ADAPTATION TO LIFE by George E. Vaillant


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How men adapt to life: the conclusions of an ambitious research project initiated nearly 40 years ago. Limited to bright, white, promising college men--a pilot population--in the late Thirties and early Forties, the Grant Study reconstructed childhoods via subject and parent interviews, observed the young men in college, and followed them up at regular intervals for 30 years. Most subjects were conscientious about maintaining contact and honest--eventually--about private transactions. Vaillant, a Harvard psychiatrist and current director of the Study, interviewed extensively, streamlined the data, and now has shaped the findings for a general, educated readership. Indebted to both Freuds (father and daughter) and to Erikson for his psychiatric orientation, he proceeds cautiously and is assiduous in illuminating his own biases. The men themselves emerge not as ""fugitives from a script by Tennessee Williams"" (a frequent case history complaint) but as scrupulously delineated personalities exhibiting enormously variable adaptive behaviors--the ego mechanisms of defense, here calibrated in a maturational scheme. Vaillant maintains, as others have, that these adaptive techniques (e.g. sublimation, hypochondriasis, intellectualization) are as significant in determining the course of a man's life as established factors like heredity, environmental influences, and psychiatric intervention. For example, he demonstrates how those from barren childhoods used immature defense mechanisms (fantasy, projection) and had lifelong problems sustaining intimate relationships while those from warm, stimulating homes evolved mature mechanisms (suppression, humor) and enjoyed deep friendships and (conventional) success as adults. However, manifestations of growth appear throughout adult life--not the ""high drama"" of Passages but those gradual modifications that reflect pyramiding vitality and strengths. Vaillant writes fluently and persuasively, anticipating objections and conferring meaning on all those little details--chest pain timing, verbal slips, open buttons--that always discomfit the skeptics. Despite some inherent conceptual limitations and the skewed population, a penetrating and revealing work.

Pub Date: Oct. 27th, 1977
ISBN: 0674004140
Publisher: Little, Brown