The Attachment Effect

by | Oct 1, 2018 | Book Reviews

The Attachment Effect

Peter Lovenheim

Penguin Random House, 2018

Peter Lovenheim explains, “It began wonderfully, as romances do, but later devolved into a turbulent on again, off again affair. She was looking for a commitment I couldn’t make and I was looking for emotional intimacy she couldn’t give.” Years of breakups and makeups. The relationship became polarized—he was an anxious partner demanding more intimacy and she was an avoidant partner who shut down and withdrew. His Anxious Attachment style and her Avoidant Attachment style led to the Anxious-Avoidant Trap.

The Attachment Effect is Peter Lovenheim’s non-fiction work about relationship intimacy. After personal relationship struggles, Lovenheim’s research began sitting in his hometown University of Rochester Professor Harry Reis’ class in Attachment Theory. Attachment Theory is a body of early childhood research initiated by English psychiatrist Dr. John Bowlby (1907–90). The field studies attachment styles across species.

Infants are especially vulnerable to loss because of the long complex developmental path to maturity. Study of orphaned and abandoned children became key after World War I. Early studies of attachment included Harry Harlow’s University of Wisconsin famous research on Rhesus monkeys at Goon Park (with wire and terrycloth mothers) and Anna Freud’s research with war orphans in England. While Sigmund Freud studied the impact of oedipal (ages four to six) conflicts on development, Bowlby and Anna Freud studied the effects of infant and toddler attachment on relationship styles.

Current research and psychological evaluation tools include Bowlby’s colleague Mary Ainsworth’s Strange Situation. Children are observed for their reactions in a room when their mother comes in and goes out. University of Virginia’s Ainsworth Attachment Clinic is an active child development research center named for her. Several psychological tests and interviews used to measure attachment traits are illustrated in Lovenheim’s book.

Lovenheim’s treatment of the subject is shorn of technical language, making a complex subject available in journalistic form. His book presents the evolution and current practical application of attachment theory.

Describing the basics of attachment developing in mother-child bonding beginning at birth, Lovenheim adds the scientific bases of attachment found in brain imaging and brain wave recordings.

Attachment Theory describes three attachment styles: Secure Attachment, Anxious Attachment, and Avoidant Attachment. Those with Secure attachments feel comfortable with intimacy. The last two describe individuals who struggle to find relationship security. Avoidant Types, who received inconsistent care in infancy, cling and crave intimacy in their relationships. Avoidant Types’ caregivers essentially gave the message, ‘take care of yourself.’ They believe in self-reliance and escape relationships for fear of being overwhelmed and disappointed.

Lovenheim goes on to illustrate ways these building block bonding styles impact dating, marriage, parenting, friendships, work, sports participation, politics, and religious affiliation. A seasoned journalist, he uses relatable illustrations from his personal experiences in childhood to adult relationships. He interviews people about how their styles impact on family life, illness, sports, business, politics, and religion.

This book has been nominated for a Jewish book award not because it is a religious treatment, but because it is a scholarly treatment of an important aspect of human growth and development.

Have no (attachment) fear. He describes Earned Secure Attachment. Individuals can overcome early life problems to develop warm trusting relationships.

Peter Lovenheim is the author of several books and articles with degrees in journalism and law.

Dr. Steven Waranch is a Clinical Psychologist and Certified Substance Abuse Counselor in private practice in Virginia Beach.

The Attachment Effect will be sold at the Lee and Bernard Jaffe* Family Jewish Book Festival

*of blessed memory