Medea's syndrome and postpartum depression

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Medea, abandoned by Jason, her beloved companion, kills their children in revenge. It is the tragedy that Euripides recounts in 431 BC. A drama that seems terribly current to us, every time the news reports cases of killing of children by one of the parents.

In forensic psychiatry this trend is defined Medea syndrome. But what are the causes that trigger this disorder? We asked the psychologist and cultural mediator from abroad Agata Gallo if she is up for it postpartum depression can be considered one of them.

1. What is Medea syndrome?

Killing one's own son to take revenge on his father is the imitation of the gesture made by Euripides' Medea. Behind this gesture, according to the president of the Del Paesena society of forensic psychiatrists, Giancarlo Nivoli, a scholar of the syndrome, there is hidden the desire to take away one's descendants from her husband.

"The killing of the innocent is the most impressive news story in our civilization, especially when the mothers themselves commit it: the case is filled with psychologists and psychiatrists in search of the seed of madness that gave birth to mental illness" he declares Agata Gallo.

The image of the mother is often linked to the love and care of her child: this is why one feels so disturbed when one encounters cases of murders committed by a woman.

But it's not just physically that you can kill a child. "There Medea syndrome it is mentioned only in connection with the tragedy of the killing of children. But Jacobs in 1988 metaphorized the killing, defining how Medea complex maternal behavior aimed at destroying the relationship between father and children after conflicting separations: in this way the killing becomes symbolic and what is aimed at suppressing is no longer the son himself but the bond he has with the father ».

A situation that often arises later conflicting separations (which can be physical - parents separating and moving house - but also symbolic, as in the case of separations at home).

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«It happens more and more often, for example in the case of a separation, that the parent who has the children in custody speaks badly of the ex partner. This generates an emotional abuse towards the child, since the emotional bases of her being are weakened, that is the maternal and the paternal figure ».

Thus begins a contest of loyalty in which the child must decide between the mother and the father who is better.

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Exposing the child to this constant war between parents “can lead to the appearance of some defense mechanisms typical of borderline pathology, for example omnipotence, devaluation and dissociation, or other long and short-term effects found on children, such as aggression, self-centeredness, manipulative character, self-destructive behaviors, false self, eating disorders, depression and poor performance school".

2. Where does this disorder come from?

After a similar crime, forensic psychiatry searches for explanations in the history of the woman / mother: how did she live her motherhood since birth?

“There is a link between the Medea syndrome and postpartum depression. It is not a direct connection, but both have a common denominator: they are the result of the woman's fragility, in a society that does not recognize her weakness after childbirth in the first place ».

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We focus "on the role that society imposes on the mother: the woman who becomes a new mother, instead of experiencing a moment of pure delicacy, is overwhelmed by duties. Taking care of the baby, having to get back in shape after giving birth, the constant judgment that they pour out when a baby is born. The judgment, even if for a good purpose, leads the new mother to experience everything as a performance ».

Instead, we should take a step back, "making the new mother feel understood, capable and accepted".

Another important element, which can affect the mother, is awareness: «the image one has of childbirth and motherhood often does not correspond to reality. From television and films you get fake, idyllic, romantic images. In reality, it is necessary to carry out an exercise in reality, regaining full awareness of the birth event and the child event ».

Being aware can help not only manage pregnancy and childbirth, but also avoid it Medea syndrome which develops towards the father. «Awareness of reality leads to establishing a correct relationship with the partner. A pregnancy, in fact, always brings a small emotional and physical earthquake in the couple: going from two to three is not easy. In this passage the man is physically excluded and this can put him in crisis: he can feel less father, less useful presence ».

3. How to recognize and deal with the Medea syndrome

A mother / Medea is not easy to recognize. "It can happen that one postpartum depression unrecognized, untreated, it may gradually strike the frailty of the mother and can transform itself into Medea syndrome».

Just as it can happen in the moment of the breakup of a couple. “The role of those around a separation situation can make a difference. Many times we find ourselves in front of relatives and friends who, instead of limiting a partner's denigrating behavior, accentuate it, take the side of the parent who denigrates ”.

Relieve a situation of solitude, despair e anger, especially after a separation, can prevent you from losing touch with reality.


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