Dr. Bernard Bail’s Theory of Imprinting describes the phenomenon that occurs very early in the life of a fetus and sets the stage for that individual’s entire life. Imprinting occurs when the mother unwittingly projects her unconscious, unwanted, and unprocessed negative feelings about herself into her still-developing fetus. Though the mother does not intentionally project this deleterious emotional content into her fetus, the fetus nonetheless is forced to defend itself against this massive psychological blow, lest it suffer immeasurable, and unmanageable, psychological pain which would put the fetus on the verge of death. The blow is strong enough, in fact, that the only way for the vulnerable and defenseless fetus to manage the trauma is for the mind of the fetus to split off the injured portion, thereby allowing the negative projections of the mother to be contained so that the fetus can go forward with life without consciously feeling the enormity of the pain the imprint carries with it. Though the fetus has isolated the imprint, that does not nullify its impact in the unconscious. In fact, the imprint is put into a position of total power from its hiding place because it gets to act undetected by the conscious mind. The imprint then functions akin to a subliminal message always sending out its negative commands. Effectively, the imprint functions to prevent the recipient from ever becoming his or her true self. The fetus will continue to develop, but will also carry the feeling that the mother’s suffering is the fault of the fetus thus creating a feeling of guilt in the fetus. The imprint gives the fetus the feeling that he or she is problematic, a cause of suffering or a burden and it is this lie that will make the fetus feel guilty for things over which it had no control and did not create.
The fetus is exceedingly vulnerable, as it is entirely dependent upon the mother to provide everything needed for its survival. Because fetal life depends directly upon maternal life, anything that might threaten the mother, physically or emotionally, will threaten the fetus as well. Therefore, the fetus must unconsciously do whatever is necessary to protect the mother so that its own survival will be ensured. A fetus is clearly incapable of protecting its mother in the physical world. However, in the psychological world of the fetus it unconsciously feels it has no choice but to try to protect its mother emotionally by enduring the imprint of the mother and sacrificing a part of itself to contain it. Relieving the mother of her unconscious negative emotional burden is beneficial to the survival of the fetus, as doing so will increase the likelihood that the mother will be better able to care for the fetus. Once the fetus has split off the emotional trauma of receiving the imprint, it will forever protect the imprint from becoming conscious because it will avoid re-experiencing that type of unmanageable psychological pain at any cost. In reality, it doesn’t work well for either party. The fetus cannot actually relieve the mother of her emotional pain and the mother cannot actually rid herself of it by projecting it into the fetus. Nevertheless, this unconscious dance has played out for millennia.
The fetus will retain and protect the projections from the mother in the effort to ensure survival of both mother and fetus. This happens so early in the development of the individual that it becomes part of the individual. The personality of the imprinted individual then develops around the projections and the meanings or messages those projections confer. Allowing these projections to become conscious would mean the baby or adult would have to face the pain present at the time of the original split. This pain is avoided at all costs as it is perceived as being tantamount to death.
Though invisible, the imprint is incredibly potent and can have a profound and lasting impact on an individual. It carries very negative feelings which take root in the fetus and thereafter shape the life of the imprinted individual. An imprint can carry a wide variety of messages. It can affect: how much love a person can have; how much a person is to suffer in life; whether a person should live or commit suicide; what quality of physical health a person will have; how intelligent a person can be; what type of decision making capabilities a person will have, along with many others. Imprints are as varied as each mother’s unique experiences.
Imprints by definition are negative. They are the result of the mother’s projection of her own unprocessed painful feelings about herself and these projections are transferred to the fetus unconsciously. People are not troubled by their positive, loving feelings so these can be given to the fetus consciously and they do not carry a destructive charge. The conscious loving feelings are what help soften the impact of the imprint and are very necessary, but the imprint itself is always negative.
Every mother was once a fetus who received an imprint. Because the imprint causes a person to not become his or her true self, a mother often must become, in part or fully, her own mother to tackle the job of motherhood. The simple answer is that her mother projected into her so she will do the same, causing the cycle to repeat. We would have to go back thousands of years to see why the first mother began to project into her fetus.
The most reliable way to detect the imprint is through a thorough analysis of a person using his or her dreams. Each dream is an expression of the unconscious mind revealing what a person needs, desires, fears, hides, represses, and denies. Dreams, properly analyzed, allow the dreamer to know the truth about all facets of his life. Dreams, as we all know, can be very disguised but an analyst trained to uncover the hidden meanings will, over time, begin to see the imprint emerge. The patient will resist detection of the imprint through a variety of defenses, but at the root, all defenses are designed to protect the patient from re-experiencing the tremendous pain of the initial blow from the mother’s unconscious delivery of the imprint. Some people have a less troubling imprint, some people more, but none of us are without an imprint; no one is immune.
A mother’s imprint is primary because she is both the physical and emotional world of the fetus, and the perceived giver of life. Fathers are also able to imprint their children in much the same way the mother does, but that imprint will not be as deeply rooted in the personality as will the mother’s imprint.
In addition to the imprint impeding the development of the true self, it also diminishes our connection to the divine. We connect to the divine through our unconscious and the act of walling off the imprint within our unconscious serves to reduce the part of us that is then available to access the spiritual realm. This further adds to the power of the imprint as the divine provides pure love and the imprint, by definition, works to keep us from pure love.
Everyone is given an imprint. It is unavoidable. Our best chance as humans is to become aware that what is ruling everyone, from individuals, to families, to governments, is an imprint. If we can understand what it is that we all suffer from, perhaps we can begin to treat each other with more love, compassion, and understanding. The more an imprint can be revealed by an analyst and understood by the patient, the more its power can be diminished, allowing the true nature of the person to emerge.