The West, and particularly the United States, has a strong ideological and cultural belief in rugged individualism. Asian cultures are more geared toward the importance of the group. Regardless of what culture we are born into, we are born helpless, and we rely on our caregivers, usually primarily our mothers, to provide for us and give us a sense of safety and security in this world. Our developing brain is extremely sensitive to the cues we get, and while we may not remember that part of our childhood, it stays with us for our lifetime. Something as simple as a “still face” has an impact on us emotionally as infants.
Peter Lovenheim is a journalist who can tell a story in a way that you feel you are sitting with him having a very interesting conversation. He has had a divorce, and more recently, a breakup. Reading about attachment in his daughter’s psychology textbook led him to become curious about his own attachment style and to explore all aspects of the theory. Whether or not you have researched attachment theory before, this is a very worthwhile read. I was very impressed with Lovenheim’s openness and ability to teach about attachment in such a clear, concise, and understandable way.
Lovenheim sat in on psychology classes at the University of Rochester taught by Harry Reis. Dr. Reis provided an excellent overview of attachment theory and its applications. Lovenheim was concerned that he had an anxious attachment style. A secure attachment style makes for good relationships, but there are advantages to anxious and avoidant styles both as a child and as an adult. An anxious child may have more success getting the mother’s attention and an avoidant style can help avoid being hurt by rejection. From an evolutionary standpoint, anxious folks may spot threats more quickly, and avoidant folks with self-reliance might act more as first responders. The fourth category of attachment is disorganized, in which a child is caught in both seeking and fearing the caregiver.
Lovenheim was thorough in his research. He took the Adult Attachment Interview, met with the person who scores the interview, and had his brain scanned while experiencing a shock with the support of holding hands and no support. He did an experiment of his own — matchmaking a student with the poster child of secure attachment. He covers relationships issues based on attachment — anxious and avoidant often seem to be drawn to each other with problematic results. He interviewed a person using attachment style parenting and the ongoing debate of just how to best raise a child. The conclusion? The only instruction manual is the child.
Lovenheim also examines Sue Johnson’s Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) and how it works in couple’s therapy. He also looked at attachment styles in friendships, the job, in athletics (who should take that final crucial shot for the win in basketball), and religion.
He also looked at attachment in politics. Attachment style can affect who you vote for, who you are likely to believe, and how susceptible you may be to seeking security in dogma.
One of the most intriguing parts of the book for me was Lovenheim’s interview with Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee for president in 1988. One of the memorable moments of the campaign was his lack of emotion when asked a death penalty question during one of the presidential debates, where he was asked to imagine that his wife had been raped and murdered.
Lovenheim met with Dukakis and used the Attachment Style Interview to figure out Dukakis’s attachment style. The result was avoidant. He examines the thought that many politicians have an avoidant attachment style. I wondered as I read if that might be an effect of a culture that cherishes independence and reliance on no one, even though from an evolutionary standpoint, we are social beings and constantly must rely on others. No one is an island. He suggests that truly transformative leaders have secure attachments — at least those who are transformative in a positive way.
Lovenheim’s book is an excellent overview of attachment and how it affects all the moments of our lives. His website has a reading group guide which has some thought provoking questions to deepen your experience. There is also a link to an online personality attachment questionnaire at http://web-research-design.net/cgi-bin/crq/crq.pl. There is a paper version in the book, but the online version is scored automatically. If you set up an account, you can retake the test over time. Why would that be helpful? Because Lovenheim may have started with an anxious attachment style, but over time his style became earned secured. And you can change your style, too.
The Attachment Effect: Exploring the Powerful Ways Our Earliest Bond Shapes Our Relationships and Lives
TarcherPerigee, June 2018
Paperback, 304 pages