PSYCHOTHERAPY – John Bowlby


Our deepest longing is to have stable, satisfying relationships, but the painful fact is that very large numbers of relationships have one painful episode after another, or seemingly intractable miserable conflicts running through them. It’s one of the biggest questions there is: why is it so hard to be happy in love? The huge and not yet fully digested insight of psychoanalysis is that the challenges of relationships always start when we were children. It was the contribution of a great English psychoanalyst called John Bowlby, to trace the tensions and conflicts we have with our partners back to our earliest experiences of maternal care. His ideas are sound, in part because he drew so deeply and honestly on his own experiences in order to formulate them. Born in 1907, Bowlby had a quintessentially upper-class British childhood. Yet Bowlby hardly saw his parents and was looked after by a nanny, who was let go when he was just four, leaving young Bowlby bereft. At seven, he was sent off, and lying with the conventions of his class, to boarding school. He hated it, and later declared, “I wouldn’t send a dog away to boarding school at the age of seven.” Bowlby became a brilliant medical student and an imaginative researcher. When he was a consultant to the World Health Association in the early 1950s, Bowlby wrote a report: “Maternal Care and Mental Health.”‘ He attacked prevalent assumptions and argued that kindness doesn’t smother and spoil children. “It’s as if maternal care were as necessary for the proper development of personality as vitamin D for the development of bones,” he wrote. This insight initiated a wave of reform. The visitation rules of many health institutions were reformed to allow parents to stay with their children, where they’d once been allowed only to visit and never to touch. It sounds like a dry, bureaucratic move, but it ended countless afternoons of quiet sorrow and evenings of solitary anguish. In a book published in 1959 called, “Separation Anxiety,” Bowlby looks at happens when there isn’t enough of this kind of parental care. He described the behavior of children he’d observed who’d been separated from their parents. If the child is separated for too long, they still crave the attention, love, and interest of the parents, but feel that anything good may disappear at any moment. They look for a lot of reassurance, and get upset if it’s not forthcoming. They become volatile, they take heart, and then they despair, and then they’re filled with hope again. This is the pattern of what Bowlby called, “anxious attachment.” But the degree of separation from the parents may lead to another sort of problem. The child could feel so helpless, they become what Bowlby called, “detached.” They enter their own world to protect themselves, and become remote and cold. They experience what Bowlby calls, “avoidant attachment.” That is, they seek tenderness, closeness, emotional investment as always dangerous and to be shunned. They may, in truth, be desperate for a cuddle over reassurance, but such things look far too treacherous. The focus of Bowlby’s thinking was about what happens to a child if there are too many difficulties in forming secure attachments. But the consequences don’t magically get restricted only to the age of 8, or 12, or 17– they’re lifelong. Our attachment style is fed by our earliest experiences. It’s a pre-existing script that gets written into our adult relationships, usually without us even realizing that this has happened. In lying with Bowlby’s views about how children relate to their parents, there are three basic kinds of attachment we can have to other adults. Firstly: secure attachment. This is the rare ideal. When you are securely attached, if there’s a problem, you’ll work it out. You aren’t appalled by the weakness of your partner. If your partner’s a bit down, confused, or being a bit annoying, you don’t react too wildly, because even if they can’t be nice to you, you can take care of yourself and, have hopefully, a little time left over to meet some of the needs of your partner. You give the other the benefit of the doubt when interpreting behavior. You realize that maybe they had a tricky time at work; that’s why they’re not so interested in your day. The explanations are accommodating, generous, and usually more accurate. But there’s another kind of attachment: anxious attachment– and this is marked by clingyness. Texting and calling all the time just to check where the other is and keep tabs on what they’re up to. You need to make sure they have a bus and haven’t left you or the country. Anxiously attached people become coercive and demanding, and focus on their own needs, not their partner’s. Anxious attachment involves a lot of anger; because the stakes feel so high, a minor slight, a hasty word, a tiny oversight could look, to the anxiously attached person, like huge threats. They seem to announce the imminent breakup of the whole relationship. One feels, “The reason you don’t tell me that the minestrone soup I made is delicious is that you don’t love me and are planning to leave me,” when the true explanation may simply be that one’s partner is mulling over a very tricky bit of news about a contract at work. “Avoidant attachment” means that you would rather withdraw and go away than compromise, get angry, or even just getting close to another person. If there’s a problem, you don’t talk. Your instinct is to say you don’t mean to the other person, especially if you’re lonely. Avoidant spouses often team up with anxious ones. It’s a risky combination; the avoidant one doesn’t give the anxious one much support, and the anxious one is always invading the delicate privacy of the avoidant one. Bowlby helps us to feel more generous, and more constructive about what these partners are doing when they upset or disappoint us. Almost no one, in truth, is purely anxious or purely avoidant– we’re just a bit like that some of the time. So, alerted by Bowlby, we can see that a partner’s apparent coldness and indifference is not caused by their loathing of us, but by the fact that a long time ago, they were probably rather badly hurt by intimacy. And it opens possibilities of self-knowledge, which can help one reform, if only a little, one’s own mother’s eccentric behavior. [The latest research shows that in the UK population: 56 percent are securely attached; 24 percent are avoidantly attached; 20 percent are anxiously attached]

100 comments

  1. Honestly im glad we had another physiological analysis  video hear you guys should relay create more of these.  It just brings a new light on how to change the world outside of philosophy. Ither way you guys are awsome keep up the good work.

  2. I am under the impression that females are more inclined to experience this anxious attachment, there's that cliché of the overly clingey girlfriend that's portrayed a lot in media.

  3. I'd love to know where the statistics at the end came from. They're very encouraging, but I'd like to check the methods used.

  4. How about one on Carl Rogers, and Albert Ellis, and Fritz Perls? I was the Gloria sessions and they were all fascinating.

  5. this is very helpful stuff guys, thank you. I definitely see in myself what you described as anxious attachment. I've noticed before how crazy and insecure I get when I love someone, and I always feel ashamed later. my last partner and I couldn't understand each other at all and I always was feeling hurt by what I perceived to be coldness on his side. I can see now that his behaviour matched more or less the avoidant type, which might explain why our relationship desintegrated so quickly and so painfully.

  6. It makes sense to become, develop anxiety from early choldhood experiences from having warmth, phisycal contact to parents, to feel secure, protected, loved..

  7. “Secure attachement is the rare ideal…” That’s not true from what Mary Ainsworth’s Strange Situation experiment told us. At least 60% of children are securely attached and most of them do not change when they reached adulthood, although there are sometimes slight variations between cultures.

  8. I think I've known the truth of it since I was a child . but this is the first time in 50 years of adulthood that I've ever heard it stated in Plain English like this … Thank you School of Life . what you're doing is the only thing philosophers are good for!

  9. I would like to extend deep gratitude to The School of Life for this kind of work. I recently broke up with my first girlfriend after an agonizing, year-long relationship of toxicity, jealousy and fights. I realize now that my anxious, manipulative and controlling behavior is something I desperately need for future relations' sake and my own personal happiness. Videos like this, as well as the lectures on mindfulness and meditation, have helped me understand why I thought and behaved so poorly, and how I can improve.

  10. Aren't the attachment types that begin around the 3:30 mark by Mary Ainsworth? She worked with him, but the exploration of attachment types are by her.

  11. I do not know why all the beautiful and useful knowledge have been put aside this days!! Since i see a lot problems these days such causes are well explained!! what an bunch of arrogant a mediocre people are we becoming.

  12. Interesting that although psychoanalysis gets a regular thrashing by critics, popular concepts like this derived from psychoanalysis are with us. Just like introvert/extrovert.

  13. The School of Life has brought a lot of clarity to me and help with life situations . The videos are engaging, funny and clever. One of my favorite channels on YouTube! !

  14. congrats for the video 🙂 buut what about the other kind of attachment (i think is called distraction attachment)?
    wasn't it a Bowlby's thought?

  15. Thank you!! This helped me a lot, through watching this i realised i have displayed a combination of anxious and avoident attachment, which have resulted in some painful relationships. I am more aware about my self these days and perhaps in a few years i might be ready for a secure attachment, but this has brought comfort.

  16. Secure attachment – "rare ideal"? 1. It's the most common attachment style in the US and Ireland, I don't know about the UK. Results suggest over 50% of the world's population are securely attached. 2. It's characteristically old fashioned of you to call it "ideal" it's not better, it's cultural. It's not so common in Germany, and I don't think the Germans are more dysfunctional than the Americans. I don't know that though.

    Otherwise good video, Bowlby was cool.

    Research since has shown that kids with avoidant attachment styles have just as much anxiety as insecure attached kids, they just don't show it. Their little hearts beat like crazy when their parents are leaving, and they sweat profusely, but they have learned to hide it. Very sad.

  17. These videos are liberating by letting me know the way I feel isn't reflective of some inborn character flaw called insecurity. I was also sent to a boarding school around age 3, taken care of by a nanny, and left home alone most of the time in elementary through high school, lived apart from my dad for most of the year from the ages of 7-13 and lived apart from my mom for most of the week from ages 13-18. Every time I start getting close to someone I immediately feel panicked because I think I'll lose them, by acting awkward or insecure, hence ensue vicious cycle. I always assumed most people experienced being apart from parents and I was weak for not growing up into a perfectly adjusted adult. Through self awareness I'm much more adjusted now but the automatic reaction that everyone who likes me will leave is still there. But now I don't let it break down my self esteem as much as I used to 🙂

  18. 1:40 It must be such a nice feeling, knowing that you had managed to literally make the lives of so many children juuust that much better, that little less lonely

  19. What research did the statistics at the end of the video come from? i'm doing a presentation on attachment theory and this video was really helpful 🙂

  20. sooo is a relationship between an anxious and an avoidant always doomed? Why would a secure person be okay with having an anxious or avoidant partner..

  21. I just like to add that with the correct understanding and in some cases therapy, you can achieve something called earned security. With the help of psychotherapy Anxious/Avoident attached people can develop a more balanced secure state.

  22. For all the people who wonder why their relationships are so difficult/fall apart, there are those that never even start. What Attachment style do they show? Avoidant? Hyperavoidant? Wildly oscillating between Avoidant and Needy? Or maybe we're just not attractive – period. 🙁

  23. Very interesting, but it's funny though, because my parents especially my mum were very affectionate and caring, and I was told that I was very anxious as a child and would cling to my mum all the time and cry if she went away anywhere, and she would always return to comfort me. I'm 17 now and have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and I have a very hard time trusting people and being affectionate with people, very similar to a child with avoidant attachment, but I'm unsure as to why I'm like this as according to Bowlby, I should be an affectionate, social and confident person. Individual differences perhaps? Great video btw 🙂

  24. Wow that slip in the English subtitles right at the end (not the self-generated ones!): instead of "one's own rather eccentric behavior" it says "one's own mother's rather eccentric behavior"! Freud would have lots to say about it! 🙂

  25. Was it not Mary Ainsworth who developed the 3 seperate attachment classifications and bowlby simply formulated the ideas and theories of attachment needs and relationships, then ainsworth tested it empirically and developed the avoidant and anxious types…?

  26. It be awesome if you made a video of gabriel iglesias and his controbutions to comedy and psychology.

  27. Hi guys, what a great video!! Thank you for this. I'm currently doing an assignment regarding intimacy in adult attachment, I'm wondering what resources you used for this, if you wouldn't mind sharing? If you can remember?

  28. wasn't it ainsworth that came up with these attachment styles after she conducted the strange situation?

  29. My therapist asked me to research this so she can help me understand my relationship with my long-time boyfriend and help me build a healthy mindset for our relationship. Thanks school of life! This video is easy to understand and the narrator's voice is so soothing. 🙂 I'm now subscribed!

  30. These videos are good but is it only for white people. I cheered that a black boy and an asian couple with a kid appeared in the video and thought maybe it's universal but mostly white folks appeared.

  31. none of the commentors has done their research on the ratio of attatchmentstyles in the world, the video is lacking in accuracy as well. However I find the subject is still summed
    well.

  32. Love this🙂I don't know about those statistics at the end especially when compared to the rate of divorce and people in unhappy relationships? I also think no one is securely attached, we can only work towards it.

  33. Some people are retarded or have profound mental disorders and can't be placed among normal people.

    Among the normal people there are selfish people who never feel any peace but need to add their distress to others. The ultimate betrayal is when these selfish people have children to put all their evil into their children.

    The truth is these troubled people need to seek out challenges to find meaning and only connect with others wanting to go in the same direction without forcing anyone else to. Many discoveries and achievements are unlocked by these unsatisfied people. Should these people not be able to apply themselves a bullet to the head will give them the peace they so desperately crave and peace in the world can continue. Happy times.

  34. Does anyone know what the research paper is called? That identified the number of people in each attachment group in this video.

  35. 3:35 6:08 At 56% I wouldn't exactly call securely attached the "rare ideal." (Pretty much the opposite in fact.) At least not in the UK, and I'd have to guess many other developed countries as well. Maybe worldwide and overall though…

  36. LOL XD OMG, that 'golf part' picture was the BEST! XD It took me a few minutes to realize what was going on in those pictures.

  37. You need to do a video on Carl Rogers (voted the most influential psychotherapist – by other therapists – in 2009).

  38. I can't place a lot of faith in psychotherapy or psychotherapist. They've cracked the mind ? Hardly. They haven't even gone beyond the surface.

  39. I don't understand why more than 50 percent is securely attached. And why there isn't securely avoidant or securely anxious (sounds funny though), know anxiously avoidant? Are they really secure in the sense of the word? Anyone?

  40. Those different types of attachements are a addition to the basic theory of Bowlby with the secure, ambivalent, anxious avoidant, anxious unorganized types, is it not?

  41. So although Bowlby was a psychoanalyst (freud), he said that what Freud (Father of psychoanalysis) said (Children and bonding to parents has a sexual aspect) was wrong?

  42. Are you able to back-engineer from manifest words and tell us which category Plato was in?
    There is good reason for asking – deterministic explanations of this, the freudian, and the marxian kind smother imaginative vitality. It is not that they are mistaken it is that they are at most only half the story but taken for the whole.
    I think Victor Frankl’s ideas on therapy for all kinds of distressed mental conditions are very wholesome.

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