The Renunciation of Love: Dismissive
Attachment and its Treatment
Mary E. Connors, PhD, ABPP
Illinois School of Professional Psychology, Chicago
The developmental insights of attachment theory as applied to children and adults
suggest that insecure attachment correlates with relational difficulties over the course
of time. Specifically, individuals with an avoidant attachment style who have been
rebuffed by caregivers in childhood will be defensively constricted and unable to love
in adulthood. These patients present particular challenges in treatment because they
have become organized around avoidance of affect and relationship. Theories of
treatment and technique that seem related to the successful resolution of such
difficulties are discussed. Curative factors include a focus on defenses against
relational longings, interpretation of and provision for certain selfobject needs, and a
relatively high level of therapist self-disclosure. It is suggested that an integration of
the findings of attachment research with relational theories that focus on treatment
has potential to advance psychoanalytic thinking.
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice
—T.S.Eliot (1963, p. 85)
The renunciation of love is a theme that has been explored by creative artists in
some exceptionally compelling works. T. S. Eliot’s Ash-Wednesday, quoted above,
depicts the sterility of a life in which desire, striving, and wishes for (divine) love
Requests for reprints should be sent to Mary E. Connors, 55 East Washington Street, Suite 2007,
Chicago, IL 60602.
are repudiated. In Wagner’s Das Rhinegold, Albench is teased, tantalized, and
finally rejected by the Rhinemaidens. He then is presented with an opportunity to
steal the treasured Rhinegold, but is told that only an individual who forswears love
may secure these riches. Enraged and humiliated after being dallied with by the
Rhinemaidens, Alberich willingly renounces human love and seizes the gold
instead, setting in motion the events that will ultimately lead to the twilight of the
This article explores the psychology of individuals wh