Academic journal article The Journal of Psychohistory

Attachment Theory and Psychohistory Part III: Applications and Synthesis 1. Applications of Attachment Theory to Psychohistorical Inquiries

Academic journal article The Journal of Psychohistory

Attachment Theory and Psychohistory Part III: Applications and Synthesis 1. Applications of Attachment Theory to Psychohistorical Inquiries

Article excerpt

So far there exist only few studies in which concepts and methods of attachment theory were explicitly applied to historical topics or topics of contemporary history. Three examples are:


Sigrid Chamberlain examined two books from the period of National Socialism, the primers for the care and upbringing of children, The Geman Mother and Her First Child and Our Little Children. The two books, written by the doctor Johanna Haarer and published by Julius F. Lehmann, a very early promoter of Hitler, were popular and influential in NS times. Furthermore, they were still in print for several decades after the war, though in a somewhat slightly changed and politically cleansed form. These books were considered practical guides for families and as a basis for the training of mothers throughout the "Reich" as well as for nursing staffs. They also were political propaganda pamphlets, which were expressly designed to educate the people to become effective members of the NS system.

Chamberlain's central thesis asserts that NS education was supposed to produce an attachment-incapable human being. The practices propagated in Haarer's books keep the child at a distance and prevent the development of secure attachments. This begins immediately after birth: According to Haarer's instructions the healthy newborn child, after the cutting of the umbilical cord, should be separated immediately for 24 hours from the mother and be left "preferably by itself in a room of its own," before putting it on the breast to be fed for the first time. In this way the early mother-child contact in the "sensitive phase" regarded as especially important and formative in infant research, would be prevented. "The price for this can sometimes be high... Mothers who were separated from their child immediately after giving birth later reacted rather insensitively towards their child, in a way different from mothers who remained together with their babies. They were more clumsy in caring for their babies; they had more problems with breast-feeding; they held the babies more rarely in an en-face-position..." This leads to insecure attachment. This applies also for other rules recommended by Haarer: Letting the baby cry (with a warning against the "little house tyrant" that one would otherwise rear), giving it an accommodation separate from the mother, a dysfunctional carrying posture which would make eye contact more difficult and avoid chest-to-chest contact, and advice to not use "baby talk". Haarer's demands for cleanliness are so strict that Chamberlain speaks of a "hygiene isolation wall" around the child. In this manner a child is reared "without its own skin", and is exposed to a constant control of its bodily functions by adults. Uncleanliness, "sloppy eating" etc., as well as deviations from the timetable for eating, using the potty, and going to sleep are strictly punished. It is expected that commands be followed with absolute obedience. Haarer's educational style, measured in terms of deMause's "psychogenic modes", can be viewed as an extreme form of the "intrusive mode". Disciplining was central in this mode:

Subjection meant to demonstrate to the baby from its birth onward that everything it had brought with it, its spontaneous impulses and natural reflexes, its needs and abilities, were WRONG in the environment it had stumbled into. Here primal mistrust in the baby was produced not only of the world, but also of itself.

From then on, against the backdrop of this existential deprivation of security, autonomy or the attempt to achieve it was no longer possible. All the energies of the baby were bound by the search for orientation and the fight for mere survival...

Chamberlain deduces from the behavior descriptions of the two and a half-year old children in Haarer's books that Haarer here envisaged children with insecure-avoidant attachment: "Haarer stated repeatedly that children up to the age of two and a half principally accept any adult. …

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