Marco Bacciagaluppi on meeting John Bowlby, evolutionary attachment mechanisms, and predatory patriarchal culture

Paradigms in Psychoanalysis

At nearly 80, I thought it could be useful to share with readers my experience of nearly fifty years in the field of psychoanalytic psychotherapy.  In addition to my clinical work, four basic experiences converge in this book.

First, after receiving my medical degree in Milan, I trained in genetics and evolutionary theory in Pavia with Cavalli-Sforza, a specialist in human genetics who later moved to the USA. After this, I turned to the field of psychiatry and trained in New York in 1963-64 with Silvano Arieti, who belonged to the interpersonal-cultural school founded in 1943 by Sullivan and Fromm, and whose books I later translated into Italian. In New York, I also attended a course in sociology at the New School for Social Research, where Fromm, and before him, Ferenczi, had lectured.

In 1982 I started to correspond with John Bowlby; in 1985 I met him in London to discuss a paper on “Attachment Theory as an Alternative Basis for Psychoanalysis”, which I presented in Zürich later that year; I then kept up my correspondence with Bowlby until his death in 1990.  My reading of Fromm confirmed my interest in the social sciences, and my acquaintance with Bowlby renewed my interest in evolutionary theory.

iStock attachment fingerIn this book I set forth the paradigms, or scientific theories, that I find relevant in psychoanalysis. After reviewing the basic sciences of genetics and neurobiology in Chapters One and Two, I turn to Bowlby’s attachment theory in Chapter Three. Bowlby shows that the infant’s basic drive is towards establishing attachment with the mother, who responds with complementary caregiving behaviour.  Humans have attachment behaviour in common with all mammals and many birds. The time dimension of this inter-class connection is millions of years.  I therefore consider Bowlby’s attachment theory, based on ethology and evolutionary theory, as the most powerful conceptual tool we have at our disposal in psychoanalysis.  In this chapter, I list the multiple binding mechanisms that in our culture often keep a child bound to its family, instead of allowing it to achieve autonomy, in the service of role reversal, whereby the child has to gratify the needs of the parents.

In Chapter Four, I review the field of infant research, which records much more detailed observations of the mother-child dyad as compared to the clinical level of attachment theory. This research reveals that the infant is actively related from birth, and that in development there are no such things as a normal autistic and symbiotic phase.  In Chapter Five, I discuss psychic trauma.

In his early work Bowlby spoke of “real-life events” in infancy, to differentiate his position from Melanie Klein’s emphasis on phantasy, but in a 1983 paper he explicitly spoke of  “Violence in the Family”, thus joining the vast literature on trauma that had grown up in those years, following on Ferenczi’s rediscovery of trauma towards the end of his life. I agree with Bowlby that psychopathology is the result of traumas that arise when the relational environment deviates too widely from that to which we were adapted in the course of evolution (what he calls the EEA, the environment of evolutionary adaptedness).

In Chapter Six, I discuss the relational model, as opposed to the drive model of classical psychoanalysis. I regard Ferenczi as the initiator of this model, and Bowlby and Fromm as two great representatives of the model on the two sides of the Atlantic.  I discuss the reciprocal relationships of these three authors.  In Chapter Seven I turn to the family, which is the wider relational environment in which an individual is immersed.  This literature reveals the reciprocity between the individual and this wider environment.  Chapter Eight is devoted to a higher systemic level, the socio-cultural one.  Here I discuss Fromm’s analytic social psychology, according to which society, in order to perpetuate itself, creates through the family the appropriate character structure in the individual, which Fromm calls the social character.  In this chapter I also discuss social psychiatry and ethno-psychiatry.

Archaeological dig at Çatalhöyük, Anatolia, Turkey

Excavations at Çatalhöyük in Turkey proved that human warfare is a relatively late phenomenon, dating from Sumer and Babylon, 4000BC

Finally, Chapter Nine is devoted to prehistory.  Here I follow Fromm in identifying the original environment with the matriarchal culture described by the Swiss author Bachofen in 1861, which characterised the Upper Paleolithic and the Early Neolithic. In this long period, altruistic behaviour, characterised by cooperation and sharing, evolved, at the level of biological evolution.  The empirical evidence for this culture is provided by the archaeological excavations carried out by James Mellaart in Turkey and Marija Gimbutas in the Danube region, which show no signs of warfare: towns were not surrounded by walls and were not built on hilltops for safety. Patriarchy is a later male and aggressive hierarchical culture that arose in opposition to matriarchy, at the level of cultural evolution.  It only appeared 4-5 thousand years ago, and it is therefore not in our genes. It is characterised by  the authoritarian character structure mediated by the family, as described in the Adorno study of 1950,  and by the ‘r’ reproductive strategy, with many children.  It therefore leads to overpopulation, that gives rise to unnatural aggression, as in the model of Monkey Hill in London Zoo, described by Zuckermann.  In this connection I discuss at length the little-known book on war which Bowlby wrote in 1939 together with his friend Evan Durbin.  In this chapter I also discuss evolutionary psychology, evolutionary psychiatry and evolutionary psychotherapy.

Bowlby represents the tradition of natural science and Fromm that of social science. The integration of their views could lead to a renewal of psychoanalysis. According to this integrated view, as an alternative to the classical psychoanalytic position,  the child is characterised by an innate avoidance of incest (as originally described by Westermarck and recently rediscovered by Mark Erickson) and later by an innate reluctance to kill other members of our species. The wide occurrence of symbiotic-incestuous behaviour and intraspecific killing is due to the unnatural predatory patriarchal culture.

My book is written in scientific terms, but I think it could also be of help to lay people. I advise them to start by reading the clinical material at the end of every chapter, in order to see the relevance of the rest of the chapter to widespread problems.

I received no financial support in writing the book from various foundations to which I applied, but much support in the form of comments from colleagues, friends and my two sons,  whom I mention in the Acknowledgments.

Marco Bacciagaluppi

Marco Bacciagaluppi, Paradigms in Psychoanalysis: An Integration, London: Karnac Books (2012) and editor of The Milan Seminar: Clinical Applications of Attachment Theory (2013)

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One thought on “Marco Bacciagaluppi on meeting John Bowlby, evolutionary attachment mechanisms, and predatory patriarchal culture

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