Last time in this space I told Mandy’s Story about the depressed 8-month old
who transformed over the course of one week of simple everyday interactions.
The story illustrates the scientific work of Bowlby and Robertson on the stages
children move through when separated from their mothers due to hospitalization.
Mandy was well beyond the first stage in a child’s response to separation: Protest.
This stage is marked by wailing and sobbing in confusion, fear, grief at being
She was also beyond Stage 2: Despair. The child becomes more hopeless and
apathetic. She withdraws. Like Mandy. This going quiet is not settling in.
It is giving up and shutting down.
Mandy was well into Stage 3: Detachment (or Denial). She had suppressed all
emotion, including - maybe especially, feelings for her mother. She hardly
noticed when her mother left. She was so withdrawn that she sought no
mothering at all. Now, i would recognize that as a sign of major psychological trauma.
There are many lessons in Mandy’s story. More on that next time. s
For a history of attachment theory and the stages of separation, plus a good
bibliography, see Van Der Horst, FCP & Van Der Veer, R. (2009). Separation and Divergence:
The untold story of James Robertson’s and John Bowlby’s Theoretical Dispute on Mother-Child
Separation. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 45(3), 236–252. Published
online in Wiley Interscience (www.interscience.wiley.com). DOI 10.1002/jhbs.20380 © 2009
Wiley Periodicals, Inc.