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Maternal Hostility as Nature’s Shadow

with Daniela F. Sieff, PhD


Date: Tuesday November 29th

Time: 19.30-21.00 GMT (UK time)


How recent research in evolution and anthropology can help to build a more nuanced and compassionate understanding of hostile mothering.



For those interested in Marion Woodman’s work, this presentation offers a biological view of The Archetypal Death Mother, and helps to elucidate the roots of this archetype in humanity’s evolutionary heritage.





In Western cultures most people believe that mothers instinctively love and protect all their children. This belief makes it difficult to understand why a mother might feel hostility towards her child, or even worse, act out her hostility in a way that harms her child. Indeed, in our society we generally see hostile mothers as unnatural, and perhaps mentally ill.


Mothers naturally internalize society’s beliefs, so they tend to experience deep shame whenever they feel hostility. Tragically, this shame makes it more likely that they will act out their hostility. The expression of maternal hostility is always harmful to a child, but is seeing maternal hostility as unnatural the best way to understand this behavior, or is there a more insightful perspective?


In this webinar, Daniela Sieff will argue that modern evolution and anthropology offer a more insightful and compassionate understanding, and share the relevant research. She'll also argue that this understanding can contribute to clinical work with struggling mothers, as well as to programs focused on preventing mothers from treating their children in a hostile manner.

Link to book tickets for this webinar


This webinar will discuss:


  • The continuum of maternal emotions and behavior bequeathed to us by evolution.

  • How maternal emotions and behavior have evolved to be sensitive to a mother’s environment.

  • The compromises ancestral mothers needed to make to keep at least some children alive.

  • How ancient compromises have echoes in modern society & may contribute to maternal hostility.

  • How a lack of knowledge of evolutionary influences can create shame in struggling mothers.

  • How maternal shame increases the risk that mothers will act out their hostility.

  • How evolution has furnished humans not with a fully-fledged ‘maternal instinct’, but with a disposition to learn about mothering from what they experience & observe during childhood.


The goals of this webinar:


  • Foster a more compassionate and evolutionary valid understanding of motherhood.

  • Contribute to clinical work with struggling mothers.

  • Contribute to programs focused on preventing mothers acting out hostility

  • Encourage struggling mothers develop a more self-compassionate and less shameful understanding of their own hostility, and so be able to address it more openly.

  • Help those who have grown up with hostile mothers understand more about the dynamic.


Is this webinar right for you?


  • The webinar is open to anybody with an interest in psychological dynamics & how they impact behavior.

  • This webinar draws on 20 years research. Daniela will work hard to present ideas in a manner that is not only accessible and engaging, but also nuanced and layered.

  • The webinar is based on a keynote given to (1) The Royal College of Psychiatry and (2) The Compassionate Mind Foundation. If you attended either of those , then this may not be for you.

  • This webinar is intended to be educational, rather than ‘therapeutic’.


Webinar logistics, structure, recording and attendance certificates


  • The webinar will last 90 mins & comprise a 45-60 min presentation, followed by questions & discussion.

  • The presentation, questions & discussion will be recorded. Those who have bought a ticket will be e-mailed a link to the recording within a week of the event. It will be viewable for 2 weeks only.

  • Certificates of attendance will be available after the event.


Link to book tickets for this webinar