The “Devouring Mother” Archetype and the Psychology of Infantilization


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So according to its definition, an archetype is a kind of psychological “model” or a feature of consciousness that each of us becomes; manifesting from the inner aspect of ourselves. In turn, this influences our conscious decisions and desires in our day to day existence. Metaphysically speaking, archetypes are the primal concepts and ancient ideas that are inextricably connected to one’s thoughts, ideations, visions, and identity; the “images that organize information into a narrative we can understand”. These are the stories of many different characters from the ancient scriptures that have guided humanity through ages; through religion and other kinds of narratives which has moral value.   

What is “devouring mother archetype”?

This archetype is the kind of mother character that is somewhat regarded as pathological as it overprotects their children even to the point of abuse or unconscious hatred, especially when they don’t get what they want from their child or if they lose control of situations.  Sometimes, this psyche comes out from fear and insecurity of the mother; rooted from their own inability to accept the ugliness of their own life and incompleteness of their experiences. Or sometimes, these are simply products of negative experiences. As a result, the devouring mother character creates “old infants”, as Jordan Peterson calls it, or psychologically immature and incompetent children or adults which are unfortunately struggling hard to cope with the world around and less able to effectively deal with challenges and real threats of life. This is also called infantilization; the production of the childish adults or the man/woman-child.    

In the article “The Ruler Archetype – Three Types of Matriarch”, this is what the author wrote:

“The devouring mother, one of the many aspects of the mother archetype, is one of the most fascinating archetypes lurking in the human psyche that can apply to any of us – female or otherwise. Having spawned her children, found her mate or simply turned around to prey on her existing family or circle of friends, the devouring mother is much like a co-dependent; high on the drug of assistance she smothers her children with an excess of love; stifling their very growth and suffocating those around her, even resorting to child abuse to get her way.

The Devouring Mother comes from a place inside of us that is afraid to be alone; afraid of solitude in the guise of loneliness… afraid of herself. Having served others for so long she becomes obsessive, controlling… even violent in her need to assert her control on the rest of us. Much like the darker aspects of the sacred feminine such as the femme fatale ‘female trickster’, she uses her ‘rule’ as her ultimate identity and lets it feed her ego, forgetting that a mother – as well as guide her children – must also know when to let them find their own way and control their own destiny. The Devouring Mother can also be those who hide behind our followers. Devoid of real connection with ourselves we become shadows, wallowing in shame and pushing those around us forward yet to our own gain rather than theirs. The Devouring Mother becomes strict, critical and manipulative… and ultimately feared.”

Meanwhile, Jordan Peterson also articulated this many times on his talks and interviews. In one of those, this is what he said:

“The Oedipal complex, also known as the Oedipus complex, is a term used by Sigmund Freud in his theory of psychosexual stages of development to describe a child’s feelings of desire for his or her opposite-sex parent and jealousy and anger toward his or her same-sex parent. The oedipal mother is the mother that gets too closed to her children and intermingles her self with them to great a degree. That in her attempts to protect them undermines them fatally. There’s a classic representation of the feminine in the West and the classic representation is “Mary”. It’s derived at least in part from the story of Mary and the snake in the garden of Eden. So Mary has her foot on a serpent and she’s holding Christ up to the side. Well that’s exactly what mothers have always done; it’s a biological portrait of human women; they hold their infants out of the reach of the terrible serpentine predator. Obviously, that’s what we do. Well that’s fine but adults aren’t the infants and neither are children. And if you treat them like that, you undermine them, you pathologize them; you turn them into an old infant. That’s an ugly thing and that’s the Freudian nightmare.

What Freud observed is that there is usually no good boundaries at families like that and so the relationship between the husband and the wife was either strange of non-existent and the mother would often turn to the child to get what she isn’t getting from the husband. Mothers who don’t have something outside their infants, not merely their children, are more likely to fall into that (become overbearing). No wonder. You got to think that through, lots of women really or most women really fall in love with their babies and so even if they start growing into larger children, that could be threatening because when a child or an infant turns into a toddler, the infant is dead, the toddler is there now. And you can radically interfere with that process, all the time. That’s the classic Freudian oedipal nightmare.”

What is infantalization?

According to its definition, it is “the act of prolonging an infantile state in a person by treating them as an infant”.

“The important thing about infantilizing a child from point of view of the narcissistic parents is that her goal is to make the child feel incompetent everytime they try and do something new. They always seem to sort of step in and offer to do things for the adult child or the teenage child when they can clearly do that on their own and they don’t need a parent’s help to do it. As the child ages further or when a child becomes an adult, this sort of abuse seems to get worst and worst because you’ve got to remember that a narcissistic parent doesn’t see their child in a healthy way. They see the child as an extension of themselves. They don’t want the child to become independent because if the child becomes independent, the narcissistic parents will lose control, they will lose them as a narcissistic supply. Narcissistic parents are masters of undermining their children’s independence.”

Other examples of this are parents who often strongly criticize their children to the point of discouraging them or shaming them and breaking their confidence. These kinds of parents always act critical on many things their children do or have without genuine appreciation whatsoever, acting as if their children are just materials and machines for feeding their soul-devouring ego. They use excessive criticisms and hurtful comments against their own children, usually projecting on to them their own frustrations, incompetence, and dissatisfactions, unknowingly and profoundly shrouded with so-called good intentions which are of course, inspired by various cultural myth from conformity and norms.

These kinds of parents act as if their child isn’t able to make decisions on their own and cannot handle situations when in fact they can and that they are capable of doing or accomplishing things or even handling difficult or challenging situations. Yet, sometimes the devouring mother or parent who infantilizes its child is very disapproving; they use guilt tripping, gas-lighting and other kids of deception and tricks just to maintain the control and continue manipulate the child into catering their own selfish needs and feeding their ego. In some circumstances, they even interfere with their child’s relationship; somewhat dictating their ideas or imposing their opinions. Often, it results to the loss of self-esteem, self-doubt and even ends up on self-sabotage.

References:

https://www.sott.net/article/356402-The-Devouring-Mother-Understanding-the-psychological-archetypes-of-consciousness

https://www.litcharts.com/lit/the-feminine-mystique/terms/the-devouring-mother

Featured image: https://blog.theautismsite.greatergood.com/infantilization-autism/

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