John Bowlby is widely known as the godfather of attachment theory. His research about the importance of close relationships, from cradle to grace as he would say, and their impact on human development has profoundly shaped the field of psychology. Rather than pathologize people’s behavior, he sought to make sense of it through the lens of attachment. He advocated for viewing behavior as ultimately connected to the basic human drive for closeness. We will do almost anything to feel close, even if it seems completely counterintuitive. In other words, behavior is a survival strategy.

This approach allows us to see the humanity in every person, including ourselves. It’s not meant to condone behavior but rather validate our good reasons for getting stuck. We need to be seen first before we can change. Protection is a prison when it becomes automatic but the only way out is through what got us there in the first place. What is insufficient as a model for life was perfectly functional as a temporary strategy for survival. We need this validated so we can begin to loosen up the constrained pattern of behavior we’re stuck in.

Validation can be accompanied with exploration; how might my behavior be a way of keeping myself emotionally safe? What emotions are priming me to behave this way and what makes it hard for me to stay with my feelings instead of react to them? How have others responded to my emotions and need for closeness and how might that be showing up now?

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* The information provided is for self-enrichment and not intended to replace any necessary mental health treatment.⁣


Jonathan Dixon, LMFT

Alpha Omega Team