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.
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.
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.
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.
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.