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We often speak about the trauma caused by absent parents; the feelings of rejection that stem from not being chosen or not being valued by the parents who walked away or those that passed away (Yes, depending on your age, even a parent’s death can feel like a rejection “why didn’t they fight hard enough?” etc). But what about the parents who stay, the present parents and the trauma caused by those? In this article, we’ll be discussing the mother wound – a trauma caused by the mother that stayed.
The “mother wound” is not a typical term you may hear in a counseling or therapy session, but it may be a factor that is influencing your relationships. While the mother wound is most often associated with daughters, it is possible for sons to also have mother wound factors that influence their relationships – Sherry Gaba
The best way to think of the mother wound is a loss or lack of mothering.
Essentially it appears the mother wound is a deviation from the normal mother roles – and that form of rejection or lack of attention can leave the child feeling bad about themselves and possessing a distorted view of themselves. Particularly because the first few months of the child’s life are spent engrossed with the mother.
The mother wound – the emotional absence of your mother in your early years – Dr Mari
There are mothers who may provide for the physical needs of the children, and even interact with the children in a positive way, but simply do not provide the deep love and attention that all children require. The mother wound can thus be defined as your mother not being emotionally attuned and available to you as a child. She may have been present physically but emotionally absent. There could be a multitude of reasons for it. Often the mother wound is a repetition of your mother’s own mother wound and lack of adequate, good enough mothering. The mother may not have been abusive or neglectful, and they may never have engaged in negativity in their relationships with the children, but they were also always distant and less tuned into the emotional needs of their children.
Signs of the mother wound
Adults dealing with a mother wound often look back on their childhood and can identify issues such as:
– Never feeling they had their mother’s approval or acceptance
– Concerns about not being loved by their mother or not being loved as much as other siblings or family members
– Difficulties in relating to the mother on an emotional level
– Uncertainty about the relationship with the mother and if it could be lost with a mistake or an accident
– Always trying to do better or to be perfect, to attempt to gain their mother’s attention and acceptance
– Feelings of having to protect, care for, or shelter their mother rather than her protecting, caring for and sheltering them
These types of feelings throughout childhood reduce self-esteem, feelings of self-worth, and feelings of worthiness to have a positive relationship. Individuals with a mother wound always feel incomplete and lacking in their ability to connect with others, while also having deeply rooted feelings about the need for perfection and control.
For healing it is important you start to separate yourself from your mother, she is a part of you and your make up (genes), but she is not you – McBride, 2013
It is possible to recover from the pain of having an emotionally absent and/or self-absorbed mother. To achieve that you can:
– Acknowledge that the emotional absence was not your fault.
Your mother was not emotionally available because you did something as a child. It was not because you were not good enough or that you were unlovable. If your mother was emotionally absent and/or critical of you, you are/were not responsible for her behavior. She was the responsible adult.
See your mother as she is, not as the person you would like her to be – McBride
It is very painful to come to accept and let go of the hope that one day your mother may change and be the loving and cuddly mother you always hoped for. This wish may keep you in a very anxious and depressed place, as your wish is never fulfilled and you continue to hope for a change but continue to experience emotional absence by your mother.
When you learn to accept that your mother is only able to give you as much as she can, your healing can start and you can have a relationship with her on that level (if you wish to have a relationship with her)
You have to decide what kind of relationship you would like to have with her (if any) – and be able to reflect on the emotional impact of both having a relationship with her and not having her in your life
– Allow yourself to grieve the absence of an emotionally engaged mother – McBride
Let yourself feel the pain of feeling unloved as a child. Express the pain by talking, painting, writing or in any way that comes naturally to you.
It is okay to have mixed feelings about your mother for wanting her attention and love (this is our survival instinct as children) whilst feeling angry towards her and hurt for her not being able to prioritize your (emotional) needs as a child. Acknowledge all your feelings
– Get to know yourself
You may struggle to understand what you want or need, and often seek guidance from other people to the extent that it is very confusing for you. Get to know yourself for yourself.
– Pay attention to your emotional experiences
You may struggle to understand your feelings because of the failure of your mother to be a mirror for your feelings when you were younger. But an understanding of your emotional experiences is vital for you to understand who you are and what you want/need.
– Develop self-soothing skills
When our caregivers didn’t provide us with soothing as children and we experienced emotional absence, we can learn these skills as an adult. We have an innate ability within our body to regulate ourselves. For example, spending time in nature and fully immersing yourself in your experience can teach you about self-soothing and regulation. Use all your senses to take in soothing experiences offered by nature, for example, or in the simple pleasure of immersing yourself in tasks that you enjoy.
While the mother wound is not a clinical or medical diagnosis, it is a factor that people struggle to address and to heal. Therapy can be instrumental in healing the mother wound by:
– Exploring the feelings of the inner child and allowing these feelings of being ignored, unloved, unwanted, or not valued to be expressed in a safe, non-judgmental, therapeutic and corrective environment
– Learning to validate and love ourselves creates a positive emotional and mental picture of our lives as they are in present time, letting go of the past concept of self that was developed by your interactions with your mother.
– Setting boundaries – creating a relationship with the mother that is based on your needs and the ability of the mother to change and contribute to your emotional needs in a healthy, positive, and fulfilling way
Healing the mother wound and recovering from the emotional absence is a process that can take time depending on your mother wound and experiences. It is a journey of becoming the person you are meant and want to be; and healing the wound can set you free from self-criticism, self-doubt, reduce anxiety and depression, improve your relationships and benefit you in many other ways.
I hope you enjoyed this article and were able to learn a bit about yourself and your mother if you do find yourself to be struggling with mother wound experiences.
Asanda Madi is a clinical psychologist with a passion for the improvement of well-being as well as brain development and functioning which is all fueled by her passion for making psychology applicable in everyday life.