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Bonding or Violence: An Introduction

by Michael Mendizza

A baby's developing body and brain mirror and reflect, lifelong, the emotional-sensory environment provided by its first primary relationship, that is with its mother. The Origins of Love & Violence  take root in this first, primary sensory environment. What we call "affectional bonding" or nurturing, or its absence-- very early in life--structures the developing brain to interpret the world and its relationships as peaceful, pleasurable and loving or hostile, painful and violent depending on trust or anxiety experienced in this first relationship.

The biological processes involved in the Origins of Love & Violence are no longer a mystery. During pregnancy a mother's body provides the sensory stimulation; the taste, touch, smell, sight, sound, and the pleasure or pain associated with these sensations that shape her baby's brain. The state of the mother's own body, in relationship to her environment, safe and nurturing, or unsafe and anxious, is mirrored in the baby's developing brain and nervous system. If mother feels safe and is herself nurtured, her baby's brain, with its creative capacities, will reap the benefit. If mother feels unloved or unsupported, is threatened, anxious, and fearful, nature will give greater emphasis to her baby's ancient core brain, with its defensive and survival systems, at the expense of evolution's newer creative capacities.

What begins in pregnancy continues and expands at birth. And nature intends that direct intimate contact with mother's body will provide the pleasurable stimulation and emotional nurturing, the essential nutrients needed for her baby to develop a normal and healthy brain and nervous system.

During pregnancy, birth and beyond, if not interfered with, nature locks the mother and baby's biorhythms, heart frequencies, hormonal balances, sleep patterns and a thousand other living systems into reciprocal bonded patterns. The baby provides the precise stimulus for mother to open and develop new capacities, and mother does the same for her baby. Their language is non-verbal; sensation and feeling. Nature assumes this bond will develop and places baby close to the mother's body and breast for just this reason, and for an extended period of time. Interfering with this close, intimate, skin-to-skin contact prevents a vital exchange of sensory experiences, nutrients and information required for normal and healthy brain development.

The absence of what we call bonding is neglect and abuse. Recently researchers at the McLean Hospital identified four types of permanent brain abnormalities caused by early childhood abuse and neglect. These and many other studies confirm what  James W. Prescott, Ph.D., and associates discovered in the 1960's and 1970's; that lack of affectionate, intimate contact between mothers and infants during the most sensitive periods of brain growth may result in permanent brain abnormalities associated with juvenal and adult patterns of depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, aggression and violence.

Today the mirrored-reciprocal relationship we call bonding is threatened. Mothers are not valued, nurtured or supported by the culture. Drugs and technological birth practices routinely separate mothers and babies during the most sensitive bonding period. Single parent families, an euphemism for single moms, without the support, mentoring, and nurturing of extended families and communities, routinely place the majority of infants and young children in institutional childcare for extended periods of time, shortly after birth. Lack of initial bonding, institutional childcare, and social pressures, such as work schedules and welfare reform prevent most mothers from bonding with and breast-feeding their babies.

Nothing can quite replace the loving touch and nurturing a mother provides for her baby, and through her touch she nurtures all of humanity. And what about fathers? It is the primary role of males to protect and support the women they love, so they can nurture all our children.

Maria Montessori claimed that humankind abandoned in this early formative period becomes the worst threat to its own survival. To betray this essential need for nurturing which means loving, pleasurable touch and body contact, especially in males, who are biologically most vulnerable early in life, results in increasing numbers of juvenile and adult males who batter, abuse and rape females, the true source of the nurturing they need. And this cycle of violence spreads throughout society and the world.

What you will find in this section, Bonding & Violence, is the historical research, the politics, interviews, past publications and copies of rare footage documenting how an absence of nurturing, affection, playful movement and breast feeding results in a variety of brain abnormalities associated with depression, aggression, impulse dyscontrol, substance abuse, obesity and violence.

Some of the information is highly technical, archived here for historical and research purposes. All is accessible and may be of interest to interested parents, educators, health and child care professionals.

In 1952 John Steinbeck wrote in East of Eden:

"The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears. I think everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection. And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime guilt--and there is the story of mankind."

Dr. Prescott's pioneering research found here explains the Origins of Love & Violence, dramatically, clearly.                                                                                                           

Early History of The Origins of Love & Violence
James W. Prescott, born in the depression years, was orphaned as a boy with his three brothers. These years of separation from his mother and family left their lasting impression and provided the insight and drive to his life's work. When he joined the newly formed National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), NIH he formed the Developmental Behavioral Biology Program and became its Health Scientist Administrator from 1966-1980. A major focus of this NICHD research program was to understand why depression and violence results from maternal-infant/child separations. Caspar Weinberger, then Secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (renamed the Department of Health and Human Services-DHHS), directed the NICHD to expand its studies to uncover the origins of child abuse and neglect and of violence in the home. Dr. Prescott's seventeen-year federal career was terminated for supporting DHEW Secretary Caspar Weinberger's Directive to the NICHD and for opposing the NICHD's abandonment of its agency responsibility for supporting child abuse and neglect research programs. 
See: http://www.violence.de/history/coverup.html

As a developmental neuropsychologist and cross-cultural psychologist, Dr. Prescott focused the NICHD program efforts on developing research programs to understand how loss of early maternal-infant bonding-- as sensory deprivation of somatic maternal love and nurturing-- affects the developing primate brain that accounts for the pathologies of depression and violence that results from such early maternal separations. 
See http://www.violence.de/

[2002] The Origins of Love & Violence: An Overview by James W. Prescott, Ph.D.