I’m educating parents and legal professionals about professional psychology because the forensic psychology people are awful – just awful. They have no knowledge, they apply no knowledge. They just make things up.
They shouldn’t be doing that. They should be applying the established knowledge of professional psychology to their assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of pathology. They’re not. That’s a big-big problem that currently sits unresolved with the APA,
Forensic psychology is not doing their job, and in fact, is harming the consumers of their mental health services, their clients. They are harming their clients because they are applying NONE of the knowledge from professional psychology from the past 100 years. None of it.
Not psychoanalytic knowledge, that’s from the 1930s and 40s. They are not applying the knowledge of cognitive-behavioral psychology (Skinner, Beck). That’s from the 1940s to 60s. They are not applying knowledge from family systems therapy. That’s knowledge from the 1970s and 80s. They’re not applying knowledge of the attachment system, that’s knowledge from the 1960s to 2000s. They’re not applying knowledge from social constructionism and cultural psychology. That’s knowledge from the 1980s to 2000s. They’re not applying knowledge from psychometrics, that’s knowledge from the 1940s to 80s. They’re not applying knowledge from complex trauma. That’s knowledge from the 1990s and 2000s. They are applying none of the neuro-developmental research on brain development during childhood, that’s from the 1990s to now.
None of it. They are applying none of it, none of the knowledge from the past 100 years in professional psychology. None of it.
And their absence of knowing the knowledge of professional psychology, and their absence of applying the knowledge of professional psychology, is harming parents and their children. The absence of knowledge is a violation of Standard 2.01a of the APA ethics code, the failure to apply knowledge is a violation of Standard 2.04 of the APA ethics code.
In order to protect the consumers of mental health services from the abject ignorance of forensic psychology and their failure to apply any knowledge from professional psychology to their assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of pathology, the parents who are seeking to protect themselves from IPV (Intimate Partner Violence) emotional spousal abuse and their children from Child Psychological Abuse will need to become more knowledgeable than their therapists about the established constructs and principles of professional psychology.
That’s not good. That consumers of mental health services should need to know more than the mental health professional about pathology and its treatment should NEVER happen. It is, however, the current reality. So we have to deal with that.
Consumers of psychological services – you, the parents – will have to become more knowledgeable about professional psychology than your therapist is. Family law attorneys who are assisting their clients achieve a solution through the courts will need to become more knowledgeable about professional psychology than the therapists are.
Ultimately, when professional psychology begins to apply knowledge to solve pathology, then the knowledgeable family law attorney, the knowledge court, and the knowledgeable mental health professional can effectively and efficiently guide the family conflict into solution.
Ignorance will create no solution. It is only through the application of professional knowledge to the diagnosis and treatment of family pathology that we will create a solution.
But we’re not there yet. Right now, the field of forensic psychology is applying NO knowledge from professional psychology in their assessments, diagnoses, and treatment. They are simply making things up. In this environment of gross professional negligence and incompetence, our first task is to protect parents and children from the emotional and psychological abuse emanating from the more emotionally fragile and pathogenic allied parent who is weaponizing the child into the spousal conflict.
I’m a clinical psychologist. During this period right now, in which the goal is to stop the active ongoing emotional abuse and traumatization of parents and the psychological abuse of their children, part of my role as a clinical psychologist is to educate the public about matters of professional psychology, and the knowledge of professional psychology.
For example, when I conduct a school-involved assessment and find a learning disability, part of my role is to educate the parents and the school about what a learning disability is, and what they can to do to help support the child’s healthy development. Part of our role as clinical psychologists is to educate consumers and the public regarding the principles and constructs of professional psychology.
Consumers of mental health services – targeted parents and their children – are being harmed – in violation of Standard 3.04a of the APA ethics code – by the professionally negligent and irresponsible ignorance from their mental health provider, who is failing to apply any of the established knowledge from professional psychology to the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of pathology in violation of Standards 2.04 and 2.01a of the APA ethics code.
As a clinical psychologist, it is incumbent upon my professional responsibilities to educate and empower the public, the consumers of mental health services who are being harmed by the ignorance and incompetence of their mental health care provider, regarding the professional knowledge that is NOT being applied but should be applied, and regarding professional standards of practice that are NOT being met, but should be.
My book, Foundations, is one tool in this education effort. Handouts on my website are another resource for parents and legal professionals. In this blog post, I will take a more direct instruction role regarding the extent and nature of the information that is NOT being applied, but should be. We will be using bricks to build a structure, the bricks of knowledge will come from domains of professional psychology, each brick adds another piece to the overall structure of knowledge.
We will begin by orienting to the world of psychology generally, and then start with the psychoanalytic school of professional psychology – Freud, Klein, Erikson, Adler, Jung, Mahler, Masterson, Kernberg, Winnicott, Kohut, Bowlby, Stern, Fonagy, Tronick.
Orienting to Psychoanalysis
Rely on family systems therapy for now, .
With this court-involved family conflict pathology, we will start the solution by using family systems therapy as the foundation for solutions (for right now). Family systems therapy (Minuchin, Bowen, Haley, Madanes) will solve everything. Family systems therapy is THE appropriate school of professional psychology to apply to the resolution of family pathology. Family pathology = family systems therapy (Minuchin, Bowen, Haley, Madanes). The constructs of triangles, cross-generational coalition, emotional cutoff, and multi-generational trauma all come from family systems therapy – not from the psychoanalytic school.
However, each additional domain of knowledge that we add to family systems therapy adds immensely useful knowledge that can be applied to creating the solution. The more knowledge we apply, the more fulsome and complete becomes our solution.
The down side to applying multiple domains of professional knowledge to the solution is that when we use a wide-range of ideas, such as including knowledge about narcissistic personality pathology or the attachment system, things can begin to sound confusing and ideas become scattered all over the place.
Parents and legal professionals… remain grounded in family systems therapy. Family systems therapy will solve everything – cross-generational coalition, emotional cutoff, multi-generational trauma. I will be educating about additional knowledge, but the core of the solution is found in family systems therapy. Family systems therapy is THE school of psychology to apply to solving family conflict.
The first time we hear something, it’s new. Hear it 10 times, it becomes old and familiar. The constructs of a cross-generational coalition and emotional cutoff will become oh-so-familiar over time. Once this ground knowledge is applied, we will then expand the domains of additional knowledge we apply for more robust, easier, and more efficient solutions in the interface of professional psychology and the family courts.
In learning, it helps to have the boxes, the knowledge structures in our brain, to put stuff in, a context to organize all the different ideas. The best content boxes for organizing professional psychology ideas are the four primary schools of psychotherapy – psychoanalytic, humanistic-existential, cognitive-behavioral, and family systems. Nearly everything in professional psychology fits into one of these four boxes, and all the stuff that’s in the same box shares common characteristics.
All the ideas in humanistic-existential psychology share basic core concepts. All the ideas in cognitive-behavioral psychology share basic core concepts. All the ideas in family systems therapy share basic core concepts.
The four schools of psychotherapy are psychoanalytic (Freud-Bowlby), cognitive-behavioral (Skinner-Beck), humanistic-existential (Rogers-Perls), and family systems therapy (Minuchin-Bowen). To solve this court-involved family conflict pathology, remain within family systems therapy and you will solve everything, apply additional knowledge from the other schools and achieve a more robust and fulsome solution.
The Psychoanalytic School
Attachment (Bowlby, Ainsworth) is from the psychoanalytic school. It is important that parents and legal professional understand and orient to the psychoanalytic domain of knowledge because that’s where the attachment system knowledge and… the neuro-developmental knowledge (Stern, Tronick)… is anchored. The psychoanalytic field of professional psychology gave birth to our understanding of the attachment system (Bowlby, Ainsworth).
Psychoanalytic psychology emerged from Sigmund Freud and the couch. The core of the psychoanalytic school is – meaning – determining what things mean, not just what they are in their external manifestation, and the interpretation of meaning is a big-big part of the psychoanalytic school. Because of this, psychoanalysis is also called “depth psychology” because… well, it goes deep, way deep, into the psychological organization of our minds.
Minchin, Bowen, Haley… they are all from the family systems school, a different school of psychology, not this one. Family systems people organize multiple people interacting together in the here-and-now. Psychoanalytic people organize one person way-deep, looking more toward childhood than the present. Bowlby, Stern, Siegel, and Tronick are all from the psychoanalytic world of meaning. Discovering meaning is the central question for the psychoanalytic school.
But in going deeper into meaning, psychoanalytic psychology goes to realms that rigorous mathematical models can’t go, psychoanalytic psychology sacrifices the scientific rigor of some research methodologies for the quality of information they return. The psychoanalytic school doesn’t do the classic type of experimental design research – those come from the cognitive-behavioral people in professional psychology. The psychoanalytic school relies almost entirely on case study research designs, which is a formal research methodology, and information is housed in their case study reports from psychoanalysis using basic established constructs within the field.
Freud opened doors to understanding many things, and we continue to hold many of ideas that Freud developed, such as the ideas of an “unconscious” and of our “defense mechanisms.” But a lot of Freud’s specific insights and suggestions have been revised and modified, creating different, more evolved sub-domains of psychoanalytic thought than how Freud first organized our unconscious processes.
One of the primary sub-domains that has evolved within the psychoanalytic school is called the “object relations” school. Bowlby and attachment theory are from the object relations sub-domain of the psychoanalytic school.
The term “object” in the psychoanalytic world is their word for “people.” A technical description is: people are “internalized objects” in our “representational networks” – the representational networks are the various categories of things, dog, chair, mother, you, the things of our mind. We have ideas for things, chairs and trees, and we have ideas for special people – mothers, fathers, grandparents, spouses. We internalize features of these special people in our lives – and these people become internal “objects” in our mind-space of meaning. That’s the school of object relations, looking at our internalized representations for other, special, people.
In common-speak, the sub-domain of object relations is “people relations” – as opposed to Freud’s emphasis on instinctual animalistic “drives” for sex and violence (bonding and conflict). The object-relations school emphasizes people’s psychological motivation to bond to each other. Bowlby and attachment are from this school of psychology.
Adult Object Relations
There’s a lot of adult object relations psychoanalysts who looked at relationships from the adult side of things, two of the most famous are Otto Kernberg who studied narcissistic and borderline pathology and Heinz Kohut who developed a function-oriented model of our inner relationship world. Heinz Kohut is the current major kahuna in adult psychoanalysis, and most psychoanalytic psychotherapists work from a Kohutian approach.
Kohut proposed that parents serve specific functions (roles) for children, which he called “self-object” functions, and that these functions become internalized into the inside-the-head “representational networks” of the child. Kohut’s identifies three “self-object” functions that parents serve for the child, and these self-object functions help organize the child’s sense of self-identity (called “self-structure”) and help to regulate the child’s emotions. The three self-object roles are broadly, empathy, bonding, and protection; called mirroring, twinship, and idealizing.
Otto Kernberg conducted depth psychoanalysis with adult narcissistic and borderline pathology. You do NOT conduct depth psychoanalysis on the narcissistic and borderline personality. Their personality self-structures are too fragile for the techniques of psychoanalysis and will collapse into what’s called a “psychotic transference” – that is not good.
In psychoanalysis, the patient becomes neurotic (slightly crazy). The patient imposes the trauma patterns from their past onto the analyst in the present, who then interprets the patient’s trauma reenactment narrative – called “the transference” – the patient’s transfer of childhood trauma patterns onto the current analyst.
The techniques of psychoanalysis create a neurotic transference – the activation and transfer of past trauma patterns. The patient – the “analysand” – goes a little crazy, called a “neurosis,” but remains in contact with actual reality. They become disoriented and confused about who the analyst actually is and their own fears and hopes for who the analyst is that were created in their childhood experiences. The techniques of psychoanalysis create neurotic transference which is then interpreted for the analysand by the analyst, leading to insight, empowerment, choice, and change.
But the narcissistic and borderline personality structure is too fragile for the depth-psychology techniques of psychoanalysis which loosen the boundaries of self-structure. In psychoanalysis, the narcissistic and borderline personality collapses into a psychotic transference – they lose touch with reality. That’s not good. We don’t want to create a psychosis in the patient. So the general guidelines in psychoanalysis are… do not do psychoanalysis with a narcissistic or borderline patient. They do something called psychoanalytic psychotherapy – a more structured form of the psychoanalytic approach than depth-psychoanalysis (psychotherapy not psychoanalysis; different approaches).
Otto Kernberg was an exceptionally skilled psychoanalyst. He conducted depth psychoanalysis with the borderline and narcissistic personality. He returned with incredibly valuable information from psychoanalytic depth psychology regarding the deep-structure of the borderline and narcissistic pathology. That’s what makes Kernberg one of the preeminent authorities on the pathology of the borderline and narcissistic personality. Otto Kernberg literally wrote the book on the borderline and narcissistic personality:
Kernberg, O.F. (1975). Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism. New York: Aronson.
Notice the date. This is not new information.
Childhood Object Relations
Our object relations (our patterns for relating to other people in intimate relationships) are created in childhood. So another group of object relations psychoanalysts in the 1950s and 60s went off to study children directly – Winnicott and Bowlby are the two primary child object relations kahunas. John Bowlby and attachment theory is from the object relations school of psychoanalysis, the child side.
Attachment theory as developed by Bowlby would have remained largely contained within the psychoanalytic world except that Mary Ainsworth developed a way to experimentally categorize different types of attachment bonding – as either secure or insecure, with three types of insecure attachment.
The moment we can bring something into the lab for experiments at the local university, more scientifically grounded research designs become available, and science is off and running. So that’s why you’ll hear Bowlby and Ainsworth linked in professional discussions. Bowlby developed the underlying description of what the attachment bonding system is, Mary Ainsworth made it available for scientific study.
This is a quote from Mary Ainsworth describing what the attachment system is. It’s from an article published in THE professional journal of the APA, American Psychologist. This quote serves as a foundational description for what the attachment system is.
Ainsworth, M.D.S. (1989). Attachments Beyond Infancy. American Psychologist, 44, 709-716.
From Ainsworth: “I define an “affectional bond” as a relatively long-enduring tie in which the partner is important as a unique individual and is interchangeable with none other. In an affectional bond, there is a desire to maintain closeness to the partner. In older children and adults, that closeness may to some extent be sustained over time and distance and during absences, but nevertheless there is at least an intermittent desire to reestablish proximity and interaction, and pleasure – often joy – upon reunion. Inexplicable separation tends to cause distress, and permanent loss would cause grief.” (p. 711)
From Ainsworth: “An ”attachment” is an affectional bond, and hence an attachment figure is never wholly interchangeable with or replaceable by another, even though there may be others to whom one is also attached. In attachments, as in other affectional bonds, there is a need to maintain proximity, distress upon inexplicable separation, pleasure and joy upon reunion, and grief at loss.” (p. 711)
For court-involved family conflict, this quote from Ainsworth is the foundational bedrock we are standing on when we talk about the attachment system. This is a description of a normal and healthy attachment system – to achieve this description for the attachment system is ALWAYS our goal in professional psychology – we never accept less. Anything OTHER than this description of a child’s attachment bonding motivation… is pathological.
Mary Ainsworth’s description is of a healthy attachment system. Achieving a health attachment system in a child is ALWAYS the goal of professional psychology.
The attachment system is a primary motivational system of the brain, analogous to the other primary motivational systems for eating and sex – they are all primary, fundamental, neurologically based motivational systems of the brain. The attachment system is called a “goal-corrected” motivational system – meaning that it ALWAYS maintains the goal of forming an attachment bond to the parent. Always. A child who rejects a parent is eaten by a predator (or starves, or falls off a cliff). Historically, throughout millions of years of evolution, children who rejected parents… died. Children do not reject parents.
Children are motivated to seek the love of their parents – a primary motivational system of the brain. The entire attachment system is organized around the child acquiring the love of the parent. It’s called the attachment system. It is extremely well researched and understood.
The attachment system functions in characteristic ways, and it dysfunctions in characteristic ways. In response to bad parenting, the attachment system MORE strongly motivates the child to bond to the bad parent – to acquire the love of the bad parent. Children who rejected bad parents were eaten by predators. Children who become MORE strongly motivated to bond to the bad parent had a chance of obtaining parental protection… they survived.
From Bowlby: “The paradoxical finding that the more punishment a juvenile receives the stronger becomes its attachment to the punishing figure, very difficult to explain on any other theory, is compatible with the view that the function of attachment behavior is protection from predators.” (Bowlby, 1969, p. 227)
Notice the date, 1969, this is not new information
Bad parenting produces an “insecure attachment” – there are three types – three categories – of insecure attachment, high-protest, low-protest, disorganized.
Anxious-Ambivalent Attachment: This is a high-protest display by the child of excessive anger or anxiety. This type of child insecure attachment is caused by the inconsistent availability of the parent. The treatment for high-protest anxious-ambivalent attachment is to increase the stability and consistency in the child’s bond to the parent, with more frequent displays of love and involvement from the parent.
Court-Involved Family Conflict: This is the type of insecure attachment pattern that is being mimicked – i.e., falsely portrayed – in court-involved family conflict. In this high-litigation post-divorce family conflict, the child is presenting with high-protest emotional signaling of elevated anger and anxiety symptoms – called “high-protest signaling.”
In authentic attachment, this high-protest signaling by the child is called an “attachment behavior” (along with other behaviors like smiling and following) and is designed to ELICIT the greater involvement of the inconsistently available parent. Child protest behavior serves the attachment function of eliciting greater parental involvement with the child.
In court-involved family conflict, this child symptom display is a false display of attachment pathology. Instead of seeking to bond to the parent, the protest behavior seeks to sever the parent-child bond. The attachment system NEVER seeks to sever the parent-child bond. Children who rejected parents were eaten by predators.
In court-involved family conflict, the child’s emotional display mimics an insecure anxious-ambivalent attachment, but it is a false symptom – that is NOT how protest behavior works in an authentic child attachment system, that is NOT how the brain works.
AND… AND, the treatment for an insecure anxious-ambivalent attachment is to INCREASE the child’s time and involvement with the parent where there is protest behavior – i.e., the child should have MORE time and MORE involvement with the targeted parent – that’s the treatment for high-protest anxious-ambivalent attachment – which this isn’t but mimics.
There are multiple additional features to the child’s symptom display surrounding this court-involved family conflict that are clearly a false display representing a false, externally influenced, non-authentic conflict with the targeted parent… and even still the treatment for insecure anxious-ambivalent high-protest attachment would be to provide the child with MORE time, MORE involvement, and MORE love from the targeted parent.
The treatment for an insecure anxious-ambivalent attachment is NEVER to reduce the child’s time and involvement with the parent. An anxious-ambivalent high-protest attachment is always caused by an INCONSISTENTLY available parent. We want to INCREASE the availability of this parent – not – NOT – decrease it.
Anxious-Avoidant Attachment: This is a low-protest display by the child, in which the child is exceeding low-demand and overly self-sufficient, seeking limited to no emotional contact with the parent. This type of insecure child attachment bond is caused by a parent who is emotionally overwhelmed, rejecting, and unavailable for the child. The child learns that demands for parental involvement provoke rejection from the parent, the overwhelmed and rejecting parent goes FURTHER away when the child seeks involvement – the child’s demands for parental involve INCREASE the emotional distance of the parent.
The child of the rejecting and overwhelmed parent learns to become low-demand and self-sufficient in order to keep the overwhelmed and rejecting parent as close as possible. This is the low-demand attachment bond the child has with the allied narcissistic-borderline (potentially dangerous and rejecting) parent. With the narcissistic parent, the child’s low-demand requires the child to remain self-sufficient and provide the parent with narcissistic supply of approval, and for the borderline parent the child’s low-demand requires frequent emotional bonding displays to reassure the parent of the parent’s continuing value.
The low-demand characteristics of an anxious-avoidant attachment are often misinterpreted by the public and non-knolwedgeable mental health people as being the child’s mature self-sufficiency. That is NOT true. The child is absent normal-range motivations for bonding, they are being suppressed, and the low-demand of the child actually represents a symptom of attachment pathology – an insecure attachment to an overwhelmed and rejecting parent.
Court-Involved Family Conflict: The children in court-involved family conflict are clearly NOT low-demand, easy, and compliant with the targeted parent. A low-demand, low-protest anxious-avoidant attachment is not the insecure attachment display of children toward the targeted parent in court-involved family conflict.
Anxious-Disorganized Attachment: This category of insecure attachment is the most severely pathological. In this type of insecure attachment, the child is unable to develop any coherent strategy for bonding to the parent. The parent who creates a disorganized child attachment system is typically a parent who is simultaneously a source of danger AND a source of nurture to the child, creating a mixed double-bind for the child of both intense avoidance motivations regarding the dangerous aspects of the parent, and intense bonding motivations from the nurturing aspects of the parent. In response to intense and competing motivations to simultaneously flee and to bond, the child is unable to develop any coherent strategy to form a secure attachment bond to the parent – resulting in the display of non-functional – disorganized – child relationship responses.
Court-Involved Family Conflict: In court-involved complex family conflict, a disorganized attachment was likely the insecure attachment category for the current narcissistic-borderline parent during their childhood in their bonding to their parent, creating their narcissistic and borderline personality pathology as an adult. Aaron Beck describes this type of parent-child bond that leads to disorganized attachment and personality disorder pathology,
From Beck: “Various studies have found that patients with BPD [borderline personalty disorder] are characterized by disorganized attachment representations (Fonagy et al., 1996; Patrick et al, 1994). Such attachment representations appear to be typical for persons with unresolved childhood traumas, especially when parental figures were involved, with direct, frightening behavior by the parent. Disorganized attachment is considered to result from an unresolvable situation for the child when “the parent is at the same time the source of fright as well as the potential haven of safety” (van IJzendoorn, Schuengel, & Bakermans-Kranburg, 1999, p. 226).” (Beck et al, 2004, p. 191)
Note the citations by Aaron Beck to Fonagy and to IJzendoorn. Both Fonagy and IJzendoorn are prominent researchers in attachment, and their body of work is essential reading for all court-involved mental health professionals working with complex attachment-related pathology surrounding divorce.
A child rejecting a parent is an attachment-related pathology. The attachment system is the brain system that governs all aspects of love and bonding throughout the lifespan, including grief and loss. A child rejecting a parent is a problem in the love and bonding system of the brain – the attachment system. A child rejecting a parent is an attachment-related pathology. The research by Fonagy and IJzendoorn is essential and required reading for all mental health professionals working with attachment-related family pathology.
All mental health professionals working with court-involved attachment-related family pathology MUST possess a professional-level knowledge for the attachment system, what it is, how it functions, and how it dysfunctions. This knowledge includes reading: Bowlby, Ainsworth, Sroufe, Lyons-Ruth, Fonagy, and IJzendoorn – including the Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications by Cassidy and Shaver.
Ignorance about the attachment system when working with attachment pathology is NOT acceptable professional practice. Ever. Ignorance of autism pathology is not acceptable when working with autism, ignorance of schizophrenia is not acceptable when working with schizophrenia, ignorance of eating disorders is not acceptable when working with eating disorders. Ignorance is a violation of Standard 2.01a of the APA ethics code – and it is NEVER acceptable professional practice.
To be entirely clear: All mental health professionals working with attachment pathology must possess a professional level knowledge for the attachment system, what it is, how it functions, and how it dysfunctions. This includes reading Bowlby, Ainsworth, Sroufe, Lyons-Ruth, Fonagy, and IJzendoorn – and the Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications by Cassidy and Shaver. Professional ignorance is NOT acceptable professional practice, and is a violation of Standard 2.01a of the APA ethics code.
If harm is then done to the client parent or child because of professonal ignorance, this would represent a violation of Standard 3.04 of the APA ethics code.
The attachment system is a goal-corrected primary motivational system of the brain. It developed across millions of years of evolution because of the survival advantage to children provided by bonding to their parents. The attachment system has its neurological origins in the “imprinting” systems of earlier species (Lorenz) – baby ducks follow mommy duck – that’s the attachment system in a duck – called “imprinting.” Baby zebra gets close to mommy zebra for protection from hyenas and lions – that’s the attachment system in a zebra.
Bowlby describes all of this in his first volume: Attachment.
Humans are more complex social animals with more complicated brains to wire-up than ducks and zebras. Our attachment systems are more complex than the attachment systems of zebras and the imprinting of ducks, but its source is the same and it is a foundational – primary – motivational system in the brain; meaning at the same level as the other primary motivational systems for food and sex, a basic built-in motivational system to bond to the parent. The attachment system confers significant survival advantage. It functions in characteristic ways; it dysfunctions in characteristic ways.
The attachment system is a brain system, a neurologically based primary motivational system of the brain that evolved for protection of children from predators (and from other environmental dangers like abandonment and starvation). Children do not reject parents. Ever.
From Bowlby: “The biological function of this behavior is postulated to be protection, especially protection from predators.” (Bowlby, 1979, p. 3)
Research on Attachment
The basic neural wiring of the attachment system develops during childhood, after which we then use the wiring patterns of our attachment networks throughout our lifetimes to organize our basic expectations and our approach to relationships, our object relations, our internalized representations of ourselves and of others.
We acquire and use our attachment patterns in a similar way as we acquire and use the patterns in our language systems.
Language Acquisition: Our brains anticipate that we will be learning language and our brains have specific areas and networks already set up to receive language (called “experience-expectant” development). We then acquire the grammar of language during the period of early childhood, ages zero to five, and the specific language we learn is based on what we hear, French, Chinese, English (that’s called “experience-dependent” development).
We then USE language throughout the rest of our lives in our communication and regulation of our social interactions.
Same for our attachment networks.
Attachment Pattern Acquisition: The brain is already prepared to form relationship bonds, with networks ready to receive patterns governing expectations about self and other – called our “internal working models” of attachment (experience-expectant brain development). We then acquire the specific “grammar” of our attachment system during early childhood, the specific patterns of our attachment networks are created through the specific experiences of the parent-child bond during childhood (experience-dependent).
We then USE these patterns of attachment specific to our expectations and history to then guide all of our future intimate relationships throughout the rest of our lives.
The formative period for language is early childhood, we then use language throughout the rest of our lives to regulate our social interactions. The formative period for our attachment system is early childhood, we then use our attachment patterns the rest of our lives to regulate our social interactions.
Because the attachment system is glowing active and white-hot during infancy and early childhood, the research people in professional psychology – led by Ainsworth and the experimental paradigm she created for studying attachment behaviors – went to work researching the attachment network’s development in infancy and early childhood. The heavy-duty neurological research began in the 1980s, led by Stern and Tronick, with others (Trevarthan’s research is notable, as is Beebe’s on the dyadic coordination of psychological states).
While the study of the attachment system focuses on early childhood, what we learn is applicable across the lifespan. Humans don’t suddenly “switch-out” our attachment networks at adolescence. We live in the same brains as adults as were neuro-developmentally created in our childhood. Same brain, same attachment structures. What we learn about the attachment system’s development in early childhood research is applicable across our lifespans. Same brain, same brain structures, same neural organizations.
Our “internal working models” for our expectations, and our “internal working models” for interpreting and responding to communications in intimate relationships, are engraved into the neural wiring of our brain’s attachment networks during childhood, in the same way as our language networks are, through a dance of experience-expectant and experience-dependent growth and development across childhood.
The two grand kahunas of this early childhood research are Daniel Stern (amazing research) and Edward Tronick (amazing research). Their work dovetailed into what the adult object relations psychoanalysts were discovering (Kohut, Stolorow) regarding a shared psychological state and the key role of modulated failures in parental empathy in healthy child development. The research by Stern and Tronick also merged into the neurological research that has been developing at an ever accelerating pace following the advent of PET scans and fMRIs in the 1980s.
Neuro-developmental research on attachment really started to take off exponentially around 2000. In 1994, a psychoanalyst, Alan Shore, wrote a full and rich neurological treatise on the socially-mediated neuro-development of the brain’s networks for emotional regulation.
Schore A.N. (1994). Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self: The Neurobiology of Emotional Development. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
These advancing developments in the neuro-science of the parent-child relationship are summarized by Siegel in his book, The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are. Notice in the title how he emphasizes that our brains are shaped by relationships. Cozolino also provides another summary of this neuro-developmental relationship research in his book, The Neuroscience of Human Relationships: Attachment and the Developing Social Brain. Notice again, how he also emphasizes the role of relationships in the developing “Social Brain.”
As the research on the attachment system grew in the 1980s, a second, related but distinct, relationship system was discovered. It was called “intersubjectivity” because that’s the construct for the shared-mind state that’s used in the world of adult psychoanalysis (Stolorow).
The research on attachment has identified a second relationship system, in addition to attachment. It is a psychological connection system that creates a shared-mind state, called an intersubjective field, or when there are multiple people, and intersubjective matrix of shared experience.
From Stern: “Intersubjectivity is a condition of humanness. I will suggest that it is also an innate, primary system of motivation, essential for species survival, and has a status like sex or attachment.” (Stern, 2004, p. 97)
From Stern: “Our nervous systems are constructed to be captured by the nervous systems of others. Our intentions are modified or born in a shifting dialogue with the felt intentions of others. Our feelings are shaped by the intentions, thoughts, and feelings of others. And our thoughts are cocreated in dialogue, even when it is only with ourselves. In short, our mental life is cocreated. This continuous cocreative dialogue with other minds is what I am calling the intersubjective matrix.” (Stern, 2004, p. 76)
Tronick referred to this shared psychological state as a, “dyadic state of consciousness”
From Tronick: “When mutual regulation is particularly successful, that is when the age-appropriate forms of meaning (e.g., affects, relational intentions, representations) from one individual’s state of consciousness are coordinated with the meanings of another’s state of consciousness — I have hypothesized that a dyadic state of consciousness emerges.” (Tronick, 2003, p. 475)
The “intersubjective” state described in the neuro-developmental research of a shared psychological fusion of experience (a “dyadic state of consciousness”) is similarly captured by the the family systems construct of “enmeshment,” exactly the same constructs identified in a different school of psychology, now provided with a neurologically understood foundation.
Shared Constructs: In the psychoanalytic school, the construct is “internal working models” of attachment (Bowlby); in the cognitive-behavioral school, the construct is “schemas” (Beck).
Internal working models (Bowlby) = schemas (Beck). Same construct, different schools.
Shared Constructs: In the psychoanalytic school, the construct is intersubjectivity – a “dyadic state of consciousness” (Stern, Tronick); in the family systems school, the same construct is described as “enmeshment” (Minuchin; Bowen).
Intersubjectivity, “dyadic state of consciousness” (Stern Tronick) = enmeshment (Munchin, Bowen) Same constructs, different schools.
They are all identifying the same thing, it is a common, scientifically based, lots of research studies, neurologically identified pathways, understanding for how the brain works in forming relationships and regulating emotions. Right orbital prefrontal cortex.
Shore, A.N. (1996). The experience-dependent maturation of a regulatory system in the orbital prefrontal cortex and the origin of developmental psychopathology. Development and Psychopathology, 8, 59-87.
Then, in the early 2000s, Italian researchers discovered a set of brain cells called “mirror neurons” that duplicate in us (mirror inside us) what someone else is experiencing. This is the brain network that allows us to feel personally the emotions the actor in a movie is portraying. We feel the emotions of the actor in the movie as-if it were our personal emotional experience. Mirror neurons.
Iacoboni, M., Molnar-Szakacs, I., Gallese, V., Buccino, G., Mazziotta, J., & Rizzolatti, G. (2005). Grasping the intentions of others with one’s own mirror neuron system. Plos Biology, 3(3), e79.
This discovery merged into the research on attachment and intersubjectivity – the “dyadic state of consciousness” described by Tronick, and it united with the neurological research described by Shore.
From Stern: “We experience the other as if we were executing the same action, feeling the same emotion, making the same vocalization, or being touched as they are being touched.” (Stern, 2004; p. 79).
Of prominent note is that research on mirror neurons has found that they are designed to read the INTENTION of other people – what’s motivating their actions.
From Stern: “The discovery of mirror neurons has been crucial. Mirror neurons provide possible neurobiological mechanisms for understanding the following phenomena: reading other people’s states of mind, especially intentions; resonating with another’s emotion; experiencing what someone else is experiencing; and capturing an observed action so that one can imitate it — in short, empathizing with another and establishing intersubjective contact.” (Stern, 2004; p. 78)
The constructs in court-involved family conflict of “coaching” and “brainwashing” are more accurately and professionally described from the neurological research on intersubjectivity as the social “cocreation” of a “dyadic state of consciousness,” and the child’s mirror neurons reading the intention of the parent, i.e, what does the allied parent WANT the child to do – mirror neurons read the intention.
In the mid-2000s, it all came together, clouds parted and the angels sang. We’ve got it. We understand how things work – in the relationship systems, and extending out into the emotion regulation systems and the behavior regulation systems – a dyadic regulation of emotions and behavior in the intersubjective “breach-and-repair” sequence (Tronick).
The breach-and-repair sequence identified by Tronick and described extensively through his research is the core central unit of analysis for parent-child conflict. All mental health professionals dealing with any aspect of parent-child conflict MUST understand the breach-and-repair sequence. It is essential to the healthy emotional and psychological development of the child.
From Tronick: “Unlike many other accounts of relational processes which see interactive “misses” (e.g., mismatches, misattunements, dissynchronies, miscoodinations) as indicating something wrong with an interaction, these “misses” are the interactive and affective “stuff” from which co-creative reparations generate new ways of being together (Cohn and Tronick, 1989; Tronick 1989). Instead there are only relationships that are inherently sloppy, messy, and ragged, and individuals in relationships that are better able, or less able, to co-create new ways of sloppily being together.” (Tronick, 2002c, d). (p. 477)
Parent-child conflict (the breach) is not a bad thing, and the absence of parent-child conflict (enmeshment) is not a good thing. The critical feature of the parent-child relationship is that all breaches are REPAIRED. Dr. Tronick compared the breach-and-repair sequence to the “good, the bad, and the ugly.”
The “good” is the everyday sort of flow to bonding and breaches, the “bad” is a breach caused by an empathic failure, the “ugly” is leaving a breach un-repaired. The WORST possible thing we can do is leave a breach un-repaired – the “ugly” describted by Dr. Tronick.
So what does forensic psychology do? Leave un-repaired breaches – the ugly – the WORST possible thing to do… they are doing it. Because they are ignorant. They know nothing about the attachment system, they know nothing about the neuro-development of the brain, they are doing EXACTLY the WORST possible thing they can do… leave an un-repaired breach to the parent-child bond.
Dr. Tronick’s research with the Still Face paradigm is an outgrowth of the attachment research, and his research would be considered to fall within the psychoanalytic school of professional psychology.
Parents and the court are repeatedly told by entirely ignorant mental health people that the child isn’t “ready” to receive the love of a parent, or that the child needs individual psychotherapy in order to be “ready” to recieve the love of a parent.
That is complete rubbish.
That is ignorance of epic proportions, and that is EXACTLY the WRONG thing to do, to leave an un-repaired parent-child breach. We want to fix the breach as quickly as possible. A breach is fixed with the application of empathy – do you see how quickly the breach was fixed in the Still Face YouTube example provided by Dr. Tronick? Immediately.
The attachment system is a goal-corrected motivational system – it ALWAYS maintains the goal of forming an attachment bond. In the Still Face example, do you see how the child’s protest behavior was an “attachment behavior” designed to ELICIT the parent’s involement – NOT to sever the parent-child bond to punish the parent. Protest behavior is an attachment behavior, the attachment system is a goal-corrected motivational system, it ALWAYS maintains the goal of forming an attachment bond.
The idea that the child is not “ready” to be loved by a parent is insane ignorant rubbish.
Any mental health professional who says the child is not “ready” to be loved by a parent is an ignorant buffoon who should NOT be working with children. It is a breach. It is part of a vital – neuro-developmentally vital – breach and repair SEQUENCE – with three parents, the breach, the protest, and the repair… the good, the bad, and the ugly.
DO NOT leave the child in the ugly – in a non-repaired breach. Repair the breach as QUICKLY as you possibly can.
If you are a mental health professional and don’t know how to repair a breach in the parent-child relationship – you should NOT be working with breaches to the parent child relationship. Learn attachment. Learn Bowlby. Learn Stern and Tronick. Don’t work with children until you do.
Do NOT leave the child in an un-repaired breach to the parent-child relationship. Ever. Fix it. As quickly as you can, preferably immediately.
If any mental health person says that the child is not “ready” to be loved by a parent or needs individual therapy in order to be “ready” to be loved by a parent, that mental health person is an ignorant buffoon who should NOT be working with children.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857