What is the Mother Wound
You probably don’t think about your challenging relationship with your mother, the impression it has left on your sense of self, your relationships or your career as a 'mother wound’.
The mother wound is a fairly new concept and if you’re hearing this for the first time, or perhaps have heard it before but still have the question ‘what is the mother wound,’ I’d like to offer you here a wider perspective about what the mother wound refers to, how to identify if you have a mother wound and what the healing process is about.
Mother wound defined
The mother wound is an inheritance of limiting beliefs and patterns of expression about a woman’s sense of self.
Whether it’s a direct result of a challenging dynamic with a woman’s mother and other significant maternal figures in a her life or the impact of growing in a limiting environment for women, the mother wound is the result of a breach in a woman’s agency. It therefore affects all aspects of her life including her sense of self, her relationships, and even her finances and career.
When you consider what the mother wound is, you need to keep in mind that it’s embedded in patriarchal society, where women are discouraged from exploring and expressing themselves freely.
Women learn through their relationship with their mother, as well as through society, culture, politics and economics, how limited a woman is or should be. And this as a direct result of the patriarchal framing.
The mother wound’s three dimensions
The mother wound has three main dimensions: personal, social, collective. Each play a specific role in the way a woman experiences herself as a woman and in the limitations imposed upon her childhood and her becoming an adult.
For example, the taboo of talking about your mother, which is still very much alive across the world, is particularly strong in Eastern cultures.
One of the participants in the Mother Wound Summit told me about the difficulty her family has in relating to how she manages her relationship with her mother.
A traditional Singaporean family with strict views on a woman’s role in family and society, measures a daughter’s ‘respect' for her mother in terms of the extent to which she is able to take in whatever her mother does without rejection—even if it's emotional abuse.
I’ve heard very similar stories from clients from India and other conservative cultures, where any mention of the mother in a negative sense is considered ungrateful, shameful or disrespectful.
The mother wound may be experienced at a personal level through the dynamic with your mother, but it’s hard to separate the mother wound from its wider context in society and culture.
Your mother is a daughter of her own mother who is in turn a daughter of a mother, and each successive generation begets its perspectives and values around womanhood on you.
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Why understanding the mother wound is so important
Often, when I talk about the ways a woman is suffering from a sense of not being enough (no matter how qualified and experienced she is) or how common it is for a woman with a mother wound to be a pleaser, to have shaky boundaries and to care for others’ needs more than her own, the response is “doesn’t everybody?!”
Most women have the same cultural inheritance which portrays the norms for a woman to be:
Quite (don’t take too much space or attention)
Cooperative (don’t be a rebellion or too unique and do as you’re told)
Complaint (you’re appreciated if you’re able to detect others’ needs and supply them without complaining and asking for help).
This setting programs women to become pleasers where their natural relational skills are harnessed in favour of society’s expectations.
In this environment women are instructed to keep their natural way of gaining wisdom from observation, visioning and relationships to themselves because it’s not adhering to toxic masculine values of binary expertise, linear growth and dogmatic objectification.
It doesn’t have to be like that!
Because the mother wound is not just a personal reflection of your relationship with your mother but a reflection also of the values and beliefs you’ve inherited through her, the mother wound will manifest in your day-to-day life not only in your relationship with your mother but also in the expectations you encounter as a woman in a patriarchal society.
It’s important to understand the mother wound as it allows you to take a small step back and witness the mother wound as something that has been built up for generations.
Perhaps you’re the first one in a long line of women to actually stop and look at the mother wound and how to heal it.
The mother wound is not a single woman’s fault or burden—it’s culturally, politically, economically enforced.
And yet, for many women the mother wound is a very personal matter. It may well have some bigger, social and cultural context, but they have a first hand experience of it through their own relationship with their mother.
The mother wound at home
On a personal level the mother wound forms as a result of a woman’s consistent lack of support for and attunement to her daughter’s needs.
It doesn’t happen when mummy, in her impossible choreography of career, motherhood and creative desires, loses patience sometimes or ignores the nagging of her daughter tugging on her leg once in a while!
It’s in the repeated absence of a sense of safety, guidance or nourishment that her daughter needs.
We all need love and care, guidance and nourishment, but what that means and how it’s best satisfied is very different for each of us. Some daughters will need more mummy-time than others; some daughters will need more alone time than others; some daughters will need less guidance than others. But love and care, guidance and nourishment are a bottom line for us all.
The mother wound is a relational wound because it’s the result of a mother-daughter relationship where unmet needs were a constant occurrence.
You will resonate with the mother wound on a personal level is, for example, your mother was constantly criticising or evaluating you based on your school grades, or she hid from you the truth about significant family matters and history; if she was abusive and used you as her shield from the world, or treated you as her best friend and saviour; or if she suffered from mental illness (like mine did), addiction or suicidal tendencies, or was absent emotionally, physically, energetically or spiritually.
Sometimes women don’t have a way of knowing that their mother wound is inherited through their mothers’ line. I’ve worked with women who were given up for adoption and never met their biological mother, women who lost their mother before they were able to meet her or were old enough to remember her. I’ve worked with women whose mother was estranged from her own family and many other circumstance where a woman did not know what part of her womanhood she had inherited.
This is why it’s important for me to share with you all the different ways in which a woman can end up with a mother wound. The more knowledge we have about the mother wound, the more power we have to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma, and disrupt the dominance and manipulation of a patriarchal society.
Three components to mother wound healing process
Now that you know what the other wound is and how it’s formed you’re probably curious about how it’s possible to heal the mother wound.
There are three key components to the role of a mother and what she offers her child: safety, guidance and nourishment. These three components are drawn from attachment theory and align with the principles of Hakomi therapy.
The first component is emotional and psychological safety. Being fed and having a roof over your head is not enough to feel safe. A woman who grew up, for example, with an emotionally abusive mother may have had all the food she needed, a beautiful home and proper clothing, but emotionally and psychologically she never felt safe at home or relaxed around her mother.
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Guidance, the second component of motherhood, is about having someone that can guide you through your own curiosities and enquiries about life in general and your life and potential in particular as a woman.
One of my clients had a mother that never allowed her to make decisions on her own. She grew up to be very dependant on her mother’s advice and at the same time very resentful of that. She felt she was “in a cage”. To be guided there’s a need for some degree of personal freedom and exploration.
The third component of motherhood is nourishment. The role of nourishment is to provide a sense of care and attention to your personality, your natural character. Lack of nourishment is the source of limiting beliefs.
Satiating nourishment allows us to remain flexible in mind and heart. It gives us the sense that we’re enough and teaches us to rest in who we are.
These three components are the foundation of healing the mother wound. Any hurt in these three components can be healed through the right form of mother wound therapy.
Now you have a comprehensive answer to the question ‘what is the mother wound’ which allows you to consider how the different challenges you have today as a grown woman can be linked to the mother wound and find a more satisfying response through healing the mother wound processes.
I’m curious, what was refreshing, surprising or nuanced for you as you read about the wider context of what is the mother wound.
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Shelly's helping women whose relationship with their mother left a negative mark and want to become un-limited in their personal or professional life