One of the most useful models for looking at the impact of parent-child separation in a general conceptual framework is found in the Attachment Theory. The concept of attachment is defined as the close enduring affective bonds that develop throughout life between the child and the caretaker (Ainsworth 1973). John Bowlby, who first developed this theory, created it as a counter concept to the prevailing Melanie Klein’s psycho-analytic model of attachment. That model was not based on the actual observable experience of the relationship between mother and child, but on unconscious models, as influenced by Dr. Sigmund Freud, ignoring the actual and real interaction between them. Bowlby completely rejected this approach and hypothesized that humans are not just driven by biological impulses such as sex and anger, but attachment is the result of an evolutionary biologically based need in the infant for purposes of the survival of the child and his/her need for protection by the mother from the dangers of the world. From the beginning of the mother- child relationship and as a result of it, the child forms an emotional and cognitive understanding of the world that he called “internal working models” (1988) These internal working models are formed as the child experiences the responsiveness of the parent/caregiver to the needs of the child, providing a sense of security when the parent responds to these needs and comforts the child’s in the face of pain or distress. These internal models, based on the actual experience of the relationship, will influence how the child views himself, the world and his place in it. They will shape also, how the child looks for emotional security and interactions with others. These early experiences of attachment are formed by the regular and sensitive “reading” of the parent of the behaviors of the baby, as expressions of some underlying need and responds to them. He describes the role of the parent, especially the mother, as serving as a secure base from which the child can explore the world and to which he can return, knowing for sure that he will be welcomed when he gets back into that space, nourished physically and emotionally, comforted if distressed, and reassured if frightened (Bowlby, 1973, 1988). These early experience will influence all aspects of the child development and his life from there on and continue its influence all through life. In his famous quote he says “Human beings of all ages are found to be at their happiest and to be able to deploy their talents to best advantage when they are confident that , standing behind them, there are one or more trusted persons who will come to their aid should difficulties arise” John Bowlby, 1973.
Closely based on his ideas, contemporary psychologist Mary Ainsworth was able translate them into research by making systematic observations of the behavior of infants and mothers both in their natural environment, as well as, later on, in laboratory situations, where the infant was temporarily exposed to the mother leaving an experiment room, full of toys and then coming back shortly. In her observations of infant’s behavior under these circumstances, she was able to identify three different forms of attachment type: The first one was called a secure attachment. Facing the stress of the mother’s absence, on reunion with the mother, the baby who was securely attached to the mother would immediately seek the mother for protection, accept the comfort offered by the mother and after a while, when calm, resume the exploration and play with the toys. The other patterns of attachment were forms of insecure attachment. The insecure baby would not seek, or use the mother effectively to decrease the stress of the separation, though exhibiting emotional and /or physiological signs of distress. She identified two types of insecure babies: avoidant babies, who acted as if the mother was not important as a resource for comfort, even though they were experiencing stress, as measured by their heart beat, so they did not seek her proximity on reunion, but continued exploration. And, the second type: resistant/ambivalent babies who displayed anxious and contradictory behaviors, including anger towards the mother or caretaker, or temper tantrums on return. Even when the mother was in the room and before leaving, they were unable to initiate any kind of exploration, overly preoccupied with the attachment figure. (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters and Wall, 1978) When the researchers observed the mothers behaviors they discovered distinct patterns of behavior in interacting with these babies. The avoidant baby had a mother who on observation typically rejected overtures for connection, or even disconnected with the baby when he/she showed emotional distress. Thus the baby learned through repeated experiences that the mother was not available when needed. The resistant/ambivalent baby had a mother that acted inconsistently and unpredictably regarding availability to the infant, sometimes a lot and sometimes none at all. Thus the child seemed constantly and anxiously preoccupied both with the attachment figure and with the negative internal and external stimuli coming to his/her awareness, and this kept the baby unable to play and explore. In these forms of insecure attachment it is as if the child adapts to the mode of response of the parent keeping those behaviors that functioned well in their interaction and, those that do not, become then dissociated rather than integrated in consciousness. All of these experiences are stored in memory before language is formed, so they become pre-verbal mental representations.
To be continued in the next post.