I and Thou

Close Relationships
    • Nurture, Caring and Affiliation

      Babies depend on mothers who care a lot about them and sacrifice personal interests and needs in favor of babies' needs. We speak of "mother's love" referring to the fascination of the mother with her child and the devotion she displays for the rest of her life. We refer to maternal feelings with words that describe a cluster of feeling states that appear when humans care about and care for each other. The root feeling is affection and the associated behaviors are grooming, feeding, protecting and sweet talk. Sweet talk is mostly prosodic utterances that are pleasing and reassuring but have little or no linguistic meaning

      There is a spectrum of animal and human affiliation that is manifest by body contact, grooming, licking and reassuring vocalizations. Humans generalize from maternal and paternal nurturance to develop different levels of affectionate behavior. A child will often treat other children, dolls and pets with affection and concern that suggests a mother’s influence.

      The prototype of maternal love is breast-feeding an infant. The sucking infant’s instinct is to root for the nipple and suck milk from the mother’s breast. If the mother is available, patient and succulent, the infant thrives not only on the nutrients available in the milk, but also because of maternal contact. Mother’s warmth, her movements, her breathing, her heartbeat, her sounds and smells become incorporated in the deep memory of the infant and are never forgotten. There is a strong innate basis to feelings of nurturance and affiliation. Even children who are treated harshly will sometimes be affectionate and conversely some children who are treated well will be callous and punitive toward others from an early age.

      Children who lack close maternal contact in the first year will seldom develop an affectionate disposition and will have difficulty being empathetic toward others. Men often feel affection toward their children and their lovers and can be gentle, caring and considerate. Men have rougher versions of affection for adult male friends and may embrace each other with loud noises and thumps of the back that would bruise or offend most women. Lovers will feel affection when their love is fresh and beautiful and will display nurturing behaviors toward each other. The female is more naturally maternal, but the male lover is capable of a full range of grooming, feeding and protecting behaviors. There are exceptions.

      Mother's Love

      Nurturing feelings must complete with other feelings for expression and can be displaced by selfish concerns, anxiety, fear or anger.
      Not all women are perfect mothers and if mother-child bonding fails in the first weeks of her infant's life, mother will not be as affectionate and devoted as she needs to be to take good care of the child. An affectionate, attentive, even-tempered mother who carries the child with her, breastfeeds her infant, speaks and sings to the child, offers the optimal feeling environment for infant development.

      An absent mother is not a good mother. An anxious, inconsistent, unstable mother, who cannot breast-feed her baby, is not attentive and affectionate and gets angry when the child is not doing well will leave her child feeling-disabled. Since all subsequent learning is built on the foundation of brain function laid down in the first five years, deficiencies of maternal affection and nurturance at this time will leave a life-long disability that may not be reparable. A gentle, affectionate parent never threatens or hits a child; time out, negotiation, humor and affection resolve all conflict. A good parent should never assume that other adults will treat their child with the same kindness and concern that they offer. A non-related adult does not have the tolerance and commitment of a biological parent and will react differently, Babies and young children are especially vulnerable; they demand a lot, cry a lot and only a devoted mother will sustain a benevolent interest in meeting their demands. A frustrated adult becomes angry and tends to threaten or punish a difficult child. A similar set of feeling rules governs adult relationships. A gentle, affectionate lover or spouse never threatens or hits his or her mate. Time-out, negotiation, humor and affection help to resolve conflicts. Relationships are seldom ideal, however and even affectionate lovers will sometimes fight with long-term, damaging consequences.


    • The book, I and Thou, focuses on intimate relationships. Innate tendencies are hard at work when people meet, become lovers and end with arguments and fighting. The same tendencies determine how family members interact and explain why so many families are “dysfunctional.” When lovers form an enduring pair bond, they often become parents and everything changes. Humans seek bonding with others and are distressed when they become isolated. Humans bond to each other in several ways. The most enduring bonds are kin-related, based on closely shared genes. The deepest bonding occurs when mother and infant are together continuously from birth and mother breast-feeds the infant. Bonds among family members are the most enduring. Bonds to friends, lovers and spouses are the next most significant. Bonds to colleagues, neighbors and even strangers that are admired from a distance are next. Friendships are often temporary bonds, based on the need to affiliate with others for protection, social status, feeding, sex and fun.

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