Maternal Hostility as Nature’s Shadow

Building understanding and compassion
by drawing on recent research in evolution and anthropology.

Image: Bea Mulder

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

  • Subscribe to mailing list to get notice when next scheduled.
  • Contact me if you are interested in me offering this to your community.

The goals of this presentation are to:

  • Foster an evolutionary valid understanding of motherhood.
  • Foster a compassionate understanding of maternal hostility.  
  • Contribute to therapeutic work with ambivalent mothers.
  • Help hostile mothers understand more of their own feelings.
  • Help those who have grown up with hostile mothers.
  • Contribute to programs aimed at preventing maternal hostility.

In this presentation participants will learn:

  • The range of maternal emotions bequeathed by evolution. 
  • How these emotions evolved to be environmentally sensitive.
  • The compromises required by ancestral mothers to keep at least some children alive. 
  • How ancient compromises may contribute to maternal hostility. 
  • How evolution has furnished us with the impetus to learn about mothering from experience, rather than with ‘maternal instinct’.
  • How an evolutionary understanding counters maternal shame.
  • How shame increases the risk that mothers act out hostility.

Is this presentation right for you?

  • The webinar is open to anybody with an interest in psychological dynamics & how they impact behaviour.  
  • This webinar is similar to keynotes given at (1) The Royal College of Psychiatry and (2) The Compassionate Mind Foundation. If you attended either, this may not be for you.
  • My webinars are intended to be educational, rather than therapeutic. 

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