Sorry to say, your boss is not your mother!

Sorry to say, your boss is not your mother! -the need for psychological safe relationships in our life.

I am oblivious of the shock that awaits me when I get home today as I get on with seeing clients one after another at work.

There is a theme running with three clients today. They had all lost a loved one recently and I support them through making sense of the grief and emotional pain. The issue of having people in our lives who exude ‘psychological safety’ comes up for all three of them.

For one client in particular who is a senior manager in a large organisation, the dynamics of the death of his mother are interesting. He is seeking the need for a mother who nourishes, accepts him unconditionally and gives psychological safety from his female CEO. The presenting issue for taking on coaching is conflict in relation to his CEO. He is struck to recognise halfway through our session that his deep need for acceptance from his mother as a child, is being transferred onto his CEO as he experiences deep rejection whenever she does not offer positive feedback and reassurance.

We hear a lot about ‘attachment’ and its importance to relationship patterns. This is not confined to personal relationships because these needs filter subconsciously onto work relationships too.

Basically, ‘attachment’ is a theory developed by psychologists to explain how a child interacts with the adults looking after him or her. If a child has a healthy attachment, this means the child has experienced the adult caregivers respond to the child’s needs, for example, if he is hungry, tired or frightened, the adult caregiver will respond to meet his needs or reassure and comfort him.

This gives the child the confidence to explore his environment and develop a good sense of self-esteem. This will help the child grow up to be a happy and healthy functioning adult.

If a child can’t rely on his carers to look after him and respond consistently which was the case for this manager, potentially very serious and damaging consequences may occur in adult relationship patterns. He had become very anxious when the needs for psychological safety were not met by people in authority who represent metaphorical parents. (Crittenden and Clausson 2000)

The need for a mother (blood-related or substitute) who nurtures, accepts unconditionally, gives psychological safety and protection, is not only confined to childhood but through our lives.
I say this because when I get home that evening, I am given the news that the last of my substitute metaphorical mother had passed away that morning.

For me, my Aunt (fathers’ sister) was one of them. Her passing away this week triggered a tornado of emotional response I did not expect. She was the last of my father’s siblings who had graced us with love, unconditional acceptance and warmth all through our lives and especially since the death of my mother 10 years ago.

The tears roll down my cheeks, prickling my face with their heat and moisture, just like the waterfalls in Thika Kenya, where I grew up. They whoosh down with an ebb that can I cannot halt. I try and make sense of this surge for a few days until I realise, I have lost a whole generation. My father’s generation is no more- all gone, gone gone.

I want to be held close to my metaphorical mother and be reassured that all is well. I want to cry my eyes out and blabber on about my life and for my ‘mother’ not to judge me, listen and empathise. I need psychological nourishment, reassurance, attention, affirmation and validation of my sense of self.

I had three ‘mothers’ (my own and two aunts) as I was growing up and now they are all gone. As a coach and therapist, I stand in for this need occasionally for clients, but today I need it for myself.
For the next few days I spend time with my brothers and sisters in-laws who share their love, offer reassurance and understanding. I speak to friends to let out my pain and angst. Their empathic ear, reassuring hugs and words bring solace to my fractured spirit. Gradually the ocean spurting out from my eyes turns into a river, then a hungry stream, a treacle in and finally ebbs its flow.

My eyes begin to shine, lips curl up and ache in my heart subside with the sweet memories and rich legacy of culture, values, strength and inspiration that my GomtiAunt bestowed on us.
Who are your metaphorical, nurturing and psychologically protective ‘mothers’ in your life?

Hansa Pankhania is Head of AUM Consultancy and a Fellow of the International Stress Management Association. AUM Consultancy is committed to supporting organisations and their employees to be healthy and happy.

She is the author of a trilogy of books on ‘Stress to Success’ and her memoir
BEST OF THREE WORLDS’ where she writes about the powerful values and inspiration gained from her mother and two aunts.
All books and FREE audio relaxations are available on Amazon and through her company website:

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