There are wounded children everywhere and never more so than the children that have become adults. Most adults are the walking wounded, to whatever degree, from the subtle to the cataclysmic. Our mothers and fathers, for better or worse, shape our psyches. They are our mirrors; our teachers; they show us the way – whether that is into a gutter or up an elegant marble staircase. The Mother and Father wound exists everywhere in our world, on the microcosmic and the macrocosmic level. From our relationship to the Earth and its subsequent destruction, to the raping of her resources and pillaging of her bodily contents, and from our disconnection to the ineffable divine. If we all honoured and revered our relationship to the divine, not one single person would ever kill another human being again, let alone rape, torture, subjugate or annihilate.
Because most of us have never got what we needed, it is often harder for us to create that afresh in our own lives as adults. It often doesn’t come naturally to us. Our natural instincts are often askew. It is by no means impossible but it does take work and a lot of perseverance to reconnect to our inner selves and witness and heal the damaged parts.
If you were lucky and did manage to get proper nurturing and emotional sustenance as a child, then perhaps your conditioning is not so severe that you are able to view and handle struggles and challenges as a dance. But how many people do you really see dancing and laughing through life’s challenges? Not that many!
What exactly is defined at the ‘Mother Wound’?
The mother wound is the pain or burden of being a woman passed down through generations of women in patriarchal cultures. And the high price of the dysfunctional coping mechanisms that are used to process that pain. The mother wound is not about blaming our mothers, after all their inadequacies manifested through their own mothers and on and on marching backwards down through the lines of Time.
It is believed, and medical science has confirmed, that whatever the mother is feeling or experiencing during her pregnancy will be passed onto the child. The child feels it and thus it is taken into its tiny body and mind. The developing foetus is like a sponge, every regret or fear, or unexpressed emotion, the child will absorb as if it were their own. How a woman feels about herself will be passed onto her child. The mother passes on her lessons to the child through her own body. The mother and child are as one. The baby gets the first experiences of how the mother really feels about herself: her womanhood, her sexuality, her creativity, her instincts and any unresolved issues. The unborn child absorbs the messages surrounding the mother’s sense of self, or lack of it. And the child will more often than not carry the pain of her mother, her mother’s guilt and shame.
The mother’s job is to pass on the self-valuing, self-nurturing instinct to her child. A mother can only give to another to the degree that she has received, or allowed herself to receive in life. If her own mother was a poor care giver, both emotionally and physically, then for the most part your mother will also have no concept of the ability to self-care and self-love and have instincts that are intact.
How many women do we know, including ourselves, to whom self-care or self-value is not our natural state but something we have had to painstakingly learn? How many women do we know that run themselves into the ground with their ‘to do lists’ – taking care of everyone around them and then having little energy to really follow through on her own needs? How many women, including at some point ourselves, that do not eat well, drink too much, smoke too much, take too many drugs, embark on unsatisfying romantic and sexual relationships over and over again? Often proclaiming loudly about being in control, proclaiming they have everything in hand but the evidence screams to the contrary!
The more that women value and nurture themselves the better mothers they will be and their entire lives will be richer. Society would have us believe that women should just give our all to others without asking for anything in return or without giving anything to ourselves and thank goddess this is changing.
What are the effects of the ‘Mother Wound’ on women in society?
Many women are disabled by the feeling of comparing themselves to others, whether it’s people in their lives or public figures, so that they feel they’re not good enough or don’t have what so and so has got. The shame and guilt of feeling that there is something wrong with you, that you must remain small in order to be loved and accepted. The persistent sense of guilt they feel for asking and wanting more from life and the people in their life as if you have no right to it. Many other effects include:
- Having a high tolerance of mistreatment from others or consistently allowing others to let you down and disappoint you without asking for more from them. Often barely noticing until an observer points out just how much you are tolerating from others.
- Not being your full self because you don’t want to threaten others or make others jealous, so you allow yourself to stay small.
- Being overly rigid, uptight and dominating, needing to be in control of your own emotions, situations and your life in general at all times.
- Being completely exhausted from giving to others, without any time or energy left for yourself. Becoming resentful of the time, energy or support you give to others that does not seem to be reciprocated.
- Issues of not feeling worthy of creating what you truly desire in life and not feeling safe enough to take up space and express and voice your truth.
- Fear of failure or disapproval that means you never actually go for what you want or need in life, there is always some excuse or some reason not to put yourself out there. Self-sabotaging thoughts and actions – you never finish anything you started.
- Having weak boundaries, allowing others to walk all over you or manipulate you and having no real sense of who you are and allowing yourself to be defined by others or their opinions.
- Can’t trust in life or others to bring you what you need.
- No relationship with your own body or connection to your own sacred sexuality. No instinct about what it is you need on a day to day basis from food, drink, health practices, stress relief etc. Or even if you do know, ignoring them as it seems too much effort.
We have internalised our mother’s unconscious beliefs about not being good enough as a woman or a human being. Even if you think on the surface that your mother was doing just fine, no one leaps into life fully formed – we all have to acquire our self-worth through consistent self-examination and time spent delving into the abyss of our feelings. No one escapes this – not even kind, loving mothers. If a mother does not know her own self, she passes on that lack of self-worth and emotional naïveté onto her child.
Many women were born to emotionally fragile women. You might have believed your mother was strong and then a life event, maybe a divorce, a death or some sort of financial crisis and then suddenly you are aware that your mother was not able to cope with her emotions and you see her running to the Lands of Ethanol and Prescription Drugs in an attempt to control her ‘out of control’ feelings. Or maybe it was just a slow creeping state, where you saw your mother seek solace and relief in chocolate or food, alcohol, cigarettes in an attempt to push down her burgeoning feelings. If we saw our own mothers become fearful of life and their own emotional processes, we will also be fearful of losing control and of our own emotional depths. If we saw our mothers cry when they needed to and act with honesty, awareness, strength and love towards themselves then we will also have been imbued with the sense that difficult things happen but we can navigate through it, and that we also have tools to manage life’s events.
A woman often doesn’t understand why her life is not working, despite others telling her how much potential she has – it’s like a vague, nebulous feeling that you just can’t put your finger on but often what happens is that subconsciously a woman feels that if she asserts her own power and potential then she will be unconsciously betraying her mother and may possibly experience personal rejection by the mother. Even if the mother is not around anymore there can still be a subconscious belief in place that says in order to stay loyal we feel we cannot rise above her limitations Coupled with the fact that the daughter is carrying much unresolved grief and guilt from the mother which she herself will never be able to metabolise. We were never meant to metabolise another’s emotions – only our own. We often feel like we carry the weight of the world and we don’t know why.
We have all sensed the pain that our mother’s carry. It is an unconscious coupling that has us falsely believe that we are partly to blame for it. We sense our mothers have sacrificed themselves in some way to birth us and bring us up. This sense of guilt was formed before we had the necessary cognitive development at our disposal. Children believe they are the cause of all things because they have no other fathoming. As a child you believe the whole world revolves around you and thus if anything goes awry in that world then it must be your fault. You must be to blame and therefore you carry that with you as an adult – the complexities of guilt and the belief that you deserve to be punished.
Many women often feel that to unleash their power would trigger their mother’s sadness, rage or depression at having had to sacrifice so many parts of herself in her own life. This is for the most part is a deep seated, unconscious fear around being powerful and how that might be perceived and received by those in our lives – particularly our own mother. Even if we feel our mother is supportive of our creative and professional ventures, most of us worry that if we step into our full power and become the best version of ourselves would we then lose our connections? For some people their connections with people are based around being a victim and bemoaning how awful and unfair life is. What would happen if we didn’t want to engage with that anymore? How would we converse with people, how would we relate to people? What would we talk about?
Like many of us, I had a mother who allegedly ‘didn’t do’ emotions – or so she believed! Yet I have often felt like I was born into the fiery fist of angers choice. My memories consist of my mother swaying from anger to depression, often within a short space of time. Mostly anger and black moods dominated the scene, this continued throughout my whole childhood and even to this day. Excessive anger, depression or mental disorders are synonymous with those who find it difficult to process or be comfortable with any emotions that arise. Anger was my escort for my entire childhood and it was stuffed within the fabric of my development. It was a brooding presence that stained and eradicated all sense of hope.
Many women feel that they are simultaneously ‘too much’ and ‘not enough’ – often in the skip of a heartbeat. We feel we don’t measure up or that what we carry is too much for others to bear witness to. I was always a sensitive child – an empath – and before I grew and cultivated my own anger at my mistreatment I was often scolded or chastised for crying or displaying anything other than numbness. Displaying of emotions was considered a mortal weakness in my family and community.
I came into this world with all of my lights switched on intellectually, emotionally and spiritually and I was a constant source of others envy and jealousy because I did what came naturally to me – which was to shine my light. I was a golden child that shone too bright and it apparently blinded many. So through much brutal persuasion I realised that this would not be celebrated by those in the shadow of this light so I collected up every last ounce of it and stored it in a treasure chest in a secret location. It felt like in my innocence and childlike exuberance to be in my natural state that I flew too close to the sun and got burnt to tatters. So on came the dimmer switch to detract the pinched and grubby fingers that would constantly try to tear at the stitches of my exposed delicacies.
Whenever we consciously process our own pain, we liberate those around us, especially the mother/daughter relationship. A child must be free to pursue their own dreams without guilt, shame or a sense of obligation. Many women have felt that their mother’s pain is, if not our fault, then somehow our responsibility. It creates co-dependency and this can cripple the daughter in so many ways as we then set the pattern that we need to mother our own mothers and we need to shield them from their own vulnerability. This, as a daughter, is one of the worst things we can do. Because we then often go out into the world mothering those we perceive as vulnerable or lost hence setting up a complicated pattern of dependency and abandonment. We tend to over-care or over-give to those we meet who are not yet able to reciprocate, so we often feel disregarded or even exiled.
We grow up with a distinct sense that life is one of diametrically opposing themes. A faulty structure that tells us we can be powerful but we will be hated and worse rejected and even possibly banished if we stand in our true power, not just from our family but our friends and our community too. But if we stay small then at least we will be liked and hopefully loved. If we do not speak up about our feelings, thoughts and beliefs we believe it will keep us safe. Yes, it might keep us safe but there will be no growth. Microbiologists have observed that a cell can not grow when it is in protection mode. As a collection of trillions of cells we are exactly the same. Growth and forward movement cannot happen when we are in protection mode.
Any rejection from our mothers, no matter how small, can often teach us to reject ourselves or that we are not worthy of love. A rejection of the Feminine teaches us to reject our own feminine.
A common objection to facing our wounds is to “Let the past be in the past.” However, we never truly ‘escape’ or bury the past. It lives in the present as the obstacles and challenges that we face every day.
Our first enounter with the Goddess or the Feminine was with our mothers. If we avoid acknowledging the full impact of our pain and the patterns we have adopted from insufficient or mixed mothering in our lives, we still remain to some degree, children.
Coming into full empowerment requires looking at our relationship with our mothers and having the courage to break those patterns, even if you have a wonderful healthy relationship with your mother. The goal is to transcend her limitations and it will be the same with any children we have, their goal is to transcend our limitations. Healing the mother wound is about embracing ourselves and our needs without shame or embarrassment. We need to move beyond pointing the finger of blame and to examine the full impact of this relationship – especially if we want to take up full space in the world as naturally powerful, confident women that no longer apologise for taking up space or for who they are.
I’ve been unfortunate sometimes to have had friendships with other women who often tried to make me feel guilty if I wanted more than the meagre scraps they were offering me. They would criticise, judge and even insult me, throwing many emotional pistols my way. In retrospect I know that they were also struggling with the “I’m not enough” aspect of the mother wound. It seemed to be a pattern in my life that I would more often than not attract women who were very jealous or envious of me, of my intellect, my connection to spirit, my openness and even and sometimes especially my love of glamour and the way I presented myself. I often felt wracked with guilt that I made these women feel worse about themselves so I did what any woman with a truck load of abandonment issues would do – I played small and dimmed my light so as not to antagonise or threaten others. I hid myself emotionally so as not to court too much attention.
Of course, now I know it wasn’t even about me, the hatred these women felt about themselves was as deep as the seabed and the waterline went straight back to the first female in their lives. I know because I felt it too, I didn’t have the same jealous streak they had for me it manifested in the constant seesaw of believing I was ‘too much’ and that I would also never be enough, this was all internal. I have been a strong supporter of other women my whole life even if it hasn’t always been reciprocated. Even when women hated the sight of me I never took away the merit of their gifts or talents, it wasn’t my domain to tamper with. I always knew that I was responsible only for myself and the more work I did on myself the more I realised that the buck always stopped with me.
If I sensed a woman felt bad around me then off I would travel to plummet and forfeit my light and gifts into a giant hole in the ground so as not to elicit anger or disdain towards me. I got scouted by a modeling agency whilst I was in Covent Garden with a friend one afternoon some years ago and the guy went on and on about the way I looked and would I consider coming to see them about some work they believed I could get. My poor friend looked like she had swallowed a foul mixture of defensiveness, envy and the immediate pain of not being acknowledged at all by the guy. I felt mortified, embarrassed and ashamed that I was being singled out and my friend was being completely ignored so I dismissed the guy with a wave of my hand and pursued onward with my friend in tow. The friend in question never uttered a word about it and neither did I. It was as if it never happened. Instances similar to this happened time and time again where I sensed someone’s envy or insecurity and then quick as a flash I pushed down my light and my talents.
This was not noble or even selfless of me – it was just a survival mechanism. Being bright, shiny and fabulous had never done me any favours, it had only brought harm and abuse. It was a deep-seated fear that I would not be loved or even liked if I stood up and embraced my gifts, so out of fear I hid myself away, even if it was only metaphorically. I hid my light under a bushel, in a 20ft ravine!
My mother has always been jealous of me and took any opportunity to disavow me. If I were ever to admit any of my achievements or subsequent talents then I was shot down like a military target for being arrogant or full of myself or so they would say. In our family it is against the ‘unwritten law’ to say anything nice about oneself. It is supremely and fundamentally outlawed. I always sensed my mother’s deep hatred of herself, her body and her life even before she vocalised it. My mother imbued me constantly with a sense of hatred, that our very flesh was ugly and pointless, pointing out all my ‘perceived flaws’ or that even if I had nice legs now that I would eventually get her ugly, flabby legs as she put it. All of the women in our family are vehement with disgust for their own flesh, their own brains and any talents they have. So I grew up never believing it was safe to shine and that I must also hate myself. It was the same when I started primary school, other children seemed so jealous of what I had been born with, of how easy learning, processing and artistry was for me. So I learnt that in order to be liked and loved one must remain small, keep one’s talents and gifts hidden in a receptacle that only you are witness to, and for heavens sake don’t let anyone else ever see it. You will surely die from the arsenal of envy that will be thrust your way – or so I believed.
I am still learning to embrace my talents and gifts when so many people seem jealous and envious of what I have been imbued with. People have often commented that I have an intense brain and that I have an encyclopedic wealth of knowledge and they don’t know how I remember and process it all. I have always been made to feel that I shouldn’t bombard people and that I should downplay my intellect. Some people look bewildered when I tell them things and I still often feel that people would prefer if I stayed small so as not to make them feel bad about themselves. Of course, they don’t realise they are doing it, their insecurity is a faulty dial I sense they would like me to reconfigure for them by dialing down by own power. Also conversely the amount of times that people have been shocked when I opened my mouth, as they assumed I would be dumb because of the way I looked – because apparently you can’t wear red lipstick, rock a heel and a pretty dress and still be intelligent! I’ve had many people, and not just men I might add, comment that they couldn’t believe I had a brain because I looked so feminine. Thank goddess this is changing and that women are being seen as not just one thing or the other. My intense brain is part of my power, just as my sense of humour and fun, my love, my openness and my love of glamour.
I want to say yes to being a powerful and potent woman who no longer feels guilt about shining her light far and wide. Because if I can do it, then anyone can. Part of healing the mother wound is about learning to mother yourself. Cradle your deepest most painful emotions with the strength and softness of a loving mother. What do you wish your mother would have done for you? And then recreate it, do it for yourself by yourself. You can go inward and visualise that inner child, that delicate, wounded, yet golden child that is sobbing for your love and grace and your extended arms around her. Speak with her, listen to her, surround her constantly with love and support. We can’t move forward without honouring the neediness of our inner child. Berating ourselves for our neediness or our vulnerability will achieve nothing but more pain and lack of self-worth. To build self-worth we have to nurture ourselves, listen to ourselves and then act with kindness and love. We are only human, we won’t always get it right, we have to forgive ourselves. If you are having a bad day or a bad experience don’t chide yourself or berate yourself into just getting on with it. Honour your experience, learn from it and hug yourself like a loving mother would do.
I am learning to catch myself every time I deny my own worth so as not to make someone else feel bad about themselves. It’s not my responsibility to take on the insecurity of others, I can only deal with my own. Over the last couple of years I have been developing a solid inner mother, who is providing solace, unconditional love and support to those still unhealed aspects of myself. When I feel or someone points out that ‘I’m too much’, then instead of finger blaming I turn inward and assure that ‘unmothered child’ that she is not too much, she is enough and that whatever it is I have, the world needs it. The world needs all of our talent and light.
When you ignore your pain you ultimately ignore and reject yourself. You can always have a wonderful mother, even if your mother is not here physically or emotionally. Mothering yourself means that you can go out into the world with a sense of power and awe because you know you are there for yourself and that there are no more apologies for the very woman you are becoming. Sufficiently mothered children never apologise for who they are. They celebrate and shine without shame or guilt. The world needs your goddess given talents, your earthly gifts and your cosmic infused light. You owe it to the world to shine as bright as you can.