Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications

By Jude Cassidy; Phillip R. Shaver | Go to book overview

26
Psychoanalytic Theory
from the Viewpoint of Attachment
Theory and Research

PETER FONAGY

There is bad blood between psychoanalysis and attachment theory. As with many family feuds, it is hard to identify where the problem began. In the early 1960s a number of major psychoanalytic figures turned on John Bowlby, following the publication of his article in the Psychoanalytic Study of the Child (Bowlby, 1960). Attachment theory was criticized as mechanistic, nondynamic, and explicated according to thorough misunderstandings of psychoanalytic theory (e.g., A. Freud, 1960/1969). Opposition to his views provided one small area of common ground for the followers of Anna Freud and Melanie Klein (Grosskurth, 1986), and for the next few decades Bowlby was a relatively isolated figure in psychoanalysis.

The critiques, which were compounded at fairly regular intervals by major figures such as Engel (1971) and Hanley (1978), have raised a variety of issues but can be boiled down to relatively few simple disagreements. Bowlby has been seen as having renounced drives, unconscious processes, and complex internalized motivational and conflict-resolving systems. He has further been seen as having discarded the richness of the array of human emotions—affects experienced by the ego and involving socialization, as well as sources of pleasure rooted in the infant’s physical body. Attachment theory has been seen as ignoring biological vulnerabilities other than those rooted in the caregiver’s behavior, and as reducing etiological considerations to a single variable: that of physical separation. Bowlby has been accused of failing to consider the impact of the developmental state of the ego on the child’s ability to make attachments and react to loss. He has also been accused of ignoring negative attachment related to fear of the mother and to trauma other than physical separation. He has been viewed as a reductionist in his emphasis on evolutionary considerations at the expense of full recognition of complex symbolic functioning. As recently as 1992, Lilleskov wrote: “Bowlby’s disregard of drive theory may have made observations of behavior easier but has reduced the explanatory power of these observations” (p. 128).

Rather than engaging these historic figures of psychoanalysis in debate, and taking issue with the crassness of their critiques and the profound misapprehension of attachment theory these have often implied, we should look briefly at Bowlby’s presentation of psychoanalysis. This, I am sad to say, was at times unworthy of his genius. In Chapter 22 of the second volume of his Attachment and Loss trilogy (Bowlby, 1973), titled “Pathways for the Growth of Personality,” Bowlby compared two alternative theoretical models to two types of railway systems. He described the psychoanalytic model of personality development as a single-track rail along which stops can occur. In this model, adult pathological states are the results of fixations at, or regressions to, early

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