Mother-daughter relationships have been the subject of study in various strands of psychology, from psychoanalysis to attachment theory. These theories argue that our early attachment relationships, particularly with our maternal figures, play a fundamental role in the formation of our psyche.

In this context, I would like to share a review of «Fierce Attachments», an autobiographical novel that brings a gendered perspective to the depiction of a woman’s attachments from childhood to maturity.

About the author and her book “Fierce Attachments”

Literature is an ideal medium to bring us closer to psychology. It is wonderful the way we can learn from someone who gives us access, through writing, to the thoughts and feelings tied to her personal history. Writer Vivian Gornick’s memoir is a clear example of this.

In Fierce Attachments, the author conveys her experiences, relationships and aspirations in an honest and passionate way. From a psychological point of view, she offers us a highly introspective discourse about her relationship with her mother from her earliest memories to her last ones.

The novel recounts the conversations she has with her mother while walking around Manhattan, when she is already in her forty’s and her mother in her seventy’s. In these conversations, there’s an evident tension. Reproaches and criticisms coexist with words of understanding and complicity. In the course of the book, the author interweaves the powerful ambivalence of this relationship with the difficulties she experiences in shaping her adult relationships and in the search for her own identity.

Attachment and Dependency

Vivian Gornick’s personal story revolves around the themes of attachment and dependency. The novel is devoted to exploring the complex dynamic between mother and daughter, which oscillates between emotional closeness and conflict.

At the beginning of the book, Gornick refers to her relationship with her mother: «We are trapped in a tight channel of familiarity, intense and binding: for years there is a seasonal exhaustion between us. Then the anger flares up again, hot and clear…». Love and hate are clearly intermingled. It is a bond both fierce and ambivalent.

Gornick’s mother is depicted as a dominant emotional dependent figure, clinging to her husband’s love as the only source of satisfaction and clinging to suffering when he dies. She describes her mother at the beginning of the book as «warm and sarcastic, hysterical and generous, ironic and judgmental, and, occasionally, what she thought of as affectionate: that rough, intimidating style she assumed when she was overcome with the tenderness she feared most”. The author, depicts herself as a teenager who does not find a safe and healthy bond at home.

The novel shows how the author carries over these childhood deficiencies and discomforts into her adult attachments. The detailed description of the ups and downs of her love life is not meant to seduce or entertain, but rather, serves as a poignant illustration of her inability to escape her mother’s influence. In essence, Gornick tells of the psychological tendency to look for familiar patterns in our later relationships as a way of trying to heal emotional wounds and overcome the formative experiences that have marked us from an early age.

The search for identity

Another conflict raised in the novel has to do with the construction of one’s own identity. Gornick describes her struggle to find her own place in the world. The female figures she is exposed to from a young age place great importance on her relationships with men. As I explained earlier, when Gornick’s father dies, her mother devotes the rest of her life to mourning and suffering for that loss.

“Apegos feroces”- un relato dedicado al apego materno-filial 3

The author wonders until the end of the novel how she can love, that is, forge authentic and lasting relationships, while at the same time developing her autonomy and personal growth. From a psychological perspective, attachments can manifest as a reflection of our deepest needs and desires. However, when the line between healthy dependence and harmful dependence is blurred, the search for individual identity risks being subjugated to the overriding need to be close to the other.

To whom I recommend this book

“Fierce Attachments” is a powerful novel, written with passion and strength, dedicated to emotively conveying both darker and kinder aspects of emotional relationships. The author’s exploration of her own attachments can generate a «mirror effect» that invites us to reflect on our own relationships and how they influence our perception of ourselves. It is not a light book, but for those interested in immersing themselves in the world of attachments and relationships from a feminist perspective, it may be a good choice.

About the author

Emma is a health psychologist at Sinews. She treats adults and adolescents who come for consultation for problems such as anxiety, depression, grief, self-esteem, emotional self-esteem, emotional dependency… In addition, she is a specialist in the treatment of trauma. She performs her interventions from an integrative approach, which includes an exploration of primary bonding relationships from the perspective of the attachment theory, as well as an approach to the problem from a cognitive-behavioral approach to the problem from a cognitive-behavioral perspective, using effective techniques according to each patient’s needs.

Emma Chancellor Díez
Division of Psychology, Psychotherapy and Coaching
Emma Chancellor Díez
Adults and adolescents
Languages: English and Spanish
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