Pioneers in Object Relations Clinical Thinking:
John Bowlby (1907- 1990)
“Detachment, attachment disorder, and problems managing relationships receive frequent attention from both
scholars and practitioners. Youth workers often shake their heads over the difficulty of re-educating and
encouraging resilience in youth manifesting a history of toxic relationships with the pivotal adults in their
lives. It seems likely that early attachment to one or a few close relatives holds great portent for a person’s
overall relational abilities. Attachment predicts the ability to relate to many others, to establish trust, to form
and retain friendships, and to engage in mutually satisfying emotional and physical relationships. Why is early
experience so important?”
“Attachment is a reciprocal system of behaviors between an infant and a caregiver—generally the mother.
The term reciprocal is apt because not only does attachment affect the child’s behavior (for example, moving
closer to the mother when stressed), but also affects the responses of the mother, who emits care-giving
responses in the presence of signals from the infant.”
“A young child’s experience of an encouraging, supportive, and co-operative mother, and a little later, father,
gives him a sense of worth, a belief in the helpfulness of others, and a favorable model on which to build future
relationships… by enabling him to explore his environment with confidence and to deal with it effectively, such
experiences also promote his sense of competence."
This is what David Moris wrote in British Medical Journal for “Bowlby’s 80th Birthday”:
“What Francis Crick and James Watson were to molecular biology John Bowlby has been to child development.
"... Eventually resistance to Bowlby’s ideas gave way, and workers all over the world tested his ideas scientifically.
Psychotherapists and psychologists recognized that the experiences that parents bring with them from their
childhoods affect their relationships with their own children. This led to a fresh look at the experiences that
children go through in unfavorable circumstances - such as socioeconomic hardship, parental unemployment,
poor housing, and, above all, separation at vulnerable times in infancy. Bowlby was a synthesizer. He bridged
the disciplines and started a vigorous appreciation of the far reaching effects of the infant’s experiences.”
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