The role of a parent in an individual’s mental health development and the health of our society, has never been so prevalent to me after studying the theories of Alfred Adler, Louis Cozolino, and Karen Horney. Each of these theorists agree that early childhood experiences determine a person’s behavior and world view for the rest of their lives. Adler (1958) emphasizes that a person’s “style of life” or behavior pattern is “crystallized” by age 5 (p. 34). In fact, the roots of mental illness stem from poor parenting such as neglect, abandonment, and abuse. For an individual, this leads to a life of suffering and a potential of contributing less to society. In this paper, I will focus on quality of parenting related to the developing brain of children in producing long-term neuroticism.
The Infant Brain
The human brain is most pliable during childhood. A child’s experiences during this time of development determine their behavior and beliefs as they mature into adulthood. At the moment of birth, an infant has a deep longing for the affection of their mother. According to Adler (1958) “For many months his mother plays overwhelmingly the most important role in his life; he is almost completely dependent upon her…. This connection is so intimate and far-reaching that we are never able, in later years, to point to any characteristic as the effect as heredity” (p. 120). It is intriguing that the mother and infant connection is so deep that it can override heredity. Based on Adler’s conclusion, I believe that mothers perform the most vital role in determining the future of mankind.
As an infant enters early childhood their world view starts forming based on the treatment they receive from their parents. Horney (as cited in Olson, 2011) states that a child’s basic needs are “safety and security”. Any behavior by a parent such as neglect, humiliation, or unfair punishment threatens their child’s security and is “basic evil” The result of a parent’s “basic evil” is a behavior of “basic hostility” expressed by the child towards their parents and the outside world (p. 129). The result of poor parenting has profound negative effects on a person as they navigate through adulthood. If a child’s basic needs of safety, security, and satisfaction are fulfilled by their parents, they will develop healthy thought patterns, resulting in a more fulfilling life. However, if the treatment they receive from their parents during these early developmental years does not meet their basic needs, the individual is likely to develop neurosis and suffer from mental illness. Depending on the extent and longevity of their mental illness, the individual may not survive. “When a parent abuses, neglects, or abandons a child, the parent is communicating to the child that he or she is less fit. Consequently, the child’s brain may become shaped in ways that do not support his or her long-term survival” (Cozolino, 2014, p. 7).
As you can see, childhood experiences have a massive impact on a person’s behavior and personality as they age. The course of life an individual travels is determined by the quality of parenting they receive as a child. It is possible to change problematic behavior by seeking out and undergoing effective treatment. I acknowledge that there are also biological factors that influence behavior, personality, and mental illness, which I would like to cover in another paper. Our society needs to put more emphasis on quality parenting, especially during the early childhood years and embrace the importance of a nurturing mother to an infant. I believe that better parenting would lead to decreased mental illness, suffering, misconduct, and a significantly increased quality of life.
Olson, Matthew, H., Hergenhahn, B. R. (2011). Theories of Personality. (8th ed.). Pearson Education, Inc., NJ
Adler, Alfred., Porter, ALan, Ed (1958). What Life Should Mean To You. (9th imp.). Capricorn Books, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York
Cozolino, L. (2014). The neuroscience of human relationships: Attachment and the developing social brain (2nd ed.). New York: Norton.