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The National Association of educational broadcasters presents Freud and the American mother one in a series of transcribed programs dealing with some of the discoveries and errors of Sigmund Freud. A series titled Man is not a thing. First you will hear Dr. Eric Fromm psychoanalyst and author as recorded in his study in Cuernavaca Mexico. Then you will meet Robert Nisbet dean of the College of Letters and Science University of California Riverside. Together with Floyd Ross professor of world religions of the Southern California School of Theology and Dr. Edward Rutan chief psychiatry east of the California State Mental hygiene clinic in Riverside. Now here is Erich Fromm as interviewed by John Harter in Cuernavaca Mexico. What was or what were the new thing or things that Freud told us about the mother child relationship the exchange between mother and child.
I would say the most important thing Freud discovered was a fact which one had not paid enough attention to namely the tremendous attachment which we find not only the child but unconsciously in many grown up people to the figure of the mother. Of course consciously we are all alike in as much as we are not insane. Normally people we are independent we make our own decisions and so on and so on but unconsciously you find in many people that they remain deeply attached to the mother figure and that this attachment is so intense that they can never get over it and that it determines all their lives. People ever differ on what levels so to speak. They remain attached to mother. You find a person who remains attached to mother on a very archaic level. You might say this person
remains attached to mother's womb. He's even afraid to be born. These people really are the people who clinically speaking we would consider severely sick. Other people remain attached to the mother's breasts. They are the eternal sucklings who are always afraid of being we always look for a figure who will feed them. Other people remain attached to mother's lap. They always want somebody who cuddles them who pampers them and who gives them security. Other people remain attached to mother's hand. They can play around and yet they are afraid of being completely by themselves. To discover the force and the power of this unconscious attachment to the mother's person. Even in the adult person was one of the great discoveries of Freud because it makes us understand pathology and to some extent even
the normal reaction of people who consciously believe to be independent and unconsciously are deeply dependent. Actually Freud called this whole phenomenon the Oedipus complex by which he referred to that deep and enduring attachment of the person to the motherly figure. Well how does this position how does the the Oedipus complex itself look from the perspective of today. Will we start here again. We have a matter of opinion. The Orthodox Freud humans believe in the Oedipus complex in the very same sense in which Freud saw it namely that this attachment to mother is based on sexual attraction. This followed from his ideas about infantine sexuality. He assumed the little boy legacy has his sexual strivings heterosexual strivings the mother is the woman so to speak who
he knows best or with whom is most intimate. And therefore he forms a sexual attachment to a mother which is very difficult for him to give up. I myself and a great number of other psychoanalysts believe that that was a mistake that the attachment of the little child to the mother is primarily not a sexual one. And on the other hand that the sexual strivings in little boy make him feel attached to other little girls a phenomenon which every mother can observe that the attachment to mother is much more profound and is much deeper. It is the wish inherent in any human being to be attached to a figure who is all loving unconditionally loving or protecting all at Meiring all embracing the idea of motherhood is you might see a cosmic idea of the or protecting haven where we have no responsibilities where we are protected. We have no obligations and where we have no
risks and is a problem of human life to renounce this and to march on the path of Independence. We are independent from mother and rely on our own strength and our own powers and know that there's nothing else we can rely on. Well to what degree do you feel that most American mothers fulfill the needs of this exchange between mother and child. Well I think American mothers in this respect are not really different from most other mothers except perhaps that they have read too much and that they are always eager to hear the latest or the latest gadget or the latest rule of behavior. I would say there is one fundamental problem in motherly love. Most women are good mothers. As long as a child is very small maybe there is a certain instinctive element still left in the human
race. Maybe there is an element of narcissism of self-love in the mother which makes her feel that the child is still part of herself and in which she loves the child a little child I mean in terms of really loving herself. But then when the child grows a little older their mother is confronted with a very difficult problem. She must go on loving the child and by loving I mean to love the child in this specifically motherly way of unconditional love. To love the child not because he does this or that because it pleases her because he's a it is like her but to love the child just because it is because it is her child that is motherly love which a child should experience while it is life. But at the same time the mother must want and not only tolerate. She must want and wish that the child emerges from her. That's a
child leaves that a child when he's ready for marriage loves another woman more than he loves her. That the child as a Bible says must leave his father his mother and stick of cleave to his wife. This is indeed the greatest difficulty for love to love and at the same time not to want to cling not to want to persist. And I think in this task many mothers face. It is exactly this character of all embracing love which does not want anything for oneself which has given the concept of motherly love its great dignity. Almost you might say its sanctity but at the same time it is also the task in which most mothers or many mothers fail. And therefore you might say of all forms of love Motherly love which is confronted with this very conflict which at this very difficulty is the most difficult love to achieve but also the greatest days.
You have heard Dr. Eric from psychoanalyst and author as recorded in his study in one of aka Mexico. Now to continue our discussion of Freud and the American mother we'll switch to Studio C at San Bernardino Valley College where we will join Dean Robert Nisbet of the University of California Riverside. Professor Floyd Ross of the Southern California School of Theology and Dr. Edward Rutan chief psychiatry of the riverside state mental hygiene clinic. Dean is but as our moderator. Well gentlemen with these introductory remarks Dr. Eric Fromm I think we might as well begin this time Professor Ross. What about your reactions are taught from his words and I'm impressed by the importance which the mother plays especially in the early years of life. I think Dr. from has made this very apparent. Dr. Roden your initial reactions I felt that from had to emphasize the dependent attachment that the child has to the mother
and particularly the role of the mother in promoting this attachment. I felt that he had perhaps not recognized the Oedipus complex for what Freud was saying that it was and had overlooked the relationship of the child's identification with the mother. Other words if I understood doctor from correctly what he is saying is that the central relationship between child and mother is not a sexual relationship in the literal sense of that word but is a relationship of dependence and not too different then from the child's dependence upon the father. This is the very point which I felt needed some amplification because certainly if we stayed with the impression that the relationship that developed between the child and the mother was based just on the mother's gratifying the dependant needs of the child then we would not be able to explain some of the phenomena that we see in childhood and also some of the phenomenon that we see in mothers who
become rather anxious about the relationships that develop between them and their children. You're thinking I suppose of the phenomenon of the American child and the American mother. I'm thinking of the phenomenon of the American child and I think most other children too in developing certain kinds of attachments to the mother beyond just seeing her as a source of comfort and cuddling. Well but motherhood exists always in the context of a particular type of family and I'd like to turn to Professor Ross for a moment here who has spent time in India and been in close contact with Indian families. And I asked him what he thinks from his remarks thinking now in terms of his experiences in India. Well I'd be inclined to say that perhaps his comments tend to under emphasize the element of real sexual attraction between the child and the mother. I'm not sure that my Indian friends were necessarily aware of this I would put it in this language
but I think it's interesting that in India there are many Indian mothers and fathers too who would point out that unless the child has a great deal of vitally contact with the mother or with the brothers and sisters in those first three years of life that the child will probably never feel as secure as it should. And I was interested in some of the Indians pointed out that American mothers seem to be very cruel by Indian standards they would put their baby in a go cart or in a playpen where the child could have no physical contact with my brother sister or mother excuse me my experience with visitors from the Far East and chiefly India has been to the effect that many of them regard our treatment of the American mother as callous. On the whole this surprised me very much when I first run into the reaction because I thought that with our celebration of Mother's Day and with a sort of mentality that tends to exist in American folklore and song about mother or about mom
probably we lead the world in our veneration for mother but some of my Hindu students at the university took a very different attitude toward this. They declared in so many words that we have taken the dignity of mother away. Have you had any. Reactions to that Dr. Rhoden in terms of your clinical experience what I mean is this Do you find in terms of some of the mother patients that you as a psychiatrist have had do you find that there is this element of a lack of status a feeling of insecurity that comes from not knowing what she is who she is. This is a very common problem that we see in working with women patients mothers of patients who are not being seen because their mother's patients being seen for other reasons but who in the course of working with them reveal that they feel a lack of recognition a lack of acceptance a lack of status a lack of any sense of belonging being derived from their being women or from their
being mothers and of course one questions why we need such an institution as Mothers Day why why do we need to formalize the concept of our devotion or tribute to mother. Isn't this a kind of sentimentalism. It's a kind of sentimentalism which I think suggests exactly the opposite that we must have rather ambivalent feelings towards mothers and mother figures and that in an effort to deny the resentments hostilities cetera the feeling that maybe we've been cheated haven't gotten enough love that we need to make sure that we assign at least one day when we can deny these negative feelings. That's really still true to that many an American mother. You're somewhat afraid of her own feelings of attachment to the newborn child young infant. Isn't this part of the residue of an earlier school of psychological thought which said that the mother should try to keep away from the baby and not cuddle it too much and not give it nightly contact but I'm not so sure that in the United States at the present time at
least in our general urban middle class society that the fear springs from that source what you say Professor Ross seems to me as a sociologist to be very cogent but I have wondered if much of this relationship of fear and diffidence that I see between mother and small child Springs instead from the isolation of the small family unit in our society from the older Ta'izz of the extended family the mother is thrown so much upon her own resources. Facing what is after all one of the most difficult and complex problems in the world namely the care of a newborn baby without the reinforcement that formerly came from older sisters from grandmother from aunts and so on. I wonder if this has got a good deal to do with the fair and not only has considerable to do with the fear as we find it clinically in this book but. Also we find that they we've thrown more responsibility on the mother we have made her
aware of the very strategic position that she is in regard to this child who is under five or six years of age so that we have increased her sense of responsibility while not providing her with the means to really respond to the responsibilities. In addition I think that we need to recognize that no person can give love. No person can can give devotion. No person can give a sense of respect to someone else unless they are feeling loved in themselves and are feeling respected themselves. This puts quite a burden then on the marital relationship itself. Now in effect you are saying first of all that in a nontraditional society such as that in the United States where we do not have the joint family system or the extended family the mother is subject to a higher degree of anxiety regarding her own selfhood and her role with reference to the child than would be to say in traditional village China before the revolution or in a country like India. So one of the first problems the American mother has to face
is this extended anxiety that she experiences. Then I sensed in your comments also the recognition of God as all too often in fact probably. That since the mother is sustained primarily by whatever quality of love she feels from the husband. If the husband lets her down in the quality of the relationship then this American mother is left somewhat stranded to fight through her own anxiety problem without too much assistance is that right and left stranded and then turns to the one source of gratification that she has and has the child in force and this brings us back to Frum's comments about the clinging mother of the mom ism that we've talked about in regard to the American mother. If her if she needs these sources of gratification if she needs to feel loved herself then she needs only to look at JR in the House who wants very much to love her and is giving her a good deal of love and attention in various
demonstrations of affection and she's got it there. In effect she exploits the child out of her own feeling of starvation doesn't she. Yeah because she lacks they are reinforcing context of her own relatives from the extended family she tends to use the child in a sense as a fulfillment as a projection and also an aspiration. I think Dean is but you could comment also on how much the love mother may remove herself from the family and seek these loves these attentions these affections by. Going to work by finding a career for herself getting the respect getting these needs gratified outside of the family and of course we have developing an American society and many areas now increasingly groups which in a sense are a substitute for the older relationships of the extended family. I'm thinking of some of the clubs and associations the neighborhood informal coffee gatherings and the like.
But there's another aspect of the anxiety that both of you gentlemen have referred to as arising from the mother's role in our small family. And that is the kind of anxiety that seems to me to be generated in the American family in the child by the closeness of his contact with the mother in the same way that the mother is rather isolated in our small family system. So perhaps is the child the child is thrown upon the company of his mother exclusively Doesn't this make the break eventually a sharper and perhaps more anxiety ridden experience for the child in our society. I would like to ask Ed at this point to whether if there are more children in the family the degree of tension that you referred to from this element of isolation is reduced thereby. Is it true that the larger the family the more chance that the degree of tension will be lessened. This certainly is not a general rule all the more or of a world against which the individual child can act out whatever
conflicts he has the better a chance he has for expending the energies that are involved in his conflicts. However if we consider the family of several siblings we have to also recognize that there is more and more demand being made of the mother that each of these children is dependent on the mother each is asking for more and more and more from her and which may increase her tensions so that we may get a vicious cycle created here of more and more demand more and more attention. And even though any one child in the family has the opportunity to act some of this out with his siblings rather than with the mother. The tension element in itself has become so much greater that it is questionable in some cases whether he has the adequate opportunity to act out some of his conflicts due to the fact that we can hardly expect American society to go back say to a joint family system. How can we visualize the American mother coming to a
greater awareness of the various rooms which she has to play. How can we help her overcome this feeling of being isolated and somewhat useless and many of her wrongs. I think Professor Ross has put his hand on a very central aspect of the characteristic nature of the American mother. She doesn't live as is true so often in other civilizations in the single or principal role of mother. Here she is expected to be typically not merely the mother of one or more children but to continue to be a husband's lover his wife his companion. She is expected through all of the imagery of American advertising to live up to a great many roles that are not thrust upon her in some other civilized nations. It seems to me that the part of the answer to France or Ross's question though lies in the greater responsibility that the father has then that it
seems to me that the father must be able to convey his own gratitude his own affections must be able to convey his respect. For his wife in her role as wife and mother. So that he does in fact feed her the very emotions the very senses that she's going to have to transmit to her own children. And I think that the society itself fits into this that the society's evaluation all of motherhood. And I don't mean glamorous motherhood I don't mean romanticized motherhood I mean motherhood as a daily chore activity and that this itself is needs the respect of society and deserves and can easily get the respect of society. Don't we need to stress also matter that a doctor from referred to a couple of times in his comments namely that the mother needs to learn how
to let go of the child. Being a mother is a kind of transitional thing. So far as the children are concerned at first the mother is all important and the mother may well love the child simply because she's loving her own extended selfhood as Dr. Frum indicated. But if the mother is reminded gently and periodically that her chief role as mother is to reseed as it were from birth on up to age 16 or 18 or 20 and if the father also is aware of this perhaps then the mother can achieve that larger selfhood through extending her interest beyond the home by stages and by degrees. Is this at all reasonable. This is not only reasonable but necessary. I think you are looking at it from the point of view of the needs of the child. And if we pause for a moment we can recognise that this is just as true when one considers this through the view of the needs of the mother. One of the most distressing situations we face in clinical practice is the mother who has stopped being a
mother by reason of certain realities the menopausal woman. Whose children are grown now whose physiologic system no longer allows her to even pretend that she can be a mother anymore. She faces the fact that she is a has been mother in a sense. And if her investment has been entirely in her children she faces minute pauses with great trepidation and pain faces the period beyond the men a pause with great fear with considerable depression which can all be resolved if she is able to invest herself in relationships and satisfactions outside of the family. And also if she is able to take pride in the family that she has created as independent individuals rather than just as extensions of herself looking forward to the generations that follow that she in a sense says created I think. Of a study that was made not very long ago in England of the plight
of English mothers the loneliness of English mothers. I quite agree with you that this is undoubtedly the way out for American mothers to find compensations through other types of association. But what these two English sociologist discovered in East London is that there seems to be no really adequate substitute for the relationship of the generations themselves most houses are built typically into generation fashion. There is no room in these houses for the mother's mother or for other relatives. And in this study it was found that a great deal of loneliness was not being compensated for in these model housing project and left a feeling of nostalgia for the tenement. They literally the slum tenements out of which many of these English families had moved into the housing project. And yet with their improved communication and transportation it would certainly be possible for these generation generations to be in contact with each other. Apparently
something in our culture today tends to increase the cleavage rather than to give some positive value to the continued relationship between the generations. Don't we need to recognize and doesn't have the mother she can recognize the fact that there is a certain basic ambivalence in her own psychic makeup. First of all and the thing that she is always aware of in the first half of life is her basic natural rhythm the life of the instincts if you please. But in addition as we now know in terms both of biological and psychological theory there is another side of her which is not related to her natural rhythm the life of the Spirit as it's been traditionally called. And haven't we implied that as the mother goes through this process of re-education in her own selfhood and letting go of the child she needs to move beyond her bondage to this purely instinctual level and recognize that she too has a side of her that is not tied in with any of the basic biological rhythms but which is every bit as
important and even more important in the latter half of life. Quite right and she has had a still another relationship that has been ambiguous and at times almost baffling and that is her relationship to the changing American norms on the subject not merely of motherhood but of the family in general. Was the whole movement that we think of as the emancipation of women I'm not always sure that that is really a historically justified term but nevertheless with the movements of individual ism that have been associated with the release of women from the older patriarchal family her status her role in the family has become increasingly ambiguous and so in addition to these biological and spiritual qualities that you referred to Professor Rashid had the added burden of they of adapting herself to the norms. Well I think we've reached probably a good stopping place here. And in light of Dr. from his remarks on the subject of mother the dependence between mother and the child in our own effort to
adapt these or to apply them to the reality of the American family I think probably we have arrived at a reasonable consensus. Our thanks to you Dr. Edward Roden chief psychiatrist of the riverside state mental hygiene clinic and to you Professor Floyd Ross of the Southern California School of Theology. You have been listening to Freud and the American mother one in a series of transcribed programs concerned with the discoveries and errors of Sigmund Freud. A series titled Man is not a thing. First you heard Dr Eric Fromm psychoanalyst and author as interviewed in his study in Cuernavaca Mexico then to Studio C at San Bernardino Valley College where we heard from Robert Nisbet dean of the College of Letters and Science University of California Riverside. Together with Lloyd Ross professor of World Religions Southern California School of Theology and Dr. Edward Rutan Jeev psychiatry of the California State Mental hygiene clinic in Riverside. These programs were produced and edited by John harder for the community education division of San
Man is not a thing
Freud and the American mother
Producing Organization
San Bernardino Valley College
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program, "Freud and the American Mother," looks at how Freud's theories apply to American mothers.
Series Description
This series presents a discussion of the discoveries and errors of Sigmund Freud and his impact on the American family, politics and religion.
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Editor: Harding, Bob
Interviewer: Walker, Fred
Producer: Harter, John
Producing Organization: San Bernardino Valley College
Speaker: Fromm, Erich, 1900-1980
Speaker: Nisbet, Robert A.
Speaker: Ross, Floyd Hiatt
Speaker: Rudin, Edward
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 58-22-3 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:11
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Chicago: “Man is not a thing; Freud and the American mother,” 1958-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 3, 2023,
MLA: “Man is not a thing; Freud and the American mother.” 1958-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 3, 2023. <>.
APA: Man is not a thing; Freud and the American mother. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from