How the Chemnistry of Smell and Touch Develops Human’s Capacity for Harmony

How the Chemnistry of Smell and Touch Develops Human’s Capacity for Harmony

“The mother-child relationship is paradoxical and, in a sense, tragic. It requires the most intense love on the mother’s side, yet this very love must help the child grow away from the mother, and to become fully independent.”

–Erich Fromm

Most parents are aware of the importance of successful bonding between mother and child. The complex combination of scent, sound, hormonal secretions, heartbeat, and skin-to-skin contact all serve to create and reinforce that bond just moments after a baby is born. While those moments are important, just as important are the days, months, and years that follow. That’s why so many studies about bonding between mother and child have been conducted that it has become a science.

The Importance of Scent in Bonding Between Mother and Child

It is a science that consists of many sciences, including chemistry. For example, pheromones are the chemicals that physically attract humans to one another. Well, babies fairly ooze those pheromones, which is part of the reason that so many people find them irresistible. Most people don’t think much about the role of their sense of smell in their lives. Modern media focuses primarily on the senses of sight and sound. However, advertisers recognizing the power of scent were quick to take advantage of scratch and sniff technology, which is used to increases the sale of expensive perfumes.

The importance of scent in the process of bonding between mother and child was demonstrated by a scientific study. After spending just ten minutes with their newborn infants, 90 percent of mothers were able to correctly identify their newborns by scent alone. After spending an hour with their babies, 100 percent of them were able to distinguish their own babies’ scent from the scent of other babies.

The Importance of Touch in Bonding Between Mother and Child

Dr. Deepak Chopra, an endocrinologist and best-selling author of more than 80 books on topics of human well-being, says that successful bonding between mother and child can help prevent diseases by boosting immunity and even contribute to a higher I.Q. An important part of that bonding is the element of human touch. His assertion has been reinforced by several scientific studies.

In a study at Ohio State University, it was demonstrated that cuddling produces chemical changes in the body that can reduce the negative effects of common environmentally caused medical conditions. In this case, cuddling protected the rabbits against some of the physical consequences of high cholesterol diets, like clogged arteries.
Science leaves no doubt about the power of human touch. Another study that was published in Pediatrics magazine found that premature babies who were frequently touched and stroked gained almost 50 percent more weight than those who weren’t. In addition to promoting bonding between mother and child, skin-to-skin contact has been proven to provide a number of other health benefits. It can even regulate a baby’s temperature, because a mother’s breasts automatically adjust temperature, heating up or cooling down according to the baby’s needs.

Physical affection also releases hormones that activate specific genes that help reduce the physical effects of stress. Babies, being helpless to exert any control over their own environments, are especially sensitive to stress. They are quite literally little more than a bundle of nerves responding to a series of unfamiliar physical and environmental stimuli. They depend on adults to provide warmth, relieve their hunger, and soothe their fears.

Obstacles to Successful Bonding

Despite a wealth of scientific evidence that demonstrates the importance of the bonding process, there are a number of obstacles that can interfere. One of those obstacles is a family history in which a mother has not successfully bonded with her own mother. This may have been as a result of neglect or abuse. According to statistics, childhood trauma greatly increases the risk for a number of diseases later in life. Traumas associated with abuse or neglect often result in former victims repeating that behavior themselves.

A link between poverty and stress has been firmly established by the scientific community. Further, a link between stress and mental and emotional illnesses that often lead to child abuse and neglect has also been established. Unfortunately, due to current economic and social policies the number of mothers and children living in poverty world-wide continues to grow.

Popular comedian John Oliver addresses the very serious issue of social conditions that often interfere with successful bonding between mother and child. Although some may find his language offensive, most find the social phenomenon he describes even more so. All the scientific knowledge about the physical, mental, emotional and social benefits of bonding will be of greater value when social policies enable parents to fully utilize it.

bonding between mother and child

December 30,2016  |

Meaning of Kinship Bonds in a Matrilineal Primitive Society

“Just as love is an orientation which refers to all objects and is incompatible with the restriction to one object, so is reason a human faculty which must embrace the whole of the world with which man is confronted.”

–Erich Fromm

The Kongo Kingdom existed as an independent state for over 500 years, from 1390 to 1891. It covered the territory of what are now the African states of Angola, Cabinda, the Republic of the Congo, and portions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Gabon. As a result of invasion and colonization by various other countries, including France, Portugal and the Netherlands, and rebellious uprisings against it, the territory and names of states in the area have changed more than once.

Ancient Traditions & Family Life in Kongo

Little, if any, written history about family life in the Kongo Kingdom before invasion and occupation by competing ideological and economic interests exists. However, resistant remnants of their formerly matrilineal society still exist, as evidenced by the greatest respect and responsibility for child care being bestowed upon the oldest brother of the child’s mother. While under the political control of other nations, many of the original kinship systems were abolished.

The many languages and dialects of the area also reflect their formerly matrilineal customs. Despite the abolition of matrilineal practices, through the many languages and dialects of the area, people continue to define themselves in reference to their mother’s clan. “Home” is defined as the village in which that clan is located, and family life in ancient Kongo society took place in these villages. Under subsequent governments, sections of each matrilineal clan were divided into landowning houses, with inheritance continuing to be passed through the female line in many places.

There are many words that reflect the kinship bonds that made up the societal structure of family life in ancient Kongo society. Those words have been passed down throughout history from generation to generation. For example, mpangi, the word for “siblings” is used to describe any two people of the same social status as the speaker. The word for “child”, mwana , is also used to describe a mother’s brother’s daughter. According to the reasoning behind the language, all cousins are considered siblings, much like some Indigenous American tribes such as the Crow.

The male leader of a matrilineal group or clan is referred to as a nkazi. His power is limited and most disputes that arise in family life in modern society are managed by committees consisting of members of members of both the maternal and paternal clans of the parties in question. Those committees can include children and grandchildren, and also represent their clans at important social functions such as weddings and funerals. The spokesman of the clan, called the nzonzi , is chosen for his ability to influence others through the use of authoritative cultural references, much like legal precedents are used in the courts of the Western world. All such communications between clans conclude with the exchange of food and gifts.

Art and Culture

While very little written history of family life in ancient Kongo society exists, some art has survived. In an article about the artwork of the Kongo people, Alisa LaGamma, curator of the exhibition Kongo: Power and Majesty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, discussed the ways in which the artwork reflected the role of women in society. According to her, many of the pieces incorporate symbols of women in positions of leadership and social influence.

She says that much of the art depicting family life in their society was created in response to the threat to their way of life caused by the transatlantic slave trade. Many people also died as the result of epidemics of illnesses from foreign lands. Because of the large number of deaths, women, as sources of regeneration, had a great deal of responsibility for continuation of the culture. Some of the artwork was created with the dual practical purpose of providing assistance to women having children. Significantly, women are portrayed upon thrones and wearing traditionally male crowns.

The creation of art as a way to preserve one’s humanity in the face of oppression has a long historical tradition. However, the creation of art does require a certain amount of social and political stability, which much of the African continent had very little of during the demise of the Kingdom. Family life in war-torn countries is far too difficult to allow time for much more than survival. It is fortunate that at least these relatively few masterpieces survived so many generations of political turmoil.

Each culture provides a valuable piece of information necessary for the preservation of family life. When all of these pieces are assembled, they complete the grand puzzle of life to which all loving parents perpetually seek answers.

family life in Kongo
Kongo-Yombe Maternity Group, Democratic Republic of the Congo

January 20,2016  |

maternal love

Do pregnancy urges and maternal love define a woman’s identity?

Why is there a belief that the act of mothering and maternal love has a biological basis ?  If and when maternal love versus father love has a biological basis, and thus it can only be a female activity, makes it a relevant question.

In this post I will concentrate on the psychoanalyst view and take on this belief (versus the ethological take).  It is quite interesting to see how this belief came to be, especially in our time and place.

Reproduction and maternal love

The rational most of the time goes through the following steps:

  • The reproduction is needed for the survival of the species, and the female is closer to the reproduction process.
  • Babies need to be taken care of intensively and for a long period (longest compared to any other species, in comparison with the relative life span) and if not done so, the chances of survival drop significantly.
  • Put 1 and 2 together and the affective tie or maternal love between mother and child has a biological basis. Or put differently without the bond our species would not have survived.

This tie, often referred to as motherhood or maternal love, is the result of an inborn urge based on instinct. It is therefor biologically determined that mothers want children, and it is therefore also determined they want to raise them and feel as something is missing when they are separated from them. Also see maternal instincts.

Maternal love and psychologysis

We take this and move to the discipline of psychoanalysis with psycho analysts like Sigmund Freud, Josef Breuer, Alfred Adler, Carl Gustav Jung and later Neo-Freudians like Erich Fromm, Karen Horney and Jacques Lacan. This school believes that pregnancy, giving birth, suckling and fondling are to be seen as instinctual urges. These instincts, urges and maternal love are characteristic of a mature woman’s femininity and identity.

If a woman does not want or desire children or if she is not capable of reproducing affective tie or maternal love or experiences a dissatisfaction in motherhood then this is the result of a developmental problem and of poor adjustment to her feminine psycho sexual identity.

The biological proof in this discipline is to be found in the changing body when she is pregnant and in those first maternal moments.

Her physical state changes. She becomes throughout her pregnancy acutely interested in herself. This is the primary maternal preoccupation. (We see this preoccupation being very nicely exploited commercially.) She then is able to assess finely and intuitively the needs and wants of her baby, better than anybody else. Both mother and baby have instincts that will bind them together, a kind of reciprocal instinctuality. Their interests are identical that is to stay together in a state of interdependency. There is only one gratification. They become one. There is one unit. There is only one identity. The baby experiences ‘primary love’. Primary love is that first love received from the mother. The mother experiences ‘maternal bond’ or ‘maternal love’ or ‘instantly-in-mother-love’. These feelings come without effort or criticism. It will be this definition of primary love that the child will carry on into adulthood. When the baby grows, it will however be necessary to differentiate from the mother and to become separated. This will be a painful experience.

Again, we are now sitting in the chair of the psychoanalytical professional, taking the viewpoint of the psychoanalytical discipline.

If we go further, and go to the other end of the spectrum of this bliss situation, and the child does not know or have this ‘primary love’, then later on to become separated is for the child like falling into an terrible anxiety. Such an anxiety that it will need years to mend.

And the mother is in no better state if this motherly love has not been experienced. Why? Well, she identifies with all the beautiful fantasies her baby has of her and how she is the perfect mother or probably a perfect person (a myth that will painfully chattered when the adolescent child starts to criticize). She gladly accepts this almightiness role with open arms. She will retrospect on her own childhood and of her fantasies of her own mother and maternal love. As she will also be reminded of the disappointment when growing older (and we are all disappointed at a point) she will hope to be a better parent than her parent was.

The way a woman will be a mother to her child will be determined by her own experiences. If she has positive experiences, motherhood will be a welcome addition in her life. If she has a negative association with babies but likes toddler, this will have a different impact. If she is more closely involved when they reach a certain age than when they were babies then this could also be explained by her own psychosexual development.

When a mother is negative about motherhood or maternal love then we immediately suspect her mother of abnormal behavior. This is something the psychoanalytical school taught us. She would have unresolved developmental conflicts and the fact that she was now a mother would be the ideal way to resolve them. Motherhood could mean a cure for psychological issues if motherhood was embraced and seen positively. Meaning if she does not embrace it, she could be in an unresolved conflict for the rest of her life.

Observation of the discipline of psychoanalysis

It is clear that The School of Psychoanalysis explains motherhood on a highly individual level. Per definition. It is as if mother and child are alone in the world (and off course there is also the grandmother). The analysis and their explanation of motherhood come from feelings and thoughts at a very unconscious level. The way a woman experiences motherhood will be presented on an abstract level, and individual to her situation. In a psychoanalysis, the mother will be given an explanation of how she experiences it because sometimes she will even not be aware of it, so it has to be explained to her.

It is a good way to explain differences of experiences of motherhood  or maternal love but it is inadequate to define motherhood (and both are related). The research and analysis to come to these conclusions was clinical experience and per definition not systematic and statistical.  The women that were analyzed during the period when these theories were written, were pregnant or had infants. Motherhood of toddlers or older children might be different. The biological basis is observed during lactation but it is more difficult beyond.  Cross-cultural studies were not conducted because society as a whole was left out. No comparisons with men were done in a systematical way.

The belief is deeply rooted and any form absence, abstinence or negativity is seen as abnormal. But the point of fact is that mothering beyond lactation and / or raising children older than a couple of years has no biological basis and is poorly analyzed by the school of psycho analysis up to now.

maternal love
Sterling silver, ivory and glass nipple-shield Wellcome L0035699 Licensed under CC BY 4.0

April 27,2015  |