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, 26 (6), 504-520

Angels in the Nursery: The Intergenerational Transmission of Benevolent Parental Influences

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Angels in the Nursery: The Intergenerational Transmission of Benevolent Parental Influences

Alicia F Lieberman et al. Infant Ment Health J.

Abstract

Fraiberg and her colleagues (1975) introduced the metaphor "ghosts in the nursery" to describe the ways in which parents, by reenacting with their small children scenes from the parents' own unremembered early relational experiences of helplessness and fear, transmit child maltreatment from one generation to the next. In this article we propose that angels in the nursery-care-receiving experiences characterized by intense shared affect between parent and child in which the child feels nearly perfectly understood, accepted, and loved-provide the child with a core sense of security and self-worth that can be drawn upon when the child becomes a parent to interrupt the cycle of maltreatment. We argue that uncovering angels as growth-promoting forces in the lives of traumatized parents is as vital to the work of psychotherapy as is the interpretation and exorcizing of ghosts. Using clinical case material, we demonstrate the ways in which early benevolent experiences with caregivers can protect against even overwhelming trauma, and examine the reemergence of these benevolent figures in consciousness as an instrument of therapeutic change. Finally, we examine implications of the concept of "angels in the nursery" for research and clinical intervention.

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