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The Meaning of Crying Based on Attachment Theory

Abstract

Crying is inborn attachment behavior which, according to attachment theorists John Bowlby and Margaret Ainsworth, is primarily an appeal for the protective presence of a parent. Infant crying triggers corresponding caretaking behavior in the parents. These reciprocal behaviors help establish and maintain the parent-child attachment bond. Crying continues throughout life to be a reaction to separation and loss, to carry an attachment message, and to trigger caretaking responses. Crying can be classified according to the stage of the grieving process to which it corresponds: protest or despair. The absence of crying when it would be expected or appropriate corresponds to an unresolved grief reaction representing detachment. Each type of crying and noncrying elicits different caretaking responses with interpersonal, clinical, and cultural implications.

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Nelson, J.K. The Meaning of Crying Based on Attachment Theory. Clinical Social Work Journal 26, 9–22 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1022841427355

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1022841427355

  • crying
  • attachment
  • infant, adult