Postnatal depression/anxiety and the mum-baby attachment
One of our hardest moments in life is when we feel rejected by a loved one. In that moment we feel vulnerable. Everything that we do later is not to feel vulnerable again. Rejection followed by vulnerability brings about the anxiety of not being able to cope with it if it happens again. We would rather have control over our vulnerability and over our life in general.
When a baby is born the baby is a symbol of vulnerability. We would do anything in order for this baby not to feel vulnerable but in our eyes the baby can only be vulnerable. We would do anything for this baby not to feel rejected as we felt or badly treated. How much do we identify with our baby? What is their real vulnerability and what is instead our own vulnerability (= fear of making a mistake)?
It might not be clear.
There are two opposite options that make the child feel even more vulnerable/rejected and incapable to overcome vulnerability:
Either protect the baby by being always as perfect as we can or give up trying in case we might make a mistake.
With the first option, we can only be sure of ourselves and not other people's good job and we need to cling to the baby so that she/he doesn't feel the distance or the rejection, we are there to meet all her needs as best as we can as it's our responsibility! The baby can't feel confident to go her/his way...Besides when we do too much and don't consider our needs we end up resenting the baby for taking up so much of our life.
With the second option, we are not taking risks, we don't feel anything towards the baby, better not try in case we make a mistake and the baby is hurt by us.
Perhaps the baby is rejecting us? Perhaps this baby is harder work and we won't manage to do it well?
The baby will grow up independent before his/her age without knowing real attachement.
The first risks to be a clinging attachment, the second an avoidant. These are two sides of the same coin.
So to sum up: when we take care of our "perfection " instead of staying with our vulnerability, we have a sense of control but if done in extreme we are just avoiding recognising that
1. Most mistakes can be repaired
2. That to try to have perfect control is making excessive demands on ourselves and hurting us and our baby and is not human, realistic.
3. That what happened before should not be confused with what's happening to our adult selves.
In the first case we are avoiding seeing strength in our babies, capacities, difference from us and learn to get to know the real baby instead of projecting into them our vulnerability and anxiety.
In the second case we might see strengths and differences that are not there just to justify that they are not vulnerable like us and in that case we don't "see "their vulnerabilities and don't need to teach them how to cope with them.
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About Rivka Mennesson
I'm an experienced psychodynamic psychotherapist with 10 years experience both in private and public sectors. I have an MA at the Tavistock and a PGdip at the WPF. I specialise in depression, anxiety disorders, loss and bereavement. I'm in my 40s and practice in English, Italian and French. My interest has been around women's health since I qualified with a dissertation on Postnatal Depression and… Read more
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