Jun 25 2008

John Bowlby’s 3 stages of attachment distress in infancy and early childhood: Protest, Despair and Defense

John Bowlby was the first clinician to identify the 3 stages of an infant’s or young child’s response to the separation and/or deprivation of a mother or other attachment figure.

Bowlby identified 3 stages in the infant/child response:

  1. Protest…the initial crying out in distress when the attachment figure is not available to help soothe the infant/child’s distress or as it is commonly termed, “separation anxiety.”
  2. Despair…the grief and mourning related to the deprivation of the mother or other attachment figure.
  3. Defense…the reaction to the privation or deprivation of the mother or other attachment figure.

Bowlby postulated that these 3 stages were interconnected as a single process. An infant who has lost or been deprived of their mother or other attachment figure will experience all three responses.

This includes the final stage of “defense” where their listlessness, increased detachment and minimal attachment (crying, smiling, etc) behaviors signal that they have “given up” looking for their mothers.

Or maybe we could say the infants/young children have given up their interest in connecting, relating and establishing the type of passionate relationships associated with joy and love.

Not a good thing and predicts difficulties later in life as adults forming healthy relationships.

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