Journeying Toward Wholeness

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The Power of the Mother: Encountering the Mother Archetype

May 14th, 2018 · mother archetype

In our culture, we have a tendency to sentimentalize “Mom”; as a result, we often minimize the power of the mother archetype.

“I love you, Mom!”

Yet, depth psychologists stress that the mother archetype is one of the very most powerful archetypes.  What does that mean?  Well, it amounts to this: the experience of mother almost inevitably has a profound effect on an individual’s life.  In fact, the experience of the mother can be so powerful, that it can effectively determine the whole course of someone’s life.
We’ve just celebrated Mother’s Day, and I’d invite you to take a moment to reflect on the deep psychological power of Mother.

Mother: A Fundamental Experience

The relationship with the mother is usually the first relationship that a child has, and it has a fundamental impact on our relationship to self, other and world.  The child’s sense of security and trust in the world, and her or his ability to relate to others and to process emotion all stem from the quality of the connection with the mother.

We also know through neuroscience research that a nurturing mother leads to an increase in size in the parts of the brain dealing with memory, increases the overall rates of brain cell production and leads to better learning and stress responses.  As Dr. Joan Luby, a leading researcher at Washington University School of Medicine puts it, “It’s now clear that a caregiver’s nurturing is not only good for the development of the child… it actually changes the brain.”

The mother is central to our early experience, and to the whole way we are in the world.  One of the very first forms of human religious expression to ever emerge was the symbol of the Great Mother.  Whatever your particular religious convictions, this fact reveals the sheer enormity of the symbolic and psychological power of mother in human life.

mother archetype

Lakshmi – Hindu Mother Goddess

The Experience of Mother is Very Diverse

The experience of mother, and of particular mothers is very diverse.

Yet, it’s fair to speak about a distinction between people who have an overall positive experience of mother, and people who have an overall negative experience.  For this reason, Jungians often refer to positive and negative mother complexes.

In recent years, there has been a tremendous amount of research in the area of what is called primary attachment — the connection between the primary caregiver, who is usually the mother, and the child.

Simply put, “attachment theory” holds that the capacity which an individual possesses to create emotional and physical “attachment” to another person leads to the psychological stability and security necessary for coping with risk-taking, innovating and trying new things, undergoing major life transitions and developing overall as a human personality.  This capacity is not just important to children.  The capacity of the adult to attach to partners and families has to do with a number of factors — but the most important is the attachment bond with the mother.

The Mother Archetype Stays Important Through Life

The mother archetype, and our relationship to it, is hugely important for our whole relationship with life. Almost everyone has a positive or negative mother complex, and that complex has particular importance for our whole relationship with and trust of others, and of life as a whole.

In depth psychotherapy, people often start to come to terms with mother complexes that may have profoundly affected the overall course of their lives.  Effective depth psychotherapy can change the nature of attachment, relationship, and a sense of security in his or her life, and allow the individual to more fully follow their journey towards wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Janice (Creative Commons Licence) ;  (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Sarah Palin, “Mama Grizzlies” and the Mother Archetype

August 15th, 2010 · archetypal experience, archetypes, Carl Jung, collective consciousness, depth psychology, mother archetype, parent-child interactions, popular culture, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, symbolism, unconscious

Andrea Huffington commented recently  in the Huffington Post on Sarah Palin’s use of archetypal imageryin the political ads that she has recently run with incredible success online.  Huffington seeks to use the concepts of Jungian psychology to analyze Palin’s message.  In my opinion, it’s a fruitful approach.

The ads are remarkable for the fact that they do not discuss the political issues at all, presumably leaving it to the viewer to draw his or her conclusion about what the issues are that are under discussion.  What they in fact do is evoke the symbolism of the bear, and in particular the mother grizzly bear.  Palin at one point says,

“I always think of the mama grizzly bears that rise up on their hind legs when somebody is coming to attack their cubs… you don’t wanna mess with the mama grizzlies!”

Huffington believes that Palin has unconsciously used images that are archetypal, and that, because of that, these images resonate with people powerfully on the unconscious level.  Certainly, “mother” is a powerful archetype, as is the symbol of the bear, which has possessed great meaning in human cultures throughout the world.  While Palin may have unconsciously hit upon this approach, historians can point to similar highly manipulative tactics used by propagandists throughout history.  Of course, the past masters of this kind of thing were the Naziis, particularly Hitler’s propanganda genius Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Hitler himself.

Palin tells us, “Moms just kind of know when something’s wrong.”  Perhaps.  But it is important to distinguish between two very different aspects of the mother archetype, and how they might affect us.

Like all archetypes, the mother archetype has a negative and a positive pole.  That is, there are manifestations of the archetype that foster human growth and individuation, and there are manifestations that hinder or hobble such development.

The archetype can manifest as “positive mother”.  This happens, for instance, when a mother gives messages to her child that are affirming, and that give a sense of fundamental rightness to the child’s existence.  A child growing up with this kind of message and support from the mother may very well grow to have a lot of confidence in themselves, and in life.

At the other end of the spectrum is the negative mother, including “smother mother”.  This is the mother who undercuts the child fundamentally, and destroys the child’s confidence in what he or she is, his or her own powers, and in the goodness of life.

So this leaves us with the question of what kind of mother it is that Palin is evoking with her “Mama Grizzly” images.  Is this mother life-giving and empowering, or fundamentally undercutting, disempowering, and perhaps smothering?  Is Palin’s “mama grizzly” a mother who affirms individuality and uniqueness, or a mother trapped in standardized, stereotypical and ultimately mother roles?  What’s your view?

The archetype of the mother is indeed powerful, and I hope to explore the nature of positive and negative mother archetypes in future posts.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Johnbell | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Mother, Father, Family

September 13th, 2009 · archetypal experience, complexes, father archetype, feminine, masculinity, mother archetype

Here’s a quote from Jung on the key importance of the mother, father and family archetypes:

Other Father Family for Vibrant Jung Thing BlogHow is it then, you may ask, with the most ordinary everyday events, with immediate realities like husband, wife , father, mother, child? These ordinary everyday facts, which are eternally repeated, create the mightiest archetypes of all, whose ceaseless activity is everywhere apparent even in a rationalistic age like ours…. The deposit of mankind’s whole ancestral experience–so rich in emotional imagery of father, mother, child, husband and wife… has exalted this group of archetypes into the supreme regulating principles of religious and political life, in unconscious recognition of their tremendous psychic powers.

Clearly, Jung thought that coming to terms with the mother, the father, and the family was very important psychologically. How does our experience of father and mother impact us? What is its particular significance?

As with most things in the realm of the psyche, the answer to that question varies immensely from individual to individual. However, we can be sure that a person’s individual experience of parents and siblings–their family–is going to have an immense impact on how the individual feels about her- or himself, the world, and his or her place in it. That experience is going to have a profound effect on everything from very mundane, ordinary, every day events right up to and including a person’s deepest and most expansive religious and philosophical convictions. Because, among other things, it is going to have an immense bearing on what the psychologist Erikson referred to as basic trust.

It can require a very major effort in a person’s psychotherapy to understand the impact of that person’s father and mother on their psychic development, in all its complexity and dimensions, positive and negative. We can’t open all that up in one blog post. But here are a few questions to be thinking about:

The Mother and Father Archetypes in the Psyche

  • The bond with the mother is the earliest bond, and the one with the greatest impact on a child. It has a great deal to do with the feeling of belonging in the world, and feeling good about oneself, about one’s own being. How has your experience of your mother left you feeling about your life, your value, and how welcome you felt in your family — and in the world?
  • The bond with the father is deep, but has a rather different character than the bond with the mother.  At its most fundamental, it has to do with how we feel about ourselves, also, but it has an aspect to it of how we feel about our ability to be effective and capable people who can get what we want and need from our lives.  How has your experience of your father left you feeling about yourself as an agent in the world?  How has it left you feeling about your own power and ability?
  • If I am a woman, how did my relationship with my mother make me feel about myself as a woman? If I’m a man, how did my relationship with my mother tend to make me feel about women?
  • If I am a man, how did my relationship with my father make me feel about myself as a man? If I’m a woman, how did my relationship with my mother tend to make me feel about men?
  • Was I able to be myself in my family?  Or did I learn I had to be someone else, someone more acceptable, perhaps?  Someone tougher, or more capable?  Or “less emotional”?  Someone invisible, or someone “who doesn’t have needs”?  Or more “masculine”?  Or more “feminine”?  Or did I get the message that I could just relax and be myself?

 

These are very emotional questions for people. Not without reason did Jung call these “the mightiest archetypes of all”. Exploring the painful territory around this part of one’s life has led to many a journey to healing in therapy. I know that to be true of many of my clients, and I know it to be true in my own life.

I’d be interested in your comments about the impact of the parental archetypes in your life. How did you internalize your parents and your family?

My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson

Website for Brian’s Oakville & Mississauga Practice:  www.briancollinson.ca

Email: brian@briancollinson.ca

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© 2009 Brian Collinson

 

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