A child’s empathy can be destroyed if the child is not nurtured

Anne Thurston, Associate Professor in John Hopkins University and Director of the Grassroots China Initiative, visited a Chinese orphanage in the 1990s and found the children there lying silent, withdrawn and immobile. She gives a chilling description of the orphanage and of the ‘dying’ room attached to it. The child wants to live, it is born to live and will do anything to live. Survival is a primal instinct, but the child is dependent on the adult for this survival. Further, if she receives consistent emotional support and affection she is able to love and have empathy later on in life with fundamental positive consequences for herself and for her descendants. Allan Schore points out that brain studies have shown that as early as eighteen months the human is capable of empathy for others. Empathy, therefore, is innate and embroidered on the neural circuit, but it can be obliterated if the child is not emotionally nurtured.
We always understood that the child’s first attachment-separation experience occurs at birth, when it leaves the warm comforting womb. But, is the womb always comforting and can the prenate experience fear of abandonment? Ivor Browne writes about the awareness and sensitivity of the foetus, and the psychologist Carista Luminare-Rosenin in her book, Parenting Begins Before Conception, holds that the mother can create an emotionally enriching womb environment that has a psychologically positive effect on the foetus. In other words, the mother and child already have a relationship before birth, and that bond is created early in the pregnancy. The father contributes to this by treating his partner with love and kindness and it is known that massaging the pregnant belly is very beneficial for the parents and the child. The baby is a social creature and that begins in the womb, where it seeks stimulation. There is evidence that it can establish some kind of bond with the father by recognising his voice, if the father speaks to it sufficiently often. It is one way for the father to come into contact with the foetus and is a way to bond with it, as he feels it responding and kicking in the womb.
If a negative womb environment is created, however, the foetus will be less secure and the assertion of the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, that fear is generated at birth and that we experience nine months safety in the womb is untrue. One study with a sample of 2891 women came to the conclusion that there was an association between prenatal depression and emotional and behavioural problems of children in mid to late childhood. Research shows that the foetus can experience a wide range of emotions including fear. It would seem that even when its eyes are fused (up to week 24), it has extra sensory perception and there are suggestions that it can even sense if it is not wanted, and subsequently has more psychological issues later in life. These include school problems. Other evidence suggests that people who have negative experiences in the womb grow into adulthood feeling unwanted and unlovable, two of the major hallmarks of adult fear of abandonment.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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