Chapter 1
Bowlby’s father was a surgeon. He directed John to medical
school. Bowlby was an excellent student and won prizes for out-
standing intellectual achievement. He began his career at Trinity
College, Cambridge. He took time after college to volunteer for
children with serious emotional and behavioral challenges. From
the beginning, Bowlby was interested in the connections between
family life and children’s mental health and behavior. Though this
connection is commonplace to the study of child growth and devel-
opment today, it was uncommon at the time.

A friend urged Bowlby to change the direction of his study from
medicine to psychology. While still in medical school, he enrolled in
the Institute for Psychoanalysis. Though qualified in both medicine
and psychoanalysis, Bowlby’s sustained interest was in the mental
and emotional health of children. From his earliest studies, Bowlby
was convinced that deviant or troubled behaviors in late childhood
and adolescence had their origins in the family system. He believed
the first relationships in infancy set the tone for all later love rela-
tionships. He believed that disruption to these first relationships or
poor quality in these relationships accounted for trauma and trou-
bling behaviors in adolescence and adult life.

His ideas were not well received in the psychoanalytic com-
munity. The prevailing thought at the time was that one needed
to look inside the mind at dreams and fantasies to determine the
source of neuroses or deviant behaviors. The analysis of troubled
individuals was the foundation of psychoanalytic studies. Bowlby
believed that observation would yield more information about an
individual’s reality. He believed the troubled youth he worked with
experienced problems because of external causes rooted in their
homes and in the earliest experiences that had occurred there or,
conversely, in the situations that ideally should have occurred there
but did not.

Bowlby’s first professional papers presented the idea that two
environmental factors early in life can introduce lifetime challenges
for individuals. The first of these, which received much negative
attention in his early career, is that separation from or the death of
a mother results in lifelong struggles for the individual. The second,
which today seems like an ordinary idea, is that the emotional atti-
tude of a parent toward a child has life-shaping effects.