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Mothers and Sons May 25, 2011

Posted by occhristiancounseling in attachment, Dr. Debi Smith.
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Mothers & Sons
How the Maternal Attachment Experience Affects Boys’ Emotional and Social Development
by Dr. Debi Smith

As you read this book, you will no doubt notice its academic style. This material was first included as part of my doctoral dissertation at Rosemead School of Psychology—Biola University, then used as a text for the Psychology of Men course I developed and taught at Azusa Pacific University.

I decided to share it with you because this work means so much to me.

When I was raising my three boys, I was unaware of most of this information. My study of the psychology of men has profoundly impacted not only the way I interact with my sons now, but also the way I view my male colleagues and the men who come to my office for help with their relationships.

Whether you are married, engaged, dating, or single, I sincerely hope you will find this book both meaningful and helpful in your own relationships with men. Click here to read Mothers & Sons online now.

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Childhood Attachment March 24, 2009

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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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