Sunday 28 May 2017

I hate to say it, but all shortcomings can be blamed on your mother

Psychoanalyst Dr. Sigmund Freud, of Vienna, departs on his first airplane flight from Tempelhof Field in Berlin, Germany, on Nov. 9, 1928. AP file photo
Psychoanalyst Dr. Sigmund Freud, of Vienna, departs on his first airplane flight from Tempelhof Field in Berlin, Germany, on Nov. 9, 1928. AP file photo
Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

Here's a jolly anecdote for Mother's Day next weekend. Sigmund Freud and Charles Darwin walk into a bar and find two laboratory mice serving drinks. The mice are mother and daughter and both are heavily intoxicated. "Tell me," asks the mother mouse. "Why is my daughter an alcoholic?" "Bad mothering," says Freud. "Bad maternal genes," says Darwin. Either way, it's the mother's fault.

We all try to be nice to our mammies on Mother's Day if we still have them, or to think about them if we don't. And maybe that's a compensation for mothers carrying so much responsibility for the rest of the year. And taking the blame for so much too. First we had Dr Freud telling his patients their mother was the cause of their neuroses: she was too dominant, or too passive, or too cold, or too smothering, or the source of the Oedipus complex.

Freud has fallen out of favour, but there is a new line of specialists inclined to saddle mothers with the responsibility of life-long influences, sometimes baneful: these are the neuroscientists, the boffins of the brain who are increasingly powerful in the field of ideas. And their main message is that everything in your personality was encoded in your brain when you were in your mother's womb.

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