As a result of interviewing the mothers of the children in the study, Main found a strong correlation between how a mother describes her relationships with her parents during her childhood and the pattern of attachment her child now has with her. Whereas the mother of a secure infant is able to talk freely and with feeling about her childhood, the mother of an insecure infant is not.
In this part of the study an interviewer asks the mother for a description of her early relationships and attachment-related events and for her sense of the way these relationships and events affected her personality. In considering results, as much or more attention is paid to the way a mother tells her story and deals with probing questions about it as to the historical material she describes.
At the simplest level, it was found that a mother of a secure infant is likely to report having had a reasonably happy childhood and to show herself able to talk about it readily and in detail, giving due place to such unhappy events as may have occurred as well as to the happy ones.
By contrast, a mother of an insecure infant is likely to respond to the enquiry in one of two different ways. One, shown by mothers of anxious resistant children, is to describe a difficult unhappy relationship with her own mother about which she is still clearly disturbed and in which she is still entangled mentally, and, should her mother be still alive, it is evident that she is entangled with her in reality as well. The other, shown by mothers of anxious avoidant children, is to claim in a generalized matter-of-fact way that she had a happy childhood, but not only is she unable to give any supporting detail but may refer to episodes pointing in an opposite direction. Frequently such a mother will insist that she can remember nothing about her childhood nor how she was treated. Thus the strong impression of clinicians, that a mother who had a happy childhood is likely to have a child who shows a secure attachment to her, and that an unhappy childhood, more or less cloaked by an inability to recall, makes for difficulties, is clearly supported.
Nevertheless a second finding, no less interesting and one of especial relevance here, arises from a study of the exceptions to the rule. These are the mothers who describe having had a very unhappy childhood but who nonetheless have children showing secure attachment to them. A characteristic of each of these mothers, which distinguishes them from mothers of insecure infants, is that despite describing much rejection and unhappiness during childhood, and perhaps tearful whilst doing so, each is able to tell her story in a fluent and coherent way, in which such positive aspects of her experiences as there were are given a due place and appear to have been integrated with all the negative ones. In their capacity for balance they resemble the other mothers of secure infants. It seemed to the interviewers and those assessing the transcripts that these exceptional mothers had thought much about their unhappy earlier experiences and how it had affected them in the long term, and also about why their parents might have treated them as they had. In fact, they seemed to have come to terms with their experience.
By contrast, the mothers of children whose pattern of attachment to them was insecure and who also described an unhappy childhood did so with neither fluency nor coherence: contradictions abounded and went unnoticed. Moreover, it was a mother who claimed an inability to recall her childhood and who did so both repeatedly and strongly who was a mother whose child was insecure in his relation to her. In further examination of the data it has been found that all these correlations also hold true for fathers.
In light of these findings Main and her colleagues conclude that free access to, and the coherent organization of information relevant to attachment play a determining role in the development of a secure personality in adult life. For someone who had a happy childhood no obstacles are likely to prevent free access to both the emotional and the cognitive aspects of such information. For someone who suffered much unhappiness or whose parents forbade him or her to notice or to remember adverse events, access is painful and difficult, and without help may indeed be impossible. Nevertheless, however she may accomplish it, when a woman manages either to retain or to regain access to such unhappy memories and reprocess them in such a way that she can come to terms with them, she is found to be no less able to respond to her child's attachment behaviour so that he develops a secure attachment to her than a woman whose childhood was a happy one. This is a finding to give great encouragement to the many therapists who for long have sought to help mothers in just this kind of way.
A Secure Base: Parent-Child Attachment and Healthy Human Development by John Bowlby
Ahhh! the implications...