While there may be a number of traumatic experiences awaiting an adult as they move through their life, the psychodynamic approach first suggests that most of the conflicts of the unconscious have their origins in childhood experience, with early childhood in particular - as Freud suggested - understood as the most important period in establishing individual psychology.
Freud’s suggestion paved the way for attachment theory (Bowlby, 1958, 1969), something that provides the basis for much of modern psychodynamics, and my own understandings of the work my clients and I do together. The “Strange Situation” experiments (Ainsworth & Bell, 1970; Ainsworth, 1973) furthered Bowlby’s ideas, enabling the classification of different attachment styles - secure, insecure-avoidant, insecure-resistant (or ambivalent), and insecure-disorganized - providing containers for the different ways the internalizations and understandings that result from early childhood experience persist into adulthood.
Personality provides a window for understanding how we relate to the world around us, and the attachment system reflects our first experience of trying to do so. It is characterized by the drive to bond to a primary caregiver (Kernberg, 1980), something that can be thwarted by attachment trauma, producing anxiety-provoking complex emotional states in the developing individual (Abbass, 2015). With representations of self and other formed in this context (Kernberg, 1980), anything less than a warm, unconditionally loving primary caregiver can be understood as having the effect of a hot stove – a child gets burned by sub-optimal care-giving experiences, causing attachment trauma, learns to close up in one way or another, and thus goes on understanding the stove as being hot forever. Adults bring this early formation of expectation for other people’s behaviour to their relationships; it informs how they view themselves and also the manner of any psychopathology (Kernberg, 1980).
Healing, in psychodynamic terms, involves some degree of integration of self-other representations, enabling us to recognize our conscious wish for attachment with others and our conscious expectations of how others will respond to this (Abbass, 2015). Such a perspective provides the therapist and client a consciously accessible framework for collaborating on the work of examining any unconscious feelings behind the difficulties they may be experiencing (Abbass, 2015).
Abbass, A. (2015). Reaching Through Resistance. Seven Leaves Press: Kansas City, MO.
Ainsworth, M. D. S., & Bell, S. M. (1970). Attachment, exploration, and separation: Illustrated by the behavior of one-year-olds in a strange situation. Child Development, 41, 49-67.
Ainsworth, M. D. S. (1973). The development of infant-mother attachment. In B. Cardwell & H. Ricciuti (Eds.), Review of child development research (3, 1-94) University of Chicago Press: Chicago.
Bowlby, J. (1958). The nature of the child’s tie to his mother. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 39, 350-371.
Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment. Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Loss. Basic Books: New York, NY.
Kernberg, O. (1980). Internal World and External Reality. Aronson: New York, NY.
Thoughts on Therapy and Mental Health