Create your perfect mother

June 2017

By Dr Dayal Mirchandani

Inadequate nurturing in infancy can lead to insecure attachment patterns causing emotional and psychological problems in adulthood. However, a new therapy offers the hope of quick healing, says Dr Dayal Mirchandani

Reena (35), a high-powered executive, perpetually got into difficult relationships. Her ex-boyfriends had variously cheated on her: they had physically abused her, borrowed money that was never returned, and even cut off all association with no explanation. It was only after one of her friends listed out all her short-term “loser” relationships, that she admitted she had a problem and agreed to therapy.

In therapy Reena became much clearer about her own patterns. She realised that she would make excuses for the other person, ignoring the warning signs anyone else would easily have recognised. For instance, one of her ex-boyfriends would drink, claiming that this was only on weekends. It was only after he started borrowing money that she noticed how much he was spending on alcohol. Another had road rage, and would often mutter or make threatening gestures at other drivers. When she moved in with him she found that he was verbally abusive and could barely restrain himself from violence. Her most recent partner had been a 42-year-old who lived with his widowed mother. She heard he had broken off with a number of long-term partners after promising to marry them. Eventually, when she broached the subject of marriage he started to avoid her.

Within a few sessions her therapist informed her that her relationship issues were caused by an insecure attachment pattern. This probably dated back to infancy when she had been separated from her mother who developed tuberculosis, and had to be isolated for a few months. He explained that in the late 1940s the British psychiatrist Bowlby noticed that infants in orphanages failed to thrive. He noticed that these children had multiple caretakers, someone to clean, someone else to feed each shift. He suggested that each child be placed in the care of one nurse with whom they bonded and suddenly these children started gaining weight, smiling more, and appeared less miserable. The realisation of the importance of this bond led to changes in childrearing practice. Unlike earlier, even hospitals started admitting the mother along with a hospitalised baby especially in the first two years of life.

Like all mammals, human infants are born with an instinct to
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