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Men and Attachment: Part 1 March 21, 2009

Posted by occhristiancounseling in attachment.
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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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