This is What I Can Tell You About the Mother Wound

by | May 15, 2022 | Anxiety, Mother Wound, Parenthood transitions, Relationships | 21 comments

This is what I can tell you about the mother wound.

I can tell you about mother-longing.

I can tell you that we never stop longing for a mother to…

… feed us.

… take care of us.

… nurture us in just the right way: not too much and not too little.

I can tell you that we never stop longing for a mother to bring us soup when we’re sick, not because it bolsters up her own sense of self-worth, not to showcase her own goodness, but for the simple joy of giving to her child.

I can tell you that we never stop longing to be tucked in and kissed goodnight, to be held in arms that make us feel safe, to wrap us up in blankets of warmth and quilts of comfort and arms that are there to give, not take.

I can tell you that we never stop longing to feel affirmed, celebrated, seen in our highest glory and light – a light not taken as a reflection of her own light, the way the moon borrows from the sun, but a light loved and raised up in its own right and radiance and brilliance.

And I can tell you that there are very, very few human mothers who are able to love their daughters in these ways. If you have a mother who loves you close enough to just right, you are blessed, and I hope you receive the gift and hold it tenderly for all your days.

 

And I can tell you about the aftereffects of a mother wound.

 

A mother wound can show up as the need to please and taking on the role as “pleaser.” When you’ve been raised to orient around someone else’s needs, when her needs became paramount and you learned early in life that there wasn’t room for your emotional life, if you were punished in any way for expressing dissent or anger (and punishment can be withdrawal, coldness, or outright rejection), you may have learned that pleasing others was the only way to survive.

It can show up as becoming a perfectionist, dancing as fast as you can to receive the approval from others that you never received from her, for as a child it’s too devastating to recognize that your mother, because of her own wounds and deficits, can’t meet your emotional needs, so you assume that the problem is you. If only I were more perfect in some way, I would receive the affirmation I so desperately need.

It can show up in romantic relationships and friendship as having an intense fear of engulfment (my needs won’t be respected or heard) and/or an intense fear of abandonment.

And it can show up as shame: the belief that says, “I’m broken. I’m too much. I’m not enough. I’m unworthy.” For if the person who first laid eyes on you doesn’t know how to love you with their entire being, a child can only assume that the deficit lies in her, not in her mother.

Beyond physical and material needs being met, a child needs one thing: to be loved and seen, which means that her emotional needs are honored and her unique gifts are cherished. A daughter doesn’t need perfect mothering, for that doesn’t exist. She needs good enough mothering, which is a mother’s love and healthy attachment that creates a belief in her daughter that engenders an inviolable sense of her own worthiness, purpose and a foundational safety.

Most daughters were not loved in these ways. But that doesn’t mean it’s too late to receive to receive this kind of mother-love. It doesn’t mean it’s too late to fill the hunger of longing that aches in your heart.

 

What we can see, we can attend. And what we can attend, we can heal.

 

Healing the mother wound doesn’t required changing anything about your relationship with your mother, or even having a relationship with her at all if that’s the most loving choice. Healing this wound requires a willingness to name the wound and a courage to attend to the common emotional experiences that arise as a result of the wound that all daughters share: grief, longing, and shame.

As you know if you follow my work, I’m not in the business of blaming or hating parents for all of our pain and shame, nor do I believe that healing happens from the head. Healing happens when we drop into the core emotions that arise from specific wounds, learn how to hand back the pain and shame that are not ours, then establish new, healthy internal relationships that fill in the gaps left behind by fallible human parents.

This is what we’ll be doing in my course, Healing the Mother Wound: A 40-day course for daughters. This course fills very quickly (it’s already half full), which means that the mother wound is rampant and that you’re not alone. I will be capping the course to make sure that I can attend to you both on the Zoom calls and the forum (there will also be a co-moderator), so if you’re ready to delve into this wound with gentleness, guidance, and community, I encourage you to join. The course will begin on Saturday, May 28th, 2022 and I will not be offering it again until 2023. I look forward to meeting you there.

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21 Comments

  1. Wow… thank you Sheryl for this. Once I read the line about being tucked into bed, tears flooded my eyes with out permission. I thought I’ve accepted and came to peace with my childhood pain but it is still such a deep pain that lives within. I’m grateful for the grief that shows up because this is an opportunity to go within. ❤️

    Reply
    • How beautiful that the grief came through. It’s part of the medicine. ❤️

      Reply
    • Hi sheryl, I really enjoy reading your articles. Im wondering if you have any books you could recomend on this topic?

      Warm regards

      Reply
      • Here are a few:

        Wise Child by Monica Furlong
        Sitting by the Well by Marion Woodman (audio)
        Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
        Circle of Stones by Judith Dueck
        The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
        The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
        Wild Mercy by Mirabai Starr
        Will I Ever Be Good Enough by Karyl McBride

        Reply
  2. Very much looking forward to this course, Sheryl. I do feel the sadness and longings you describe so eloquently here. I am trying to honor and hold those feelings, along with drawing firm boundaries that are more loving to myself and that reflect my own value, rather than looking for validation from a mother who has shown time and time again she can only project her own shame. Thank you for holding safe and sacred space for healing.

    Reply
  3. Again, such perfect timing. I am in the midst of starting to plan my wedding and I want nothing more than my mother’s support during such a hectic time. I did ask her if she was willing to help us out financially and she said, “no, I think this is something you and Fred need to do. You can’t go overboard.”

    I was not hurt that she said no she can’t help us. I was hurt that she does not express any interest in who I am and how to connect. “Overboard” is something I don’t believe I ever was. I have a simple dress, a simple wedding band, and I wanted a theme that represented Fred and my love. There was nothing overboard about it. It pains me that my mother doesn’t know ME and who I am.

    I try to connect in ways that help on my end: painting, cake decorating, art days, watching foreign films. It has hurt me deeply that she will not step foot in these areas. She doesn’t understand how hurtful this is for me. It’s the way I connect to the world. It’s showing her into my world. I end up feeling like I’m being selfish wanting her to come into my world. She looks at all these things as she can’t do them or understand them and rather than showing them to her, she becomes self critical of herself and doesn’t want to partake.

    My friend and I talked the other day that our mothers seem to only want to connect to the the things they want us to do. They wanted us to do gymnastics as kids – both my friend and I were like, “we aren’t about this life”. This is just an example. They wanted us to do things on their terms and now that we are older and trying to have a more meaningful relationship on things we actually enjoy … there is no interest.

    Another thing that hurts me is when my mother says, “who’s child are you” when I show her a cake I decorated. I look at it as a weird compliment that she is speaking from a place of self judgement. She might think, “she’s so talented, I would never be able to do that. Where does she get it from? I’m not talented at all.” She doesn’t realize it doesn’t come off as a compliment, it comes off as a self doubt and self judgment. I always tell her I can teach her. Any one can decorate a cupcake, t takes practice. It almost feels as if she doesn’t want to do it because I shouldn’t be the teacher since I am the child.

    I don’t know what else to say, man. It makes me very emotional. I have no siblings so I feel very lonely thoughts and feels. I feel so sad writing this because I feel like it’s so hard for me to accept this dynamic.

    Reply
    • Thank you for sharing this, Cait. You’re describing the mother wound to a tee, and it’s so painful. I hope you’ll be joining the course.

      Reply
    • Hi Cait, I just wanted to say that I can relate sooo much to your comment. I too have a lot of sadness around the fact that my mother really does not know me nor have any interest in getting to know me on a deep level. Growing up in my emotionally dysfunctional family (I would today describe my family as a collection of individuals as opposed to an actual family – my parents are completely enmeshed and there is a complete lack of interconnectedness between myself and my siblings and also my parents) I was the ‘easy going’, sensitive, middle child. My mother has said of me that I “never gave them any trouble” – there wouldn’t have been any point in trying to act out to get attention or express pain, nobody would have noticed. I remember on one occasion my mother chuckling as she described me as having “skin like a rhinoceros” and realising, even at a young age how absolutely inaccurate that was. I too, have similar interests and pastimes to you and my mother also has no interest in these types of activities. I am perhaps older than you (I’m in my 40’s)and I have been able to somewhat accept that my mother will not be able to give me the relationship I would have liked with her. One thing we do share is a love of reading and so I have deliberately chosen that as our common ground – when I do speak with her it is usually about the books we are currently reading, different authors and we have begun swapping books back and forth. I have even occasionally been able to ‘sneak through’ 😁 books that have given her alternative view points or food for thought – including books on trauma (my mother herself had a very tangibly traumatic childhood which she has refused to ever face) and OCD! By accepting the limitations of emotional closeness with my mother and knowing what type of connection/conversation to expect i.e. very surface level and about books I feel it has helped me not to be too disappointed in our interactions though of course it does still hurt. Wishing you the very best of luck with your wedding 😊❤️

      Reply
      • Bernadette,

        I cannot thank you enough for responding. I am about to be 30. The wound hurts so much. I get into this mind frame of just saying, “whatever I’ll just deal with it” but I really know that that means I’ll shut her out more.

        I love that you have a common ground/passion for reading – the two of you. I love that your able to create the space and boundaries you need for you to be able to connect. I commend you so much!

        Hope to hear back from you!

        Reply
  4. I will see you there. I’m struggling with this a lot right now. My grandmother is actively dying today, and it’s partially being difficult because I didn’t know what to say, because we haven’t been as close for a long time as we were when I was little. But my brother and I sang to her (some Owl City songs she used to love to hear us sing), and I told I loved her more than life itself. That was our thing. I mean, I feel like she said it to other people, sometimes, but that was mostly our special thing. I’ll definitely want to talk about some more of this in the course.

    Reply
    • Sending you love, Riley, as you navigate this next transition.

      Reply
  5. Thank you Sheryl, I completely recognized myself in the description. To a T!!!

    I have been fortunate that my mom went to therapy and met a wonderful grounded man after my dad passed away. So for the last 4 years, I’ve had the privilege to have a normal, loving relationship with my mom (who was a self absorbed, guilt tripping, rageful engulfing mom up until then). I also did a lot of work on my side over the last 18 years but it feels miraculous that we can now have a normal relationship. There is also a lot of grief and anger – why couldn’t she be like this when I grew up?

    Over the past week, I looked at my 14 months old son and was reminded that at that age, my parents left me for 3 weeks with my aunt because my mom had to travel for work and my dad didn’t feel capable of taking care of me alone.

    And I cannot fathom how they could make this decision. I will never know how I felt during this time but I can only imagine how confused I must have been. She then pursued a career that meant she wasn’t at home very much on the evenings and in the weekends.

    I grew up with a huge fear of abandonment, extremely low self esteem, which led me to either unhealthy disrespectful relationships with men, or extreme relationship anxiety with my now husband.

    It also probably explains why I have such as hard time being away from my small sons. My heart breaks when we have to be away even for a few hours.

    So I try to give my younger self a lot of compassion. ♥️ I feel so much sadness about her feeling abandoned and not worthy of her mom’s time.

    Thank you for opening the conversation on this sensitive topic. It is difficult to acknowledge and honor one’s wounds without falling into the victim trap.

    Reply
    • Thank you for sharing this, Emma. I can feel your pain, and the pain for all babies and children who were left alone and then assumed it was their fault. And what a blessing that you’ve been able to heal with your mother! Sending you love, as always. ❤️

      Reply
  6. I think the relationship with my mother is what has impacted me the most and I sense I still have so much to unravel.

    Even though I’ve been in therapy for the last five years, I still can’t fully “understand” either in my mind and in my body what happened and why I feel the way I feel.

    My mother is the most loving and gentle person I know. She loved and loves me with her whole self and would do anything in order to see me happy. She let me be myself and make my own decisions. But I think that something went “wrong” in our relationship because I always felt that this love was somehow too much. Even though she always let me do whatever I desired, I felt that the love was exaggerated, beautiful and painful at the same time. She was abandoned as a child and I think she projected so much onto me. When I look at my wounds I see a mix of perfectionism, lack of self trust, fear of being abandoned and at the same time fear of engulfment. Every time I try to make sense of my traumas, in spite of all the inner work I’ve done, I find a wall, something that doesn’t fully click for me. I worked on many issues during the therapy, but somehow i can’t understand what exactly made and makes me suffer so much. I guess because my traumas are in a way different than the “usual” ones: no open criticisms, not a lack of love, support or freedom and so on… It was far from perfect but when I look at the events that hurt me I have the impression that they don’t justify the way I feel. I hope it makes sense.

    Would this course help me to better process my experience?

    Thank you so much!

    Reply
    • Yes, it makes sense, and yes my sense is that the course might help put a few more pieces into place.

      Reply
  7. Wondering if you offer a course on father wounds?

    Reply
  8. Hi Sheryl

    i am really struggling and i wondered if this course would help me ? i had a turbulent relationship with my mum growing up and have recently lost my mum after a long journey with Alzheimer’s disease. its brought up all my old feelings of anxiety and i am so intolerant of my partner and i feel i have gone completely backwards in my own journey with intrusive thoughts and questioning our relationship which is good and healthy for the most part. i feel so broken and groundless at the moment.

    Reply
    • Hi Katy: This course would be very nurturing and healing for you right now. I hope you can join us. Sending big hugs. ❤️

      Reply
  9. Sheryl I would like to thank you deeply for you have helped so much during my engagement. I am still trying to grief my mother wound. My mother is a psychiatrist and I am still quite dependent on her opinion (I think is more intense due to her profession) and need to agree with me or else I change my own mind. I don’t have the confidence to feel differently and I am about to get married in a month with someone I love and I feel I have ruined the pre wedding period, but your thoughts helped me feel not alone and faulty. I wish you find the strength to continue this work. Thank you 🙏

    Reply

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