PSYCHOTHERAPY John Bowlby – Free Ebook

Our deepest longing is to have stable, satisfying relationships, but the painful fact is that very large numbers of relationships have one painful episode after another, or seemingly intractable miserable conflicts running through them. It’s one of the biggest questions there is: why is it so hard to be happy in love? The huge and not yet fully digested insight of psychoanalysis is that the challenges of relationships always start when we were children. It was the contribution of a great English psychoanalyst called John Bowlby, to trace the tensions and conflicts we have with our partners back to our earliest experiences of maternal care. His ideas are sound, in part because he drew so deeply and honestly on his own experiences in order to formulate them. Born in 1907, Bowlby had a quintessentially upper-class British childhood. Yet Bowlby hardly saw his parents and was looked after by a nanny, who was let go when he was just four, leaving young Bowlby bereft. At seven, he was sent off, and lying with the conventions of his class, to boarding school. He hated it, and later declared, “I wouldn’t send a dog away to boarding school at the age of seven.” Bowlby became a brilliant medical student and an imaginative researcher. When he was a consultant to the World Health Association in the early 1950s, Bowlby wrote a report: “Maternal Care and Mental Health.”‘ He attacked prevalent assumptions and argued that kindness doesn’t smother and spoil children. “It’s as if maternal care were as necessary for the proper development of personality as vitamin D for the development of bones,” he wrote. This insight initiated a wave of reform. The visitation rules of many health institutions were reformed to allow parents to stay with their children, where they’d once been allowed only to visit and never to touch. It sounds like a dry, bureaucratic move, but it ended countless afternoons of quiet sorrow and evenings of solitary anguish. In a book published in 1959 called, “Separation Anxiety,” Bowlby looks at happens when there isn’t enough of this kind of parental care. He described the behavior of children he’d observed who’d been separated from their parents. If the child is separated for too long, they still crave the attention, love, and interest of the parents, but feel that anything good may disappear at any moment. They look for a lot of reassurance, and get upset if it’s not forthcoming. They become volatile, they take heart, and then they despair, and then they’re filled with hope again. This is the pattern of what Bowlby called, “anxious attachment.” But the degree of separation from the parents may lead to another sort of problem. The child could feel so helpless, they become what Bowlby called, “detached.” They enter their own world to protect themselves, and become remote and cold. They experience what Bowlby calls, “avoidant attachment.” That is, they seek tenderness, closeness, emotional investment as always dangerous and to be shunned. They may, in truth, be desperate for a cuddle over reassurance, but such things look far too treacherous. The focus of Bowlby’s thinking was about what happens to a child if there are too many difficulties in forming secure attachments. But the consequences don’t magically get restricted only to the age of 8, or 12, or 17– they’re lifelong. Our attachment style is fed by our earliest experiences. It’s a pre-existing script that gets written into our adult relationships, usually without us even realizing that this has happened. In lying with Bowlby’s views about how children relate to their parents, there are three basic kinds of attachment we can have to other adults. Firstly: secure attachment. This is the rare ideal. When you are securely attached, if there’s a problem, you’ll work it out. You aren’t appalled by the weakness of your partner. If your partner’s a bit down, confused, or being a bit annoying, you don’t react too wildly, because even if they can’t be nice to you, you can take care of yourself and, have hopefully, a little time left over to meet some of the needs of your partner. You give the other the benefit of the doubt when interpreting behavior. You realize that maybe they had a tricky time at work; that’s why they’re not so interested in your day. The explanations are accommodating, generous, and usually more accurate. But there’s another kind of attachment: anxious attachment– and this is marked by clingyness. Texting and calling all the time just to check where the other is and keep tabs on what they’re up to. You need to make sure they have a bus and haven’t left you or the country. Anxiously attached people become coercive and demanding, and focus on their own needs, not their partner’s. Anxious attachment involves a lot of anger; because the stakes feel so high, a minor slight, a hasty word, a tiny oversight could look, to the anxiously attached person, like huge threats. They seem to announce the imminent breakup of the whole relationship. One feels, “The reason you don’t tell me that the minestrone soup I made is delicious is that you don’t love me and are planning to leave me,” when the true explanation may simply be that one’s partner is mulling over a very tricky bit of news about a contract at work. “Avoidant attachment” means that you would rather withdraw and go away than compromise, get angry, or even just getting close to another person. If there’s a problem, you don’t talk. Your instinct is to say you don’t mean to the other person, especially if you’re lonely. Avoidant spouses often team up with anxious ones. It’s a risky combination; the avoidant one doesn’t give the anxious one much support, and the anxious one is always invading the delicate privacy of the avoidant one. Bowlby helps us to feel more generous, and more constructive about what these partners are doing when they upset or disappoint us. Almost no one, in truth, is purely anxious or purely avoidant– we’re just a bit like that some of the time. So, alerted by Bowlby, we can see that a partner’s apparent coldness and indifference is not caused by their loathing of us, but by the fact that a long time ago, they were probably rather badly hurt by intimacy. And it opens possibilities of self-knowledge, which can help one reform, if only a little, one’s own mother’s eccentric behavior. [The latest research shows that in the UK population: 56 percent are securely attached; 24 percent are avoidantly attached; 20 percent are anxiously attached]

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