We live in a culture that celebrates individualism and self-reliance, and yet we humans are an exquisitely social species, thriving in good company and suffering in isolation. More than anything else, our intimate relationships, or lack thereof, shape and define our lives.
While there have been many schools of thought to help us understand what strains and maintains human bonds, from Freudian to Gestalt, one of the most rigorously studied may be the least known to the public.
It’s called attachment theory, and there’s growing consensus about its capacity to explain and improve how we function in relationships.
Conceived more than 50 years ago by the British psychoanalyst John Bowlby and scientifically validated by an American developmental psychologist, Mary S. Ainsworth, attachment theory is now having a breakout moment, applied everywhere from inner-city preschools to executive coaching programs. Experts in the fields of psychology, neuroscience, sociology and education say the theory’s underlying assumption — that the quality of our early attachments profoundly influences how we behave as adults — has special resonance in an era when people seem more attached to their smartphones than to one another.
I studied with Ainsworth when I was an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins. I took a course in developmental psychology, where I learned about Piaget, who became a major influence on me. I liked that so much that I arranged an independent study with Ainsworth. She had me reading monographs in primate ethology and let me read Bowlby's Attachment while it was still in typescript. Attachment theory became one of my conceptual mainstays.
See the following papers:
Talking with Nature in "This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison." PsyArt: A Hyperlink Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts, November, 2004, http://www.psyartjournal.com/article/show/l_benzon-talking_with_nature_in_this_lime_tree_bo