A report by Samira Mahi-Moussa, Master’s student Political Economy and International Relations
„From the beginning, we lead our life with the other” (Vittorio Gallese, 2013)
In January 2021, the Q+ seminar “Human Bonding from a Psychoanalytic Perspective: Relevance for Health and Society” took place in a digital format, due to the pandemic. The psychologist and psychotherapist Dr. rer. physiol. Anna Herrmann and the specialist for psychosomatic medicine and psychotherapy Dr. med. Irina Tavlaridou offered a transdisciplinary approach to the medical and psychological fundamentals of human bonding.
Humans are social beings and can only survive as part of a community. That is based on interpersonal bonds, which everyone forms from birth with the humans in their environment. Already at the infantile age, a strong bond exists between the child and their primary caregivers, the significance of which has been proven through, for example, the still-face experiment developed by Edward Tronick. This connection between two humans, according to the founder of attachment theory John Bowlby, serves the satisfaction of both physical and emotional needs. These bonds endure long distances, come into being before the birth of the child, and survive even beyond the death of a loved one.
Studies on early parenthood have shown that viewing images of infants with happy, suffering, or neutral expressions activates parts of the cerebrum (responsible for voluntary actions), the amygdala (part of the limbic system for emotional responses, center of fear, anxiety, and aggression), and the reward system. In healthy mothers, emotional images activate the reward system and cerebrum in particular, which is associated with caring for the child’s needs. In depressed or traumatized mothers, the amygdala shows increased activity comparable to non-mothers.
Based on their childhood experiences with their closest caretakers, human beings can develop a secure, ambivalent-insecure, avoidant-insecure, or disorganized-insecure attachment style. A person’s attachment style is relevant for their health. For instance, persons with secure attachments have a higher probability of physical and mental health, while persons with insecure attachments have a higher probability of physical or mental illness, due to disturbed regulation of stress. This correlation can be explained by the fact that body and mind (or soul) go hand in hand and cannot be considered as separate. Our flexible memory functions in an analogous fashion: We constantly and unconsciously remember through our senses and the so-called sensomotoric coordinates in our whole bodies and not just in our heads (“embodiment”). Memory occurs in the whole body, via system-environment-interaction/ attachments.
As shown, apart from the individual health of a primary carer and their bond with the child, the environment plays a significant role in the formation of human attachments. The social taboo regarding a public dialogue on mental illness can thus contribute to the deterioration of a society’s general health. It is therefore commendable to further this dialogue in the interest of society as a whole.
For me personally, the seminar was an enriching experience, as human bonding is a constant and rarely questioned part of our lives and I was able to better categorize my own attachment style. Since the seminar, I have taken a great interest in “analyzing” the people in my environment and taking better notice of human attachments. I have also taken helpful approaches from the seminar, especially in regards to my personal attachments and bonding experiences as well as the behavior patterns of people with different attachments. Awareness of the various influences a human being is subject to, both pre- and postnatally, has increased my personal interest in addressing human bonding and environmental influences in private, social, sociopolitical spheres. I particularly appreciated the well presented wealth of scientific studies dealing with bonding and health. I found it remarkable how many significant findings in psychoanalysis are very recent.