The Relationship Between Infant-Parent
Attachment and the Ability to Tolerate
Brief Separation at Six Years
Jude Cassidy, M.A.
Mary Main, Ph.D.
A crucial aspect of healthy functioning in children and adults is the ability to tolerate separation and aloneness. Clinicians working within a variety of theoretical frameworks have agreed that this ability is anchored in a history of confident knowledge that a sensitively responsive attachment figure will be available when needed (Bowlby, 1969, 1973; Freud and Burlingham, 1943; Mahler et al., 1975).
Bowlby has built his attachment theory around thinking of this sort. A relationship with an attachment figure who provides true physical and emotional security is seen as creating an inner sense of confidence in the child which he or she can call upon in situations in which that attachment figure is not actually present. Bowlby stated that "when an
individual is confident that an attachment figure will be available to him whenever he desires it, that person will be much less prone to either intense or chronic fear than will an individual who for any reason has no such confidence" (1973, p. 202).
Mahler's extensive observations also support the view that the child's ability to tolerate separation is dependent on the history of the mother-child relationship. She states that a relationship in which the mother is "consistently emotionally available" promotes "independence and autonomous functioning [by building] basic trust, confidence in mother and others, and sound secondary narcissism" (Mahler et al., 1975, p. 115).
And, of course, Winnicott dealt directly with this issue in his classic paper, "The Capacity to be Alone."
Maturity and the capacity to be alone imply that the individual has had the chance through good‐ enough mothering to build up a belief in a benign environment.... Gradually the ego-supportive environment is introjected and built into the individual's personality, so that there comes about a capacity actually to be alone. Even so, theoreti