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The Psychological Significance of the Maternal Relationship: Celebrating Mother's Day Through Bowlby's Attachment Theory

Errolie Sermaine 1st March 2024
Mothers Day

As we step into March, many of us will be thinking about Mother’s Day and whether we’re super organised or more, UK shoppers are set to spend £1.7 billion on gifts this month. But beyond the overpriced flowers and chocolates, Mother’s Day serves as an annual reminder of the profound impact maternal relationships have on each of us, a deep psychological significance rooted in attachment theory, notably pioneered by John Bowlby.

Our relationships with our mothers or maternal figures can be complex and difficult and for those that haven’t had a positive maternal role model in their life, Mother’s Day can serve as a reminder of something painful or absent. For those of us who’s mothers are no longer with us, Mother’s Day can also be a day of remembrance tinged with regret and sadness.

The origins of Mother’s Day can be traced back to ancient festivals dedicated to maternal goddesses in Greek and Roman cultures. In the UK, Mother’s Day, originally referred to as Mothering Sunday, dates back to the 16th Century and has its roots in the Christian tradition of visiting one’s “mother church”, the main church in the area where one grew up.

Over time, Mothering Sunday evolved into a day to honour not only one’s mother church but also mothers and maternal figures in general. Families reunited and paid tribute to their mothers by presenting them with flowers, small gifts, or homemade tokens of appreciation. Today, Mother’s Day is a time for people to celebrate and show appreciation for mothers, motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society. But why is the relationship we have (or don’t have) with our mothers considered so significant?

John Bowlby, a British psychologist, revolutionized our understanding of human development with his Attachment theory. He proposed that infants are biologically predisposed to form attachments with caregivers, primarily their mothers, as a means of survival and emotional security. According to Bowlby, the quality of these early attachments significantly influences an individual’s psychological and emotional development throughout life.

Drawing from Bowlby’s theory, psychologists have identified various attachment styles that develop in infancy and continue to influence relationships into adulthood. Secure attachment, characterized by trust and comfort in relationships, is associated with positive outcomes such as emotional resilience and healthy self-esteem. In contrast, insecure attachment styles, including anxious and avoidant attachments, may lead to difficulties in forming and maintaining relationships, as well as increased vulnerability to mental health issues.

The maternal relationship plays a pivotal role in shaping an individual’s psychological well-being across their lifespan. Research by psychologist Mary Ainsworth, a collaborator of Bowlby, highlighted the significance of maternal responsiveness in fostering secure attachment. A nurturing and responsive maternal figure provides a safe haven for emotional expression and exploration, laying the foundation for healthy social and emotional development.

Dr. Daniel Siegel, a renowned psychiatrist and author, emphasizes the neurobiological implications of maternal bonding. He suggests that attuned maternal interactions contribute to the development of neural circuits involved in emotional regulation and empathy. Thus, the maternal relationship not only influences psychological well-being but also shapes the brain’s architecture, impacting future social interactions and emotional resilience.

The quality of the maternal relationship continues to influence individuals well into adulthood, affecting their ability to form and maintain healthy relationships. Psychologist Sue Johnson, developer of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), underscores the significance of early attachment experiences in adult romantic relationships. Individuals with secure attachment backgrounds tend to exhibit greater intimacy and trust in their relationships, while those with insecure attachment may struggle with emotional intimacy and communication.

Counsellors often incorporate attachment theory into their practice to address relational issues stemming from early attachment experiences. By exploring attachment patterns and promoting secure base interactions, Counsellors can help individuals to develop healthier relationship dynamics rooted in trust and emotional attunement. Psychologist Carol Gilligan emphasizes the unique role of mothers in fostering empathy and compassion, shaping not only individual development but also societal values.

So, it would seem inescapable that having a healthy maternal role model in our early childhood gives us the best start in life and Mother’s Day serves as an opportunity to celebrate the profound influence of maternal relationships on our psychological well-being. It’s a time to express gratitude for the nurturing and supportive figures in our lives who have contributed to our emotional growth and resilience.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day, we recognise the psychological importance of the maternal relationship in shaping our identities and emotional well-being. Through Bowlby’s attachment theory and insights from psychologists and Counsellors, we understand the profound impact of maternal nurturing on our development across the lifespan. And despite becoming somewhat commercialised over the years, Mother’s Day still serves as an opportunity for us to acknowledge and honour the sacrifices, love, and nurturing provided by mothers and maternal figures in our lives. It highlights the importance of maternal bonds and the invaluable contributions of mothers and maternal figures to families and society as a whole.

So, whoever fulfilled that maternal role in our lives, be it our Mother, Grandmother, Stepmother, Aunt, Sister, Cousin, Neighbour or even Teacher, let us honour and appreciate them, acknowledging their role in fostering love, security, and emotional resilience.

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Author Biography:

Errolie Sermaine is a BACP and NCS Accredited Counsellor and Clinical Supervisor. Since qualifying she has run a successful private practice and worked for a variety of organisations. She is also a fully qualified teacher and trainer with a wealth of experience of designing and delivering a huge a range of courses. Passionate about training counsellors, she has been the Clinical Supervisor for several Professional Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling courses, as well as the Designated Safeguarding Lead and Curriculum Manager for an Outstanding adult education provider.
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Please note that all beliefs, views and opinions expressed within guest writer articles are solely those of the guest writer and do not reflect the beliefs, views and opinions of London School of Counselling, this website or its affiliates.
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