Over-optimistic about attachment

A letter responds to an article in our December edition.


The article by Antigonos Sochos (‘Attachment – beyond interpersonal relationships’, December 2015) is both interesting and illuminating. The author very aptly emphasises the significance of attachment theory in relation to the child development, adult relationships and mental health.

Attachment theory is an offspring of psychoanalysis, and has been neglected for a long time by the main proponents of Freud and Klein. Fonagy (2001) has attempted to integrate the overlapping areas of attachment theory and psychoanalysis, and is responsible for reawakening interest in Bowlby’s work. Although some of the criticisms of attachment theory are not unfounded, there is evidence that concepts of the theory can be used in making significant predictions regarding relationships, styles of coping with stressful situations, and communication between couples (Brennan & Shaver, 1994). Similarly, Holmes (2000) has suggested that attachment theory can help with clinical listening and identifying, and intervening with different narrative styles in therapy.

However, it is essential that we guard ourselves against becoming over-optimistic about attachment theory. We need to remind ourselves that, although important, Bowlby’s observations were based on children who had been separated from their primary caregivers during the Second World War (Lemma, 2003). In other words, attachment theory was based on behaviours that occurred during stressful situations rather than under normal circumstances. Field (1996) has highlighted the limitations of attachment theory and pointed out that a wider and in-depth understanding of attachment requires observation of interactions between mother and infant during natural and non-stressful situations.

It is certainly true that many people may turn to God in difficult times or crisis. However, contrary to what Sophos has written, even when people have secure and strong attachments with other human beings, they are still attached to God.

The points highlighted in Sophos’ article are indeed important for discovering the potential of attachment theory in providing links between interpersonal and sociocultural relationships. However, the idea that the quoted research will help us to gain insight into our ‘quest for protection and irrefutable certainty’, seems to us questionable and perhaps overambitious.

Arsal Wazir Rana
Assistant Psychologist
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust

Faisal Mohyuddin
Locum Consultant Psychiatrist
Humber NHS Foundation Trust

Tanvir Ahmad Rana
Consultant Psychiatrist
South Staffordshire and Shropshire NHS Trust

Brennan, K. & Shaver, P. (1994). Dimensions of adult attachment, affect regulation and romantic relationship functioning. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21, 267–283.
Field, T. (1996). Attachment and separation in young children. Annual Review of Psychology, 47, 541–562.
Fonagy, P. (2001). Attachment theory and psychoanalysis. London: Karnac.
Holmes, J. (2000). Attachment theory and psychoanalysis: A rapprochement. British Journal of Psychotherapy, 17, 157–172.
Lemma, A. (2003). Introduction to the practice of psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Oxford: Wiley.

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