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When a Mother’s Love Is Not Enough

Mother’s love is often said to be everything a daughter needs. Yet many women are familiar with the situation—or the confusion—that their mother's love didn't stop her from hurting them deeply. While a mother’s love is absolutely necessary, it is not and cannot be everything she needs. There are three motherhood qualities whose absence will tell you when a mother’s love is not enough and how it’s revealing a mother wound.

mother's love absent

I learned something about the reason why a mother’s love is not enough from one of my previous intimate relationships.

Gerry and I were madly in love with each other. We were like a drug to one another. We had so much fun together: we laughed hard, we partied hard, but we also fought hard.

What brought us together is a mystery to me.

Gerry had zero interest or understanding of my world. He didn’t have any spiritual practice or interest in meditation. He often joked, fondly enough, about my “disappearing" to meditations retreats.

He couldn’t get what was so fascinating to me in my Master’s studies and research about educational policies for including children with special needs. On the other hand, I had zero interest in his fast growing, successful career in real-estate.

I didn’t like his friends, he barely knew mine. We made no plans for a future together even after nearly two years in a relationship. It was all “in the moment”.

But one time, after another big fight, he dropped me without saying a word at my place and I dropped off his house key the day after without saying a word.

Two months after this painful separation, we were able to meet up to say goodbye properly. Gerry said something in the conversation that shook me to my core but at the same time illuminated some deep truth about love.

“I love you from afar,” Gerry said. Though I didn’t quite get what he meant at the time and it was very painful to hear, I could very quickly see how my own mother wound led me to a relationship with someone I know loves me and at the same time is incapable of making that love viable in the many ways love needs to be.

Common confusion between mother's love and mother wound

My mother always said to me that she loved me. But how could I take that in after all the traumas of starvation, neglect and abandonment that I suffered. Her love was not enough.

Many of the women I’ve worked with will say “but I know she loved me” after sharing with me how they were hurt by their mother, as if to mitigate some of the guilt for pointing the finger towards their mother as the origin of their adulthood struggles.

Some mothers are unable to love. Some mother’s love is suffocating. Not every woman can say ‘my mother loved’. Not every daughter even heard her mum saying “I love you”.

But there are women who feel their mother loved them and are at the same time wounded by the life they had with her. This can lead to misconceptions about the role of love in relationships.

While a mother’s love is absolutely necessary is it not the only factor leading to a healthy mother-daughter relationship that results in receiving the support a woman needs for a life of well being.

There are three capacities and qualities that need to be in place for love to be complete:

1. Attunement

2. Acceptance

3. Mirroring

Love without attunement, mirroring and acceptance can pass through heavy filters of emotional absence, parental immaturity, even abuse and neglect and write off the existence of a the mother.

1. Attunement—co-creating the field of connection

Attunement is a mother’s capacity to “tune in” with her child. It’s like the shared space that’s created when we sing a song together. We might not be professional singers; we may be ‘off tune’ here and there; but all the same there is a shared melody, a shared rhythm, a shared space of interest, a shared experience of connection.

A mother’s attunement teaches us how to receive someone else’s attention without feeling we need to work hard for it, without feeling we need to prove ourselves first and over-give before we deserve to receive.

Like a song without singers, love without attunement leads a void and confusion.

2. Mirroring—your presence is meaningful and impactful

There’s a familiar game of standing in front of another person where you do a movement and the other tries to follow your movements as best they can.

Mirroring doesn’t have to be perfect. Your mother didn’t need to respond immediately to every single need you presented. With enough adequate and satisfying responses to your feelings, behaviours and wishes, the sense that you are meaningful and your feelings and needs are meaningful gains robustness.

Mirroring allows you to develop your trust in your intuition and the belief that there is always someone out there in the world that will be interested enough and capable enough to respond to your needs and feelings in satisfying ways.

Lack of mirroring leads many women not only to keep efforting, but also to carry a deep-seated belief that they will fail in their attempt to find a good match for their intimacy and friendship needs.

When a woman’s relationships exist primarily on the basis of her own initiative to reach out it’s a good indication that there’s room to learn how to shift towards mirroring in relationships.

3. Acceptance—who you are is enough

The world is challenging enough for women. A decent degree of accepting a young girl for being enough goes along way.

Acceptance can come through appreciation, understanding or acknowledgement of your true nature and unique qualities. Or it can come through giving room and validation for your feelings and strong emotions.

When a woman has repeatedly been put under pressure to perform, made to feel that her mother was jealous of her, or been given little or no attention, then a mother’s love is simply not enough to grow into self-appreciation and self-acceptance.

Lack of sufficient acceptance often leads to a sense of a lack of belonging. In relationships it can manifest in particular in getting stuck in co-dependancy, pleasing or lack of boundaries.

Attunemment, mirroring and acceptance are the pillars of any relationships. The relationship with your mother gave the tone to these qualities and therefore set the bar for how much attunement, mirroring and acceptance you’ll expect from intimate relationships and close friendships.

Healing the mother wound includes these three qualities—attunement, mirroring, acceptance—for a woman to cultivate the experiences that were missing in her relationship with her mother and rewrite the story of love that’s imprinted in her system. In that way, finding more fulfilment in relationships becomes easier and more instinctual.

Attunement, mirroring and acceptance are the three essential elements of healthy motherhood that lead you to have a sense of emotionally-safe-enough to name what was missing when a mother’s love was not enough. Knowing these three elements helps knowing what healing the mother wound entails.

I can help you find greater satisfaction in your relationships and friendship through healing the mother wound. Click the button below to schedule a complimentary call.


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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


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