Pioneers in Object Relations Clinical Thinking:
John Bowlby (1907- 1990)

Detachment, attachment disorder, and problems managing relationships receive frequent attention from both scholars and practitioners. Youth workers often shake their heads over the difficulty of re-educating and encouraging resilience in youth manifesting a history of toxic relationships with the pivotal adults in their lives. It seems likely that early attachment to one or a few close relatives holds great portent for a person’s overall relational abilities. Attachment predicts the ability to relate to many others, to establish trust, to form and retain friendships, and to engage in mutually satisfying emotional and physical relationships. Why is early experience so important?

John Bowlby

Attachment is a reciprocal system of behaviors between an infant and a caregiver—generally the mother. The term reciprocal is apt because not only does attachment affect the child’s behavior (for example, moving closer to the mother when stressed), but also affects the responses of the mother, who emits care-giving responses in the presence of signals from the infant.

John Bowlby

A young child’s experience of an encouraging, supportive, and co-operative mother, and a little later, father, gives him a sense of worth, a belief in the helpfulness of others, and a favorable model on which to build future relationships… by enabling him to explore his environment with confidence and to deal with it effectively, such experiences also promote his sense of competence.

John Bowlby

This is what David Moris wrote in British Medical Journal for “Bowlby’s 80th Birthday”:

“What Francis Crick and James Watson were to molecular biology John Bowlby has been to child development.”

“… Eventually resistance to Bowlby’s ideas gave way, and workers all over the world tested his ideas scientifically.
Psychotherapists and psychologists recognized that the experiences that parents bring with them from their childhoods affect their relationships with their own children. This led to a fresh look at the experiences that children go through in unfavorable circumstances — such as socioeconomic hardship, parental unemployment, poor housing, and, above all, separation at vulnerable times in infancy. Bowlby was a synthesizer. He bridged the disciplines and started a vigorous appreciation of the far reaching effects of the infant’s experiences.”