Maternal Negativity and Child Maltreatment: How evolutionary perspectives contribute to a layered and compassionate understanding
In Western culture most people believe that mothers evolved to love all of their children instinctually and unconditionally. In contrast, any mother who feels ambivalence or hostility towards her child is typically seen as unnatural, and a mother who maltreats her child is seen as behaving pathologically. This chapter draws on evolutionary research to challenge this widespread view of motherhood. The goal is to foster a more evolutionarily valid, nuanced and compassionate understanding. Such an understanding has the potential to contribute to clinical work with faltering mothers and also to programmes focused on preventing maternal maltreatment of children.
Our minds & bodies respond to unaddressed emotional wounds with increased fear, a propensity to dissociate & developing toxic shame. This creates an altered & distorted inner reality which I call a ‘trauma-world’. Healing requires that we transform our trauma-world by developing consciousness, responsibility & compassion.
When we experience overwhelming pain and fear, we develop an unconscious conviction that our life is at risk. As a result, survival systems are activated in our minds and bodies and we move onto a different developmental path to the one we would have followed had we not been traumatised. We begin to live our lives from within a ‘trauma-world’.
We are becoming increasingly aware of how widespread trauma is, and of the huge costs it imposes not only on individuals and their immediate communities, but also on society more generally. But there is a great deal of misunderstanding about trauma, and we need to develop far greater clarity if we are to work with it more effectively.
Growing up traumatised our lives become rooted in a different reality – one I’ve called a ‘trauma-world’. Marion Woodman’s work can help us to bring trauma-worlds into consciousness. Additionally, the BodySoul Rhythms® approach that she developed together with dance educator Mary Hamilton, and voice coach Ann Skinner, can help us to move beyond trauma-worlds into a healthier reality.