This week we’re gonna look at another issue that affects many of us, mostly daughters but also sons. The Mother Wound is what happens to us when our mother (or primary caregiver) is not emotionally available to us as an infant and a child. Our mothers literally mold us in their womb and emotionally mold our sense of self as a child. When this important bond is broken or absent, a wound occurs and begins seeping.
The lack of mothering is typically passed down through generations. Individual children are affected differently because of different levels of emotional need. Maybe their mother provided for them physically and possibly interacted with them in a positive manner but didn’t give out the attention and deep love their child needed. Perhaps they were always distant and not tuned-in with the child. Abuse and neglect didn’t necessarily come into play—mom was just not emotionally available. Thus, the bond is broken. Children who have been raised by drug-addicted mothers, alcoholics, or mothers with a mental health disorder (either diagnosed or undiagnosed—which was true of my own mother) may emotionally struggle into adulthood and beyond if the wound is not addressed. Their relationships become a real struggle.
The wound is also created by mothers who didn’t provide empathy—mirroring the child’s emotions and helping them recognize and manage their feelings. Did your mother let you express negative feelings? (mine didn’t) Was she extra critical (sometimes just to you and not your siblings)? Perhaps your mom expected you to care for her physically or emotionally. Was your mom absent for work or other interests? *Please note—not all working moms instill a wound. You can even be a “single mom” without creating a mother wound. Many mothers suffer emotional or physical abuse that creates trauma. Without processing that trauma, they are unable to give love and nurture their children.
So what are the signs of the Mother Wound?
Feeling as if you’ve never had your mother’s approval/acceptance
Feeling as if you’re not loved as much by your mother as your siblings, or not loved at all
Feeling like it was your responsibility as a child to care for, shelter, and protect her instead of her caring, sheltering and protecting you.
You had difficulty relating emotionally to your mother
Feeling like you could lose your mother by making a mistake or having an accident.
Always trying to be better or perfect to gain her attention and acceptance
When a child experiences these feelings throughout their childhood, it reduces their self-worth, their self-esteem, their sense of worthiness. Adults who have these wounds lack emotional awareness. They often feel that relationships filled with warmth and nurturing are not within reach. And these same adults don’t have the ability to self soothe (which means they turn to things outside themselves for comfort—which is where addiction with alcohol and drugs comes into play).
The mother wound always makes individuals feel incomplete and inadequate connecting with others while at the same time having deeply ingrained feelings of the need for perfection and control. (Ring any bells?? Because mine are sure going off—I recognize this behavior in myself and a couple of my siblings.) Adults who have difficulty forming and sustaining positive relationships that they crave lack the ability to trust someone else emotionally. (We couldn’t trust our mother, so how can we possibly trust a partner?)
These childhood factors are similar to those linked with codependency. If not healed, the mother wound contributes to codependent patterns in our adult relationships. And we all know where that leads—down a rabbit hole filled with all sorts of shit. Let’s look next at how to heal from our wounds that mothers knowingly or unknowingly gifted us. It is no small task to undertake. I will share some steps with you, but please know this is a very big deal. Please talk with a counselor as you begin the hard work of healing.
Healing involves a balance of recognizing our feelings of resentment and anger. Acknowledging that we may need to forgive our mothers is one thing, the ability to do so is another. We have to work through the negative emotions in order to get to the other side--where we find forgiveness.
The first thing we need to actively do is express the pain that we feel for being unloved, ridiculed, humiliated, ignored, shunned, and even victimized. For me, there was lots of crying (and even a little yelling) involved. Role-playing also brought up more feelings of inadequacy. I found journaling to help a great deal. My load of negativity was always lifted once I put words on paper with a pen or pencil (not typing). The heaviness included depression which felt like this big blob in my belly that could only be dissolved with tears. Physically crying my guts out helped tremendously. (The endorphins released through crying did the trick.)
Some of us have to become "emotionally self-aware", because we never had the reinforcement of emotions recognized when we were young. Learning about feelings opened a huge door for me. I was simply astounded at all the ways a person could feel. (And options? That was an even bigger break-through. I simply never knew I had options as a child or teen-ager.) When I began to name my feelings, I learned it was okay to experience them and sit with them. Now, I’m learning to be compassionate to myself when feelings pop up instead of stuffing them—which is a direct route to depression. Let me tell ya’, that is no fun going down that road!
The next step to healing deals with learning how to "parent our inner child." Doing this allows us to give our inner child what we missed out on receiving. A form of self-care, it goes deep into our body and spirit and begins to care of our needs. Talking with your inner child helps. Comfort and nurture her/her/they. Take out a picture of yourself as a child and talk to her/him/they, letting her/him/they know how much you love her/him/they. Tell that picture you are always there for her/him/they, that you believe in her/him/they, that you adore that precious little face. Having a childhood photo on your desk or bedside reminds you of the healing you are doing and then you can congratulate yourself for your hard work.
Hug yourself! Just wrap your arms around your torso and hug yourself. Take a hot bubble bath. I like to light candles when I bathe for added ambiance—makes me feel like I’m worthy of something special. You can probably come up with many ideas of your own that make you feel worthy and nurtured inside. Walking in a forest or hiking in the desert—any activity with Mother Nature at its core is going to benefit you. What did you especially love when you were a child? I loved digging in the dirt—one of the many things I do to nurture myself deals with getting my hands dirty. Usually it’s just repotting a plant—but working/playing in the dirt (gardening somehow) makes me feel lighter. It lifts my spirit, as does walking/hiking amongst trees. These are things I took for granted as a kid growing up on a farm. Now I try to repeat those activities as part of my self-care.
Once we acknowledge the hurtful feelings and actually grieve over our childhood losses (things we didn’t receive and needed) then an emotional space opens up inside us. That space is needed in order for us to move forward to the last step of forgiveness.
Without a doubt, mothering is hard work. And sometimes we get it wrong. I’ve apologized to my three adult children so many times I can’t count. What we need to remember is that our mother was most likely doing the best she could with what she had dealt to her. Once I realized that possibility, I began to ask relatives what mom’s childhood had been like. Understanding the root of her dysfunction in both my head and my heart made it much easier for me to forgive her inadequacies. When you can understand where your mother came from and why she was the way she was, it’s easier to forgive. Sometimes you can even build a relationship with her as long as certain boundaries exist.
Sadly, that was not possible for my mom and me. Her mental health (for which she never received treatment) continued to deteriorate as she aged. When she saw me, only anger, jealousy and resentment flared in her mind (and out her mouth). I learned quickly to stay away from her. If this is true for you as well, know that you can still work through your grief with a good support network and counselor. Exposing yourself to ongoing abuse is certainly not healthy, and in the end, you may not be able to forgive her. The only way I was able to do so was with the help of my shrink. And Risa –I am forever grateful. Please do not put up with continued abuse. Ask for help and be open to doing the work it takes to heal. It’s worth it.
And so, my lovelies, courage to you all.
Love and light-
GUTSY WOMAN: Sarojini Naidu
Distinguished Indian poet Sarojini Chattopadhyaya Naid (1879-1949) was known as The Nightingale of India. A child prodigy, she was a renowned freedom-fighter traveling all over India campaigning for women’s rights, the welfare of youth, Indian Independence, and nationalism. Sarojini helped form the Indian Constitution and was the first woman to become President of the INC (Indian National Congress) in 1925. She was also the first woman to become Governor of Uttar Pradesh, a state in Northern India. One of the greatest orators of her time, she is also known as one of India’s “feminist luminaries.”
Born into a Bangali family in Hyderabad, her father, Dr. Hagore Nath Chattopadhyaya, was an educator, philosopher, and scientist. Her mother, Varada Sundari Devi was a Bengali poetess. With such educated and progressive parents, it is no surprise that Sarojini—the eldest of eight children—was a child prodigy matriculating for university study (with the highest rank) at age twelve! Exposed to revolutionary ideals, all the children were encouraged to pursue their passions, including daughters—which was quite unusual for that time and place. At age sixteen Sarojini began attending King’s College in London, England.
While in England, Sarojini met Dr. Muthyala Naidu, a non-Brahmin physician and of course fell in love. The problem? India’s caste system. Their marriage in 1898 was both scandalous and groundbreaking. It was also done with the blessing of both families. Sarojini and Naidu had four children together during their long and happy marriage.
Sarojini began traveling and delivering speeches campaigning for the welfare of adolescents, women’s emancipation, dignity of labor and nationalism. Her oratory was famous being filled with her personality as well as her poetry. She helped Muthulakshmi Reddy and Annie Besant (a British feminist, theosophist, and political reformer) found the Women’s India Association in 1909. Speaking in front of Congress, she spoke of the need to involve more women in India’s freedom struggle. Sarajini also supported the Lucknow Pact—a joint Hindu–Muslim demand for British political reform given at the Madras Special Provincial Council. Initiated into Indian politics by Gopal Gokhale and Mahatma Gandhi, she joined the Indian freedom struggle for independence from Great Britain. As flag-bearer of the Indian Nationalist struggle, Sarojini traveled to the U.S. and many European countries.
When Gandhi was arrested for leading the Salt March to Dandi (1930) she led the Dharasana Satyagraha along with others despite criticism from Congressional members regarding a woman leading the non-violent protest. More than 320 unresisting satayagraphis (truth force of civil resistance) were beaten (by the police) with clubs and steel tipped lathis (canes) requiring hospitalization. Two protesters died. You can read more about this brutal incidence by reading Webb Miller’s (a British journalist) eyewitness account on the internet.
Sarojini played an enormous role in presenting to the world India’s non-violent struggle for freedom. She accompanied Gandhi to England in 1931 for round table talks hosted by the British Government. Her steadfast role in the Freedom struggle led to many stints in prison after her arrest by the British (1930, 1932, 1942). The ’42 arrest leading to 21 months of imprisonment. After India gained its independence from Great Britain in 1947, Sarojini was elected India’s first woman governor.
As a writer (beginning at age twelve), her play Maher Muneer impressed the Nizam (monarchs) of her home state. Sarojini continued to write despite her studies and political actions. It was said her poems were so magnificent they could be sung. In 1905, she published her first volume of poetry, The Golden Threshold. At age thrity-five, Sarojini was elected a fellow of London’s Royal Society of Literature. Her extraordinary literary life attracted many intellectuals to her “famous salon” in Bombay (now known as Mumbai). Her poems was usually composed in English (one of the five languages she was fluent in) and centered around themes of patriotism, romance, tragedy, and children’s poetry.
Did you know?
1. Bappaditya Bandopadhyay quoted "Sarojini Naidu inspired the Indian renaissance movement and had a mission to improve the life of Indian woman.”
2. Bharat Kokila is Hindi for Nightingale of India. She was also known as the Indian Yeats!
3. In 1929, Sarojini presided over both East African and Indian Congress’ sessions.
4. Her social work for flood relief earned her the Kaisar-i-Hind Medal in 1911, which she later returned in protest over the April 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre (also known as the Amritsar massacre of April, 1919).
Mothers Who Can't Love: A Healing For Guide for
“Forward validates the reader’s feelings and presents effective coping mechanisms, offering suggestions on setting boundaries, negotiating for a better relationship, [and] being assertive . . . Highly recommended.” -- Library Journal (starred review)
“A riveting, compassionate guide to helping women transcend the wounds inflicted by their rejecting or abusive mothers.” -- Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D., author of How Can I Forgive You? The Courage to Forgive, The Freedom Not To
With Mothers Who Can't Love: A Healing Guide for Daughters, Susan Forward, Ph.D., author of the smash #1 bestseller Toxic Parents, offers a powerful look at the devastating impact unloving mothers have on their daughters—and provides clear, effective techniques for overcoming that painful legacy.
In more than 35 years as a therapist, Forward has worked with large numbers of women struggling to escape the emotional damage inflicted by the women who raised them. Subjected to years of criticism, competition, role-reversal, smothering control, emotional neglect and abuse, these women are plagued by anxiety and depression, relationship problems, lack of confidence, and difficulties with trust. They doubt their worth, and even their ability to love. Susan Forward examines the Narcissistic Mother, the Competitive Mother, the Overly Enmeshed mother, the Control Freak, Mothers who need Mothering, and mothers who abuse or fail to protect their daughters from abuse.
Filled with compelling case histories, Mothers Who Can’t Love outlines the self-help techniques Forward has developed to transform the lives of her clients, showing women how to overcome the pain of childhood and how to act in their own best interests.
Warm and compassionate, Mothers Who Can’t Love offers daughters the emotional support and tools they need to heal themselves and rebuild their confidence and self-respect. (from the back cover)
Note—Healing the mother wound is not easy, my friends. I know. But life and relationships do get better when you follow guidelines put forth by therapists. My personal therapist has helped me deal with many issues on this particular subject, teaching me about Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) that my own mother struggled with. You and I benefit from being able to understand and forgive our mothers. And sharing our stories helps as well. Good Luck with your healing journey. Drop me a note and let me know your progress.
Love and light from the Valley of the Sun-