We All Eventually Turn Into Our Mothers (And It’s Not A Bad Thing)
When faced with a stressful situation, our brain reverts back to its first memories and that’s usually one with our mother – it’s scientific…and really quite sweet.
It’s a phenomenon known to and sometimes dreaded by many women. One fateful day you catch a glimpse in the mirror or hear yourself uttering a familiar phrase and realize, “Oh my God, I’ve become my mother.”
A 2013 poll released by the British gaming site Dotty Bingo revealed that more than half of women surveyed, 52 percent, felt they “became their mothers,” developing similar tastes and mimicking behaviors, between the ages of 30 to 35. The most common age women identified as seeing this transformation happen was 31.
Though not the most accredited of sources, the site’s results do seem to be backed by science. Neurologists find that, especially under stress, the brain reacts along familiar pathways established during childhood. Just as we turn to our mothers for support and comfort in times of need, so apparently, do our brains.
It’s not surprising that the women who raised and shaped us have a lasting neurological impact. In Dotty Bingo’s survey more than 50 percent of respondents said their mothers were “the most inspirational figure” in their lives. For those who regard their mothers as loving, nurturing, and supportive role models, emulating this example is a noble aspiration.
“We all have heroes in our life and they influence us in many ways,” says Dr. Prakash Masand, CEO of Global Medical Education (GME). “If you have a positive connection with somebody, you tend to imitate them.”
This repetition of behavioral patterns occurs as a result of blood flow to the brain. In examining blood flow in the human body, neurologists compared reactions between different family members under the same stressful conditions.
What they found was that children learn how to react by observing their parents. This often manifests itself when women become mothers themselves and start to repeat once-dreaded phrases like “Because I said so.”
“In my experience there’s a tendency to repeat patterns,” explains Dr. Shanna German, a New York City psychologist who is starting a mother/daughter therapy group in conjunction with another prominent family therapist, her mother, Dr. Patti German. “A lot of this has to do with the fact that we model off what we know and most of us only have one mother to follow.”
However, just because the brain learns certain responses does not mean one is forever locked into them. “Like an alarm clock, people can be rewired,” says Dr. Masand.
“There’s nothing that prevents you rewriting [your brain’s connections],” he adds. “You can change the software by molding the hardware.”
This can occur in a number of ways, including through interactions with other significant persons such as a partner or spouse and with intentional behavioral changes. Therefore, for children of addicts and abusive parents, conscious decisions to act in the opposite and abstain from those harmful behaviors can be effective.
“If you have a negative connection because of lack of maternal sensitivity or emotional or physical abuse, the brain picks up environmental images and it’ll say my path from A to B…is going to be a different path,” says Dr. Masand.
But to truly develop new patterns of behavior Dr. German recommends therapy. “It can be really helpful for women to move forward and create their own healthier patterns,” she advises. “I think a lot of the ways in which we can veer away from patterns we don’t want is by having insight and awareness.”
This insight and awareness can also offer answers as to why we are reluctant to adopt those patterns in the first place. Oftentimes, “It’s a societal taboo,” says Dr. German. “We believe it’s not OK to become like [our mothers], besides the fact that maybe you really look up to and respect them.”
Pausing, she adds, “So really why would it be so bad?”
Laurie Kamens is a freelance writer living in New York. She has written for several publications including The New York Times, The New York Post, The Jewish Daily Forward, Flavorwire, Interview Magazine, and Long Island Pulse. Follow her on Twitter @lauriekamens.