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Journey into Attachment: Bowlby Meets Freud's Anna


While Freud’s psychoanalysis examined the unconscious and the dynamics of the mind, Bowlby’s attachment theory offers a compelling view on the bonds that shape us from infancy. 

In this blog I bring these two towering figures together in a unique exploration of erotic transference. Join me as John Bowlby steps into Freud’s office to meet Anna, a client navigating the stormy seas of erotic feelings towards her therapist. Through Bowlby’s lens, I unravel the roots of Anna’s transference and discover how attachment theory can illuminate her path to healing.

A Meeting of Minds

Freud’s Viennese office, adorned with antiquities and the soft light of oil lamps, provides the backdrop for an extraordinary meeting. John Bowlby, a generation younger, enters with a demeanour marked by warmth and curiosity. He is eager to observe and understand Freud’s work through the prism of his own theories on attachment.

Anna, Freud’s patient, has been struggling with intense romantic feelings towards him. Freud, recognising this as erotic transference, has been guiding her through her emotions. As Bowlby joins them, he brings a fresh perspective to the table—one that roots these complex feelings in early childhood attachments and experiences.

The Roots of Attachment

Bowlby begins by explaining the fundamentals of his theory to Anna. Attachment theory posits that our earliest relationships with our caregivers form the blueprint for all subsequent emotional bonds. On a simplistic level, these attachments can be secure, anxious, or avoidant, and they significantly influence how we connect with others throughout our lives.

Anna’s story unfolds with poignant clarity. Her childhood was marked by a distant father and an overprotective mother. Bowlby sees in Anna’s current feelings towards Freud a reflection of her early attachment patterns. The longing she experiences is not merely about Freud but is deeply rooted in her unmet needs for security and affection from her father.

Bowlby’s insights shed new light on Anna’s transference. Her erotic feelings towards Freud are a re-enactment of her need for the love and attention she craved as a child. Freud, in his role as a therapist, has become the embodiment of those unresolved desires.

Understanding Erotic Transference Through Attachment

As Freud and Bowlby discuss Anna’s case, they find common ground in the understanding that transference is a manifestation of the past in the present - a key tenet of psychodynamic thinking. For Freud, it is a window into the unconscious; for Bowlby, it is a re-enactment of early attachment dynamics.

Bowlby suggests that Anna’s erotic transference can be viewed through the lens of her attachment style. Her longing for Freud mirrors the anxious attachment she developed with her father. The emotional intensity she feels is not about Freud per se but about her deep-seated need for approval and affection from a paternal figure.

Freud acknowledges that Bowlby’s perspective enriches their understanding of Anna’s feelings. By recognising the link between her early attachments and her current emotions, they can better navigate the therapeutic process.

Healing Through Insight

With Bowlby’s guidance, Anna begins to explore her past attachments more deeply. She reflects on her relationship with her father, realising how his emotional unavailability left her yearning for validation and love. In therapy, these unresolved needs have surfaced as intense feelings towards Freud.

Freud and Bowlby help Anna see that her feelings, while directed at Freud, are a form of repetition of her childhood experiences. This realisation is both liberating and challenging. It allows her to understand the origins of her emotions but also requires her to confront the pain of unmet childhood needs and this is not easy.

Bowlby emphasises the importance of forming new, healthier attachments. Through therapy, Anna can begin to develop a secure base within herself, no longer dependent on others to fulfil her emotional needs. This process of internalising a sense of security and self-worth is crucial for her healing.

Integrating Perspectives

The collaboration between Freud and Bowlby offers a holistic approach to Anna’s journey. Freud’s focus on the unconscious and Bowlby’s insights into attachment create a richer, more nuanced understanding of her experiences.

Freud continues to provide a space for Anna to explore her feelings, while Bowlby encourages her to build a secure internal world. Together, they help Anna to see her erotic transference not as a mere obstacle but as a valuable key to unlocking her past and reshaping her future.

The Power of Combined Insight

As Anna progresses in her therapy, she begins to untangle the web of her past attachments and their impact on her present. Freud’s exploration of the unconscious and Bowlby’s focus on early bonds offer complementary paths to understanding and healing.

This journey underscores the interconnectedness of the past and present, and the ways in which early attachments shape adult relationships and emotions. Through the combined insights of Freud and Bowlby, Anna learns to navigate her feelings with greater clarity and compassion.

In the end, Anna’s story is a testament to the enduring power of psychological exploration and the healing potential of understanding our deepest connections. As she moves forward, she carries with her the knowledge that her journey is not just about uncovering the past but also about forging a future grounded in secure, healthy relationships.

Author's Note:

This blog is a creative exploration of how the insights of Freud and Bowlby can converge to provide a deeper understanding of complex psychological phenomena like erotic transference. Their legacies continue to influence the field of psychotherapy, offering valuable tools for unravelling the mysteries of the human mind.

If you like the idea of reading more about attachment theory, here are a few excellent resources you might like...


Siegel, D. J. (2012). "The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are." Guilford Press.

Siegel integrates findings from neuroscience with attachment theory to explain how relationships influence brain development and mental health.

Cassidy, J., & Shaver, P. R. (Eds.). (2016). "Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications" (3rd ed.). Guilford Press.

This handbook is a seminal text that covers a wide range of topics in attachment theory, including recent research findings and clinical applications.

Fonagy, P., & Campbell, C. (2017). "Attachment Theory and Psychoanalysis." Other Press.

Fonagy, a leading figure in attachment theory, examines the intersections of attachment theory and psychoanalytic practice.


Sroufe, L. A. (2005). "Attachment and development: A prospective, longitudinal study from birth to adulthood." Attachment & Human Development, 7(4), 349-367.

Sroufe provides insights from a longitudinal study that explores how early attachment relationships impact development over the lifespan.

Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2012). "An attachment perspective on psychopathology." World Psychiatry, 11(1), 11-15.

This article discusses how attachment theory can inform our understanding of various forms of psychopathology.

Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J., & van IJzendoorn, M. H. (2009). "The first 10,000 Adult Attachment Interviews: Distributions of adult attachment representations in clinical and non-clinical groups." Attachment & Human Development, 11(3), 223-263.

The authors review findings from thousands of Adult Attachment Interviews, highlighting patterns and differences in attachment representations.

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