Depth Psychology, and Theoretical Approaches to Childhood Development: Siddhartha, Evolutionary Theory, & Psychological Attachment

Human development occurs at the biological, psychological, and sociological levels (Erikson, 1963; Newman & Newman, 2003). The biological system of development includes all processes that drive the physiological functioning of an organism, which includes sensory motor response, circulation, the endocrine, nervous, and respiratory systems. These systems respond to internal and external stimuli, which include one’s genetic sequence, the environment, and the specific ways genetics and environment interact to prompt human development. The theories of evolution and natural selection proposed by Charles Darwin (1859/1979) form the foundation of biological theories of human development.

The biological development model views that human maturation consists of mastering enough sensory motor skills to assure survival; this in turn propagates the evolution of the species through reproduction and natural selection (Charlesworth, 1992). The evolution of the human species has occurred over a long historical timeline and within many environmental contexts (Gray, 1996). The ability to be conscious allowed our species to flourish in many different environments; parents pass on the specific genetic sequences that assure human consciousness will arise in a predetermined sequence of events. The idea of a-priori plans existing before the birth of consciousness underlies Jung’s theory of archetypes.

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Archetypes prompt individuation. Evolutionary psychology believes that life consists of a “gradual unfolding of one’s genetic blueprint… that comes with age as opposed to experience and learning” (Wieten, 2000, p. 314). However, environmental and cultural constructs also affect physiological development. A number of studies have shown that culture affects the rate infants learn to adapt to the needed motor skills that help assure survival within the environment (Super, 1976; Hopkins & Westra, 1988). Cultural practices for rearing the young eventually become cultural norms (Gauvain, 2009) and are passed on from one generation to the next to make child rearing a uniform practice within the social context.

Biological development culminates in the ability infants have to psychologically attach to primary caregivers (Hinde, 1991; Holmes, 1993). Attachment theory integrates physiological and psychological aspects of development. The primary attachment developed with ones parents’ affects all future emotional bonds (Grossman, Grossman, & Waters, 2005). John Bowlby (1988) provided information about the earliest psychological and physiological stages of infant development. For Bowlby, infants and parents respond to mutual signals from one another to form initial care giving bonds (Ainsworth, 1985). A child initially establishes attachment with the mother due to her role as the principle caregiver (Lamb, 1987); this relationship also varies in quality and is dependent on the interactions between the mother and infant and affects future attachment relationships (Ainsworth, Blehar & Wall, 1978). While attachment is an instinct, and therefore correlates with Jung’s notion of a-priori symbols driving the development of the psyche, this process wanes from being purely physiological to assume greater psychological importance as development continues (Bowlby, 1973; 1980). Attachment is a genetically inherited trait; as long as both parents are present within the household, a child will enter the triadic love affair of the oedipal conflict explored above.

Silhouette of a young mother lovingly kissing her little child o

The primary attachment between a newborn and parents occurs during the first twelve months of life (Ainsworth, 1973, 1985; Bowlby, 1969; Marvin & Brittner, 1999). However, the mechanisms that assure physiological survival and the ability to attach exist a-priori to birth. Take for instance the instinctual reflexes of rooting and sucking; these reflexes assure the ability to feed successfully at birth, which in turn assures survival. However, these abilities also allow an infant to develop an emotional bond that assures psychological and social growth (Newman & Newman 2003). While physiological attachment behaviors are most apparent when the developing infant is helpless within the environmental context, these behaviors lead to ever-increasing psychological attachments. Grossman and Grossman (1990) found that psychological attachment emerges at 6 to 8 months and peaks at 14 to 18 months. While the physiology of an individual affects the overall process of aging, psychological development also unfolds like an a-priori genetic blueprint.

Evolutionary theory offers a scientific explanation of human development based on the theories proposed by Charles Darwin (1859/1979); it views that psychological development unfolds just as the genetic sequence does, which allows the individual the ability to reach reproductive capacity.  However, reproductive capacity is also dependent on the ability to form appropriate object relationships. The triadic love affair associated with the spring of life forms the basis from which all future loving relationships emerge. Attachment is key to surviving outside of the womb. A human child is dependent on others during their early formative years. Evolutionary development theory utilizes tenets of ethology and attachment theory to support its psychological claims. Evolutionary theorists find answers to development within the specific genetic sequence passed through the DNA of individuals. However, this sequence is also dependent on a-priori designs that unfold as the life form progressively develops. The idea of a-priori designs controlling the unfolding nature of matter that makes development possible also lies at the foundation of Carl Jung’s theoretical notion of the archetype. Intelligent design appears to stand at the foundation from which archetypes and genes unfold upon themselves to assure genetic and psychological development.

Evolutionary development and theories of attachment share a common history with psychoanalysis. Freud was an avid proponent of natural selection and the theories of Darwin. While attachment and psychoanalytic theories of development have a shared and complex relationship, which has been further propagated by the role that symbolic representation holds in the development of initial attachment and its effect on future attachment relationships, new theoretical perspectives in the field of cognitive neuroscience has helped bridge the gap between these two developmental schools (Fonagy & Target, 2007). Attachment theory shares a common lineage to psychoanalysis in that its founder, John Bowlby was a trained psychoanalyst. While attachment theory approaches development from an evolutionary perspective, the ability to attach to caregivers underlies the ability an infant has to survive life outside the womb, which is a necessary component to pursue further developmental milestones.

From an evolutionary perspective, Siddhartha developmental sequence was a success. Siddhartha achieved the right to pass on his specific genetic lineage to his offspring. However, Siddhartha did not pass on his genetic lineage until much later in the story, when the protagonist was well into his middle-aged years.

Siddhartha grew up in a loving environment, but failed to attach to any parent or caregiver. This is most evident in the aloof nature the protagonist assumed towards his parents and others. While Siddhartha biologically survived the dangers of infancy and young childhood, he failed to develop secure attachment with any person other than himself. Siddhartha’s failure at securing psychological attachment carried over into his inability to navigate childhood psychosexual and psychosocial developmental tasks.

References:

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Ainsworth, M. D. S. (1985). Patterns of infant-mother attachment: Antecedents and effects on development. Bulletin of New York Academy of Medicine, 61,771-791.

Ainsworth, M. D. S. (1985). Patterns of infant-mother attachment: Antecedents and effects on development. Bulletin of New York Academy of Medicine, 61,771-791.

Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M. C., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation.Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

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