Monday, August 17, 2009

Attachment Theory

Own photo, july 2005. nl:User Magalhaes and da...Image via Wikipedia

Attachment theory is the theory of how early relationships between infant and caregiver (baby and mom or dad) affect the child's developing patterns for understanding his or her relationship to others and the world at large.

In attachment theory, children are seen as completely dependent upon their parents, on whom they rely for getting all their needs met. If the parents are able to notice and respond to the baby's needs - whether for food, warmth, loving interaction, etc. - the baby will develop a "friendly" picture of the world, in which it is possible to be satisfied and have needs met, and a "friendly" picture of his or her self as lovable and worthy of being cared for.

Unfortunately, when this is not the case, other views of the world and self can develop which tend to persist later into life, a view where the world is not a place where needs can be met and connection can be found, and where the self is unworthy of having this kind of fulfillment.

What this means, and why it is important:
As an adult, you have certain views about the world, some of which may be the result of the way your parents related to you as a child. Other people may have different views of the world. If you accept that your subjective view of the world is not necessarily the way the world really is, but just what you've learned in your limited experiences, it opens up a little bit of room for exploration.

If you're stuck in with unsuccessful patterns in your relationships, knowing that these patterns just developed because of your past, and they're not "you" - just like the fact that 2+2=4 is not you, but just something you've learned - can give a little bit of space for exploring new and more satisfying ways of relating from this point forward.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Morality- Piaget

Jean Piaget was a Swiss Psychologist who studied childhood development and how children develop morality. Through studying children and how they related to the rules of games that they played where he lived, he developed the idea that children move through two stages of morality.

Piaget calls the first stage heteronymous morality. Heteronymous morality is characterized by the child's belief that the rules have their own innate authority, or more simply put, the rules are the rules and that's it. In this stage, children are primarily motivated by a fear of punishment. Piaget believes that this kind of relation to the rules is a result of the child’s relation to people in positions of authority. Since adults are in a position of power over the young children and command that the child know and follow their rules, the child’s primary mode of relating to these rules becomes one of grasping what is given, and using it as his/her own (1932, p. 36).

Piaget calls the second stage autonomous morality. Piaget found that this stage begins to enter in at around age 10. Autonomous morality is characterized by the child's understanding that rules are made by people, for people. The child using autonomous morality is motivated by the spirit of cooperation, and tries to take into account the needs, wants, and feelings of others. Piaget believes that this kind of relation to the rules develops out of cooperative activity between peers in equal relationship, in contrast with the one-way power relationship of authority to child that is present in heteronymous thinking.

So why does this matter? Piaget finds that Heteronymous morality persists to the extent which the individual remains in an unequal relationship with the rules, when the authority of the rules is taken for granted and accepted into the individual’s understanding of their world (these rules are the way the world works- think religious or ideological fundamentalism).
Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini walking in f...Image via Wikipedia
Heteronymous morality can persist into adulthood, and is the morality of unequal power. When people give away their own power by following the rules of authority without critical and rational examination, life becomes a game of follow the leader, and depending on the leader, this game can be a very dangerous one. However, when people stand by the spirit of cooperation and the acknowledgement of the rights of others as equals, rules presented by leaders are examined, and ultimately rejected as immoral.

Much of this information was summarized from Piaget's The Moral Judgment of the Child. (1932).
To read selected sections of it, check it out here on google books, or buy it from Amazon!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Wilhelm Reich - Armoring

A man and a woman performing a modern dance.Image via Wikipedia
Wilhelm Reich was a student of Freud's who believed that the body plays an important role in an individual's expression. Crucial to his understanding of psychology is the concept of Armoring which is basically the physical component of repression as understood by Freud.

Armoring occurs when an impulse is halted at the muscular level. For example, it is natural for a child to cry when they are sad. However, a child who is punished for crying will find a way to inhibit this behavior. At first, this inhibition is conscious, and may include tensing the muscles of the eyes and face, holding the breath, or whatever else works that the child is capable of doing. Reich said that normally a child will cease the inhibition once the threat passes, but when a child is repeatedly subjected to the same kind of treatment, the inhibiting behavior becomes learned and integrated into the child's way of being, along with the accompanying muscular armoring. It becomes habitual and unconscious, and the person no longer notices they are "doing" anything at all.

Reich viewed the purpose of this armoring as protecting the child from perceived threats, but the cost is the diminished freedom that comes fighting against constant muscular contraction as well the energy that is required to maintain this state of contraction.

You may be able to fight and win battles in a suit of armor, but when you're wearing one all of the time without knowing it, it becomes impossible to dance.

If you're interested in learning more about Wilhelm Reich's theories on Character and Body Armoring, there are two books I might recommend: Character Analysis, and Function of the Orgasm. Reich conceptualized all biological energy as sexual energy, and so his book Function of the Orgasm focuses on how biological energy either flows or does not flow through the body. Happy learning!

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Maslow - Deficiency vs. Growth Motivation

Maslow theorized two different kinds of motivation: Motivation to satisfy a Deficiency, and Motivation towards Growth. He came up with this theory of two kinds of motivation to explain a difference he saw between a psychology of sickness and a psychology of health.

Maslow believed that at the core of every neurosis was an unfulfilled need. If a person did not have a way to meet their basic needs for safety, belonging, love and respect, that person would create a neurotic symptom to attempt to satisfy in some way this unmet need. He found that when his patients' needs were met, their neuroses disappeared.

Maslow, though, was not interested exclusively with why people became neurotic, but looked for answers to what motivated such things as a child's growth, healing after brain trauma, creativity, and even psychotherapy itself, because there was something in people motivating them to move beyond their current situations into new understanding and new life which could not be understood as maintenance of homeostasis. He called this motivation "Growth Motivation" and used it to explain the tendency of people to grow.

He saw this Growth Motivation as natural and foundational, because it was exhibited in children in the joy they found in new discovery, and not only children, but also those individuals who he referred to as "self actualized" who continued to be motivated by the continuous joy of learning, exploring, and growing. He also agreed with those psychoanalytic theorists of the time (Eric Fromm and Karen Horney) who believed that neuroses could only be explained in terms of a tendency toward growth, and that they were merely the patients' ways of trying to continue to grow despite conditions which impeded their natural growth. This tendency for Growth, he believed, was as important to understanding the healthy functioning of people as unmet needs were to understanding the development of illness.

Like grass underneath an inflatable pool, which turns pale, and grows sideways and outward to try and find the sun with all of its energies, humans, too, are constantly oriented to growth. The only difference is that we humans are not only motivated by physical growth, but also by mental emotional, and even spiritual growth, and despite obstacles there is a voice inside each of us which continually calls for us to become everything that we can be.

Maslow, A. (1968). Toward a Psychology of Being. New York: D. Van Norstrand Co.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs

I'm currently reading Abraham Maslow's book "Toward a Psychology of Being" and will soon be putting up a bunch of posts about ideas from it which I think are really interesting. To start though, I think it would be helpful to give a little information on his "Hierarchy of Needs"

Abraham Maslow was a psychologist in the mid 1900s who was interested in human motivation. He came up with a "Hierarchy of Needs" to explain what needs people are motivated by. He believed that needs could be organized into levels, and that as lowest level needs were satisfied, higher level needs would emerge into consciousness (Maslow, 1943).

The levels he organized human needs into were:

1. Physiological needs are the lowest level, they are basically making sure there is enough oxygen, water, and nutrients in the body, and that the body temperature is maintained. Sex is also included in the physiological needs.

2. Safety is the need to be free from danger.

3. Love needs are the needs to feel love and a sense of belonging.

4. Esteem needs contain the need to be respected by oneself and others. They are the needs to do great things and to be great.

5. Self-Actualization is the need to "be all that you can be" to test limits and to explore and grow to your full potential.

Making sense of the Hierarchy:

Maslow's Hierarchy just means that people, first off, are motivated to stay alive. Then, when a person has taken care of making sure they are alive, they will be motivated to find love and respect. And only after a person is alive, loved and respected will they really be motivated to find out how much they can really do, and how far they can really go.

Maslow, A. (1943). A theory of Motivation. Retrieved 4/24/09 from

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ego, Id, Superego

Psychoanalysis can be summed up in two words: unconscious conflict.

Freud's theory was that our "Id" and our "Superego" are constantly giving us conflicting unconscious messages, and that the "Ego" is the conscious aspect of our mind that negotiates this conflict, and helps us get our needs met in the world.

-The Id is like an Animal, it's concerned with our basic needs- Survival and Reproduction. It is our drive to get these needs met, and it doesn't care how this happens.

-The Superego is like a Judge, it's concerned with the "law", what's right and wrong. It's our conscience, telling us the way things should happen.

-And then there's the Ego, which is mostly conscious. It's our way of figuring out how to get our needs met while following our rules.

The whole thing is like a parent with two children, one who can only say "yes" and the other who can only say "no", and the parent is stuck with the tricky job of trying to figure out how to deal with the conflict and reach some sort of a compromise, which is why when your boss pisses you off, you mutter under your breath on the way back to your desk instead of punching him in the face then and there.

The Spirit of Pages to Come

This is just a simple, no-nonsense introduction. My name is Dan, and I'm a student of Psychology. I got my B.A. from the University of Michigan, and am currently working on a Ph.D. at the Santa Barbara Graduate Institute in southern California. I know it can be hard to sort through complicated psychological theories... I've been dealing with them in my education for years, but people have always told me I've had a talent for taking them down to the core ideas, and presenting them in a simple way that really makes sense of them, so that's what I'm going to be doing here... taking long, complicated formulations and making it so that anyone can understand them.

Whether you're a serious student of psychology or a person who just wants to understand it just a little bit more clearly, this is for you.