The first time I read Louis Cozolino’s The Neuroscience of Human Relationships, I read a treatise on the chakras in between chapters. I was surprised by the correspondences: the progression of the Vedic practitioner through the chakras closely paralleled the stages of human maturity that unfold as a human child replaces primitive survival responses (imitation and crying) with behaviors motivated by social expectations (cooperation and empathy).
Cozolino emphasizes the role of a mother in the progression. Cuddling, nursing and facial expressions offered by the mother all create the expectation that physical needs will be met. The growing cortex learns to suppress behaviors that avoid danger in favor of behaviors that create engagement.
This is to speak of the ideal, but mothers may also distort a child’s development. Seventy percent of mothers operate in Cozolino’s “good enough” regimen. They allow the child to explore independently while remaining open to provide support when frustration or danger arises. These “free-autonomous” mothers produce securely attached children.
Further along the spectrum, “dismissing” mothers fail to provide consistent support. Their children are “avoidant,” not becoming upset when left alone, but not seeking affection either. Anxiety becomes obvious in the children of inconsistent mothers that remain aloof unless seeking to control the child’s behavior. At the far end of the spectrum, mothers that respond inappropriately or amplify fear may raise children that act out (even to self-injury) to deflect attention from external dangers (in effect trying to protect the parent).
The experience of children along this spectrum has a direct impact on the development of brain centers that integrate our social experience. In his therapeutic vignettes, Cozolino describes how conscious experience can be used to improve that integration, allowing the patient to attain more reward from relationships.
The difficulty in reversing the programming received from mothers is that much of it is encoded early in our lives in the non-verbal parts of the brain, the seat of Freud’s “sub-conscious.”
In Buddhist circles, the role of conscious self-reflection (“meditation”) is lauded as a psychological practice for bringing our behavior into better alignment with our social reality. We grow up, and our mothers no longer dominate our lives. In meditation, we learn to replace our instincts with conscious action.
As I watch people struggle with this programming in Christian communities, I now wonder how the image of God the Father as taught by Jesus might relate to this process. It is not rooted in physical experience; rather, God exists in heaven, projecting love down upon us that we may choose to reject. Even then, the parable of the prodigal son promises that God still loves us.
I wonder whether there might be some therapeutic advantage in having a Father-God image in this role, as opposed to a Mother-God image?