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Mahon, E. (1984). Discussion of “Pathological Attachments and their Relationship to Affective Disorders in Adult Life”. Am. J. Psychoanal., 44(1):51-57.

(1984). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 44(1):51-57

Discussion of “Pathological Attachments and their Relationship to Affective Disorders in Adult Life” Related Papers

Eugene Mahon, M.D.

The term attachment comes from an Old English word that means “to nail together.” (One senses that all words, which seem so abstract at first, could be reduced to very concrete origins if we could only trace their pedigree.) Attachment has the root tache in it, which is similar to tack, which means “a small nail,” and also similar to tag, which according to Webster's is “the name of a children's game in which one player called ‘it’ chases the others with the object of touching or tagging one of them and making him ‘it’ in turn.” I suppose one could call such activity an attachment game. Let us consider this word attachment and the metaphor that etymology allows us to play with. The poetic concept of nails hidden in the word attachment does not of course free us from the responsibility of explaining the riddle of motivation-what drives the nails so to speak, a question that leads theologically to prime movers, philosophically to ghosts in the machine, and psychoanalytically to instinct theory.

For a psychoanalyst, the nails of attachment are multidetermined engrams of experience in which heredity, time, instinct, and developing mental structures coalesce to create identity, confidence, love, and conflict in a delicately human but nonetheless adaptive balance. This having been said to appease the psychoanalytiphilic ghosts of our collective superegos, let us return to the poetic way of looking at it.

Let us consider “nails.” How does the womb's castoff, which has been “nailed” so to speak to the placenta for nine months, forge the new nails that will rivet it to its extraplacental caretakers, branding the extraplacental traveler with a unique human imprint for ever after. The process by which E.P. nails down an identity for himself in the outer space beyond the womb is not automatic and can easily go astray, as Dr.

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