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I reproduce a dialogue between a Bowlby-L subscriber and myself on the cognitive disarray mourning brings about.


I have just discovered the great mind of John Bowlby, and want to commend you for your list and page.

This last weekend I had a 3-hour seminar in my living room for several friends who lost parents at an early age. I outlined the Bowbly theory of attachment, its purpose, and the process of mourning as a cognitive one. It seems to have been very useful.


Well, at long last somebody realizes Bowlby's approach is different, intelligent, and comprehensive. I congratulate you on your grasping the cognitive disorder which mourning entails. As Bowlby says, the bereaved doesn't need consolation, condolences, encouragement, solace or support; he needs INFORMATION.

I am very pleased to hear you write your explaining the process of mourning seems to have been helpful. Just imagine how helpful it could be if it were applied in psychotherapy, in group psychotherapy, in counselling, and, most especially if more people got to know it.

I find it particularly difficult to disseminate Bowlby's Theory of Attachment because of the distortion some of his crucial points have undergone for the last 10-15 years under the prevalent umbrella of the so-called "Modern Consensus", which, if you visited my WWW page, you must have heard of.


I am a teacher of writing in various Boston colleges, and I teach other subjects, but have a strong background in science and psychology and psychoanalytic matters.

My mother died when I was eight, and I had one of the classic states of confusion which is chronic mourning. But I didn't know it as a state of confusion, I just oscillated between two mental states ("I know she's dead" vs "she's around here somehwere if I just keep searching.")

In his book "Loss" Bowbly doesn't describe what therapy would be like but I was able to see what his theory implied would be useful. I called together some friends who had lost parents at an early age, and just gambled that an explanation of attachment behavior, separation behavior etc. would be useful, especially if each man talked about his own situation, and his own mode of dealing with the inadequate help he got in the period after the parental death. I made some visual aids--posters, actually--basically to get the ideas across.

It is therapeutic, in a small way, just to know that one's state of "chronic mourning" or "disorganization" itself is part of related to the behavior of primates in the relieves somewhat the bubble of isolation which the chronic griever is stuck in.

I do not know anything about what you call the Modern Consensus on Bowbly, but am disappointed, since the man's writing is so abundantely clear and coherent. Oh well--there is no intellectual achievement so exalted that it cannot be sullied, confused or eroded by the third-rate minds coming after.


As a matter of fact, the crucial point Bowlby makes entails the notion that the bereaved doesn't know his life has radically changed after his attachment figure's loss. (The psychotherapist's work must focus on showing this issue to his patient).

He will attempt again and again to deal with everyday situations as if his world worked the same as usual, when, in actual fact, everything is changed, new, and unknown.

That's why the mourning process develops healthfully when the bereaved painfully learns that his life hinged round his attachment figure, and that what made sense with her, doesn't make sense any more.

That accounts for your apparent contradiction: "I know she's dead" vs "she's around here somewhere if I just keep searching", when you lost your mother at eight. You knew she was dead, that was why you were looking for her. How else could you cope with life thereafter?


Dr Juan Carlos Garelli
Attachment Research Center
Department of Early Development
Universidad de Buenos Aires