Attachment theory, psychoanalysis, personality development, and psychopathology

Sidney J. Blatt, Kenneth N. Levy

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

128 Scopus citations


Blatt and Levy place attachment theory and research in a broad theoretical matrix by considering the relationship of attachment patterns to personality development and to different types of psychopathology in adults. Thus Blatt and Levy construct conceptual bridges between the two configurations of personality development and psychopathology that Blatt and colleagues have developed over the past quarter century (e.g., Behrends and Blatt, 1985; Blatt, 1974, 1995; Blatt and Behrends, 1987; Blatt and Blass, 1990, 1996; Blatt and Shichman, 1983) and attachment theory and research. Blatt and Levy identify a polarity that is central to attachment theory and research, the polarity of attachment and separation, and they note that this polarity has also been central in much of classic psychoanalytic theory (e.g., Freud, 1930; Loewald, 1962). This polarity is expressed in attachment theory and research in the differences between avoidant and anxious-preoccupied insecure attachment patterns as well in the distinction between two types of disorganized attachment, helpless-withdrawn and negative intrusive, identified by Lyons-Ruth (1999,2001). This polarity of attachment and separation, or relatedness and self-definition is also fundamental to personality development that occurs in the hierarchical dialectic transaction of two basic developmental lines - interpersonal relatedness and self-definition (Blatt and Blass, 1990, 1996). This polarity is also inherent in the conception of two fundamental configurations of psychopathology - anaclitic psychopathology, the dependent (or infantile) and hysterical personality disorders - that are preoccupied with issues of interpersonal relatedness, and introjective psychopathology, the paranoid, obsessive-compulsive and depressive personality disorders, in which issues of self-definition and self-worth are dominant (Blatt, 1974, 1995; Blatt and Shichman, 1983). Thus, the identification of this fundamental polarity provides the basis for establishing links between attachment patterns, personality development, and adult psychopathology. Blatt and Levy also attempt to integrate psychoanalytic concepts of the representational world (e.g., Sandler and Rosenblatt, 1965) - the development of concepts of self and significant others - with the internal working models (IWMs) of attachment relationships. This integration enabled Blatt and Levy to bring a fuller developmental perspective to the IWMs of attachment theory and to note that, based on differences in the content and structural organization of the IWMs or mental representation of self and significant others, several developmental levels can be identified in both avoidant and anxious preoccupied attachment. These developmental levels within each attachment style also identifies less and more adaptive forms of both types of insecure attachment. Thus, the integration of the psycho-analytic concepts of mental representation with concepts of the IWM of attachment theory and research enables Blatt and Levy to create a fuller developmental perspective in the study of insecure attachment patterns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)102-150
Number of pages49
JournalPsychoanalytic Inquiry
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Psychology


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