Mothers have evolved throughout the millennia to play with their infants.
Having the ability to engage in healthy play has evolved through the millennia to build healthy body-nervous system-brain-mind selves in our species. Play happens when the world is a friendly place to be. Play TELLS us that the world is a friendly place to be.
When the environment surrounding mother and infant-child is benevolent, healthy play is most usually present. This benevolence in the environment is then built into the growing-developing offspring.
When the environment surrounding mother and infant-child is hostile, toxic, lacking in essential survival qualities and therefore is malevolent, a mother’s ability to engage in healthy play with her offspring is interfered with.
Thus, the absence of healthy playfulness between mother and offspring signal the developing infant-child on every physiological level that trauma exists in its world. The offspring will then be forced to change and adapt to the best of its physiological abilities to prepare itself for a lifetime within a malevolent world.
Healthy playfulness between a mother and her offspring only happens to the degree that the environment is safe and secure enough to allow this play to happen.
If a mother grew and developed in her own early childhood in a world that signaled her body-nervous system-brain-mind self that the world was malevolent, she is most likely carrying unresolved trauma within herself that then signals to her offspring that the world is malevolent. Her offspring will then have to change according to the trauma-present-in-the-world message just as its mother did.
Both mother and infant-child will then suffer from a lack of safety and security perceived as permanent and real by their physiological development. When trauma is present, healthy play is interfered with because our evolution has designed our species so that degree, quality, kinds of, presence of healthy play and playful attitudes directly indicate the degree of either benevolence or malevolence in the world.
I am not talking about play as we might think about it in today’s world. This kind of play has nothing to do with toys or ‘stuff’. Healthy play that signals to offspring the condition of the world is about direct face-to-face interaction between mother and infant-child. The presence of a world safe and secure enough to allow for this kind of play between early caregivers and offspring has operated throughout our evolution.
It was only when the world because safe and secure enough, adequate and benevolent enough for this level of play to grow and thrive that humans ever achieved powers of speech at all (only about 140,000 years ago). The physiological systems within our body and brain had to have already evolved sophisticated organizational and orientational abilities to have ever allowed our powers of speech to manifest in the first place because speech uses all those preexisting abilities.
Any time trauma happens it always disrupts ongoing coherent life. If trauma cannot be resolved, consequences happen. Dissociation represents one of the fundamental consequences of a being’s inability to resolve trauma. Dissociation continues to affect a mother because its very existence means that something malevolent occurred that was not able to be resolved.
A dissociating mother thus communicates her state of unresolved trauma to her offspring primarily through an interruption in her ability to engage in healthy play and playful attitudes with her offspring. The key to healthy playfulness between a mother and her offspring is that it is APPROPRIATE.
Appropriate, and therefore healthy play and playfulness between a mother and her offspring, the kind of play that then signals the offspring to grow an entire body geared for life in a benevolent world, happens when the mother’s entire focus is on fostering the well-being of her infant-child.
Mother’s have evolutionarily evolved to respond appropriately to their offspring so that their play-filled responses do not overwhelm, over stimulate or under stimulate them. When a mother has experienced enough trauma during her own development that incoherency in the form of dissociation has been built into her entire body, she is not likely to be able to operate from this optimal, benign, benevolent-world-condition state within herself. She will then communicate her own preexisting, unresolved trauma states directly to her offspring.
Terror, pain and trauma interrupt play and the ability to play. This lack of play and the ability to play then acts as a direct signal that communicates malevolence in the world. When healthy play and playfulness exist, they happen in a safe and secure world, not in the midst of trauma.
A mother who does not carry unresolved trauma into her interactions with her offspring will be able to focus on the well-being of her offspring and demonstrate the benevolence of the world to her developing infant-child through her healthy, appropriate play and playfulness with it.
These interactions operate from birth to form first the right, limbic, emotional, social brain. As the infant-child continues to grow, the foundation of play or its absence, built within its body-nervous system-brain-mind-self will further influence the development of its later-forming left brain, the connection between the two hemispheres of its brain, and the development of its higher-processing cortical abilities.
A non-dissociating mother is able to have appropriate hopes, dreams, wishes and desires for the well-being of her offspring. She will automatically be able to orient herself and organize her interactions with her offspring. Her goal, destination, direction and purpose regarding her offspring will be benevolent. This benevolence will be communicated through safety and security that manifests itself in healthy play and playfulness toward her offspring.
A dissociating mother will experience breaks in her ongoing interactions with her offspring that will vary in degree according to the changes that had to happen to her during her own development in a malevolent early environment.
In my case, my mother’s dissociation toward me was extreme, fundamental and complete. In her psychosis she believed that I was evil, that I tried to kill her while I was being born, that I was not human, and that I was sent to be a curse on her life. Her psychotic dissociation in-formed every interaction she ever had with me from the time I was born.
My mother’s unresolved trauma, manifesting itself in her dissociation, prevented her from ever being able to respond to me with anything like appropriate, healthy play or playfulness. She was not able to consider my well-being because she could never understand that I was a separate entity from her. I was merely and continually the recipient of her slit-off projection of her intolerable perception of her own badness.
She not only could not have playful interactions with me that I needed to build a non-trauma centered body-nervous system-brain-mind-self, but her psychosis was so severe that she prevented ME from ever being able to play at all.
The absolute disturbance in the necessary operation of play in my childhood directly ties into my own dissociation. The trauma I experienced in the malevolent environment of my childhood could not possibly be integrated into a coherent self. However, as a mother to my own children I was able to know they were separate beings from me, and I was able to focus as much as I possibly could on them and on the development of their well-being.
In other words, I was able to organize and orient a ‘mothering self’ within me that existed to foster the development of my children. Because I could do this, I could offer to them enough play and playfulness that it communicated to them a relative lack of trauma in the world and enough of a sense of safety and security in the world that I did not pass my unresolved trauma onto them.
They did not have perfect childhoods because the unresolved trauma and the changes that had to happen to me so that I could survive my childhood affected every other aspect of my being-in-the-world, and therefore DID affect them. But these problems were MINE and I was able to keep them myself. I did not force them INTO my children the way my mother forced her unresolved trauma INTO growing and developing me.
As we return in our thoughts to consider our infancy and childhood through the lens of playfulness and play or its absence, we can become much more clear about how our caregivers’ unresolved trauma — or the absence of it — operated to directly communicate to our growing and developing body on all its levels what the condition of the world was like.
If appropriate and healthy play and playfulness was there for us, it is during those experiences that we were developing in an ‘ordinary’ way. If it was absent, some degree of trauma was present, and we were forced at those times in our development to try to adapt to that malevolency.
Who we are today and how we are in our bodies in the world is directly connected to play and playfulness because it is only in times of safety and security that play exists at all.