In Ancestral trauma, Part II – separation from nature/nurture, I wrote how desertification—the onset or increase in desert—in the Sahara, Arabia and Central Asia some 6,000 years ago triggered a profound psychological change in humanity[*]. Out went goddess-worshipping egalitarian cultures and in came patriarchal societies, seizing shrinking food sources through violence[†].
Part of this psychological change was a sense of betrayal by nature, which had previously provided ample bounty. Another part was the rejection of all things feminine, which significantly damaged the mother-child bond as children—particularly boys—were weaned early to encourage aggression. This provided a competitive advantage in the fight for survival.
First in, last out
In The mother wound – first in, last out, I wrote how we carry wounds from our relationship with our mothers. This wound varies from person to person, yet seems to exist to some extent in all of us.
It’s the first wound we incur as it begins in the womb with emotional damage inherited through our mother. It’s also the last wound we heal on the journey to wholeness as it’s so deeply embedded in our psyche.
In this blog I’d like to connect the two: the mother wound is both current and ancestral. It is the wound between us and our mothers—and the genetic memory of the mother-child wound of every one of our ancestors right back to the point in time where patriarchy first impacted our family line.
The mother wound is the wound between us and our mothers—and the genetic memory of the mother-child wound of every one of our ancestors right back to the point in time where patriarchy first impacted our family line.
Until recently, very little had been written about the history of childhood. Sociologist James Bossard questioned whether such a history could be written because of “the dearth of historical data bearing on childhood.”
In 1968, Lloyd DeMause proposed “an evolutionary theory of historical change in parent-child relations” to the Association for Applied Psychoanalysis[‡]. One of the hypotheses of this theory was:
That the history of childhood is a series of closer approaches between adult and child, with each closing of psychic distance producing fresh anxiety. The reduction of this adult anxiety is the main source of the child-rearing practices of each age.
The mother-child wound is the ever-decreasing residue of this adult anxiety, as well as genetically inherited trauma from the mother’s life (generational shame).
The source of adult anxiety around childrearing can be traced back to the traumatization of the feminine that occurred during the rise of patriarchy. Children were so little valued they could be sold as chattels. DeMause writes that, “Child sale was legal in Babylonian times, and may have been quite common among many nations in antiquity.” It was legal in Russia until the 19th century.
Childrearing anxiety stemmed from the fact that engaging with the child’s emotional needs engaged the parent’s—particularly the mother’s—emotions. In warrior societies that valued the capacity for violence towards one’s enemies above all else, all displays of emotion were verboten—forbidden.
We have been dealing with this anxiety, in the form of our mother wound, ever since. Go down to any playground today and you will see mothers shrieking at their children at the slightest provocation.
What you’re seeing is the watered-down remains of ancestral, anxiety-ridden parenting responses from the dawn of patriarchy. The closer we get to anxiety-free childrearing, the closer we get to healing our own mother wounds—and vice-versa.
[*] James DeMeo, Saharasia – The 4000 BCE Origins of Child Abuse, Sex-Repression, Warfare and Social Violence in the Deserts of the Old World
[†] Leonard Shlain, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess
[‡] Lloyd DeMause, The History of Childhood