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The Apology Ache and the Healing Fantasy for Forgiveness

The longing to get an apology from your mother for wounds she inflicted on you can be a torment. So is the aspiration to be able to forgive you mother when it feels impossible. Both the apology ache and the healing fantasy for forgiveness are natural yearning which at the same time impede the possibilities of healing the mother wound. There’s another way of healing the pain from the absence of maternal love, guidance or nourishment.

woman waiting healing fantasy forgiveness

For many years I was hoping that one day my mother will say these three words—“I am sorry!”. Even though the idea of forgiveness seemed like something I will never be able to give my mother I still held to that healing fantasy of an apology that sets me free.

I was aching for my pain to be acknowledged by the person who had hurt me, my mum.

I thought that an apology would be a way for her to own her motherhood and take responsibility for not meeting my need for safety, guidance and nourishment.

An apology never came.

A wish for an apology is very natural. Ironically, though, we can’t always expect the person who hurt us to also be the person who’ll heal us.

A couple of years ago I read Kelly McDaniel’s book, Mother Hunger, where she names this wish the apology ache, defining it as

Longing for someone to see how they hurt you and apologise.

I know of few women who received this apology. Sometimes it helped alleviate the pain and sometimes it left them still searching for something to ease the pain of a dysfunctional motherhood.

Moreover, even though I never did get an apology, I still harbour no anger, resentment or hatred towards my mother.

Apology is not the only way to rescue yourself from unresolved wounds.

Why the apology ache stands in the way of your healing

The apology ache is a common experience of the mother wound. Women who’ve been hurt by their mother often have a yearning for their hurt to be properly seen and understood.

But the apology ache also puts us in a waiting room for something that may never show up.

The longer you wait for it to happen the more you risk pinning your mother wound healing journey on a single agenda of apology and forgiveness and missing all the other doors through which healing the mother wound can enter.

Many of the women I work with are familiar with the apology ache and how inflammatory this ache can be for the original wound.

Sometimes I ask my clients to imagine: “How would your life look like if an apology never comes?”

This question ignites a grieving process which allows you to stop waiting for something to fix the pain and discover what else could help in releasing the hurt of the mother wound.

I’ve witnessed both in my own healing process and the process of the many women I’ve accompanied over the past decades how this grieving process allows a new flow to run through the heart and clear the path towards feeling whole and happy.

healing fantasy

The healing fantasy of forgiveness

A sister to apology is a desire to forgive or the idea that “if only” you could forgive you’ll be released from the pain of a mother who couldn’t satisfy your needs.

There’s a strong history of advocating for forgiveness in psychoanalysisIf the wish to forgive comes through an external source as such it can place unjust, even distracting pressure on women who are not interested in forgiving or are not ready for forgiveness.

This pressure, just like the apology ache, stifles the healing process as it imposes upon it an idea that the condition for it may not yet have ripened.

Once again you risk designing your whole healing process around one single experience that seems to promise freedom from emotional and psychological suffering.

I use here the useful term by Lindsay C. Gibson who describes how children of immature parents manage to survive by creating a healing fantasy.

A healing fantasy is a child’s fantasy about an imaginary scenario where your needs will be met or your misgivings will be taken seriously. When that happens it will bring peace to the scattered heart that was shuttered by a mother who left a mark of pain.

As a child, this fantasy is crucial for survival. It is filled with hope and brings order to an otherwise chaotic or puzzling mother-daughter relationship.

The healing fantasy of forgiveness advocated so fiercely and blindly by psychologists or other healers cages the healing process inside the abandoned inner child instead of bringing healing to the inner child and cultivating new ways of coping with a wounding past.

For about a year and a half I worked with Sarah, a daughter of a narcissistic mother. Sarah came to me after yet another crisis with very little faith in therapy and a lot of disappointment from therapists.

Sarah had an apology ache and she hated her mother for the lies she had told her, for the childhood neglect and for finding herself early in life with complex PTSD and hardly no support system.

Together, Sarah and I slowly unpacked the healing fantasies she was holding to, pacing ourselves gently to what Sarah was interested in and ripe for, without me imposing any ideas of my own about what should constitute the “perfect” healing process.

Sarah didn’t aspire to forgive her mother. It surprised her when she discovered a spontaneous forgiveness as a result of our healing the mother wound process:

“My mother never was ever able to take accountability for what she did or didn't do in my childhood and teenage time. And sure as hell would she not even to this day accept any form of responsibility for how she impacted me.

But thanks to your work, Shelly, I do know now what is hurting me and I was able to be open about that and focus on working through that hurt but without hating my mother.

I realised that just like me she was a human person who had her own story and her own reasons for why she was like she was. It does not mean it was okay but it does mean that I was able to first accept the pain and then go through it to heal.

Without your guidance through really hard times I wouldn't have been able to open up to words like compassion, forgiveness and acceptance.

After a deep wave of grief I found compassion for myself and also towards my mother. This gave me the permission to finally accept my mother wound without feeling a victim.”

apology ache mother wound

The healing power of naming the truth of the pain

Forgiveness is a beautiful and powerful experience but I never impose it on my clients. I also don't think is can be formulated or forced.

My forgiveness for my mother’s neglect and abandonment came as a quiet, falling leaf floating peacefully on free currents that were released through the many different healing practices I applied myself to over many years.

It was not a big bang experience of suddenly dropping the heavy weight of my traumas but a gentle and sweet landing of something that let go of itself because it was the right time. Just like a falling leaf in autumn.

When women present the idea of wanting to forgive their mother I will not try to dissuade them from this wish. Offering a “should-free” healing the mother wound process, we look together at the foundations of this heart wish and what feeds it.

Sometimes it’s fed by the desire to feel worthy, to know that you matter or by the wish to know you’re not crazy for having the feelings and impressions you have.

At other times the healing fantasy for forgiveness is the hunger to be held, feel protected or guided.

Other common experiences from which both the apology ache and the healing fantasy for forgiveness draw from are:

  • Deep-seated patterns of being in control, fearing states of not knowing or being lost

  • A belief that you’re not lovable

  • A habit of pleasing or taking responsibility over other people’s needs and peace of mind

  • Loneliness and the desire for genuine connection

  • A wish to re-learn self-trust

Borrowing from Buddhist psychology I use naming to aerate the healing process and afford a woman the opportunity to notice the many possibilities that exist in finding a sense of completion.

Naming the truth of an emotional pain offers us a path beyond ideas and concepts.

The power of naming the deep experience that lies underneath the healing fantasy for forgiveness and the apology ache lies in creating a liberating experience of being seen and understood.

Apology without ache, forgiveness without fantasy

It’s important to emphasise and repeat that no heart wish is in itself “wrong”. There shouldn’t be a black and white measure of the appropriateness of healing or a one-size-fit-all solution that leads to redemption from emotional pain.

We can hold the wish for an apology lightly, like a silk scarf on a breeze. We can move towards forgiveness gradually, like a an acorn slowly releasing its nutritious potential.

All throughout my childhood I heard the demands, the preaching and the expectations for me to forgive my mother. I see forgiveness as a very intimate choice that we can open up to only after we’ve given up on “if only” scenarios.

I read somewhere that you can forgive when you no longer need the forgiveness. I found that to be a powerful reminder that anything that comes without pressure will lead us to where we need to be.

You can now let your healing the mother wound process take its own course whether you find the capacity to forgive and an apology comes or not. The apology ache and the healing fantasy for forgiveness can bring more pain and create more pressure than necessary. Healing is possible through name the yearning and the pain that lives underneath and through releasing the inner child from clinging to one single agenda that will liberate the mother wound’s pain.

On Friday March 22 I'll be offering a workshop for mental health professional. I'll show how using Hakomi and Buddhist psychology informed practiced can offer professionals a pressure and judgment-free methods for healing the mother wound.

If you're a mental health profession you're welcome to join. Click here


Healing the mother wound can feel much lighter and possible when you have a pressure-free yet well guidance process that helps you find what your heart wishes for the most. I've helped many women like you. I can help you too. Click the link below to schedule a pressure-free discovery call.


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