In one of my early graduate classes, our professor posed the following question, “Given that so much of our existence touches on cycles—night and day, the seasons of the year, evaporation and rainfall, to name but a few—is there anything that can be described as linear?”
One brave student volunteered the answer that human life is linear: a child is born, they mature, become an adult, begin to age, and then they die. Our professor countered that a baby starts out almost immobile and very much dependent on others. It achieves, over the course of years, greater degrees of independence. Upon aging, the (now) adult starts to lose mobility and, coming full circle, finds that they are increasingly dependent on the support of others. Our professor then added that, for those who are religious, death is simply the return of the soul to its Maker—again a cycle.
Judaism speaks, in addition to the journey of the soul, to other recurring experiences. We derive from verses in Tanach that each successive Shiv’a Asar BeTamuz and Tish’a Be’av contributes to our suffering and sadness. We likewise derive that, whenever the month of Elul arrives, we’ve entered a zone that is ripe for spiritual intimacy and relationship repair. It’s not just about seasons. Rambam informs us that a true Ba’al Teshuvah is someone who not only confesses and experiences remorse for past transgressions, but also one who finds themselves in the same circumstance of temptation over which they had initially stumbled and navigates the situation successfully.
The founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, also hypothesized about early experiences playing out in later life. In his stage theory, he argued that child development involves the shifting of focus from one bodily function to another. These shifts orient the child to such themes as nurturance and gratification, mastery and control, and attraction and jealousy. From Freud’s standpoint, early failures, related to these themes, lead to fixation—the inability to move forward, but instead repeatedly getting tripped up by different versions and iterations of the same challenge.
Freud was not the only the only analyst to think in terms of recurring themes. Whereas Freud focused primarily on the internal world of the child, later theorists attended to the relational world of the child. Mary Ainsworth, who introduced Attachment Theory, understood that the nature and quality of attachment between children and their early caregivers sets the stage for how children will relate to other significant people across their lifespan. Her theory is the cornerstone of several modern-day therapeutic techniques.
An important question winds its way through the above examples: do the patterns that are established early on doom us to repeat what has already occurred, or is there room to improve? In regard to the seasons of Shiv’a Asar Betamuz and Tish’a Be’av, our capacity to shift the pattern is, arguably, beyond the reach of one or even a group of individuals. Teshuvah, in contrast, allows for the individual to make positive change with the provision that they undergo a profound and painful process of reckoning. When it comes to Freud’s fixations and Ainsworth’s (problematic) attachment styles, an individual often needs the help of another—typically a therapist—to make a change.
This edition of Mind Body & Soul features articles about Mary Ainsworth’s Attachment Theory. It also identifies pathways to change. Pamela Siller describes attachment styles and explains why attachment issues are triggered more in some relationships than in others. Dvorah Levy highlights the connection between early relationships and the attraction we experience when searching for a spouse. Joshua Marder illustrates the manner in which particularly adverse situations can provide a platform for deepening attachment. In a separate article, he conversely demonstrates how a secure attachment serves one well under even adverse situations. Menachem Hojda provides a historical context for Attachment Theory while also describing the how parents and teachers can improve a child’s capacity to attach to others.
The articles will likely broaden your understanding of Ainsworth’s attachment styles. Along the way, some identify the early, sensitive moments in which attachments are formed; others speak to the challenging, but not impossible, manner that attachment styles can be transformed. Whether you are looking for ways to nurture the younger people in your life or to identify and perhaps improve upon your own styles of attachment, there is something here for you.
Yehuda Krohn, Psy.D.