By Rivka Mennesson, a psychodynamic psychotherapist
A mother told me she felt so symbiotically attached to her daughter that she couldn’t leave her with anyone without feeling anxious. A friend of mine who went through postnatal anxiety and depression tells me, on the opposite that she couldn’t connect to her baby from the begging and it was, of course, a very unexpected and uncomfortable feeling to have.
Either way, they ended up feeling anxious or depressed and that built up an unhealthy attachment to their baby that nobody around them spotted. According to the Guardian 2008 article on postnatal depression, there are more than 17,000 undetected and undiagnosed cases in the Uk. That’s why is called the ‘silent illness’.
The attachment styles described above are opposite but as it happens, psychologically, they both bring to the same result: An insecure attachment between mother and child, an unhappy mother and as a consequence, a mirroring unhappy child. Nowadays, psychoanalytic research teamed up with neurobiological confirmation on the importance of secure attachment in the treatment of inter-generationally transmitted personality disorders.
The good news is that there is a lot that can be done in personal therapy especially when the mother-child relationship is just being built up and the child is small. By helping the mum with her anxiety and/or depression is possible to make the mother-child relationship improve.
It’s proven that mothers with anxiety and depression following birth, give attention to more things for a shorter period of time and research has confirmed the psychoanalytic idea that through mirroring, the small child ends up doing exactly the same. Those children have more difficulty concentrating for a long time than children of mothers who are not sufferers.
Anxiety is contagious and is transmitted from one generation to the other. Awareness in therapy helps put the mother back in control of her emotions and starts up a journey of self-discovery and improvement, as I have encountered many times in my clinical work with mothers.