Human Psychology and Nature-part one

The Illusion of Separateness                       

The process of evolution started with basic elements that interacted and eventually combined to form more complex substances. These substances became the basis for life forms on the planet and continued a long process of maturation that resulted in the creation of complex organisms and finally the human species. Other species including all the current flora and fauna that exist on the planet also evolved in the same manner. Humans, over time, developed thinking capabilities and became more conscious, two of the most important aspects of our nature. Given the fact that we evolved in this manner and our physical makeup is composed of the matter of the universe and of planet Earth, we are totally connected to the flow of energy and matter of our environment. Thus, we must conclude that our nature and that of the Universe are one and the same composition.

It is interesting that many people still feel they are separate and distinct from all other creatures and elements on the Earth, that they have a special elevated status from God as masters over nature, and feel they have the exclusive right to exploit their habitat for their own endeavors without being responsive to the needs of the planet.

This misguided philosophy has been purported by many of the world’s religions and the disciplines of science, psychology, philosophy, physics and other social institutions. The perpetuation of this philosophy of separateness and fragmentation has had a significant effect on the way we interact with nature and each other and is the basis for unprecedented misery on the planet. Despite a surge in environmental enlightenment in the world in recent years, the state of feeling separate from our environment continues to rear its ugly head in all of our major institutions and in the psychology of our daily lives.

Ontogenetic Crippling

Paul Shepard, an ecologist, psychologist and a pioneer of eco-psychology, initiated a groundbreaking study in 1982, titled, Nature and Madness. His main thesis was a departure from the idea that our history of the destruction of nature came primarily from industrial society but from what he described as “ontogenetic crippling” that began at the time agriculture was invented. Ontogeny is the development of an individual organism or anatomical feature from the earliest stage to maturity.

Shepard concluded that childbirth and childrearing in a civilized setting as opposed to in the wild, interfered with the natural progression of a child’s development as it was intended from the standpoint of evolutionary processes, and resulted in a false sense of separation from the natural habitat. The two main stages of development thought to be unresolved were the infant/caregiver relationship and the adolescent rites of passage. This referred to the nurturing relationship between the mother and infant during infancy and early childhood and the rituals that supported the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Being born and raised in natural surroundings created a sensual connection to all the facets of Mother Nature, including the sights, sounds and textures and had a profoundly positive effect on the psychological and emotional development and consequent well-being of the child. Being born indoors and raised with more limited exposure to the immediacy of the surrounding habitat had a significant opposite effect. The corresponding attitudes and behaviors derived from this ontogenetic crippling are said to have manifested themselves in a feeling of distrust and a sense that the environment had somehow failed them.

Harold Searles, who was an original member of the Freudian school, came up with his own theory related to the role of the biosphere in neurosis and child development. Searles theorized a pre-object stage in child development that extends further back than the connection to the pre-Oedipal mother.  He even proposes an earlier phase of what he calls “deeply felt kinship” with the non-human habitat that might go as deep as the subatomic level. Children removed from an early connection with nature would experience a sense of loss with its environment that would greatly impact on the maturation process, especially in the first year of life.

Anthropologist, Jean Liedloff, proposes that modern society suppresses ecological connectedness in the way babies are born, primarily in medical facilities and with the practice of separating the infant from the mother after delivery. She feels this separation violates the babies’ evolutionary expectation that it should be held, kept warm and secure and in contact with its mother. This separation is traumatic and destroys the physical continuum between the mother and infant. It stops the transition of the baby being surrounded by a live body before birth to the disposition of being in close proximity to the mother immediately after birth.

Typically, babies cry at birth when subjected to our modern birth methods but in traditional cultures, infants held immediately after birth tended not to cry. Crying is a form of protest, is regarded as normal and is often allowed to continue until the infant learns to stop. Unfortunately, the baby then interprets its crying behavior as ineffective and resigns any hope of getting its needs met. What a message to incorporate at the beginning of life outside the womb and what implications does it have for healthy emotional development? This then becomes the onset of normative behavior and the socialization process is well under way. Liedloff suggests giving the newborn baby plenty of bodily intimacy that can be provided by any member of the family system.

Child Psychology

Child psychology has traditionally depicted a child’s development primarily in reference to familiar and societal adaptation and has not included environmental influence as an important factor. In some cultures, introducing a child to the sights, sounds, textures and creatures of nature is an essential part of child-rearing that begins within days of birth and continues throughout the child’s developmental stages. Animals and the elements play an important part in a child’s identity, self-image and connection to his or her natural surroundings.

Child development, especially in Western society, is primarily family influenced in a patriarchal structure that promotes unquestioning adherence to the male father figure and the norms and mores of its native culture. The questioning of those spoken and unspoken ideologies and articulated rules of behavior are strongly discouraged and subject to conditional acceptance and punishment. This results in the child’s suppression and doubt of the validity of his or her thoughts and feelings and a subsequent sense that there is something wrong within himself or herself. From this develops a negative self-image from a perceived lack of nurturance from the parent-child relationship. Transference then renders this same psychological reaction to the environment in which the child feels wronged and alienated. The transference reaction also relates to the way society as a whole reacts to nature as well.

Adults and society are also cautioned to obey blindly and not upset the status quo as significant deviations from the norm will be regarded as anti-social or unpatriotic and will be discouraged with a variety of psychological and social restraints.


Edited by Roszak, Theodore, Gomes, Mary E. and. Kanner, Allen D.

Eco-psychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind: Where Psyche Meets Gaia. pp. 2-3. Sierra Club Books,1995.

Edited by Roszak, Theodore, Gomes, Mary E. and. Kanner, Allen D.

Eco-psychology: Restoring the Earth: Healing the Mind, The Psychopathology of the Human-Nature Relationship, pp. 55 -67. Sierra Club Books,1995.      

Metzner, Ralph. Green Psychology, Psychopathology of the Human-Nature Relationship, pp. 82-85. copyright, 1999, Park Street Press, Rochester Vermont.

George Carlin: “Saving the Planet” comedy presentation on U-tube, (n.d.) May 2020.

Edited by Roszak, Theodore, Gomes, Mary E. and. Kanner, Allen D.

Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth Healing the Mind, The Psychopathology of the Human-Nature Relationship, pp. 55-58 and Nature and Madness by Paul Shepard, pp. 2-22. Sierra Club Books,1995.      

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