Bringing in 2011 with a Review of Posts from December, 2010

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I trust that everyone had a wonderful and restful holiday break. I know I did.

Last year (sorry, couldn’t resist) on December 9th, 2010, I began a series of posts that were triggered by the following question:

Q – Do mothers (therapists) really attach to their babies (clients)?

Lets do a bit of a review (sans links, which can be found in my earlier posts) to bring in the New Year. My one word answer to the above question was, “Depends.” “Depends on what?” you ask. It depends on the conceptual system that you use to frame the question. In my earlier posts I suggested that within the conceptual system know as reductionism—a worldview that expresses a strong desire to reduce all phenomena to simple cause and effect, billiard ball style chains of events—sure, mothers attach to their babies and therapists attach to their clients. As an aside, most of modern science is based on the idea of reductionism. In my earlier posts I made a suggestion that, actually, is rather radical: John Bowlby broke away from the reductionism of the traditional science that surrounded him back in the 1950s and 60s (as did a number of other renegades such as Jean Piaget, Margaret Mead, Ludwig von Bertalanffy, and Erik Erikson) and used the (then) newly emerging paradigm of naturalistic systems theory (in contrast to mechanistic systems theory or cybernetics) to frame his theory of attachment.

Suffice it to say that a question like “Do mothers (therapists) really attach to their babies (clients)?” loses meaning within a naturalistic systems theory framework. In my earlier posts I make the point that we lack the proper words, concepts, and even language to make sense of the above question within a naturalistic systems theory framework. As a way of illuminating this linguistic paucity, I proposed that clumsy words like attachualization and carualization be added to a word like sexualization. I’m suggesting that to “-ualize” is to remove and look at one element that otherwise is a part of a whole. So, if you are looking at sexualization, you are only looking at one part of a whole. But, again, that is the goal of modern reductionistic science: to look at and analyze parts that have been removed from a whole. In my earlier posts I suggested that Bowlby was centrally concerned with a whole that consisted of dynamic interactions between three behavioral systems: the sexual behavioral system, the caregiving behavioral system, and the sexual behavioral system. I called this whole that Bowlby looked at The Grand Bowlbian Attachment Environment. In essence, The Grand Bowlbian Attachment Environment holds the behavioral systems of sex, caregiving, and attachment. So, within The Grand Bowlbian Attachment Environment (which is framed by naturalistic systems theory) if you are looking at sexualization (which was the focus of my December 18th, 2010, post) you must also give some thought to what is going on with carualization and attachualization.

“Ahhhhh … I get it,” you say, “if you ask ‘Do mothers (therapists) really attach to their babies (clients)?’ you also have to ask questions like ‘Do they care to their babies or clients?’ or ‘do they sex to their babies or clients?’ ” Yes, exactly, but notice the clumsy nature of the phraseology. “But, hey, I see some real confusion here: attachment is both a behavioral system and a grand environment,” you protest. Again, exactly right. And I would suggest (as I did in my earlier posts) that a lot of confusion surrounding Bowlby’s theory stems from the fact that Bowlby often moved from talking about attachment as a behavioral system to attachment as a grand holding environment without drawing clear distinctions.

“So, all of this talk of naturalistic systems theory, grand attachment holding environments, multiple interacting behavioral systems, and even ‘carualization’ is rather pedantic,” you continue to protest. I agree. It is for this reason that in my earlier posts I provided a number of stories and vignettes that have the potential (in my opinion) to illustrate some (if not all) of these concepts or ideas in more “right brain” (e.g., less intellectual) ways. Here’s a summary of these stories and vignettes:

  • Dr. Brook’s group therapy session where one man gets angry at another because the latter man objectifies the former man’s cheerleader daughter.
  • In the movie Grown Ups, Rob Schneider’s character (Rob) confronts David Spade’s character (Marcus) because Rob (mistakenly) thinks that Marcus has slept with his daughter.
  • In the movie Basketball Diaries, Jim takes Paul to a peepshow where there is an uncomfortable wordless connection between Paul and the dancer that has the effect of revealing vulnerability and nakedness on the part of both persons.
  • In the movie American Beauty, there’s a wordless encounter between the middle-aged Lester and the teenage Angela that, again, has the effect of revealing vulnerability and nakedness on the part of both persons, but also allows them to find and get comfortable with age-appropriate roles (father and teenager respectively).
  • Richard Rohr, during a (composite) men’s retreat, tells a story about a father who gets an erection while playing with his young twin boys and this father vows to never play with them again.
  • Richard also tells a story of a father who negatively reacts to his “tween-aged” daughter’s emerging sexuality and vows to never affirm any sexual connection between them.
  • I described the Abel Assessment and raised the possibility that a clear cut association between interest and sexuality could not be validly established. I suggested that associations between interest and dimensions such as love, protection, care, comfort, etc., are equally valid.

If you’re up for it, go back and reread a couple of these stories or vignettes and see if you can identify the various sexualization, carualization, and attachualization themes. I’ll give you some help. In the movie American Beauty, Lester (played by Kevin Spacey) uses sexualization to get himself out of his suburban doldrums. Lester goes on to sexualize his teenage daughter’s best friend, Angela (played by Mena Suvari). At a climatic moment (no pun intended) in the movie, it looks as if Lester’s sexualization will result in an actual sexual encounter with Angela. But suddenly, Lester dramatically shits over to a position of carualization as if his Grand Bowlbian Attachment Environment began to grow and, well, become more whole, more grand. As a sad (but probably true) comment on our society, Alan Ball (the writer and director) has Lester pay the ultimate price for expanding his Grand Bowlbian Attachment Environment. “One more,” you ask. OK.

The Abel Assessment of Sexual Interest (as the name implies) assesses for various sexualization themes as revealed by viewing scenes taken from ordinary life. In essence, the Abel Assessment is only valid within a reductionistic framework or worldview. In a tacit tip of the hat to The Grand Bowlbian Attachment Environment, critics of the Abel Assesment argue that the responses recorded are not necessarily just about sexualization themes; they could just as easily be about the carualization and/or attachualization themes that are also contained within the images. These critics argue (without knowing it I might add) that within a naturalistic systems theory framework, the results of the Abel Assessment may not be valid. When it comes to assessment tools like the Abel Assessment, “reductionism in, reductionism out.” The same type of criticism could be leveled at the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI)—the gold standard of attachment assessment tools. The AAI depends on questions like, “When you were young—maybe six or seven years old—and you hurt yourself, what would you do?” The idea here is that, ideally, you will seek care from a person you consider to be a safe and secure attachment figure. So, at best, such questions might assess for carualization and attachualization patterns but specifically leave out sexualization patterns. Now, you could argue that at age six or seven the sexual behavioral system is still in the background and can be ignored. Hmmm … not very Freudian of you. Even Freud argued that care, attachment, and sex patterns are present from birth (and even possibly before). So, the AAI tacitly tips its hat to a part of The Grand Bowlbian Attachment Environment but not all of it. In addition, the AAI gains a lot of strength from using Grice’s Linguistic Maxims as a background. Suffice it to say that the Gricean worldview is a very “reduced” worldview in that it depends on such concepts as efficiency, brevity, economy, clarity, one-way causality, etc. Although beyond the scope of this post, philosophically speaking, the Gricean worldview espouses a one-sided dualism: while acknowledging the existence of a mental world, the Gricean worldview tries to pull mental functioning over into the world of material functioning by using concepts drawn from the world of physics. My sense is that Bowlby would have objected to attempts to frame his theory using a one-sided dualism, but there again the body-mind implications inherent in Bowlby’s theory are rarely talked about. Here’s a pop quiz for you. Go back to my list of the different ways Bowlby’s attachment theory has been framed (December 17th, 2010 post) and see if you can spot other one-sided dualisms, or even philosophical frames that are all body or all mind. Let me try a few:

  • Conservative religion—all mind
  • Economics—all body
  • Neurobiology—one-side dualism pulling mind toward body
  • Vitalism—all mind

I think one reason why Bowlby’s framing of attachment using naturalistic systems theory as a background is not in evidence these days is because Bowlby was shooting for a true monism—a philosophical conceptual system whereby both body and mind could be conceptualized equally and at the same time. Interestingly, the authors of the 2005 edited volume Critical Thinking About Psychology—Hidden Assumptions and Plausible Alternatives also nominate a naturalistic systems theory worldview as a possible way toward a true monism. (I’d be remiss if I did not mention that this book has informed my thinking as far as attachment and philosophy is concerned—partial summary available.) As an interesting side note, the authors of Critical Thinking place Bowlby’s work into the category of a one-sided dualism, one in which mind is pulled into body. Hmmmm? My guess is that the Critical Thinking authors are not aware of (or choose to ignore) the naturalistic systems theory frame that Bowlby used to frame his theory of attachment.

So, the above examples should help you get going as far as looking at the various sexualization, carualization, and attachualization (SCA) themes in the other stories and vignettes. Try grabbing a copy of American Beauty and looking for other SCA themes (of which there are many). As a matter of fact, American Beauty is dripping in SCA themes. As you watch American Beauty, you may ask why Angela goes along with (nay, encourages) the sexualization. I’ll give you a hint: the answer will be found in the other areas of The Grand Bowlbian Attachment Environment (namely carualization and attachualization).

So, where to next time? I’m thinking about two possible routes. One, look more at the philosophical implications of Bowlby’s theory, or, two, take a look at an article by Dr. Carole Pistole wherein she frames the pressing social problem of unwanted teen pregnancy using (believe it or not) The Grand Bowlbian Attachment Environment. To whet your appetite for path number two, Dr. Pistole suggests that to understand the sexualization patterns associated with unwanted teen pregnancy, one has to also look at the carualization and attacualization patterns that make up The Grand Bowlbian Attachment Environment (using my concepts here to describe her work). Stay tuned to find out which path I end up traveling.