Our relationships with our parents – and often particularly our mothers – shape our personalities and our lives. When it comes to our mums, and all that the mother-child bond entails, the territory can often be fraught. So much can be bound up in this relationship – love and regret; frustration and admiration; the feelings of being supported, smothered or neglected. If we carry grief, disappointment or resentment towards our mothers into our adult lives, these feelings can negatively impact our emotional well-being, as well as our ability to positively parent our own children.
What is the mother wound?
Understanding the mother wound involves understanding that mothers and daughters are situated in and influenced by a patriarchal society that is oppressive to women. The mother wound is the cultural trauma that is carried by a mother – along with any dysfunctional coping mechanisms that have been used to process that pain – and inherited by her children (with daughters generally bearing the brunt of this burden). If the wound is not healed, negative perceptions, choices and parenting styles can be passed down through the matrilineal line – causing new pain with each generation. Think of mothers always putting themselves last, diminishing their own needs to serve others or constantly battling to construct a facade of perfection (perfect spouse, perfect mother, perfect woman within society).
Signs of the mother wound
Signs of the mother wound can be subtle, and it may be difficult to pull the threads of trauma from the densely woven cloth of the mother-daughter relationship – after all, we have generally never not known this relationship, and so much of who we are relates back to how we were raised. Things to consider, though, include:
- people-pleasing and emotional care-taking (often to your own detriment or leading to feelings of resentment)
- feeling competitive with other women
- feeling pressure to conform to rigid expectations of womanhood
- feeling you must remain small or quiet or ‘good’ in order to be accepted and loved
- never feeling good enough, no matter how far you bend over backwards
- failing to set strong boundaries (often coupled with an inability to say ‘no’)
- fearing failure or disapproval, while conversely also fearing success and fulfilment
- consciously or unconsciously waiting for your mother’s permission and approval to fully live your life and reach your potential
The mother wound can also manifest in conditions such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders and addictions.
Healing the mother wound
Recognising and acknowledging the mother wound doesn’t mean that those mother-daughter relationships won’t still be fraught, nor does it excuse any detrimental conduct that may have occurred as a result of a mother’s unresolved wounds, but it can be a starting point toward healing and forgiveness.
When it comes to healing the mother wound, the most important thing to note is that this is a moment for each of us to harness our own responsibility – not to shame or blame our mothers. Healing the wound is about creating a new relationship with yourself – with your expectations of life bound by neither your mother’s expectations nor by society’s:
- Recognise that you as the child are not responsible for realising your mother’s unfulfilled aspirations, nor for ‘saving’ your mother
- Allow yourself to grieve for your inner-child who was made to feel unloved or shamed or guilty or neglected, while also holding a space for your mother-as-child who may have also been made to feel those same emotions
- Accept that no woman can ever conform to the archetype of ‘perfect mother’ – we are all human and fallible and just trying to do our best within the limits of our society
- Question the cultural norms that may have trapped your mother in negative patterns or beliefs, and interrogate your own adherence to thoughts or acts that disempower you
- Look to building a new relationship with your mother as an adult by setting boundaries that honour your personal healing and growth
Seeking professional assistance – contact your experienced Geelong psychologist
Healing the mother wound tackles not only your own individual difficulties, but also challenges the mores of our patriarchal society – not something that’s exactly easy! The understanding and supportive counsellors at Happy Minds are on hand with evidence-based positive methods to help you examine your maternal relationship, and to support you in improving self-esteem, developing personal autonomy and freeing you from self-criticism and self-doubt. If you need a guiding light on your journey of recovery from the mother wound, don’t hesitate to reach out via phone on 03 5292 8833, email [email protected] or fill out our online contact form.