The ‘Mother Wound’ is not a clinical diagnosis but it is a useful term that helps define a lack of parenting where a child’s physical and/or emotional needs were unmet. In this article we’ll look at the emotional aspects to begin understanding and healing our ‘Mother Wound’.
Sometimes it’s not until you get older – around your 30s – or until you become a parent or caregiver of a child yourself, that you start to become aware that the relationship you had with your mother has caused you emotional pain.
Your own interactions with a child can cause flashbacks to your childhood and you may be shocked to remember the way your mother behaved in certain situations.
Why is a mother’s behavior so significant?
It can be difficult to clearly see that you have a ‘Mother Wound’, especially if your mother was a “good parent” on paper – i.e. you always had food on the table, lunches made, a clean and tidy house, birthday parties and Christmas celebrations etc.
Unearthing a ‘Mother Wound’ can be painful and destabilizing, and even as an adult it can provoke feelings of abandonment and general feelings of instability and being unsafe. An unhealed ‘Mother Wound’ will effect not only how we interact with our mother but also conditions us to interact with others in unhealthy ways.
You may also like: Transactional Analysis Book Review
Transactional analysis identifies three ego-states (Parent, Child and Adult) that form the basis of our personality and from these we draw the ‘content and quality’ of our interpersonal communication.
Healing our ‘Mother Wound’: 7 Signs you may be suffering from one
If you suspect you may have a ‘Mother Wound’, here are seven signs from our own behavior to look for that indicate we need to begin healing our ‘Mother Wound’:
1. Loud inner critic
If your inner voice is negative, runs you down and generally adds to your feelings of not being good enough, it’s likely that your mother was hyper critical. Your inner voice has been modeled by your mother’s influence.
We’re not talking about constructive criticism here; we’re talking about nit-picking and searching out things to criticize even among our achievements. If you got 99% on a test, they’d ask you why you couldn’t have got a full 100.
This criticism can also be in the guise of “just trying to be helpful”, which makes it all the more confusing and damaging.
2. Fear of judgement
Fear of being judged can be caused by having a mother that was disapproving.
She may have disapproved of the friends you had; the way you chose to express yourself with clothing or make up etc.; the kind of music you liked to listen to, or your choice of studies and hobbies.
It’s a subtle form of control. Nobody wants to feel like they have disappointed their parents. This can lead to an inability to feel confident in making decisions due to always having to calculate whether or not your decision is going to be approved of or not.
It causes us to people-please, and to not live authentically and inline with what our souls’ truly desire.
If we have been taught to obey and please our mother in all things, and not consider ourselves as an unique individual, this is how we will be conditioned to behave in other relationships.
3. Weak boundaries
If our mother was codependent, invasive, and controlling this will lead us to have weak boundaries in later life.
Weak boundaries are a problem because we end up being a push-over, we don’t live authentically, and we people-please.
We accept less than we deserve because we’ve been conditioned by someone that we love that it’s not safe to create and maintain boundaries because they will punish us either physically or emotionally for it.
We may end up codependent ourselves because this is what was modeled to us by our mother.
Our mother might have also tried to control us by overstepping the bounds and snooping through our private effects, or not respecting our privacy when growing older. All this comes from her need to control.
Any time we try to confront her and create a boundary to stop this invasive and controlling behavior, we are met with either physical or verbal violence/aggression, her accusing us of having something to hide, or other manipulations and gaslighting that make us feel like the bad person for trying to stand up for ourselves.
4. Fear of expressing needs & emotions
A nurturing mother looks after not only our physical needs but also our emotional needs as well. Emotional unavailability in a mother, where she refuses, or is unable to care for our emotional needs teaches us that it’s not safe to express those needs to others.
We may have learnt unconsciously that she just wasn’t capable of dealing with any one else’s ‘problems’. We may have been punished for expressing ‘big’ emotions.
We might end up priding ourselves in later life for our resilience and independence, only to learn later on that we feel burnt out and alone, unable to ask others for help because we fear being rejected for expressing any emotion or need that makes us look ‘weak’.
The need to constantly press our ‘self destruct’ button can be derived from having a mother that was generally pessimistic about life.
This ‘glass-half-full’ attitude rubs off on us and programs us not to strive, or hope or dream.
Instead we learn not to take calculated risks or desire anything better for ourselves because we feel there is no point – we’re not worth it, it wouldn’t turn out well for someone like us anyway.
If you know about the Law of Attraction, you know that this kind of pessimism is a recipe for a disaster of a life!
You’ll also feel guilty if something good happens to you because you’ll feel as if you don’t deserve it.
6. Hasty decision making
If you had a mother that exerted undue control over your life it may cause you to be rebellious and make decisions that aren’t in your best interest.
Instead of making a calculated decision that weighs up the pros and cons and helps you to succeed in life, any decision is made in an attempt to rebel against the mother’s control, deliberately cause her hurt and disappoint her.
This can lead to risky behaviors in our teens and early twenties, but it can also continue to influence our decisions further into life as well.
7. Lack of self-esteem & confidence
While all of the above behaviors that have been discussed will contribute to a lack of self-esteem and confidence, passive aggression is a particularly insidious behavior that can be confusing and destabilizing for a child.
An example of this could be the mother who ‘martyrs’ herself for her children. She does ‘everything’ for them and then punishes them for it by complaining about how ungrateful they are and how exhausted she is.
She’ll say ‘yes’ when she really means ‘no’ and her behavior, not her words, will punish you. She may give you backhanded compliments such as: “Well done, I never thought someone like you would be able to achieve that”.
This type of passive aggressive behavior is hard to spot, and unnerving for a child when a mother’s behavior doesn’t match her words. It can leave you to doubt your own reality and start to believe that you’re not a good person.
Passive aggressive punishments will come in the form of contemptuous ridicule and silent treatment.
Healing our ‘Mother wound’
Awareness is the first step in healing. Just by recognizing we have a ‘mother wound’ it allows us to move forward in power.
You may be interested in reading this article I wrote about the ‘Pyramid of Healing‘ which outlines the necessary steps we go through to achieve transformation.
For some of us, if the relationship with our mother is particularly toxic, it may be beneficial to go no-contact or to take a break from her while we work on ourselves.
For others of us who are dependent financially on our parents, or are still in school etc., it can be difficult to stop people-pleasing and to create and enforce boundaries with our mother.
In this situation, the best we can do is to recognize that we can’t change our mother, and we should be mindful of what we share with her.
Trying to build up a support network of ‘safe’ people outside of the house is always a good idea. Just remember that healing from emotional trauma will take time, but having this awareness as a starting point is really empowering and you can build from there.
If you are in physical danger from an abusive parent or caregiver, it is critical that you contact authorities immediately.
What’s been your experience? Are there any other signs of having a ‘mother wound’ that you think I’ve missed? Feel free to share your comments below.