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October 13, 2015

How to heal the mother wound

How to heal the mother wound

The mother wound.

Sometimes in families, other people’s wounds become our wounds in the form of neglect or abuse or general fucked-upness.  And we spend our entire lives acting from this place of woundedness, not attracting the friends or lovers we desire, not landing the jobs we want, not grabbing the opportunities that go to people who feel firm in their foundations and their deservingness to receive what they want.

We keep these wounds secret because we feel like they prove to the world that yes, we are losers who deserve nothing, even if we put on a grand facade. This is part of the shadow.

If you have lingering fears of unworthiness or pain from your relationship with your mom, read this article for tips on how to heal emotionally from the mother wound. Click through the read and hear my story to help you feel less alone.

In reality, sharing these stories frees us because we realize these wounds are not ours alone. But sometimes we keep these stories secret not because what they say about us, but what it might say about the people who hurt us. We want to protect our loved ones, who in all fairness, were only acting out the neuroses or shadows that influenced their development.

But by keeping secrets, we continue to hurt ourselves. Because if there are things that should not be spoken of, that’s a sign they really do need to be spoken of. When we keep things secret, we have no chance to heal.

FREE GUIDED MEDITATION

 

What is the mother wound?

In our patriarchal society, women are expected to do it all — raise children without complaint, do it joyfully and with a constant smile, while maintaining a perfect house and a perfect body. Emotions are mistrusted, and competition, not collaboration, is the general ethos. This has resulted in separation and secrecy, and lead mothers to shoulder a burden which is very difficult to bear alone. I’m not an expert in the mother wound, only learning, but you can find a great article here.

Common emotions related to the mother wound include feelings of being fundamentally flawed, not good enough, not deserving of your dreams, or like you have to stay small to maintain the affection of others. Do you have difficulty setting boundaries or feel like you need to take care of everyone around you? You probably have wounds in this area.

Many mothers and daughters have difficult relationships, but this is not often spoken of. Keep in mind that healing the mother wound in yourself does not guarantee an amazing relationship with your mother. Sometimes relationships are too damaged, or one or both parties are unable to find the emotionally maturity needed to heal.

 

My story

The year between my father’s death from cancer and my sister’s suicide was intense. My mother was rightfully having a rough time, but the family began to fall apart instead of come together. My family had never been close, never shared our emotions, but things were chaotic and difficult that year.

My sister and I felt abandoned by my mother, who we felt chose her new boyfriend over us. My mother mostly seemed checked out, emotionless, but there was at least one instance in which she became agitated and emotionally abusive. Today, when I ask my mother about those days, she often says she doesn’t remember.

 

We all do the best we can

It wasn’t that my mother is cruel or malicious or intentionally anything but loving. She was having a difficult time and wasn’t sure how to process her emotions because as a child, she learned that emotions were irrational and only for the weak.

Whatever happened though, the rules of the family were this: Just pretend it never happened. Sweep it under the rug.

 

Together, but separate

After my sister died, my mother and I lived together, alone but separate. We didn’t even drive in the same car to Meredith’s funeral. My memories of that time are very foggy, but I remember we each spent most of our time in our respective bedrooms. My mother didn’t need to work because my father had been quite successful, and she retreated into herself. I felt very, very alone.

We had moved to a smaller house in a new town after my father died, and I had a hard time fitting into my new school. I eventually made friends, but remember feeling rejected often. Always calling people to hang out and feeling like nobody wanted be my friend. Looking back, I can see I was looking for the love and affection that I was missing at home. But at the time, I couldn’t see that. I felt there was something wrong with me, that I was unloveable and undeserving of friendship.

I grew deeply depressed.

For a long time, I masked these feelings, my self-loathing, with alcohol. In college, I continued struggling to make close friends, at times attracting very one-sided friendships. I was nervous in social situations and liked befriending talkative people, people who I just listened to and would not require my participation in conversation. I felt nothing I said mattered. I felt like I had nothing to offer.

 

Starting on my own

Depression and loneliness continued throughout college and high school. After I graduated college, I left and indulged in nomadic gluttony, living in seven states in three years. Ultimately, away from home and able to forge my own identity, I healed a great deal, meeting the man who would become my husband. We settled down in Arizona.

Over the years, the amount of contact my mother and I have has varied. I’m working very hard to forgive her, but she continues to have difficulty managing her emotions.

Simple misunderstandings become disasters. Over Christmas, she visited and started feeling stressed about printing her return plane tickets. She asked me to tell her the Wi-Fi password, and I did, but accidentally forgot the last two digits. The password is on my devices automatically. I never type it in; I forgot. She threw a tantrum, we argued, and she called me sadistic, thinking that I purposefully misled her. This was extremely hurtful. And in truth, I was disgusted at myself, for my behavior, for the way I threatened to take away her access to a computer, like she was my child. And in fact, she has called me mom before.

So it’s not her that’s toxic, just the way I am not a bad person. Our relationship is toxic from years of misunderstandings, emotions and arguments swept under the rug, and now the rug has broken.

 

Mother/daughter relationships are a common source of difficulty 

Socially it’s difficult because nobody talks about the mother wound, yet so many women, mothers themselves, experience it. Women who feel the need to reduce contact with their mothers face strong social pushback.

People always say things like, “Those days must have been so hard for your mother,” or “You should have more compassion for your mother and all that’s she’s been through.” And I’m not denying that things were incredibly hard for her. I can’t imagine her loss. But that does not negate my loss. That does not negate my experience.

I feel like I’ve spent so many years trying to understand, trying to be a better daughter, trying to do everything right just so that I would feel like a good person, a person worthy of love and affection. Of people’s time and attention. A person who deserves to receive. A person who deserves to be taken care of sometimes.

A theme in my life is that I spend so much time trying to see the other person’s side that I forget to look out for my own. And this is because of the mother wound. It doesn’t make my mom a bad person, only someone who is wounded. The way we all are in our own way.

 

Healing the mother wound

Although I harbored a lot of anger towards my mother, I didn’t allow myself to really feel it because I got very caught up in trying to forgive her, too soon. I feel it’s important to really honor my feelings and recognize the pain, and then I can decide if I want to continue talking to her or not. It seems like every time we begin talking again, sooner or later, my feelings get hurt and I spend so much time recuperating that right now, I need a break.

I’m learning how to heal the mother wound, but writing about it, for me, is the first step. Shining light on the shadow.

Why in such a public format? First, this is who I am. I write about things in my life. I’ve never had the guts to publish things this heavy before because I wondered whether it would make me a bad person to tell the truth, the truth of how I feel. Until now, I’ve hid parts of myself because I felt that if I wrote about how I felt, it would embarrass or hurt my mother.

Silence is how her secrets become my secrets, tying us together forever and preventing me from healing. Silence is how I allow her to keep me tied to her hip all while she continues to hurt me.

I hope that as I heal and fulfill my dharma of writing about my spiritual journey, I can inspire others to feel empowered and whole. Because if there’s anything I’ve learned over the past year-and-a-half of putting my soul into the digital universe, it’s that none of us are unique in our experiences. Everything that you’ve felt, someone else has felt. Not that everybody goes through the exact same things, but we all go through things.

And so this is me owning my feelings and my experience. This is me taking back my power. This is me figuring out how to heal.

FREE GUIDED MEDITATION

What is your experience with the mother wound? Share your story in the comments below. If you know someone who has a difficult relationship with her mother, send this article to her. 

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Cheryl - October 16, 2015 Reply

Truth teller.
Thank you for being so raw, so honest, and putting it out there.
right there with you, in the same moments of my life with my mother…..bless us all

    Suzanne H - October 16, 2015 Reply

    Thank you so much Cheryl! I’m glad the post resonated with you. Sorry to hear that you’ve experienced similar troubles, but am so happy to connect with like-hearted souls on similar journeys. These wounds will become the source of our greatest peace, our greatest teachers. I have faith! Love to you. xoxo Suzanne

Jennifer - October 23, 2015 Reply

Suzanne, your post is so beautiful, and so well said. Thank you for sharing. This weekend, I am having a sort of healing, full-circle moment as I head back to my hometown to see Elizabeth Gilbert speak, with none other than my mom. I feel it will be good, and also a pivotal, healing point in our relationship, something that is coming at just the right moment, just like this blog post.

    Suzanne H - October 24, 2015 Reply

    Hi Jennifer,

    So glad it resonated with you. Elizabeth Gilbert is awesome! Enjoy her talk. So happy you are enjoying healing in your relationship with your mom. Thank you for reading and commenting.

    Sending love and many blessings,
    Suzanne

Paula Vital - March 7, 2016 Reply

Thank you for this. It’s amazing how you can do years and years of therapy and self-healing but still stay blind to the mother wound. I am only starting to see it now and it is so freeing to see the shame, and love myself through it all.

    Suzanne - March 7, 2016 Reply

    Hi Paula,

    I’m so glad it resonated with you! The mother wound is so deep, it’s been going on for centuries, and unfortunately not something most therapists discuss. I’m so glad you’re diving into this world and finding that lightness and freedom beyond the wounds!

    All the love,
    Suzanne

Annie - March 8, 2016 Reply

I have mother wounds, plural, and she’s still locked and loaded to do more. I’ve told mom I no longer accept when she takes her anger out on me. She responds by getting angry, telling me I don’t know what it’s like in her life. True, but I know what mine has been like as her daughter. Healing and forgiving her is key to my happiness, so is my need to emotionally step away from her when she has her anger-fests. Being a forgiving person does not mean continuing to be target. I forgive, but I keep a safe a distance to protect myself and heal. I’m not completely zen about this yet. I started the practice of forgiving and re-forgiving 5 years ago. It’s going to take a while.

    Suzanne - March 8, 2016 Reply

    Hi Annie,

    I’m sorry to hear you’ve dealt with pain related to your mother, but it’s so wonderful that you’re taking steps to heal! Setting boundaries is such a huge part of forgiveness. Part of forgiveness is accepting reality, and sometimes that reality requires emotional distance so that you don’t continue to get hurt. It definitely takes time, but it sounds like you are well on your way!

    So much love,
    Suzanne

Suzannah - May 11, 2016 Reply

I have just started working on this, not knowing what it was called. This is a great post, again.

I, too, would like to write about it, but as a young widow and already an object of sad, knowing glances, I am not sure I can air this out in public. In many ways, this struggle with my mother is much worse than the death of my husband. My husband died; I am, in effect “killing” my mother and her influence on every aspect of my life (including my decision to not have children, just in case I had a daughter and had the same type of relationship. I have had a daughter, and she still influences me in that I am working very, very hard to be the totally opposite parent).

I have found a supportive therapist, and, most importantly, am now willing to make changes to this relationship. So there’s that.

I love your work, Suzanne. It is authentic and raw and thoughtful and obviously resonates with so many. Thank you. <3

    Suzanne - May 11, 2016 Reply

    Thank you so much for the kind words! They mean so much. You already have so much on your plate, and I can only imagine how tired you are of those sad, knowing glances. I always wonder how I’ll feel about my mother after she dies — will I regret not speaking to her? But I’ve finally come to realize that she was not the mother I needed, and all those years that I blamed myself, it wasn’t my fault. I feel like that’s truly the first step to moving on and forgiving, facing the situation honestly. It’s not easy to cut ties with someone who is still living, but for many of us, it’s the right choice. At least for a little while. Thank you for commenting. It sounds like you’re in a good place and on your way to healing more deeply!

diane - May 26, 2016 Reply

Dear Suzanne Heyn,
I have been reading many books and articles about this subject during the past few years. This article is beautiful. I was specially moved when you said: A theme in my life is that I spend so much time trying to see the other person’s side that I forget to look out for my own.
I am almost 40 now, and i am sick and tired of trying to understand why she acts the way she does. I am also sick and tired of feeling responsable for her bad moods. I give up. She has the right to be the way she is. I also have the right to be me, and i give myself permission to limit my contact with her. In the words of a 3 year old, spending time with her makes me feel icky.

So glad i am not alone! Thank you for sharing your story.

    Suzanne - May 26, 2016 Reply

    Hi Diane,

    Thank you so much for your beautiful comment! I’m so glad the article resonated with you. Also glad to hear you’ve found peace in your relationship with your mother, or at least given yourself the freedom to live life outside of that shadow.

    Thank you for being here!

    All the best,
    Suzanne

Ellie - August 28, 2016 Reply

Hi Suzanne,
Just wanted to thank you for putting out there what I’m sure many of us feel. It truly is a long journey to identifying the mother wound in ourselves and beginning the process of healing it. My mother has recently passed on but believe me the wound is still there, although it has made it feel more important than ever to heal from this and move on. I can relate to so much if what you say in regards to your childhood experiences of loneliness and how this impacts your life. For a long time I’ve dreamed of a different type of life with many varied friends and a large family, but I’m coming to realise, as an introvert, this isn’t really me. Hoping with this realisation I’ll be able to finally go out and connect with people for who my true self really is suited for. Thank you for writing this blog, your stories have made me feel less alone in often feeling “singled out by the universe” to live in solitude.

    Suzanne - August 29, 2016 Reply

    Hi Ellie,

    So glad the post resonated with you! I appreciate your kind words so much, and also you perspective because I often wonder what it’s like after your mother passes if you have a not-so-good relationship with her. There are so many of us out there in the world who have grappled with things like loneliness, and part of why I do what I do is because people need to understand that they’re not alone. The world needs to create space for our experiences, and that can only happen if those of us who have these experiences start speaking our truth.

    Thanks for commenting!

    xoxo,Suzanne

Julia - October 27, 2016 Reply

Wow! Thank you for the insight. I can definately relate to this. Before I had children, I thought I had forgiven my mother for her neglectful behaviour. But here I am with even more resentment and disgust. I choose not to see her often, but she is still very much in my thoughts. Im not sure if I am able to forgive her or if I should just cut my losses and let it go. I have
had hypnosis to treat my depression and that has helped a great deal to accept myself, but I still struggle with anger. I hope to break the pattern with my children, I cant see myself putting them through that pain I have had to endour. Thank you again for your honesty and knowing that this is a real issue that trickles down into so many of the choices we make each day.

Valerie - September 17, 2017 Reply

Thank you so much for putting the raw truth in black and white for the world to see! I greatly admire your courage, and respect the difficult inner struggles you must have had to face while considering to do this.

I cannot thank you enough. If I even try to vent with siblings ,who have a different father and the oldest is 7 years younger, it’s always let it go it’s past, done, and over with. It’s not done or over with, the same hurtful and attempted controlling behavior still continues, and I havent even faced the past ones yet so the negative energy and hurt just keeps piling up, filling my mental closet with painful clutter. Your truth has helped me to realize the need I have to journal and heal. Thank you, love and light to you.

    Suzanne - September 17, 2017 Reply

    Hi Valerie,

    Thanks so much for the kind words! It’s not so much about venting, which is really a process of giving others your emotional pain to process for you, but about coming to terms with your emotions and processing them internally.

    Journaling, meditation, yoga and prayer are all awesome ways to do this. Sending you lots of love.

Val - September 17, 2017 Reply

Thank you,that is correct, I think all of those could help me heal..thanks again..love and light to you

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