insecure attachment.
Pg 40: …Bowlby himself would later emphasize this point by speaking of “the stark nakedness and simplicity of the conflict with which humanity is oppressed – that of getting angry with and wishing to hurt the very person who is most loved.”
Pg 41: She believed that the child’s early relationship with its mother lives within the child and that it becomes a template for future relationships.
Klein…the infant’s inner life…(she) energized (Feud’s) ideas about the links between love and hate and the feelings of ambivalence that haunt every relationship.
She believed that the infant’s first relationship is with the breast and that it projected onto the breast all its innate capacities for hatred and love. Indeed, she argued that projection and the distorting power of fantasy are such pervasive forces that the “mother” who lives in the child’s fantasy world is considerably different and far more important in many ways than the real mother and that what the real mother does or doesn’t do may be completely uncorrelated with the child’s later emotional condition.
“The boy wishes to be immensely big, powerful, rich, sadistic as in his imagination his father appears to be. The girl wishes to be radiantly beautiful and adored, possessed of unlimited jewels, finery, children, and so on. Every day we see how little these phantasies tally with what the parents really were and really did and had.”
Pg 42: Only in the second half of the first year, according to the analytic view, do whole people come into view. It takes much longer yet for the child to integrate good and bad feelings about its mother or anything else in its world: (the very young infant is unable to grasp the idea of a person)
…And so, in the baby’s immature mind, a necessary split takes place. It imagines two breasts, not left and right, but good and bad, one to love and one to hate. The good breast of the infant’s fantasy is all-loving and giving; and this positive image reflects the infant’s own capacity for love. In its relationship with the good breast, life itself seems good. The bad breast, on the other hand, is hostile, and persecutory, reflecting the infant’s innate capacity for envy, hatred, and aggression.
Pg 43: And in the early months, before while persons exist for the child, the breast is felt to be omnipotent and the cause for all that’s good and bad in the baby’s world. In short order, mommy herself will be seen to have this power and be similarly divided in the infant’s mind.
Seeing small children acting out fantasies of mutilating, poisoning, and setting fire to their parents in play therapy gave Klein a new vision of the frustrated infant’s violent inner life when the primitive capacities for love and hate rule in a pure and unevolved form, when good and evil are entirely separate, not yet softened by the ambiguities of real life.
… “What we learn about the child and the adult through psychoanalysis shows that all the sufferings of later life are for the most part repetitions of those earlier ones, and that every child in the first years of life goes through an immeasurable degree of suffering.
Klein’s theory of the “depressive position,” which described psychic pain that the child suffers when it dawns on him that the hated mother he wants to destroy is also the beloved mother who cares for him. Whereas before the child had been frightened of being destroyed by hostile forces, it now dreads its own aggression and fears that it will destroy what it loves.
Pg 44: (Klein’s internal world of the child) Klein’s description of infant fantasy life – seething with envy and aggression and filled with “part objects” like breasts and penises, and also excrement – were seen by many as profound forays into the infantile mind, as well as a way to account for some of the mental processes that had been observed in severely distressed or disturbed adults.
Pg 48: More primitive defenses, like passive-aggressiveness (Gee, I guess I just didn’t hear him cry”), while likely to show up in almost anyone, are typical of immature or adolescent personalities.
Pg 49: All this he vehemently opposed, advocating in its stead a warmer, more tolerant household, whose hallmark is the ability of the parents to accept the expression of negative emotions:
…By putting up with those outbursts we show our children that we are not afraid of hatred and that we are confident it can be controlled; moreover, we provide for the child the tolerant atmosphere in which self-control can grow.
Pg 51: He argued that when a mother is irritable, nagging, and critical, when she unnecessarily interferes and frustrates the child, he will become not only angry and aggressive but greedy both for affection and for the things that represent affection to him, like sweets. In such aggression and greed lie the roots of theft.
Pg 52: But Bowlby found one environmental factor that was easy to document and not open to misinterpretation – namely prolonged early separations of child and mother, and this was where he turned his attention.
Pg 52: In fact, far from being genial, Derek seemed to care for no one, except perhaps his brother. He preferred to play alone, fought frequently with other children, destroyed his and their toys, lied to his teachers, and stole from everyone.
Pg 54: In contrasting the various impacts of different separations, Bowlby noted that for the separation to be a cause of affectionless character, the child must be old enough – usually six months – to have established a firm emotional tie with his mother figure before being sent away.
But beneath the antisocial attitudes Bowlby saw a profound and unreachable depression, as if, when they lost their loving universe, a switch turned off in them that could not be turned back on. Behind the mask of indifference,” he wrote, “is bottomless misery and behind the apparent callousness despair.”
Pg 55: A child who’s been separated from his mother, Bowlby argued, not only craves her love but also the symbols of her love. And so, typically, the young thieves stole milk, food, or money to buy food.
Bowlby suggested that the affectionless thieves lacked superego controls because their loving feelings had either never had the opportunity to develop or had been swamped by rage.
Pg 56: The adults who tried to work with these children were repeatedly frustrated and infuriated by their hard-boiledness – a quality that Bowlby attributed to their determination never to be hurt again. Sometimes the indifference to others was only skin-deep. But they all presented themselves as utterly uninterested in affection or hostility, thereby disarming everyone they met of the power to affect them.
Pg 58: Further research would eventually establish that separations, even long separations, do not in themselves cause a child to become a psychopathic personality. It’s the depriving separation that’s so calamitous, where the child never has a chance to develop a true attachment; where there’s no alternative mother figure to take up where the first mother left off and perhaps to keep her memory alive; or where there are, early on, a series of short-term mother figures and thus repeated losses, all of which cause a bitterness and mistrust to develop and the shutting down in the child of his natural tendency to reach out for love and connection.” Although it would be decades before research would prove his point, Bowlby declared that the psychopathic parent who was often found to be the cause of child neglect is usually the grown-up maternally deprived affectionless child.
Pg 70: He (the father) becomes like a figure in a wax museum, a weak imitation that can arouse no emotion beyond disappointment that he is not the real thing and perhaps angry resistance if he tries to prove that he is. The rejecting behavior of children who had been hospitalized against their will by parents whose job it is to protect them from the intrusions of strangers was often more severe.
Pg 98: But gradually, as mother comes into view as an individual, their mutual history of dovetailed responses coalesces into the single phenomenon of love. The once separate, unrelated, instinctual patterns are now elements of a more complex system, attachment behavior, with a single direction and single purpose.
Pg 99: Even in adult life, most people live or seek to live by this hierarchical design, choosing one person who is their central attachment figure, one person who is loved above all others and whose presence most insures a feeling of security. When we are at our lowest, due to illness or emotional distress, this is the person we most want nearby.
Bowlby argued that, given this natural predisposition, threats to abandon a child who misbehaves, threats to send him away, or threats by a mother to kill herself – all of which he found to be distressingly common – are terrifying to the child, generating unbearable levels of anxiety.
Pg 100: The detachment that Robertson had observed in young children who’d suffered long hospitalizations and that Bowlby saw as the root of affectionless psychopathy was one type of pathological morning. It was dangerous because it sealed off the personality not only from despair but from love and other experiences that could disconfirm his feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and bitter mistrust, thus precluding any working through of the grief.
In addition, Bowlby argued that separation anxiety, which had long been a subject of debate in analysis – and which had been attributed to all sorts of psychic processes, from Otto Rank’s idea that it was a recapitulation of the trauma of birth to Melanie Klein’s proposition that the child assumed that the absent mother had somehow been eaten up or destroyed by the child itself – was natural, evolutionary-based childhood reaction. It was an intrinsic fear, like fear of the dark, loud noises, isolation, and strange things and people. Separation anxiety, like stranger anxiety, however, only becomes pronounced for many children in the second half of the first year.
Pg 103: “All of us find security in being with people we know well and are apt to feel anxious and insecure in a crowd of strangers. Particularly in times of crisis or distress do we seek our closest friends and relatives. The need for companionship and the comfort it brings is a very deep need in human nature – and one we share with many of the higher animals.”
This need for companionship is even stronger in young creatures than in grown-ups. Whether it is a brood of ducklings on a pond, twin lambs in a meadow, or a human toddler around the house, the young are quickly distressed if they get lost and scamper to get close to their mothers as soon as anything happens which frightens them. (Bowlby)
Pg 104: Bowlby favored separation in small doses. “It is an excellent plan,” he said, “to accustom babies and small children to being cared for now and then by someone else.” It will prepare the child for future emergency separations and give the mother some breathing space. He told mothers that they should not worry about being away from their children for an evening or even, occasionally, for a long weekend. But until the age of three, longer separations are perilous and will usually have lasting ramifications in the form of insecure behavior.
Pg 105: The only corrective is “a lot of love and reassurance.”
“one cannot ever really give back to a child the love and attention he needed and did not receive when he was small. With understanding and affection, and perhaps skilled help, one can go a long way towards it, sometimes a very long way, but it will never be quite the same.”
Pg 106: Such pronouncements set teeth on edge. Among psychologists, Bowlby’s insistence that what was missed early on could never be fully replaced was controversial and remains so to this day.
Pg 107: …to develop a negative concept of the mother on wholly irrational grounds – such as when she fails to relieve his suffering despite her best efforts, or when the arrival of a new sibling brings forth intolerable feelings of abandonment, rage, and guilt.
“An infant can’t follow its mother; it isn’t a duckling,” said the Kleinian analyst Susanna Isaacs. “The human baby is very helpless for a prolonged period of time. And during this period it forms an internal image of the mother; this would be a mixture of memory, of fantasies, of the baby’s response to the actual reality of the mother.”
Pg 110: [F]irst, that he should have enjoyed a reasonably secure relationship with his parents prior to the loss; secondly that…he be given prompt and accurate information about what has happened, be allowed to ask all sorts of questions and have them answered as honestly as possible, and be a participant in family grieving including whatever funeral rites are decided on; and, thirdly, that he has the comforting presence of his surviving parent, or if that is not possible of a known and trusted substitute, and an assurance that that relationship will continue.
Bowlby was able to demonstrate convincingly the successful coping of those rare children who had these conditions: They could be sad, they could talk about it, they could have their pain, perhaps for a long time, without having to dissociate from it and become prey to damaging unconscious processes. He was also able to demonstrate the disturbing consequences – the primitive defenses, the failure of subsequent development, the formation of phobias and other hysterical symptoms, the depression, the extreme mental disorders, the antisocial behavior, the irresolvable anger toward the living parent, the inability to form new relationships – for the many who did not have these protective conditions.
At times Bowlby veered toward the utopian. One could almost assume by reading him that when the right conditions prevailed, mankind could finally master the bedeviling qualities that have always made the human animal such a problem to himself…the child builds up an “internal working model” of self and other based on his experiences with the intimate people in his life.
Pg 112:…especially the Kleinians, who would gain ground in England in the coming decades for the very reason that the seething they saw in the child – greed, aggression, envy, sexual possessiveness – was so helpful in understanding the seething that analysts saw in themselves and their patients.
Pg 154: Their cool indifference in the Strange Situation was reminiscent of adults who seem like pillars of strength until one realizes that they are cut off from their own feelings….those who came home after lengthy hospital stays and showed no interest in their mother or in being cared for at all…
The avoidant response suggested not only that both the infant and the older child had experienced a similar sense of rejection, but that they were using the same defense to cope with it when placed in a situation of heightened stress – an emotional cutoff that disguised their hurt and anger, even from themselves. Ambivalent children, in contrast, although also angry, had not crossed over into this protective state of indifference. They still hoped for solace and connection; but their anger spoiled the possibility of getting it.
Pg 155: …”the partial forms of maternal deprivation.” She(Ainsworth) had opened a research window onto the quotidian details of parenting.
For the Baltimore study Ainsworth had developed four scales to rate a mother’s way of being with her baby: How often was the mother sensitive to the infant’s signals? How much acceptance of the baby did she demonstrate as opposed to rejection? Did she cooperate with the baby’s desires and rhythms or did she tend to interfere, imposing her own schedule and her own pace when feeding, handling, or playing? And finally, how available to the baby was she, and how often did she ignore it? With this degree of specificity, she hoped to get beyond the vague concept of “maternal care,” which she had come to regard as useless. As it turned out, a comparison of the mothers of the secure babies with the mothers of the insecure babies on these scales helped explain the puzzle of anxious attachment,* which had eluded her in Uganda.
* Ainsworth initially used the term “insecure attachment,” but Bowlby, trying to keep attachment theory consonant with analytic concepts, preferred “anxious attachment,” which also made sense given the anxiety that the child associates with the attachment, Ainsworth went along with that, but some of her students didn’t. The two terms are now used interchangeably.
Mothers of securely attached children were significantly more responsive to their infants’ signals, quicker to pick them up when they cried, inclined to hold them longer and with more apparent pleasure. They were rated much higher in sensitivity, acceptance, cooperation, and emotional accessibility.
…the mothers of the ambivalent children were often maddeningly unpredictable, the mothers of avoidant children were substantially more rejecting. It was apparently the experience of rejection and the development of strategies to cope with it that gave the avoidant children their appearance of precocious independence when they had to deal with a stressful situation in the lab.
The behavior of the anxious mothers ranged from mean-spirited to merely cool, from chaotic to pleasantly incompetent. Many of these mothers were nice people and well-meaning parents who took pride in their babies and had various means of expressing their love. Some were good playmates or teachers; some were delighted by the positive qualities they saw in their children. But what they all had in common was difficulty responding to the baby’s attachment needs in a loving, attuned, and consistent way. Inevitably this problem was compounded as the babies became more demanding and distressed, the mothers more irritated and overwhelmed. The power struggles that resulted inevitably brought out a more hostile and rejecting side of the mother’s personality.
…The mothers of the avoidant children, it was found, showed far less emotional expression, and, as Ainsworth’s student Mary Main later suggested, they seemed to be rigidly containing their anger and irritation. They behaved less affectionately when they were holding their babies, and they were more inclined to reinforce their commands with gruff physical interventions.
…Some of the avoidant mothers, Main would write, “mocked their infants or spoke sarcastically to or about them; some stared them down. One expressed irritation when the infant spilled an imaginary cup of tea.” The mothers of secure and ambivalent babies did not behave this way.
Indeed, as Main reviewed the videotapes of avoidant mothers and babies, she sensed that many of the mothers had an aversion to physical warmth, so that that their infants eventually do not respond to most efforts to hold them.
Further analysis of Ainsworth’s data revealed that the mothers who responded quickly and warmly to their babies’ cries during the early months of life not only tended to have securely attached babies at the end of the first year but babies who cried less as well. Instead of crying, these one-year-olds tended to use gestures, facial expressions, and vocalizations to get their other’s attention. Similarly, the children of mothers who had been most affectionate in holding their babies and who had given them a lot of physical attention tended to seek less physical contact at twelve months than the other babies. As Ainsworth would later write, those infants, because they had been so consistently responded to, seemed to have developed confidence in their ability to control what happened to them. Her findings seemed to disprove conclusively the advice that many psychologists and pediatricians had been giving to American mothers for decades – that they should not reinforce their babies’ crying by responding to it. Such admonitions now seemed appropriate only for parents of babies who had already been spoiled or for limited purposes like sleep training when the baby was already several months old.
Pg 160: For what Ainsworth called “secure attachment” could also be understood as having something in common with healthy narcissistic development, a growing concern among analysts at that time, especially the followers of Heinz Kohut. They saw the infant as needing to be at the center of a loving caretaker’s universe and that those who failed to get such consistent and dependable adoration would be at risk for developing a narcissistic personality disorder later (which typically includes a shaky sense of self-worth and clinging to an infantile need to be applauded and ministered to). One could even imagine the ambivalently and avoidantly attached children as representing in some way different variants of narcissistic disturbance.
Pg 189: My own clinical experience, like that of others, suggests that although much is retained and much more can, ideally, be rekindled later, the loss of early security is a major cause for emotional distress in adult life. It may be occasioned by the arrival of a new sibling, or the disappearance of a loving grandmother from the home, or the harsh reemergence of the mother’s narcissistic needs with the end of infancy, any or all of which can leave the small child feeling bereft and abandoned. Loss is a big word in the attachment lexicon, but it has not been applied in this context.
Pg 196: The anxiously attached boys, for instance, were off the charts on every measure of aggression, assertion, and control seeking. They appeared to be very hungry for attention and approval (their dependency scores were also the highest), but they were unable to seek attention openly, perhaps because their hunger for it and their expectation of rejection were both too terrible to allow into consciousness.
Pg 197: Insecure girls, however, by a huge margin – about two to one – expressed vastly more pleasure and conferred many more smiles on their peers than any other group. Again the management of relationship anxiety – the sense that one wants to be loved and connected but that one will not be treated well – seems to explain this behavior. It has been found in other studies, for instance, that low-status, low-pecking-order children in a nursery school tended to be big smilers when initiating contact with higher-ranking children. The smiles of such children, far from being expressions of pleasure, and most likely a demonstration of submission and plea not to be maltreated.
Pg 206: But built into the very nature of shameful self-feelings is a desire to ignore them. Indeed, we often construct our lives in such a fashion as to keep them out of consciousness and away from the view of others. So it is not uncommon, even in adulthood, to be burdened with unexamined and hateful self-concepts first incorporated at a young age.
Pg 207: The study of anxiously attached children suggests that many of them fail to develop cognitive capacities that might enable them to reevaluate and work through such distorted models. Main has found, for instance, that insecure six-year-olds have a reduced capacity for self-reflection, for thinking about feelings, and thinking about thoughts. Secure children are more likely to be able to acknowledge having more than one feeling at a time, they can imagine how feelings might change, they recognize that different people might feel differently in the same situation, and that people can say one thing while meaning just the opposite. Anxious children often lack such awareness. By age ten their options for working through are further impaired because they have difficulty even recalling the past.
Pg 213: The ambivalent children seemed very similar at six to what ambivalent children look like at twelve months, especially in the intensity of their involvement with their parents and their contradictory impulses toward them, often combining proximity seeking with rage.
Pg 215: Do I have the power to affect them or to do other things that will be helpful to myself in their absence? It was assumed that the attitudes the children exhibited about the availability of their parents, the usefulness of their anger, their ability to manage their loneliness, would be carried into other relationships – indeed, already had been, thus accounting for the Minnesota findings on how they behaved with peers and teachers.
Pg 216: …we reveal our inner life in what we say…(Mary Main)
Pg 220: The ambivalent children seem to be desperately trying to influence their mother. Many of them seem hooked by her haphazard, unpredictable style and the fact that she does come through on occasion.
Pg 221: They are wildly addicted to her and to their efforts to make her change, they become enmeshed with her in various unhealthy ways, and later in life they become similarly addicted to other potential attachment figures, such as teachers in the school years and, in all probability, romantic figures after that. But through it all they do not believe they have what it takes to get what they need from another person.
According to Main, the predominantly ambivalent child emphasizes his feelings of helplessness in order to elicit care. He learns to scan the environment in search of threatening elements that will enable him to become fearful and thereby get attention. Gradually, the ordinary takes on a frightening cast, leading in some cases to chronic fretfulness or anxiety.
This extreme attentiveness saps energy that might have been available for play or work, compromising intellectual development and giving the personality a dependent and highly emotionalized cast. Ambivalent children are not turned off. Their longing for connection is always on “high.”
Pg 222: Being allowed to have these feelings without being overwhelmed by guilt or anxiety helps the child to accept the ambivalence that is part of every close relationship and gives him the confidence that he can control his negative impulses, that they do not have to destroy him or those he loves.
…it seems obvious that an avoidant or ambivalent child would lack just such confidence. How can he satisfyingly voice his belligerence to a parent who is too dependent on the child’s glowing love, who cannot tolerate rejection, who feels turned off by need, who caves in to depression when the child is tantrummy or oppositional, who desperately needs the child to be a perfect narcissistic reflection of herself?
There is another implication here, too, perhaps especially for the ambivalent child, whose hurt and rage and hatred are so volatile and so quickly unmanageable: He never develops the sense that mom is there to contain his overwhelming emotions; that he can have a tantrum; that he can hate her and feel as if he and mom are through, but that she will be soothing and convey the sense that the tantrum will soon pass without causing permanent damage and that even his wish to annihilate her will not have devastating consequences. In other words, even if his extreme negative feelings are too much for him, they are not too much for her; she can (in Winnicott’s word) “hold” them, and through his relationship with her he will learn to manage them one day himself.
Pg 223: Because most ambivalent children are so anxious about abandonment, their aggression toward others is, I suspect, most apt to come out in disguised or passive-aggressive ways, with extreme outbursts still being reserved for mom or for those moments with highly valued others when there is too strong a whiff of betrayal.
Pg 224: He doesn’t feel he can be openly angry with her, despite the fact that anger, according to Bowlby, is the natural response when a child’s attachment needs are thwarted. Experience has taught him that his anger will only cause her to become more rejecting. And so he has learned to turn himself off. At the slightest hint of pain or disappointment, he shuts down his attachment system and experiences himself as having no need for love. Unlike the ambivalent child, whose attachment antennae ae always up and receiving and who seems to have no defenses to ward off painful emotions, the avoidant child, Main believes, has made himself deaf to attachment related signals, whether they are coming from within himself or from someone else. He avoids any situation and perhaps any topic that has the potential for activating his attachment needs.
Even later on, as a child who seems to have accepted life on the edge of human connectedness, who seems to many observers to prefer detachment, the prospect of further rejection is too terrible to risk. The predominantly avoidant child cannot be warmly affectionate with his mother or go to her when in need. But by keeping his attachment system dampened, he is at least able to stay near her without risking more pain or ruining the connection with his disappointment and anger. Thus, despite appearances, the strategy of the avoidant child still seems to serve the purpose of preserving proximity. Psychologically, he is firmly in his mother’s orbit, his thought, feeling, and behavior shaped by the claims of that relationship, but, like Jupiter or Uranus, he abides at a distance that affords him little warmth.
This constricted way of life, in which positive displays of feelings are curtailed, can often be managed, especially if the avoidant child develops solitary interests. But when he’s most distressed and needing care, his efforts to minimize or turn off the strong, biologically based attachment needs emanating from within can be a terrible struggle, which leaves him stressed to his limit. Now the rage that he feels toward his rejecting unavailable mother is no longer so easily repressed. He becomes taut; his trigger is held by a thin hair; and it is possibly at such moments that he is most likely to unleash his anger at other children.
We know that the avoidant child seems to abandon his overtly rageful stance in favor of a defiant “I don’t need you!” But when anger toward a parent is stifled, as it often is, for instance, when a parent dies, the child tends to turn the anger against himself, creating a stubborn pocket of guilty or shame-ridden depression. The depression may be masked by compulsiveness, aggression, or other symptoms. Meanwhile, the “I don’t need you!,” begun as a rageful, wounded pout, now becomes an unconscious stance toward people in general, even loved people. This too is a form of self-starvation and is probably intensified by an identification with the depriving parent, such that the avoidant child now becomes the agent of his own deprivation.
As with the ambivalently attached, it is hard to imagine the avoidant child or adult being able to express anger while simultaneously retaining a feeling of love and connection. We still have a lot to learn about why various children become avoidantly attached to their mothers, but to the extent that the relationship fits the picture that emerged from the Baltimore study, we can assume that in the avoidant person’s fantasy, to express anger over one’s hurts or unmet needs is to be rejected, swatted down, disparaged. His anger is, therefore, likely to remain unexpressed (except in outbursts of temper), because the consequences of expressing it are too terrible. Instead there may be an unspoken withdrawal – “I don’t need this person any more; he’s history” – which may in turn be covered by an outward amiability that suggests nothing has happened.
The avoidant personality thus feels that his anger is always putting his relationships in jeopardy.
Pg 227: Early anxious attachment can be assumed to arise from several sources: trying circumstances, such as an overtaxed, undersupported mother not having the time or the peace of mind to be sensitively and consistently available to each of her children; ignorance, which might cause otherwise caring parents to let a baby cry for prolonged periods, to leave him repeatedly or for too long a time before he is able to handle it, or to become prematurely concerned with training for independence; unhappy events in the child’s life (deaths, separations, sibling rivalries), which might create emotional problems the parent cannot handle; some innate need in the child that the parent is unable to satisfy; and, finally parental psychology, which easily works its way into and complicates the other conditions.
Pg 231: I recall an incident from my own childhood. I believe I had an anxious attachment to my mother, which was perhaps mainly ambivalent but had certain avoidant features and looked more and more avoidant as I got older. My mother, in turn, was, I think, avoidantly attached to her mother, a hardworking but somewhat distant woman who attended to everyone’s physical needs but was not especially warm.
Pg 235: …disorganized/disoriented – (Mary Main) …display behaviors typical of both the avoidant and the ambivalent baby.
Pg 237: In a study of one hundred mother-infant pairs who had been assessed in the Strange Situation at twelve months, Lieberman found that after one year of this type of treatment the anxious pairs were virtually indistinguishable from those who had been rated secure.
Pg 239: The very fact of not being attuned to, so central feature of anxious attachment, is in itself a shame-inducing experience, and some studies have found what looks like an early expression of shame in infants whose mother does not appreciate, echo, or elaborate the feelings they express.
Pg 245: For the ambivalent child who is enmeshed with his mother, a different sort of shame may strike later, in young adulthood, when he finds himself lacking in self-reliance, overly dependent on his mother, and plagued by insecurity in his relationships.
Pg 351: Mothers who intrude on the baby because they are more attuned to their own needs than his cause him to be more attuned to her needs, too, and thus more inclined to develop a false, compliant self.
Pg 374: People construct their defenses in order to prevent being reengulfed by such feelings. But when one becomes a parent, the buried, unresolved pain is shaken loose, the defensive wall is breached, and new defensive efforts are required, which, in the case of the dismissing parent, means keeping the baby and its needs at some distance.
A dismissing mother may find a solution to the clash between the baby’s emotional needs and her own – and to whatever guilt she may unconsciously feel about this conflict – by seeking the haven of a belief system that disdains introspection as naval gazing, favors early training in autonomy, and stands guard against spoiling.
Another reason is that by coming at her baby repeatedly the mother can control the interaction and keep her baby from initiating care seeking.
Here, play with this, no play with this – it’s directing the focus, and she wants the focus away from attachment issues.
Pg 375: A mother who has never worked through her own ambivalent attachment has probably been struggling all her life to find stable love. When she was a child, she may have been pained by the competent, steady caring that she saw friends’ parents give to them. As an adult she may be prone to a nagging, uncontrollable jealousy in any close relationships where she feels cause for doubt. She may want to love deeply and steadily, but it is hard for her because she’s never been filed up enough with patient, reliable love to be in a position to give it.
This mother may care for her baby as much as any other mother, but she finds her caregiving impaired by her own rankling needs, which make it hard for her to be consistently available. If, unconsciously, she envies the baby’s position as the one who is meant to be coddled and cared for, that may further impede her ability to give of herself freely. If she harbors an underlying wish that the child remain tightly enmeshed with her, that he become for her an attachment figure who will never separate or betray, she may find herself interfering with her infant’s efforts toward autonomy. The existence of such inner conflicts seems to be corroborated by the observation that some preoccupied mothers frequently intrude when the baby is happily exploring on his own and push for interaction even when the baby resists it. A mother doesn’t do such things out of a lack of love. But to see her child separate – become his own person – n these small ways is painful to someone who feels deprived of love. It is to feel the knife in the chest all over again, of being a small person, desperately hungry for care, tormented by a mother who is careless about her needs and who thus makes every separation a daily torment.
…if a mother unconsciously wishes to keep a baby addicted to her, there is no better strategy than being inconsistently available. Nothing makes a laboratory rat push a pedal more furiously than an inconsistent reward.
The immature, dependent, babyish behavior that Sroufe observed in some ambivalent children may, thus, represent the sort of child his parent unconsciously wishes for, one who will not grow up and separate from mom, who will always be clingily demonstrating his need for her, and who will anxiously seek to appease her. The child, meanwhile, suspended perpetually in his attachment anxieties may, if he gets stuck in his mother’s orbit, grow into a similar sort of person, who constantly seeks succor and devotion from another – much more than the average person is likely to put up with. Without enough countervailing influence, he may eventually become a parent who repeats the pattern with his own children in order to finally get the devotion he missed. This is certainly as a good a theory as any as to why some parents become so invested in keeping their children preoccupied with them. Throughout all this, a lack of experience with self-reflection – and, in all likelihood, an aversion to it – keeps these dynamics unconscious and therefore unresolvable.
Pg 376: Other children may sense an underlying depression in the parent and feel that only their love and attention and good performance can keep that parent from emotional collapse. This, too, could generate an unhealthy pre-occupation, even in a child who has received all the appropriate adoration, and may be carried through to adulthood in the form of a haunting, perhaps unnameable, separation anxiety.
Pg 378: Parents learn about how the baby is likely to behave during each new week or month, what it needs to eat, what the variations are in physical and cognitive development, how to sleep train it, how to toilet train it, and so on down to the last detail. But, as useful as this is, none of it will help parents do the one thing they most need to do – gain a deeper understanding of their own motivations, conflicts, and inner needs. In the self-help literature directed at parents virtually no attention is paid to the emotional upheavals that the parent is likely to face – the disturbing return of long festering feelings, the sense of being driven to behave in ways that one would rather not think about, the haunting sensation of being inhabited by the ghost of one’s own mother or father as one tries to relate to one’s child.
But to really deal with these emotions requires a willingness to let the past into your consciousness. That not only means giving up the fantasy that we as parents are completely unlike our parents, but struggling with those very things in ourselves we have always hated and have not wanted to admit to consciousness.
Pg 380: An imaginary example: An avoidant child grows up undervaluing attachment relationships and experiences. He is intellectually gifted and applies himself to school. He has rough edges at first but he learns to be charming. Although everyone admires and likes him, o one feels particularly close to him. And because he is isolated emotionally, the deprivation that began in infancy persists into young adulthood. Staved for affection, though unaware of it, he fantasizes about a great, all-encompassing love. Once perhaps, in his early twenties, he thought he found it and was so bitterly wounded afterward that, without being conscious of his decision, he only allowed himself to date women who were immediately enthralled by him. Unfortunately, he didn’t respect such women.
Pg 381: The affair lost, he was thrown back on his emptiness, confronted with the terrible aloneness he felt as an infant before he had perfected his avoidant rituals. Indeed, he now seemed in some ways more ambivalent than avoidant, consumed by jealousy, hunger, and desperation, like the crazily dependent people who murder a lover over an infidelity and get immortalized in country and western songs. And, accustomed as he was to getting his way, he behaved like an infant, wretched, vengeful, and full of narcissistic rage.
Pg 382: Bowlby argued that self-reliance and healthy or mutual dependence were inexorably linked.
The importance of being able to rely on someone – and of having someone to rely on – is illustrated y the behavior of women who cope successfully with the immense demands of pregnancy and early motherhood. One study found that the women who fared best were able to ask for help from appropriate people and to do so directly, without hints or manipulations. They had relationships with their husbands whose support they happily sought, and they themselves had the capacity to give spontaneously to others, including their babies.
Those women whose pregnancies were marred by emotional difficulties had a much harder time with dependency. They either did not ask for support or did it in demanding and aggressive ways, suggestive, Bowlby argued, of their lack of confidence that true support would ever be forthcoming. Typically, they were dissatisfied with what they received and, in the end, not adept at giving themselves.
Although Bowlby rarely spoke of solitude, of the importance of being able to be happily alone, of the creativity and self-knowledge that can come in times of stillness, he did believe that, like self-reliance, the capacity for healthy solitude in adult life arises from being secure in the realm of attachment and having a secure base to return to.
But implicit in all this is that the one builds on the other, that having an internalized secure base, a strong sense of having been loved and having confidence in one’s essential ability to love and be loved, enables one to both enjoy solitude and to confidently seek nourishment when one needs it.
Pg 383: The lack of a secure base would seem to leave one struggling with a profound and painful loneliness…The predominantly avoidant person disavows it (secure base) But both, I think, are haunted by a fear of loneliness, some form of separation anxiety, occasioned by panic attacks or depressions, and a hungry search for a sense of internal goodness. I would speculate that for that reason the two attachment styles seem prone to certain types of addiction, the ambivalent becoming addicted to people, the avoidant to work, power, acquisition, achievement, or obsessive rituals.
Pg 384: To Bowlby, mourning in adulthood remained as important as mourning in infancy, for even in adulthood the loss of an attachment figure, such as a parent or a spouse, is a powerful blow that rips away our secure base and, in a sense, undoes our world.
…protest, despair, and detachment, which James Robertson saw in hospitalized children, are the standard responses to loss of an attachment figure at every age. Healthy reactions to loss in adulthood entail a gradual emotional reorganization and a refocusing of one’s attachment feelings to new figures.
When mourning fails, ad such a reorganization does not take place, it may well be related to early anxious attachment. If someone grew up in a home where attachment needs were played down and considered babyish, feelings of grief are likely to be stifled and not worked through.
A man like this stifles all his pain when his wife dies because the only means he has of coping with emotional pain is avoidance.
If the avoidant personality says “Let’s move on” prematurely, someone who grew up in an enmeshed home may never feel ready to say it. Instead, he is more likely to suffer from chronic, unresolvable grief.
Pg 385: Clinical work suggests that t people with what appears to be an avoidant or dismissing psychology often fail to recognize that separations have an emotional impact on them.
Young people like this go to college far from home, emigrate to a new country, readily leave friends behind to take a job in a new place, never anticipating that they will suffer and feelings of loss as a result. And because they don’t take attachment needs seriously, they don’t take care of them. They fail to make the concerted effort needed to maintain old connections or build new ones. In the end they may be brought low by their unmet attachment needs and by an attack of separation anxiety, experienced as a sense of depression and inner collapse. Feeling too weak, too desperate, and too ashamed to approach anyone for love, they may allow this condition to worsen and persist.
Pg 387: Those in the ambivalent group, for instance, tended to procrastinate, they had difficulty concentrating, and were most distracted by interpersonal concerns. They also had the lowest average income. “It’s very parallel to infants in the strange Situation,” Hazan says, “where the ambivalent kids are not able to engage in exploratory behavior because they’re so preoccupied with where their mother is and what she’s doing.”
The avoidants, meanwhile, were most likely to be workaholics and most inclined to allow work to interfere with their social life.
“it’s like the avoidant infants – they’re not exploring happily, but they’re putting all their energy into it.”
Pg 390: …entrenched avoidant attachment lay at the core of the narcissistic personality disorder…
…infants need deep and consistent appreciation. Babies crave having their performance validated, they need to be seen and loved for who they truly are, and they need to be given an ongoing sense of belonging, of being a valued fellow being in the family. If a mother fails consistently to attune to her baby in this way and to respond to his complex emotional needs, the young child, feeling unknown and unappreciated, is unable to know or appreciate himself.
Pg 396: …it is an unconscious commitment to those we worshipfully loved as children. No matter how much they hurt us, we don’t want to give them up. Many, including Freud, have seen in repetition an effort to master an early trauma. In the process of repetition, however, the very meaning of love becomes subtly perverted. It may come to mean pining after the unavailable; being seduced and rejected; being treated with contempt; being engaged in sado-masochistic warfare; being worshipped and adored as a paragon of strength even as one’s true self lies hidden, glutted with ugly needs and emotions; and so on.
The fact that many people find romantic excitement in a lover who displays the qualities of a rejecting parent, an excitement that they do not find in others, suggests the degree to which they remain not just committed to but enthralled by early attachment figures. They can’t let go of the mother or father who didn’t love them the way they needed to be loved. And they continue to be bewitched by the hurtfulness that compromised their care. They are caught in the parental orbit, a hurt child still leaning out for a love that can never be, and blinded to what they are doing by the belief that they have no feelings toward their parents at all or have washed their hands of them.
An obvious corollary is that the prospect of being given to in a truly loving way is undermined at every turn; indeed it feels perversely unacceptable. There are many layers to this: We don’t deserve it. We’ll be rejected. It’s not the way mom did it. And getting it now would not only deprive one of one’s beloved bitterness but would also activate the long dissociated pain of that early loss.
For many people, therefore, adult sexual attachments do not give birth to a renewal of trust; or, if they do, the trust recedes as it is overpowered by earlier patterns.
Pg 397: …the capacity to love and be loved in a nourishing way is more like a channel that one has trouble tuning in to. In intimate relationships, perhaps especially with the opposite sex, one is fixated on another, more compelling, channel. Here, always playing, is the drama of the rejecting parent and the longing child who is some combination of angry, bad, inadequate, manipulative, and spurned….seeing…goodness as only existing in desperately sought after others…
Needless to say, shame also plays a part in all this. For someone whose predominant attachment orientation is ambivalent, core feelings of shame are probably closer to consciousness, and the desperateness he feels about relationships is probably heightened by the sense that he is not worthy of love. The person whose dominant attachment mode is avoidant has more likely cut himself off from such anxieties. Bu he is not less motivated by them – because staying cut off from shame, which is crucial to him, absorbs a lot of his interpersonal energy.
Pg 398: …people exploit each other’s feelings of inadequacy in order to alleviate their own self-doubts….
Pg 402: …beginning to use the strong, nourishing parts of oneself that have been disavowed and seen as existing only in yearning-for others…it (therapy) can be an opportunity to face some unpleasant facts about how one really operates in relationships…
Pg 404: In Main’s study, some of the secure adults who believed they had been anxious children attributed the change to their relationship with their spouse. Something new and special happened there that overcame pulls they may have experienced toward transference and repetition. As Alicia Lieberman puts it, “With a love partner one can go over and over the kinds of things that one’s mother and father didn’t respond to well, and if the partner responds well, it’s like a release, and one can finally lay old conflicts to rest.
Pg 405: A growing body of evidence indicates that these three variables – having had a loving, supportive figure available in early childhood, having undergone in-depth psychotherapy, and/or being in a stable relationship with a supportive spouse – are perhaps the most important elements in breaking the intergenerational cycle of emotional damage. Several studies have shown this to be the case with women who were abused as children but have not become abusing mothers.
Having a baby can offer a new perspective on one’s own childhood – what one felt, what one’s parents must have felt, how psychologically delicate the process is, how inevitably imperfect. Finding oneself dealing well with the emotional challenges of parenthood can also be a transforming experience.
Pg 406: Alice Miller…we, the children, must be willing to remember and embrace our rage if we are ever to be whole.
But holding on to anger and blame is another impediment to mourning. It prevents the grown-up child from feling the loss of what he never had. His anger, in effect, shields him from his sadness, and it also, paradoxically, keeps him enthralled with the very parent he blames and hates and denounces.
Eventually, one must separate, in the positive sense of becoming one’s own person, which means not just letting go of the unconscious, neurotic tie to the parent, but letting go of the wound that perversely sanctifies that tie and letting o of the ways in which one’s own behavior with others (including with one’s children) replicates it.
Pg 407: The cards that people get dealt – n terms of the blessings and curses of heredity, the supportiveness of their families, the quality of their early social encounters – are terribly unequal.
Pg 408: But being able to reflect on it and talk about it has helped dissipate some of the haunting anxiety about permanent loss, and it gives me more confidence that when we do come into conflict my reactions are less likely to emanate from old destructive patterns.
…we are only doomed to repeat what has not been remembered, reflected upon, and worked through.
Pg 413: In the world that commerce and industry are creating, there was less time for nonproductive pleasures. Daydreaming, chatting away the afternoon, taking long midday naps, and other idle pastimes no longer fit the quickened schedules of life and were frequently stigmatized as lazy or lower-class. As the opportunity for success and the fear of failure became a bigger factor in people’s lives, parents became anxious about formerly acceptable qualities in their children that were now deemed slothful, clingy, or immature. The passivity that allows one’s feelings to come to the surface and get worked through in fantasy and contemplation was now more likely to be seen as a waste of time. One had goals to achieve. If one became cut off from one’s feelings, passivity became not just a waste of time but a threat, and one’s busyness something of an addiction.
…if we think of the family as the child of society, we could say that modern conditions have often tended to make the increasingly isolated nuclear family anxiously attached to the culture hat gave birth to it. Meanwhile, as each home became a more private and unique place, without the protocols and rituals that had governed life before, parental psychology became far more critical in determining whether a child would be securely or anxiously attached.
Pg 441: Modern society has taken many of us a long way from a life centered on the pleasures and pains of being connected to others. Our focus is often on other things – achievement, power, acquisition, romance, excitement. But the need for proximity, for felt security, for love; the need to be held, to be understood, to work through our losses; these basic themes of attachment are to some degree built into us biologically. We have mixed feelings about them. But they are there.
Buy this book at Amazon.com