Understanding & healing the mother wound is crucial for your personal growth. It impacts your mental health, your relationships, your friendships, & your parenting. It's time to start healing yourself FOR yourself.
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Healing a mother wound? ME TOO!
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally victimized by your own mother. Or if your mother just straight up wasn’t there for you when you needed it growing up. Today, we are talking about the mother wound. Because I am a motherless daughter. I know the pain that mothers can inflict upon us as children. And all of the ways that it can impact us into adulthood, relationships, and even into our parenting.
By the end of this article, you will hopefully be feeling seen, heard, and understood. And have some tools to move forward and begin healing that mother wound. Your heart, mental health, relationships, and children will all benefit from healing this wound.
Bonus Resources for Healing the Mother Wound
And if you stick around until the end, I’ll send you off with some additional resources for exploring and healing mother wounds - including one of my favorite podcasts, books, and Instagram accounts.
What is the Mother Wound?
First, let’s talk about what a mother wound is and how it impacts us. Then get straight into the good stuff - ending generational traumas, reparenting ourselves, and how to begin the process of forgiving. Yes, I said forgiving. Even if you don’t feel like it’s possible, hear me out when we get to that section. You don’t have to do it, I’m just planting a seed for now.
Our relationship with our mother is our first and most important relationship. I am hurting as I type that because I never experienced this in the way it should be. In the way we all deserve. And I imagine you are here for the same reason. So know that I say this all with all of the love in my heart. Our relationships with our mothers are where we first learn love, trust, stability, and security. It’s the foundation of all relationships to follow - including the one with ourselves.
Mother Wound Meaning
When that foundation is not built properly, damaged, or entirely non-existent, we are walking into the world at a complete disadvantage. We are wounded - and it’s a deep wound commonly referred to as the mother wound.
I spent years searching for any information on this topic. You, unfortunately, see too many fathers leaving families or hurting their children with their inability to parent- but it’s not as common with mothers. As a mother myself, I can understand why.
There is a deep bond there. A deep desire to nurture, protect, and provide for your child. If you are the biological mother, you created this child. It is a part of you, your cells and blood and dna run through this child. And it relies on you to survive. Not caring or being present for this child creates a deep pain that not many can understand.
Types of Mother Wounds
This pain is also caused by many other factors. Abandonment, neglect, and abuse. All kinds of abuse - physical, mental, emotional, you name it. Mother wounds can be caused by not having a stable or safe environment to be ourselves, make mistakes, or be honest. Not having support - likely due to the patriarchal belief that women cannot succeed or express themselves.
This can also sometimes be seen in mothers who appear to be holding their children back, tearing them down, and competing with them. Mothers who are unhappy for their children’s joy, talents, success, or good fortune. Or in mothers who are only connecting in order to meet their own needs - and not their child’s.
Mother wounds are inflicted through generational traumas. Like internalized negative messages, unhealthy behaviors, negative self-talk, and toxic ways of communicating or handling conflict. Our mothers hand down their trauma, without even realizing it or intending to.
And we are entirely capable of doing the same, which is why being the cycle breaker in your lineage is so important - will talk more about that later on in the episode. But first, you have to understand what generational trauma is and why it happens. Read more in my article on Intergenerational Trauma and How It Ends With You. You can continue to be the way you were shown or you can choose to be different.
My Experience With A Mother Wound
I’ve touched on this topic in a few of my episodes but it has taken me a long time to be able to talk about it. Well, I grew up without a mother present in my life. She was around - but not available. Instead, she was detached and not at all interested in me. She locked herself in her bedroom and neglected my emotional needs.
Luckily, my father was there to pick up the slack, he played dual-parent and was the one who bought me tampons, took me bra shopping, and comforted me when I cried - which was a lot.
Difficult Mother-Daughter Relationship
As a child, I couldn’t understand why my mother wasn't around. And I certainly couldn’t understand the profound impact it was having on me. When I was raped as a teenager and spent what feels like forever crying myself to sleep every night, my father was the one there by my side.
I don’t ever recall a single conversation about the incident with my mother... The one person who was supposed to guide me as a woman in this world. And be there when being a woman was the reason I was hurt.
Around the time that I entered adulthood - my mother abandoned the family. She just up and left one day, on Mother’s Day of all days. And she just never looked back. I struggled to understand what was happening, why she left and was already carrying so much trauma quietly. Unfortunately, I needed my mother and she chose to leave me when I needed her the most.
Ending A Mother-Daughter Relationship
I spent well over a decade trying to have a relationship with her. Seriously, I tried every single method, approach, and idea that could possibly get her to want a relationship. I ignored my feelings, tried to be supportive for her, calling more, calling less. Also crying, spilling my heart out... being less emotional and more shallow in conversation. Nothing worked.
Then, I found out she had stage 4 cancer, so I tried harder. Eventually, she passed away leaving me with no answers, no understanding, no closure. I had nothing but confusion, pain, and anger.
So now you can understand my relationship with mother wounds. Let’s talk more about the different ways it can impact us.
How the Mother Wound Impacts Us
Just like we are all unique individuals with unique experiences, the ways in which mother wounds can impact us are also unique. I’m going to be listing a lot of the ways it has personally impacted me. And the most common ways that I’ve heard within the mother wound community. I always recommend therapy and exploring mother wounds deeper. Especially because you and your situation are unique in their own way.
11 Ways That Mother Wounds Impact Our Lives
1. They can leave you feeling unworthy
Unworthy of taking up space, receiving attention, or success. Or even love and acceptance. Because we did not receive this at our foundation. So we do not have the self-confidence or security within ourselves to know we are worthy and deserving of these things.
2. Playing small
We might end up playing small in our lives. The reason for this is partially that we don’t feel worthy of taking up space, attention, or success. But also because we were not given a secure attachment growing up to show us that we can be fully accepted as ourselves. We were not given an environment where expressing ourselves, succeeding, or even failing felt safe or respected. Or even acknowledged in some cases.
If this is resonating with you, I have just the thing to help! Check out my episode and article on How to Stop Playing Small and Start Living Authentically.
3. Constantly feeling like you are not good enough or like there is something wrong with you
Like it’s your fault that people can’t stay or treat you right. Because you were never shown that from your foundational support system... The very person you should have been able to rely on the most for these feelings of acceptance, reliability, and security.
4. Putting other people’s needs before our own
And to a point that you are absolutely drained and maybe even feeling resentful. Because our needs were not met as a child, we end up people-pleasing. We might no longer realize we even have needs. And we might feel a sense of worth or value in self-sacrificing to this degree.
In working so hard to give others what we wished we could have had or what we were forced to provide to others at a young age.
This can show up as constantly feeling the need to “prove” ourselves or seeking validation through being perfect. Because we did not learn as a child that we were enough as we were. Or that mistakes were expected and welcomed as learning experiences. We might internalize these mistakes or any perceived flaw as failure to be “enough”.
If you find yourself struggling with perfectionism like I do, be sure to head over to Overcoming Perfectionism. I hope to help you feel good enough because you truly are.
6. An inability to trust or open up to others
Or a lack of understanding for healthy boundaries in relationships. We were never given a safe space to trust or rely on our mothers. Or we were shown unhealthy boundaries and have continued to carry that forward in our lives.
7. An inability to trust ourselves
This can be seen in not being able to express ourselves or be who we are. Because we were not accepted and celebrated in the ways we needed to growing up, we don’t know how to accept or celebrate ourselves. Which can lead to not being able to trust yourself, your decisions, or your needs.
The part of my life in which I experienced the most anxiety was the part of my life where I was not trusting myself. I did not feel confident in making decisions, in trusting myself, or in knowing what I needed and giving it to myself. Because of this, anxiety flourished in my life during this time.
This is a very depressing situation to experience. And naturally, depression can be a symptom of a mother wound for that reason.
10. Substance abuse struggles
Coping with a mother wound is incredibly challenging. If we are not given the right tools or seeking them out for ourselves, we can find ourselves coping in unhealthy ways.
11. Other addictions
Like work, shopping, gaming, or gambling, For the same reason as substance abuse struggles, we can find ourselves struggling with other forms of addictions.
How the Mother Wound Impacts Relationships
Our experience with our mothers is the first feminine role in our childhood. It sets the stage for our expectations and views of women, regardless of how we identify ourselves. Mother wounds can determine the women we seek out for friends. Or our romantic partners.
It can impact how we view and treat other women in our community. If we have seen the negative side of women in this world, we will either respond with that same treatment or just come to expect that from other women we come across. When, of course, we know we should be empowering other women. But for those of us with a mother wound, it may not come as easily for us.
Once you start healing the mother wound, make sure you focus on empowering yourself. I talked about how important this is in my episode on Empowering Other Women (And Yourself!).
The Mother Wound and Romantic Relationships
With a mother wound, we might be accepting unhealthy, toxic, or abusive behaviors from others because we do not believe we deserve anything greater for ourselves. Or we haven’t seen more healthy behaviors to know they even exist.
Attachment Disorders from Mother Wounds
Part of this might be due to attachment disorders we have formed from our mother wounds. We will find ourselves seeking out validation in similar relationship patterns. Not necessarily because we like them. But because it is how we identify love or what feels the most comfortable for us. And not comfortable in an enjoyable sense - but in a familiar sense.
Anxious Attachment Style
For example, if you have an anxious attachment style, you might be needing more reassurance that you are good enough, pretty enough, or worthy of sticking around. Because you don’t believe it yourself. You might feel very dependent on your partner for having your needs met and incredibly anxious worrying about them leaving you or being upset with you.
Avoidant Attachment Style
Or you might be like me and have an avoidant attachment style. You might be social and easy to be around but are overly independent. You don’t like relying on others and prefer to meet your own needs. The avoidant part of the attachment is that this keeps you from letting people in too far or getting vulnerable with others. You keep them at a safe distance to try to prevent yourself from getting hurt.
The Mother Wound and Friendships
Even beyond romantic relationships, these relationship patterns and attachment styles can be found in friendships as well. I spoke about this in my episode on Friendship Breakups. Once I had realized that I was replaying these patterns in my romantic relationships, I spent so much time working to heal that. Only to discover I had also repeated these patterns in other relationships in my life - not just romantic ones. So this is my reminder to constantly review all of the relationships in your life - personal and professional.
Sometimes, your relationships with women can be strained. Maybe you were shown unhealthy dynamics between yourself and your mother, your mother and other women, or were hurt or abandoned. These are all negative associations with women that you can carry forward. We step into this world accepting and agreeing to what we walk into. And oftentimes we don’t question any of it for years.
As I mentioned, I’ve found myself being in unhealthy dynamics with other women many times before realizing what was happening and why. I was either ending up with people who were nurturing to a point where they needed to rescue me or fix me. Or I was intimidated or not trusting of other women. And not in a “pick me” girl kind of way - I’m sure that has its own deep-rooted causes. This was just an attempt at avoidance completely, not an attempt in trying to put other women down.
How Mother Wounds Impact Our Parenting
Mother wounds absolutely impact our relationships with children - in more than a few ways.
Repeating Generational Patterns
When your wounded inner child comes up, you can find yourself repeating unhealthy patterns of generational trauma without even realizing it. Be gentle with yourself - and remember it was how you were taught to be and act in this world facing such strong emotions. It was literally what was modeled to you as to how to be a mother. The important part is realizing what you did, acknowledging the pattern, and deciding what you wish to do instead - and continue trying to be that role model for your children.
Becoming the Complete Opposite
Mother wounds can show up in our motherhood by acting as a pendulum swinging too far in the opposite direction. Being so far extreme from what your mother was that it forms other unhealthy behaviors. If your mother was absent like mine, you might understand my experience with it. I certainly find myself so far from what my mother did that I am no longer allowing my children the healthy amount of independence to cope with their emotions, feel their emotions, and process them... Without trying to jump in immediately and fix everything.
Putting Yourself Last
I’m also setting aside all of my own personal needs, feelings, or experiences to always put theirs first. Yes, to some degree I understand that is what parenting is. But remember when I mentioned giving and caring for others to the point where it was painful, draining, or damaging to you? It’s like that.
The Circle of Security
The book and theory of the Circle of Security really helped me to realize that a healthy distance is important. Both to care for yourself and allow your child to care for themselves (while remaining present, supportive, and attentive). Here is a very short but powerful video demonstrating this concept.
Basically, it shows a child playing and a parent nearby watching. The child goes a little distance away and plays. But comes back to ensure their parent is still there - present and providing safety, if needed. And then they go away again, maybe this time a bit further and for a bit longer.
This pattern of slowly going out into the world to experience it independently, but also knowing and coming back to a point of safety and security is the general concept of the circle of security. The Circle of Security book and teaching goes much more in-depth, of course. So make sure you dive into that on your own or with a therapist to explore it further.
How to end generational trauma
Now let’s talk about what generational trauma is and how to end it. I talked about this in my episode on Generational Trauma and How It Ends With Us.
Trauma can pass through multiple generations completely unseen and is referred to as generational trauma. Some of these traumas have become so embedded within the family structure. That can make it almost impossible for the members to view the world any differently than they’ve been shown. Because of this, trauma cycles can easily continue. However, once you start digging and observing, these traumas can become obvious and hard to ignore.
Children are like sponges, constantly absorbing everything that they see, hear, and experience. They are soaking up newly learned behaviors every day, especially from their caretakers, their first trusted teachers. Children grow up observing certain ways of coping, thinking, or reacting.
These observations are “lessons” that are like seeds being planted in their minds. Those seeds are watered through witnessing the repetition of these behaviors or core beliefs from their trusted source. Each generation learns from the one before them, receiving messages about themselves and the world around them. What they do with those messages can either continue, change, or end the cycle of trauma.
Your Mother's Mother Wound
So with a mother wound, your mother was passed down her own generational traumas. She likely didn’t know anything different or didn’t rebel against the beliefs and just continued them throughout her life into your generation.
The fact that you are reading this tells me that you can see what is wrong with the generational cycles happening. That’s the first and most important step - acknowledging. And seeing that it didn’t start with you. But realizing that it can end with you. This leads to the realization that you have a choice.
Breaking Generational Cycles
Know that you can be the gatekeeper for your family. You can decide what you allow into your home, your family, and your children’s lives (if you choose to have them). Seriously, you get to choose how conflict is handled and how uncomfortable situations are addressed. How big feelings are treated and cared for. And how thoughts are expressed.
If this is what you choose to do (or are actively doing for yourself and your family)... Congrats! You are a cycle breaker - breaking all of the unhealthy cycles coming from generations before you. It’s not easy. In fact, it’s incredibly painful to take on the pain of generations before you. To crack it open entirely. And go against everything you thought you knew about life, yourself, your family, and the world.
The Black Sheep of the Family
Many will see you as a “black sheep” in the family. Trust me, I’ve been called this myself more than once. It seems like so many people go with what they know in the family - continuing trends, behaviors, and beliefs. So, the one who questions it seems odd, strange, and can even be treated as an outcast. But that’s ok. I’m not trying to fit into a family dynamic that does not serve me. Truly, I’m not trying to fit in and accept treatment that I know I do not have to tolerate. And that I know I do not deserve.
Complicated Mother-Daughter Relationships
Apart from feeling misunderstood by family, you can feel misunderstood by the outside world. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told “but she’s your mother” and encouraged to take part in an unhealthy relationship.
The pressure from people who couldn’t fathom this kind of mother. A mother who did not want to be present for her child, nurture her child, or who didn’t have the best intentions for her child. Just because you can’t understand something doesn’t mean it isn't real. But it sure made me question my own reality for quite a few years.
My Unknown "Estranged" Relationship with My Mother
To be incredibly vulnerable with you, I found out through my mother's will that she had put down in a legal document that I was “estranged”. An entire decade before I read that or had any idea. I spent over ten years attempting to mend a relationship that did not exist. It kept me knocking at a door that was not only shut - but locked, moved, shredded, like the doors in Monsters Inc.
Your Mother Wound Pain is Valid
Regardless of what other people understand or don’t understand, and regardless of what other people think they know about mothers, I’m here to tell you that your experience is valid. Your pain is real. And you know what is best for you.
Tune out anyone who thinks they know any better than you do. Or better yet - remove them from your inner circle. I had an ex one time tell me that it was a “red flag” that I couldn’t have a healthy relationship with my mother. As if that was my responsibility as a child. Or as if mothers were just somehow absolved or incapable of doing any harm to their children. Well, there is a reason he is an ex.
How to Reparent Yourself
The most helpful skill that I have learned as a woman walking this world with a mother wound, is reparenting myself. For me, it honestly started out a lot like sitting down, closing my eyes, and having a conversation with myself. Stating a worry, concern, emotion, or thought. And then picturing a child (or myself as a child) saying that. And then thinking about how I would respond.
So if this child came to me with anxiety. I would listen to the worries in the situation at hand. And I would take myself out of that role and think about how I would respond to someone else, a loved one, that child.
This was harder for me when I first started out. It felt awkward and weird. If that’s how it is for you, I recommend doing a quick brain dump which you know I talk a lot about in my episodes. I would write out every thought for 5-10 minutes. And then I’d go back through them and address them as if a child (or myself as a child) had written them to me asking for guidance.
Finding Your Inner Child
In the beginning, it was almost easier to picture some future child of mine talking to me. Over time, I began to picture myself much younger, almost down to the age. Which can tell you a lot about where the source of the pain, anxiety, trigger, etc is. This information can be incredibly helpful for your healing journey. I know that for me personally, this awareness was an absolute game-changer.
If you are a parent, consider how you would talk to your child if they came to you with these feelings, thoughts, or needs. And not the perfect mother image you may fantasize about having or being - perfect mothers do not exist. How would a healthy, secure, and imperfect mother approach this situation? And how would you nurture and care for them - as this realistic mother?
Now give that to yourself. Say those comforting and reassuring words that you needed to hear. Validate those feelings and remind yourself of the truth - that you are whole, you are worthy, you are good. Meet your needs, do some self-care, journal, go for a run, or take a nap.
In doing your part to actively end generational trauma, in reparenting yourself, and hopefully exploring all of this in therapy... you are turning generation trauma into generational healing. My aunt once told me that when you heal generational trauma you are healing your lineage or ancestors' pain. You are healing your hurt mother, your hurt grandmother, and the healing continues on. But more immediately, you heal yourself. And you heal the future generations to come.
How to Start Forgiving
Now, I know the thought of forgiving a mother who has done some truly unforgivable things might be a complete turn-off to you. And that is ok. Your feelings are valid. But stick with me. Allow me to plant a seed that you can water if and when you decide to. I spoke a lot about how I’ve been able to find strength in pain and gratitude in my negative experiences in my episode on Why You Need a Daily Gratitude Practice.
Mostly, I want you to know that forgiveness isn’t really for the other person. It’s for you. When we carry around anger, resentment, or disappointment - it’s only hurting us. The other person isn’t impacted by us carrying the weight of their issues. So what good is it doing to hold onto it in our lives? And in that same way, it certainly doesn’t benefit them to release it. But it does benefit us.
Allow me to introduce to you the ancient Hawaiian practice of forgiveness, called Ho’oponopono. This Hawaiian word comes from "ho’o", which means “to make” and "pono", which means “right”. The repetition of the word “pono” means to make “doubly right” - or making right with both self and others. This practice is used to heal ourselves, others, and our world.
Traditional Ho’oponopono consists of four main phrases: “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.” This is meant to guide you through repentance, forgiveness, gratitude, and love. Repeating these words can help you face the negative feelings that are preventing you from healing. And is intended to walk you beyond those blockages.
Struggling to Forgive
It’s normal to resist some of these phrases, especially at first. I have struggled with each individual one (and sometimes all of them) when practicing. Keep the translation in mind and let that be your intention “to make right with yourself and others”. I’m a big believer that if you keep infusing that intention into your practice, you will be successful!
Seeing Your Mother in a New Role
Another incredibly impactful mindset shift that was necessary for my forgiveness journey was to take the role of “mother” away from your mother. Set aside all of the expectations that you have or had for her, your view of the mother you wished you had, and consider who she was outside of that. It’s too easy to look at our parents and see them as just that - parents. We forget that they had entire lives before us and without us even when we came along. They have faults, traumas, deep wounds, and challenging experiences.
Mothers who were unable to love, nurture, or care for their children in the ways that we deserved to have something deeper happening within themselves. They likely have a deep wound or trauma preventing them from being that loving, supportive, or present mother that you needed.
So, consider who she was - at her core. In her lived experience in this world. What was her life like as a child? Is it possible she did not receive enough love, attention, or support? How did she cope with stress? Did she drink? Or turn to drugs? Maybe her addiction was work. Did she shut herself away from the world or disappear altogether? Get angry? Or become very mean or critical of others?
Be Gentle With Yourself
Have a lot of grace for yourself. I wasn’t able to forgive my mother until after she passed away. That was challenging in its own way. She wasn’t there to answer any questions, to help me gain an understanding, or to have any closure from her. This made me realize that closure comes within us. We don’t need other people to offer us closure - we need to give it to ourselves and for ourselves.
When you are ready to get to this place... How can you find compassion for your mother? And how can you look at the challenges she faced and trust she did her best - even though it was never enough for you? This is not to say she’s absolved of all of her wrongdoings, the pain she’s inflicted on you, or any of the deep wounds that still ache from her. Understanding her does not mean justifying or excusing her behavior. Because we all know there are behaviors that are not justified or excused.
And know that these wounds don’t just disappear. Healing is not about removing all pain and trauma from our lives, it is finding a healthy way to coexist with these negative experiences we’ve had. It’s finding healthy ways of coping, accepting the situation, and not allowing it to hold you back from living your life wholeheartedly. Especially in moments when you are triggered or experiencing strong feelings surrounding your mother wound - because it’s bound to happen from time to time.
Resources for Healing the Mother Wound
So, before we end this, I promised to give you a link to all of my free journal prompts on my website. You can find that in my show notes or by heading straight to rootandriseblog.com and searching for mother wound journal prompts. I have so many other types of journal prompts that I recommend exploring on my website as well! You know I am a huge advocate for journaling and self-reflection.
Without further ado, here are some amazing resources to continue your journey of exploring and healing your mother wound.
The first and most impactful resource that I have to offer to you is the Unmothered and Unbothered Podcast. Precious Detina is an incredible human - so much so that she offered me advice in my time of need... When I knew I would see and speak to my mother last.
Her podcast was the first real source of advice and understanding that I found in my journey to healing my Mother Wound. Everyone with a mother wound needs this podcast in their life. Subscribe to her podcast and check out her Instagram to stay updated!
The next resource is the Motherwoundproject Instagram account. This account has been a regular source of comfort, guidance, and relatability.
Books for Mother Wounds
The last two resources are books that have been recommended to me so many times that I actually laugh anytime they come up. I’d be doing you a disservice to not pass along the same recommendations that so many others have had glowing reviews for.
The first is: It Didn’t Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle by Mark Wolynn. And the second is Bethany Webster’s book: Discovering the Inner Mother: A Guide to Healing the Mother Wound and Claiming Your Personal Power.
And that’s it, my friends. If you are trying to heal a mother wound, I hope you felt seen, heard, and understood in this episode. Know that you are not alone and your feelings are absolutely valid. And that my inbox is always open for anyone who needs that reminder.
Disclaimer: I only recommend products that I truly love and use. With that being said, this blog post contains affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, these links allow me to receive a small commission to continue providing free content to my readers. I am grateful for your support!