Connecting Loose Ends: Integrating Science into Psychoanalytic Theory

Abstract

Freud wanted to be a scientist but fell short of this goal in several ways: first by attempting to make psychoanalysis consistent with Newtonian physics, second by not being rigorous with the scientific method, and finally, by responding to political and social needs. As a result, science did not welcome psychoanalysis into its fold. Fortunately, this is changing. In the years since Freud’s death, two science-based psychoanalytic theories have developed: attachment theory and affect theory. They are both measurable and supported by social psychology, neuroscience, and infant research. We will explore the central importance of affect as well as treatment implications. The work of Bowlby and Tomkins is complementary, and their integration leads to a more complete understanding of psychic phenomena. We will demonstrate how these theorists validate the work of Fairbairn and Winnicott, both of whom remained in the shadow of Freud. Our premise is that the theoretical differences are semantic, based in politics, and that we can bring these theories together should we acknowledge these differences. We will consider how Winnicott’s awareness and sensitivity to parental intrusion should be integrated with attachment theory. In doing so, we want to add to Bowlby’s idea of “secure attachment” and introduce the concepts of “secure enough detachment” and “secure enough attachment”. The former concept appreciates that not all psychic pain comes from abandonment and that privacy and space are profound emotional needs. The latter concept is an effort to move away from absolutistic taxonomy, a shortcoming of attachment theory.

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Correspondence to Michael Crocker.

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Crocker, M., Baur, A. Connecting Loose Ends: Integrating Science into Psychoanalytic Theory. Clin Soc Work J (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10615-020-00774-9

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Keywords

  • Attachment
  • Affect
  • Affect regulation
  • Shame