When the Good Enough Mother Goes Wrong - Embodied Living


Neuroscience and neurobiology are now confirming what we know in our hearts to be true. That the role of the ‘good enough’ mother in the infants first 3 yrs of life is crucial in right hemisphere brain formation.

Development of self

This attunement that generally happens between mother and infant in the first few months of life affects the development of the ‘self’.  More importantly, it will impinge on the individual’s ability for self regulation and processing of negative emotions particularly rage.

Brain development through sensitive mother

It is absolutely essential to brain development that the infant has a sensitive, responsive mother to help be a ‘container’ for the developing self. This is a limbic-to-limbic brain relationship and if the infant does not get enough of this it is akin to a kind of ‘brain damage’. This is the concept of the ‘good enough’ mother.  Good enough means that we don’t have to be perfect or get it right all the time. In fact if we get it right just 40% of the time with our kids this is ‘good enough’.

When parenting is not ‘good enough’

Yet if the parenting is not good enough, the wiring goes wrong which has significant implications into adult behaviour. Traits or behaviours such as sarcasm , judgementalism (sexism being one) being a couple. Even worse are addictions, depression and withdrawal. Of course the inability to ‘do’ relationships will be a key factor in anyone who didn’t get enough correct attunement with a good enough mother. And sadly the risk of self harm, suicide, violence or sexual abuse, and serious mental health disorders increases when we haven’t had our emotional needs met in childhood. The ‘good enough’ father is also crucial but for different reasons at different ages.

Vicious cycle

Where is individual choice in this? If the mother’ right hemisphere was not nurtured and sustained by her mother, in turn she will not be able to nurture and sustain her own child. And so the cycle continues, into a ‘sick’ society. So for those of us who want to try to dismiss or rationalise this, it can useful to remember the miraculous plasticity of the human brain. In that even this deeply embedded wrong wiring can be changed with effort and acknowledgement.

Individual choice

That’s wherein individual choice lies. But it is not a rational process, we cannot ‘think’ our way out of the problem. But psychotherapy can be a limbic-to-limbic brain relationship that can change the very wiring and change lives in the most positive ways imaginable. Amazingly, even the repeat rate of sexual offending of children is dropped to 5% or less. And these are the reasons why mothers are ‘culpable’ but should not be blamed.

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