Relationships in general are complicated. Often, the ones who are supposed to be closest to us can be the ones that cause the most distress. When we think about the mother/child dynamic, our stereotypical idea is one of support, love, and trust. Attachment Theory explains how mothers can instill this trust into their children which has a positive impact on their current and future relationships. Unfortunately, the reality for many mother relationships is complicated feelings stemming from childhood trauma and negative interactions with the one who birthed us. So, what exactly is the “Mother Wound” and how does it impact us?
Mother Wound Quick Facts:
- When the mother has unresolved trauma/abuse and is unable to provide love, support, healthy attachment, security, etc.
- Mother’s unresolved trauma is passed down to child
- Mothers extra critical of child
- Unrealistic expectations of child to support Mother’s physical and emotional needs
- Mothers lacking empathy towards child’s emotions, unable to help child navigate and understand their emotions (especially “negative” emotions)
- Female oppression in patriarchal society can create women who grow up with unhealthy coping mechanisms such as sacrificing needs, devaluing selves, or caring for others first (we can be extremely impacted by our mother’s trauma responses).
The Impacts of the Mother Wound
When we grow up with childhood trauma surrounding our relationship with our mothers, we are impacted in many ways. You have an understanding that your mother wasn’t available on an emotional Level. You may have struggled to turn to your mother for any form of comfort when going through anything due to lacking security that she would be there for you (creating hyper-independence to solve things on your own). You may have felt like you were walking on “eggshells,” and were nervous/anxious around your mother. There may have always been fear of telling her things like how you felt because you never knew how she would handle it (or if you did, you would be expected to manage her emotional/physical needs over your own). You never felt approval from your mother and may have always been trying to be “perfect” only to feel like a failure when she never acknowledged you. Because of these experiences, you may have developed low self-esteem, difficulties self-soothing when stressed, challenges with understanding your emotions as they show up or how to manage them in a healthy way, how to identify or communicate your needs, and difficulties in other important relationships in your life.
What to Do with This Info
Now that we have a better understanding of the mother wound, how do we move forward towards healing? While the mother wound can create lifelong challenges, we get to choose where we want to go from here. Here are a few suggestions that you may find helpful:
Acknowledge and feel your feelings. The mother wound was never your fault and it’s ok to feel what way you are feeling in this moment and provide yourself the space to do so. Often anger, resentment, and guilt can show up. Our emotions are trying to tell us something we need and each one is valid. We struggle with conflicted feelings but working towards accepting them can also help us heal (for example, we can love our mother, but also accept that she was not able to meet our needs as a child. Our mothers did the best they could, but they are also humans who may have experienced things that were out of the control or ability to navigate through effectively which may have created their inability to form a secure and loving attachment to their child).
Let your inner child express the pain they never got to say out loud. Helping your inner child explore those feelings can help you work towards learning to validate, love yourself, and begin to let go of things that no longer serve you. Reparenting can help support your inner child as you learn to give yourself the things you never had as a child (remember self-care isn’t selfish). This is where we learn to self-soothe the pains from childhood. This part of healing can bring up a lot of different emotions, so be kind to yourself with whatever comes up.
Forgiveness and grief can go hand in hand. You may need to allow space to grieve the mother and childhood you needed but never got. Grieving allows room to work towards acceptance of the situation in a different way. Forgiveness also allows us to let go of what we may still be holding on to (release yourself from the toxic relationship or unhealthy coping habits). Often, we worry that forgiveness means we are allowing what happened to us to be forgotten. Forgiveness helps us acknowledge the pain and work towards a better understanding of what we need You get to choose whether you forgive your mother, it is up to you how you want to navigate it and there is no right or wrong way to do this. Trust yourself in knowing what is right for you.
Boundary Setting (what we are willing to accept/not accept in our relationship) is a necessary part of the healing process, especially if you continue to have a relationship with the mother who wounded you. Boundaries are also helpful in your current and future relationships. It may be helpful to explore this topic with a trained mental health professional if needing additional support (especially with one who has experience with trauma).