Anaclitic Disorder

Original text - ''Distrubo Anaclitico'' - A study by Barbara Tullio

Translation by Carlo Laertini and Judith Kathleen McArter in collaboration with Arianna Simoncini - Thanks

Anaclitic Disorder or '' Anaclitic Depression ''is better defined as that disorder caused by the lack of a mother’s attachment care. It is that unique state of mind that first makes you restless, then crestfallen and in the end, desperate.

This succession of emotional negativity leads to a state of gloom totally incapable of contrasting the ensuing deep deperishment. This state is particularly common in children deprived of the live presence of a nurturing mother or of another person that might have had to substitute her.
It is the very same state that befalls dogs when their mother’s intimacy or that of a human surrogate went missing and continues to be missing. It must be noted that while constituting a valid substitute, a different-species (human) surrogate mother will cause gaps in some important behavioural developments.

This discomfort, this precursor of social anxieties, takes hold in the first few months of life. For this very reason, it is appropriate to call it a “disorder” and not an anxiety state.
A “disorder” does not require “maturity” which is necessary for a state of anxiety to exist. Unfortunately, one often finds that anxiety is mistakenly applied to infants and creatures who are incapable of it because of their early stage of conceptual evolution.

From the book '' Diary: Similarities between Dogs and Wolves - Enlightening Reflections '',
from the chapter devoted the Mind, part of a writing by Dr. Sara Signorino Gelo, (who I still thank for supporting the book with some of her articles). On Pg. 214, liberally translated here, we read: “…..depression is a clinical condition defined as a low-mood level where, in broad terms, "mood" is meant as a kind of perceptive grid by which we assign a meaning toreality”.
I also remember that according to evolutionary thinking, such decreased mood level is intended as an inviting signal for group to save energy during a transient phase (adaptive reaction process). In other words, what we will have here is an adaptive reaction to a change which can allow one to successfully overcome that change.

If, however, the mood does not improve or should even get worse, causing the individual to fall in a state of severe depression; then, we may be facing an adaptation failure with a triggering of a ill-adapted-response. At this point the individual can get to manifest social withdrawal, loss of functionality i.e., loss of interest in food, work, friends etc., as well as be headed for more grave elements such as somatization disorder, sleep disorder (insomnia or hypersomnia) etc. ... ''

Although depression is a complex condition that cannot be assigned to children and dogs, still in a specific case we can call it '' Anaclitic Disorder '' ('' Anaclitic Depression '') as a real evidence because it has its roots in the neonatal age. Therefore, we are not talking about a developed depression as psycho-pathology, but as a transitional state which, if allowed to continue over time, can reach a point of no return.

This condition originates from a deprivation of affectionate care, a lack of nurturing assistance as defined in the language of loving parental care. It is that caring and bond between mother and child that physically occurs as soon as a creature is born.

The lack of caresses, of a sense of belonging,of a mingling of body heat and smells, brings “all those creatures that (due to evolution) live in a social family” to experience behavioural imbalances, recognized in humans as the anaclitic depression stage.
René Spitz is an Austrian-born psychoanalyst who was the first to demonstrate the importance of a mother’s care to her child. His deductions stemmed from observing orphaned children who, while being in institutions (orphanages) that provided basic necessities like food, clothing and protection, were unfortunately deprived of '' that magic touch '' which can only exist between a mother and her child.
Anaclitic depression points out the child who needs to lean on someone, who needs to cradle himself into the reassuring and affectionate presence of a loving mother.

Such a condition, as a whole, encompasses the abandonment syndrome, identified by the lack of family care that goes beyond a “mechanical nursing care'' type-of-behaviour. This condition leads the little ones who suffer from it, to eventually fall into a psychological death.
The lack of mom’s warm and soft touch or of anyone else’s willing to dedicate himself to the child, eventually decrees in the latter a behavioural imbalance that leads to passive or aggressive attitudes and to grave social problems (an incapacity to accept the group and its communal life and which can lead to open aversion against others).
The situation worsens when the child suffers a series of abandonments from people who take care of him but do not keep their commitment to his welfare (which is the prerogative of an orphaned child). These repeated separation selicit to him the confirmation of an affective instability, which is a very dangerous thing for a living being who is looking for a sense of belonging; in fact, in this situation the child’s mood instability will increase towards a progressive unbalanced regression of psycoaffective evolution.
Unfortunately, this also happens in families where there is no awareness of the adequatecare required and where, therefore, '' attachment '' is not given the correct importance.

Behaviours discovered by René Spitz’sobservation:

- First month: complaints and appeals;
- Second month: crying and weight loss;
- Third month: rejection of physical contact, insomnia, delayed motor development, lacklustre communications, weight loss;
- After the third month (and growing exponentially): cessation of crying, lethargy.
The baby is subject to retardation which later leads to dejection due to lack of stimuli.

This problem was more easily observed where assistance is often scarce: in orphanages, as we talk about children and in dog-pounds/shelters with regard to dogs. It is valid to point out that for dogs as well as for children, this happens even in families where there is no awareness of proper-care and therefore where '' attachment '' is not given its correct importance.
- In orphanages, as in dog-pounds and kennels shelters, there are many '' orphans ''; we find many puppies that are brought in as new-borns, or slightly older and there are also adults whose “owners'' for a number of reasons no longer want them. The lack of certainty on belonging to a house and a family, the lack of daily affectionate care such as caresses, cleaning of hair, eyes and ears, playing and walking together, the preparation of food and a secluded place to rest, all this create difficulties in those unfortunate individuals that can lead to the same consequences as those noted in children.

- People who collect puppies(as well as adults and elderly dogs) are to blame too, as they assist them for a short time and then entrust them onto other people in a crescendo of handing-over until the poor things land at their final home. Usually this final home is a dog-pound/shelter and rarely a private person. But even if it were to be a private person, by then their life/consciousness wouldbe marked by loneliness and uncertainty and by the awareness that they can rely only on themselves and that (if they had been humans) - socialism is nothing but a political movement!
Socialism - that complex of ideas, thoughts, concepts, doctrines and political orientations who desire an economic, social and juridical equality for all citizens.
Socialism is defined as '' economic and juridical model '' that embodies the true meaning of '' social '', and that '' people come first!''

Every time they are pawned oversome of these dogs still find the strength to adapt but many others do not. The sad aspect of this being that, in addition to the severe discomfort of the creature, what stands out is the hypocrisy of those people who, acting in the name of “Animal Lovers”, show the flip side of the “do-goodders’” coin, which is nothing more than a selfish form of self-aggrandizing while blaming everybody else.

The succession of negative events with the associated worsening separations in various forms, destabilize the already fragile psyche of individuals. The resulting behaviour is
due to these endured troubled-life experiences, “gifted onto them by people claiming to be these helpless creatures’ loving saviours”.

It is possible for dogs and children to escape from this discomforting situation only if they are provided long-term and enduring support.
A gradual increase in the death rate was noted whenever the stunted development was too far advanced and too late to provide the needed support.

Harry, F. & Harlow, H.F. "The Nature of Love",
first published in American Psychologist, 1958, 13, 673-685.

Harlow carried out a now famous experiment on two infant monkeys: the little monkeys were separated from their mother and locked in a cage with two maternal-looking contraptions. One contraption was made of warm and soft plush material which did not provide any kind of food subsistence like milk; the other mother-looking contraption did provide milk but was made of bare chicken-wireand felt cold to the touch. Depending on the situation they experienced, the little monkeys favoured one or the other maternal substitute: the plush-one when they felt threatened and in need of comfort; the metal-one to satisfy their nutritional needs.
This proved that physical contact is a primary need equally important but independent from that of food. Both of these primary needs are important and neither one can be dismissed.

Often, we hear people talking about “anxieties” when children or dogs are left behind at school by parents or at home by their owners. They show distresses similar to those described by René Spitz (restlessness, a sense of loss, destabilization, etc.). However, these distresses don’t originate from the absence of parents, rather from not being used to it; as such it isa form of insecurity due to a shortage in education and its associated experience deficit.

On the other hand, the '' separation disorder” or ”abandonment syndrome” is solely due to lack of maternal care and it is not experienced from momentary separation. Indeed, if the child and the dog had received proper parental care, they would know deep inside that '' She '' will come back to them!

I believe it is wrong to rate distressat a higher level than it deserves, solely because the greater maturity of the persons making the observation does not allow them to view things at a less complex conceptual level than their own.

To speak about the following social anxieties and hardships is a way to identify certain types of behaviour that however deviate a lot from real emotional flexibility.

Social anxieties - Children and Dogs:
Separation anxiety
Performance anxiety
Relational anxiety

Social hardships-
Lack of expressivity

Specifically, with regard to Anaclitic Disorder, I would like to give the following example to facilitate the understanding of the real recognition of its originating cause–it is crucial to identify the correct cause of the hardship; otherwise the recovery work will never come to fruition. Healing is possible!

Example - '' Billy, a little dog three-year-old, had a serene life until something changed, and he began to see his human companion as a stranger and even as an hostile character!
Not hostile in the sense of being mean, but an hostility due to a lack of consideration, a lack of caring; he had turned into a stranger who no longer spoke his language''

A very busy owner who returns home in the evening tired from work and perhaps loaded with worries might have little desire to play and cuddle with his dog in the manner and time required to make him feel '' important '', to make him feel an intimate companion and not a roommate, to bestow those special attentions that strengthen relationships.
Lost in his own thoughts, the owner satisfies a request from the little dog with some fleeting little caress, a good tasty soup and a nice little toy; first one thing, then the other or perhaps all at the same time, but without much thought; so that he can be free again to slip into his own thoughts. These he will then abandon momentarily to accompany the dog out to the park where the little pooch will find many other dogs who '' perhaps '',just like him, live a life of being simply guests to the humans.

Is not necessary to be tired to behave like that, because there are people who commonly behave this way with their dogs, following the 'long standing belief'' that the dog should not be given particular importance and that once you have fed him, given him some toys and enabledhim to meet friends at the park, he is happy!

This kind-of-thinking is also valid for many humans-only families ... attitudes typical of people who substitute feelings with materiality, toys with computers, kisses with sweets and sweet-promises of the next cornucopia of materiality on the way.

It would be OK if it were a one-off occurrence but it is a problem when this behaviour becomes a habit.
People forget their dogs.
Parents forget their children.

Going back to Billy:
'' feeling a little 'guilty, the owner got another dog to keep Billy company. Billy was very happy and the success of his decision led the owner to take even more time off the dogs. Billy was not all that bothered by the whole thing, but the other dog (Brenda) was. It was a puppy who came from a family, not from a breeder; and in that family, she had lived with Mom until the day she was taken away to keep company to Billy. The void she felt for her same species company was filled by Billy but not the void she felt from missing the people she had left. This void was not filled because the escalation of the progressive detachment of the new owner became such that, practically, the dogs only saw him in the morning when he woke and in the evening when he returned; he greeted them, fed them and let them be alone in the living room; this was the extent of his behaviour from the moment that he saw that the new puppy was well enough with Billy and that Billy was enough of a Father to her!
Even if the man was not much more of a fleeting presence, even the lack of that bit of presence, began to destabilize Brenda who began to lose weight although she always ate with appetite everything that was proffered in her bowl; and then some behavioural peculiarities became more evident: more active movements but restless in their form, more submissive and more sensitive to changes - playing with objects around the house, she would often destroy them; upon the return of the owner she would be so excited that it was almost impossible to keep her still; during her walks she would be pulling all over the place as if chasing who knows what or whom.

Before thinking of a psychological problem, she was put through all sort of diagnostic tests to eliminate the possibility she had some disease.
While it was ascertained that the dog was healthy, she soon became incredibly emaciated. When in alert situations her mood was definitely agitated and when feeling threatened, she became more secluded than necessary.
Her diet was changed and for a while this foresight helped. It was only the bestowed attention by the owner (having realized his culpability) that made it possible for her to make it through the critical phase of '' almost '' no return. Little by little she slowly came out of that phase which was taking her to a psychological death for sure and probably, to the physical one as well. That is because mental illnesses often cause physical ailments that become pathological conditions.''

All of this happens to many dogs housed in shelters, to many others who are not living in a cooperative enterprisewithin the human family they belong to, and also to many who have not known a Mother, and to many who have been abandoned and / or moved from one family to another as if they were a billiard ball in search of a side pocket.

In our very own little shelter of lost souls (we run a non-profit dog shelter), we could mention Evy and Taron, Don Chuck, Carletto, Uncle Albert, Deb, Charlie, Rey and sadly, many others, that to rehabilitate them (and some only partially so) took us about two years ... and even then, their recovery is not free from sad shadows of a past full of deficiencies!

In the canine world that we created, the habit is to separate puppies from their Mom at a very early age so that their attachment is shifted onto people instead. This causes an unbalanced and deficient development in many respects, because even if a person can properly care for the puppies, still such a person will never be able to replace the support that only an individual of the same species can provide; the subtleties that elude man do not escape a surrogate mother of the same species. Also, it is wrong to make them live with man in a frugal way because they will not sufficiently get used to habits different from those of their own species. To live with man in a frugal way means that it is not sufficient to provide the dog with a bed, food, water, teaching it to relieve himself outside and allow him to run around a bit here and there, as this not his ideal life in a family group (pack). In a pack, there is no action of a single member that is not intimately connected to another member and all actions are emotionally involved,demonstrating unity within the family group. These actions are not limited to work and survival but they are also caring and teaching behaviours; all of which provide a strong bond and deep sense of belonging to the family unit.

In our world, these imbalances (studied by Spitz)do happen, willing or forced, in situations of abandonment and in those of improper care.

Anaclitic Depression, that disorder caused by the lack of a mother’s attachment care, is that mental illness caused by the absence of parental care and the effects that it produces, have nothing to do with separation anxiety. The latter is strictly a human experience manifested from consciously real or perceived loss, while anaclitic depression is due to a “general deprivation '' of maternal care and not from a temporary maternal separation!
Let us reflect well on the place where the original observations were made during the experiment, with the two little monkeys, and on those dog-pound pictures that put black on white in dramatic situations and let us not forget those dogs belonging to private people that having no educational knowledge, often are supported by “professionals” who unfortunately do not make a distinction between human and canine psychology

Bach flowers, pheromone essences and milk extracts will never replace a Mother’s caress.

From the book: A Te - Educazione Naturale - Progetto Scuola Ambiente di Barbara Tullio e Paolo Caldora

Interesting to read "In a Caress"


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