Strange Situation - Bethany Saltman

Strange Situation is a work of nonfiction. Nonetheless, some of the names of the individuals involved have been changed in order to disguise their identities. Any resulting resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental and unintentional.

Copyright © 2020 by Bethany Saltman

Foreword by Daniel J. Siegel, MD, copyright © 2020 by Mind Your Brain, Inc.

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

BALLANTINE and the HOUSE colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

The estate of Mary Ainsworth has granted permission for the use of all archival materials.

Portions of this work were originally published as “Can Attachment Theory Explain All Our Relationships?” (New York magazine, July 5, 2016) and “A Mean Animal Practices the Hard Way” in “Flowers Fall: Field Notes from a Buddhist Mother’s Experimental Life” (Chronogram magazine, October 2009).

Hardback ISBN 9780399181443

Ebook ISBN 9780399181450

Cover design: Jason Heuer




Title Page



Foreword by Daniel J. Siegel, MD


Part I: Untelling

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Part II: Beautiful Child

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Part III: Miracle

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Part IV: Birds of a Feather

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Part V: Strange Situation

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Part VI: Get Mom

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Part VII: A Thing to Slip Into

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-one

Chapter Thirty-two

Part VIII: Retelling

Chapter Thirty-three


Afterword: Where Angels Fear to Tread: Attachment Today



Questions for Discussion



About the Author

I’m going to be interviewing you about your childhood experiences, and how those experiences may have affected your adult personality. So, I’d like to ask you about your early relationship with your family, and what you think about the way it might have affected you. We’ll focus mainly on your childhood, but later we’ll get on to your adolescence and then to what’s going on right now…

—Introduction to the “Adult Attachment Interview Protocol”

My own peculiar addiction to science takes the form of wanting to understand the individual case. And if an individual turns out not to match what one’s hypothesis would predict, I want to know why.

—Mary Ainsworth in a letter, 1983

Things are not as they seem. Nor are they otherwise.

—Shakyamuni Buddha


Daniel J. Siegel, MD

In this marvelous, important book, you’ll find a blend of clear, concise, and insightful summaries of the science of attachment woven beautifully with the essential inner journey of our intrepid guide, Bethany Saltman, who comes to make sense of her life during the course of writing the book. It is at once an intellectual and deeply personal account of our knowledge of attachment and its influence on human development. Our author’s captivating approach and courage invite us to do exactly what attachment studies have powerfully demonstrated is a key aspect of attaining “secure attachment” at any age: reflecting on our past is how we develop more flexibility in our attention in the present and free ourselves to become who we want to be in the future. This “mental time travel” that links past, present, and future is how we make sense of the experiences of the past, the ways we’ve adapted to those events, and how we have been affected by our early relationships throughout our development.

The power of attachment theory and research, first formulated and organized by John Bowlby, MD, and Mary Ainsworth, PhD, is in their rigorous exploration of human development, their