Maternal Hostility as Nature’s Shadow

How recent research in evolution and anthropology can help to build a more nuanced and compassionate understanding of hostile mothering

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In Western cultures most people believe that mothers instinctively love and protect all their children. This belief makes it difficult to understand why a mother might feel hostility towards her child, or even worse, act out her hostility in a way that harms her child. Indeed, in our society we generally see hostile mothers as unnatural, and perhaps mentally ill.

Mothers naturally internalise society’s beliefs, and tend to experience deep shame when they feel hostility. Tragically, this shame makes it more likely that they will act out their hostility.

The expression of maternal hostility is always harmful to a child, but does viewing this hostility as unnatural help us understand this harmful behaviour, or is there a more insightful perspective?

In this webinar, I’ll argue that the perspective offered by modern evolution and anthropology is more illuminating, and share the relevant research. I’ll also argue that this understanding can contribute to clinical work with struggling mothers, as well as to programs focused on preventing mothers from treating their children in a hostile manner.

Date & Time


  • Bookings now open to newsletter subscribers
  • Bookings open to non-subscribers on November 8th

This webinar will discuss:

  • The continuum of maternal emotions and behaviour bequeathed to us by evolution. 
  • How maternal emotions and behaviour have evolved to be sensitive to a mother’s environment.
  • The compromises ancestral mothers needed to make to keep at least some children alive. 
  • How ancient compromises may contribute to maternal hostility. 
  • How a lack of evolutionary understanding can create shame in struggling mothers.
  • How maternal shame increases the risk that mothers will act out their hostility. 
  • How evolution has furnished us with the impetus to learn about mothering from our own  childhood experiences rather than with a fully-formed ‘maternal instinct’.

The goals of this webinar:

  • Foster a more compassionate and evolutionary valid understanding of motherhood. 
  • Contribute to clinical work with struggling mothers.
  • Contribute to programs aimed at preventing maternal hostility from being acted out.
  • Encourage struggling mothers develop a more self-compassionate and less shameful understanding of their own hostility, and so be able to address it more openly.
  • Help those who have grown up with hostile mothers understand more about the dynamic.

Is this webinar right for you?

  • The webinar is open to anybody with an interest in psychological dynamics & how they impact behaviour. 
  •  I work hard to present ideas in a manner that is not only accessible and engaging, but also nuanced and layered. 
  • The webinar is similar to keynotes given to (1) The Royal College of Psychiatry and (2) The Compassionate Mind Foundation. If you attended either, this may not be for you.
  • The webinar is intended to be educational, rather than therapeutic. 

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