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Childhood Attachment March 24, 2009

Posted by occhristiancounseling in attachment.
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Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, and Wall (1978) tested Bowlby’s theories through extensive studies of the security of infant attachment using the Strange Situation, a technique designed to identify patterns of infant responses to separation from and reunion with the mother. This 20-minute procedure introduces the infant to increasingly stressful events that are designed to activate his attachment system. The infant enters the lab with his mother, and two separations and reunions take place between infant and mother. During the separations, the mother leaves the room for 3 minutes and then returns. A stranger enters the room, remains with the infant during the first separation, and leaves when the mother returns. During the second separation, the child is left alone in the room.

Through analyses of the data obtained during the Strange Situation procedure, Ainsworth et al. (1978) identified the following three attachment classifications for infants: secure, avoidant, and resistant-ambivalent. Most infants were classified as secure and exhibited signs of missing their mothers during the first separation, continuing to show distress during the second separation. They actively sought closeness to their mothers when they returned, were quickly soothed, and returned to their play. Resistant-ambivalent infants were preoccupied with their mothers during the entire procedure and appeared angry, intermittently seeking her and avoiding her. They failed to be soothed and demonstrated significant difficulty returning to their play. In contrast, avoidant infants displayed no signs of distress during the procedure, but continued to focus on the toys and environment, actively ignoring and/or avoiding their mothers when they returned.

In later examination of Strange Situation data, Main and Solomon (1990) identified an additional category of infant attachment. Since a number of infants appeared to be unclassifiable using the three categories identified by Ainsworth et al. (1978), Main and Solomon examined more than 200 videotapes of infants who had behaved in conflicted, unorganized ways. Some of these infants rose to greet their mothers when they returned, and then fell face down or stopped all movement with their hands in the air and trance-like expressions on their faces. These patterns of behavior were identified as disorganized-disoriented, which was a new and totally different attachment classification.

Following the seminal work of Ainsworth et al. (1978) and Main and Solomon (1990), many studies were conducted to examine attachment in children. Lieberman (1997) succinctly summarized 15 years of findings in the following way:

  1. Individual differences in the quality of the baby’s attachment can be reliably categorized on the basis of security or anxiousness about the mother’s availability.
  2. There are fairly predictable links between quality of attachment and the history of the mother-child relationship in the first year.
  3. Individual differences in quality of attachment are chronologically stable under stable family conditions, but they may shift when family circumstances lead to a change in maternal availability.
  4. Quality of attachment in infancy is a reasonably good predictor of social-emotional functioning through at least adolescence.
  5. The quality of care the mother is able to provide is greatly influenced by the quality of marital or other family support available to her in raising her child. (p. 279).

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Men and Attachment: Part 1 March 21, 2009

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The maternal role has long been emphasized in seeking to understand the process of human development. Building on the work of Freud and his followers, Bowlby (1969/1982, 1973), a British psychiatrist fascinated by Darwinian theory of animal survival, was among the early theorists to explore the interactions between mother and child. Believing that psychoanalytic theory failed to give appropriate attention to early childhood experiences, Bowlby considered the findings of ethologist Lorenz and American psychologist Harlow in his interpretation of early interactions between human mothers and their offspring (Karen, 1998). Apart from their need to be fed and protected, Bowlby (1979) recognized “the propensity of human beings to make strong affectional bonds to particular others” (p. 201).

It should be noted that since mothers are most often the primary caregivers, Bowlby’s writing often referred to mothers specifically, though he noted that the same observations could also be made in regard to any person who was the child’s primary caregiver. Since the purpose of the present discussion is to explore a particular cross-gender relationship, references to attachment theory herein will be expressed simply in terms of boys and their mothers as primary female caregivers, whether the women are biological mothers, adoptive mothers, or other women.

Bowlby (1969/1982) proposed that an inborn attachment system assures infant survival and safety by organizing motivational, emotional, and memory processes in relationship to significant caregivers. When the infant is alarmed or distressed, activation of the infant’s attachment system motivates him to seek proximity (e.g., by crying, moving toward) to the caregiver. The attachment process establishes an interpersonal relationship that assists the infant in using the mother’s cognitive functions to organize his own mental processes. If his mother is consistently available and responsive to him, his negative emotions (e.g., fear, anxiety, sadness) are reduced; he is soothed and begins to develop the capacity to soothe himself. More precisely, he develops an internal working model of self (as lovable) and other (as loving) that is fundamental to secure attachment.
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Texting March 20, 2009

Posted by occhristiancounseling in Q & A.
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Lauren’s Question: I think this guy is interested in me. Why does he text me a million times a day but hasn’t picked up the phone in weeks to call me and set up a day to hang out?

Dr. Smith’s Answer: Men’s behavior can be really confusing, especially to women. The temptation might be to “get on with it already” and make the next move yourself by calling him up and setting up a day to hang out.

When I ask my students if they think it’s okay for a woman to ask a man out, most of them say “yes.” However, change the question slightly, and you might get a very different answer. Would you like it if a woman asked you out? The water’s a little muddier now.

Most traditional men want to know in advance what the answer will be when they ask a woman to spend time with them. That seems to hold true for questions ranging from “Wanna hangout tonight?” to “Will you marry me?” No man likes rejection. But most men still want to be the one to ask the question.

Is he interested? Maybe he is. Maybe he gives a different meaning to his texting. Maybe he hasn’t made up his mind yet. Maybe he’s unsure of your answer. Maybe he’s shy.

One thing you can be sure of: If he really wants to hang out with you, he will let you know.

But he might suggest it via a text message instead of a phone call.
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Understanding Dad March 20, 2009

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W’s Question: My Dad uses the phrase “I just don’t experience emotions in the way you do,” but I know this can’t be. Our family has suffered a lot and his coping mechanism has been to shut down and ignore the problem, or run away to work.

My question is, now that I understand how helpful it would be for him to recognize and express his feelings, and for me to hear that he has emotion, how can I help him understand himself? I am mostly concerned with the fact that I am suddenly aware of this and want to help, but I would never want to cross the line and make him feel somehow inferior or less of a man because of my interventions.

Dr. Smith’s Answer: This is a problem many women have in understanding the men they love. They confuse the experience of emotion with the expression of emotion. For women, emotional experience and emotional expression are pretty much one and the same.

Although men experience the same emotions that women experience, they often express them very differently. For example, women express their fears by talking about them, whereas men are more likely to busy themselves with activities. Men aren’t ignoring their anxiety; they are coping with it by doing something constructive. It’s not a bad coping mechanism. It’s just a different coping mechanism.

My guess is that your dad understands himself pretty well. What he could use is a little more understanding from you. In short, he needs your empathy. Not “girly” stuff, but something that fits where he is. You’re right in wanting to avoid making him feel inferior or less of a man by what you do and say, so you’ll want to consider the following:

First, male and female communication styles are very different. Women prefer “undivided attention.” However, men are more comfortable talking when they’re engaged in an activity with someone. So it’s better if you are side-by-side, doing something together (e.g., washing the dishes or going for a walk) when you talk to him about anything serious.

Second, when you sense that he’s having a hard time of it, you can say something simple like:

Things have been pretty hard around here lately, and I can only imagine how tough it’s been on you. I really appreciate you being here and taking care of us through it all.

Finally, after you’ve made your statement, stop talking! Shut up. End of discussion. If he wants to talk more, he will. If he doesn’t respond, don’t pressure him. No matter what he does, you can rest assured that your empathy (understanding) will have registered with him, and you will have made a bigger impact on him than you can ever imagine.
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Men Are a Complex Subject March 18, 2009

Posted by occhristiancounseling in Stories.
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by Nicole

Men are a complex subject, especially because in my opinion there are so many different kinds of men. I recognize this not only because I know that I myself am very different from many of the women I know…I would not appriciate [sic] someone thinking that all women are the same, because we are not. So I realize that men come with unqiue [sic] mindsets and approaches to life. Many men from my childhood such as my father and other family members have put a sweet taste of men in my mouth – reliable, trustworthy, and strong. I have met many men who are truely role models. I have had other interactions with men who have left a bitter taste in my mouth. Men who have … [read more]

Building Sandcastles March 16, 2009

Posted by occhristiancounseling in Q & A.
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Daniel’s Question: Why do men, including myself, continue time after time to take any situation into their own hands and try to solve problems through trial and error and, after failing, then we get emotional and frustrated?

Dr. Smith’s Response: Thanks for your question, Daniel. It’s an important one! I’ll start with an illustration:

Have you ever watched kids playing in the sand at the beach? Little Annie is having fun with her favorite pail and shovel while her mother watches from a few feet away. Another child, about Annie’s age, comes along and watches for a few moments, then grabs Annie’s shovel. Her mother immediately takes action! She retrieves the toy and promptly returns it to her daughter, comforting her little girl with a hug and scolding the other child as she does so.

What did Annie learn? She learned that others will be there to help her, to take care of her. She feels valued, though she won’t be able to express it quite that way. She feels secure.

A few yards away on the same the beach, little Tommy is building a sandcastle while his mother is reading a book nearby. Another child, about Tommy’s age, comes along and watches for a few moments, then tromps on Tommy’s castle, smashing it flat and destroying his work in a matter of seconds. Tommy’s mother turns her attention toward her son, but she doesn’t move. Tommy starts to whimper and immediately looks toward his mom, but she makes sure he doesn’t notice she’s watching. She waits. The other child walks away, and Tommy again looks toward his mom. She has already turned her focus back to her reading. So Tommy goes back to rebuilding his castle.

What did Tommy learn? No one is going to help you. You feelings don’t matter. You have to figure stuff out on your own.

Now repeat those themes over and over for 10 or 20 years. In what ways do women and men respond differently to problems?

Generally speaking, women turn to others to help them process and understand life’s difficulites. They want to be comforted and understood, and they believe they will be able to find the help they need…or at least that they have the right to ask for it.

Men, on the other hand, have be taught (socialized) that they must figure things out on their own. The thought of asking for help feels weak and unmanly.

Even so, men are not omnipotent (all powerful). They cannot solve everything on their own. They’re human, and they have feelings: strong feelings they frequently have to bottle up. They handle the difficulty for a while, but when it doesn’t get resolved, the emotional pressure reaches explosion level. Then others shame them and tell them they have “anger issues.” Who wouldn’t? They’re trapped: Don’t ask for help. Don’t get emotional. Don’t be weak.

It’s a tough row to hoe.
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What Makes Men So Different? March 16, 2009

Posted by occhristiancounseling in classes.
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Our next teleclass* is

“Understanding Men: What makes them so emotionally different from women?”
(You’ll be surprised by the answer!)

Friday, April 17th, 4:30 – 6:00 pm (PDT)

Click here to register now!

*This teleclass is a live, interactive workshop that is conducted over the telephone like a conference call. In most cases regular long distance charges will apply, but there will be no additional fees.

Channel Surfing? March 13, 2009

Posted by occhristiancounseling in Dr. Debi Smith.
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Do you like chanel surfing on the web? Check out . . .


Welcome to the Psychology of Men Website March 13, 2009

Posted by occhristiancounseling in Dr. Debi Smith.
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This website is part of an ongoing project that began with the author’s interest in understanding men as the mother of three sons. As you may know, a number of books about raising sons appeared on the market in the past few years, partially in response to a wide acceptance of feminist psychology and the freedom women have come to enjoy. In gaining their rights (e.g., to be educated, to vote, to work alongside men as equals) within a formerly patriarchal society, women have inadvertently altered men’s social roles as well. Men, too, have been set free from previously rigid roles as husbands and providers, yet they are left without a clearly defined model of masculinity wherein they are also valued and appreciated, a model that parents could follow in raising emotionally healthy sons.

Some books about boys, such as Raising Cain (Kindlon & Thompson, 1999), have been viewed as the counterpart of books about girls, such as Reviving Ophelia (Pipher, 1995). Some authors (Pollack, 1998, 2000) have written popular books to make the findings of empirical research more accessible to parents and educators, whereas others inadvertently promote the perpetuity of cultural stereotypes and rigid views of masculinity (Dobson, 2001; Nicolosi & Nicolosi, 2002), which can leave men feeling isolated and depressed, and mothers wondering what has happened to their sons, as will be noted later.

However, the process of male development need not be so confusing. An understanding of attachment theory can help elucidate the impact of developmental trauma that is normative in a boy’s life through the processes of maternal attachment and separation that are strongly influenced by male biology, male socialization, and the emotional health of his mother. Furthermore, greater understanding of and empathy for a boy’s dilemma can help facilitate his emotional and social development. A greater understanding men is the goal of this project.