Theory -- Horotwitz and Bartholomew Attachment Chapter

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¶ … Theory -- Horotwitz & Bartholomew

Attachment Theory and Grief

Understanding attachment theory as applied in the study of grief and bereavement in adults require a thorough reading of one of the theory's pioneers, John Bowlby. Traditional and modern theories and discussions on attachment theory and its relationship to bereavement are rooted on Bowlby's explication of the nature and dynamics of attachment among humans. Inevitably, because attachment theory explains the development of human attachments and the significance of the relationship not only among infants and mothers, but also among siblings, parents and their children (among many other relationships), it also provides an adequate description of what happens when this attachment is severed with the loss of a loved one or significant individual in a person's life.

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In this paper, an intensive review of the history of attachment theory will be discussed, focusing mainly on John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth (as another theorist that Bowlby had partnered with to develop what is now considered the traditional theory of attachment). Bowlby and Ainsworth's attachment theory will be studied and contextualized against modern attachment theories, which will be described later as deeply rooted in basic principles with the pioneer authors' theory of attachment. To increase the relevance of the theory to the study of grief and bereavement, an application and analyses of attachment theory and the concept of continuing bonds will be conducted to develop a more meaningful implication as to how attachment theory can help develop therapeutic interventions to make grieving or bereavement a healthy process for the individual.

II. History of Attachment Theory

Chapter on Theory -- Horotwitz & Bartholomew Attachment Theory Assignment

Attachment theory, as mentioned earlier, traces its roots to John Bowlby, and then eventually, as he partnered with Mary Ainsworth, both had developed what would be the classic definition and description of attachment theory. A second phase in the theory's history, however, is the future direction that the theory took as it is applied to different contexts. Most important, however, is the application of attachment theory to the study of grief and bereavement, which gave way to the development of the Continuing Bonds theory of bereavement. The concept of "continuing bonds" demonstrate the development and improvement of attachment theory to not only explain attachment per se, but also to provide an adequate understanding of the bereavement process and how this knowledge will best help alleviate the potential detrimental effects grieving could develop within the individual.

The texts that follow provide a thorough discussion of the classic and modern theories of attachment, starting from Bowlby and Ainsworth and attachment theorists who have taken on their work in the 21st century.

a. John Bowlby

John Bowlby was a British psychologist known to have pioneered and developed the theory of attachment as it is known today. Influenced by the leading schools of thought of his time -- the 20th century -- Bowlby anchored the development of his theory based on the psychopathology of humans. In the midst of a society predominantly influenced by Freud's method of psychoanalysis and its role in interpreting dreams and fantasies, Bowlby took the path of explaining how attachment and its development between or among humans can be best explained as a psychopathological need. For him, attachment in humans "is motivated by survival and procreation," in the same manner that humans engage in parenting, mating, and feeding (Bretherton, 1992:19).

One of the significant demonstrations of human attachment is the infant-mother attachment, wherein the concept of the "attachment figure" (represented by the mother to the baby) was developed. Bowlby argued that every individual needs an "attachment figure" to whom s/he could turn to when they feel insecure or threatened. The attachment figure's "evolutionary function is protection of the infant from danger" (20). Further emphasizing his point that his theory departs from Freud's theoretical influence in mother-and-child relationships, he identified the mother, as the primary attachment figure for most infants, is both the child's "ego and superego" (7).

However, Bowlby also clarified that inasmuch as humans need to have an attachment figure in their lives that would positively influence their need to survive and/or be protected, there is also the opposite end of attachment: rejection. Inevitably, according to him, "expressions of rejection are appraised as disagreeable or painful by both (the child and mother/attachment figure)" (20). In fact, rejection or lack of attachment in an individual can develop a deep imprint wherein the individual's "mental state" will be affected by the kind of "intimate personal relationship" s/he had, which could be either "warm and harmonious" or "tense, angry, anxious… nonexistent" (Bowlby, 1988:54). Individuals who have had insecure relationships with their attachment figures develop "separation anxiety," a phenomenon triggered when there are "repeated threats of abandonment or rejection by parents," or in Bowlby's case, attachment figures (Bretherton, 1992:11).

In addition to the concepts of attachment figure and separation anxiety, another feature of the attachment theory is its description of emotion regulation in the individual. The process of emotion regulation in attachment theory occurs when the individual is subjected to the loss or separation from his/her attachment figure. The consequent behavior determines the level of regulation the individual would healthily (or unhealthily) develop over time. An individual who has had a secure relationship with his/her attachment figure will be able to deal with the loss of the attachment figure in a healthy manner, as opposed to an individual with an insecure relationship with his/her attachment figure (Waters, Crowell & Elliott, 2002:8). This, in fact, would eventually lead to a study of grief and bereavement in the context of attachment theory. Emotion regulation is a key component of the theory of attachment that it ultimately determines specific points of action from which clinical psychologists could use and develop for the individual a healthy intervention during the grieving/bereavement process. (Discussion on grief and bereavement will be thoroughly dealt with in the following chapter.)

Attachment figure, separation anxiety, and emotion regulation would later develop the core of not only the attachment theory, but the theory as contextualized in grief/bereavement. Understanding of the nature, dynamics, and even history of attachment theory are best found in Bowlby's beginnings as an ethological theorist and development psychologist specifically interested and specializing in the science of human attachments and relationships, from the psychopathological perspective.

b. Mary Ainsworth

Bowlby's work had been regarded significantly by other theorists and psychologists from all over the world, but it is Mary Ainsworth, a Canadian psychologist, who was able to contribute significantly to the growth of the theory as Bowlby was still developing it. Where Bowlby laid the first "bricks" of the theories foundations, Ainsworth made use of these foundation bricks to add more and enhance the evidence supporting the theory. Ainsworth's training and expertise is in clinical psychology, although working with Bowlby had developed natural behavior observation skills and techniques. Thus, using the natural observation method, she was able to conduct a study on Ugandan infant-and-mother relationships, which became the basis of three (3) attachment patterns that are now acknowledged as significant proof that indeed, Bowlby's argument about secure and insecure relationships with attachment figures determine the kind of behavior that an individual will manifest eventually as s/he grows older.

The three (3) attachment patterns observed from the Ugandan families are: (1) securely attached infants, who were observed to have "cried little and seemed content to explore in the presence of the mother; (2) insecurely attached infants, "who cried frequently, even when held by their mothers"; and (3) not-yet attached infants, "who manifested no differential behavior to the mother" (Bretherton, 1992:15). These attachment types have been useful in attachment and even general psychology studies in determining the kind of relationships established and nurtured not only between mother and child, but also among siblings, between parents and children, and husband and wife.

Another contribution of Ainsworth in the field of attachment theory is her further elaboration of Bowlby's concept of the attachment figure. This also foreshadows the use of this information in the study of attachment theory and grieving, which would explain why bonds are not immediately severed after the loss or separation of a loved one, significant other, or attachment figure (Ainsworth, 1984:799, 801):

…an affectional bond, and hence attachment figures are never wholly interchangeable with or replaceable by another, even though there be another to whom one is also attached… in older children and adults that closeness can to some extent be sustained over time and distance, nevertheless there is at least intermittent desire to reestablish proximity and interaction to pleasure…in reunion… but since not all attachments are secure this shall be modified to imply seeking [sic] to find comfort and security in the other.

In the development of attachment theory, Ainsworth helped 'test and expand' Bowlby's ideas and ensure that these have indeed, real-life basis and not based on ethological 'musings' alone. Ainsworth's contribution of the three attachment types and elaboration on the role of attachment figures and their significance in the event of a loss or separation laid the foundation for her work on "maternal sensitivity," which are based… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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