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The Mother Wound - what it is, how it shows up in our lives and what we can do about it

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

Before I begin this blog, I feel I need to say that this is a no blame post. I have come to understand that we are all a product of our past and therefore it is with compassion, acceptance, and truth that I write this to share awareness and shed light on a difficult topic. It’s all about Mother’s Day at the moment, and more recently it is being recognised that this can be triggering for people for a number of reasons. I’m even receiving random emails asking if I want to be removed from Mother’s Day mailing lists! This is one of the reasons Adult children might struggle with celebrating Mothers day. - So this is a trigger warning - the pain of the Mother Wound can effect us all.


For many people Mother’s Day is a day to celebrate; for me, as a daughter, the relationship I had with my mother is one that has been a painful path for me to walk. I know I’m not alone in this, as despite the taboo and inherent shame and guilt around talking about your mother in a negative way, a lot of adult children get to the point of realisation that this is at the bottom of the way they feel about themselves and begin to share their experiences as a way of helping themselves in their own life situation.

So, in the week before Mother’s Day there will be many daughters and sons searching the card shops for a card that won't offend or upset their mother and also not gush with feelings they may not actually feel. Something I did for many a Mother’s Day!

The Mother architype presents the mother as loving and kind and nurturing a woman that takes care of her family above everything else, like Mary Poppins on steroids! As lovely as that is, this idolization does not do mothers any favours as it does not consider the shadow or darker side of the mother architype. Because of this, the pressure for mothers to be perfect in the eyes of society is huge and this causes many mothers to be overly self-critical and feel huge levels of guilt for even thinking about themselves!

But the reality is mothers are human beings too, with both light and dark aspects living in us. Unfortunately society prefers the darker side to be hidden. When mothers suppressed this side of them it has to go somewhere and it tends to leak out into the relationships they have with their children causing them internal shame and self judgment.

In addition to this the unspoken loyalty children have towards their mother no keeps the shame alive. It is this dynamic that becomes a wound, and gets passed on through lived experience.

In all fairness, most of the time mothers are held to such unreasonable standards and are expected to be all singing all dancing perfect beings and primary care takers. They are expected to sacrifice their dreams and work around the childcare and maintain an Instagram worthy home.! In my work supporting individuals, mostly women who are parents, I am seeing a clear separation of those living in pain with a festering wound striving to meet everyone else’s needs first and those actively motivated to heal and reclaim their lives!

A lot of mother’s struggle with the uncomfortable feelings attached to wanting more for themselves and as the mental health pandemic grows it is becoming evident that both men and women are in deep emotional pain from their own mother wounding. Many women I have supported are expressing the pain of being in cycles of unhappy relationships, lack of self-compassion, feeling worthless, ill heath, addictions loneliness etc. When we get to the root of the problem many of them talk about the pain in their relationships with their own mother and the fear of choosing what is right for them over what their mother expects from them. I came to realise this was real for me, but it has amazed me how common this is and how long many adult children suffer this pain in silence (other than the internal chatter that says “you can’t say that, your mother has sacrificed so much for you” and all the other lines we feed ourselves!). This is always followed by a deep guilt and shame when even talking about their mothers in a less favourable way despite realising this is the key to unlocking their future.

“There is a direct relationship between our childlike desire to save our mothers from their pain and our fear of powerfully claiming our own lives”.
Bethany Webster

There is a conscious thought that things have moved on from the dark ages, but as women we are still sensitive to the unspoken messages and collective conditioning, coming through family, culture, society and planetary influences; and we still struggle to break family patterns passed on to us without a get out clause.

The need to stop the cycle

These beliefs are passed through generations via epigenetics and core beliefs and mostly sit in our unconscious minds until we start to make them conscious. The only way to stop this happening is through generational and intergenerational healing. In short - stopping the cycle.

The concept of the mother wound is something I came across as I searched for understanding about my own situation and reading about it helped me process the confusion, big emotions and fear I was feeling around my relationship with my own mother. It’s so hard to acknowledge that your mother was not able to give you the mothering you needed. There’s no way back, you can’t re wind and start again and the grief attached to that is deep and painful.

Not all women are mothers, but all women are daughters, and the wounding manifests and gets passed on through this relationship. I do believe that most mothers want the best for their children, however, if they are holding on to pain from the past, received from their own mothers wounding, it is likely to be projected, often unconsciously into their relationships with their children.

Recognising this, the motivation for change comes from not wanting their children not to have the same struggles as they did. This helps women brave the step towards independence from their mother and ultimately begin their cycle breaking journey, starting a new cycle of love, acceptance and forgiveness.

We are born into a belief system that is rooted in patriarchy where masculine energy leads the way and ‘power over’ is the mantra. But the system is bigger than us, and our mothers. The system has created a host of unspoken rules that daughters (and sons) unconsciously strive to keep, creating a dynamic in relationships that is not healthy or balanced in power.

As a child our biggest wounding comes at birth, where for the first time we are detached from our mothers, we become independent of the safe womb. Our need to survive is our motivation for everything. We quickly learn to adapt to our care givers to get our needs met. Long term, this can lead to ongoing compliance and caretaking our own mother, but ultimately we do it because it will keep us safe from the fear of abandonment.

What are the signs?

Those experiencing the effects of the mother wound may become adults who:

· Protect the feelings and emotions of our mother and sacrifice our own.
· Are driven to prove themselves because they feel constantly ‘not enough.’
· Parent our mothers and feel responsible their emotional balance.
· Take constant criticism and have dreams crushed – and remain a step down.
· Keep ourselves small so as not to overshadow our mother.
· Feel selfish if we even think of putting ourselves first.

For me I lost all sense of self, I really thought there was something wrong with me and felt invisible and alone in the world. I had no clear boundaries as I had learnt to move them quickly to accommodate the feelings of others, whilst bypassing my own. I remember actively sabotaging my creativity to stop me creating something bigger or better than my mother could so I didn't upset her.

I’m sure she was as unaware of this as I was at the time, nothing was conscious for me back then. My ongoing thought was keeping her stable and not rocking the boat. When the time came for me to speak and live my truth – the boat rocked big time, and I was quickly thrown overboard and out of the relationship. Of course, the boat I refer to was my life in the family, but there was no comfort in knowing I was right to have protected myself from this with years of compliance! I felt small, alone, hurt, and angry and can now see this was the pain from my own mother wound emerging.

“If we avoid acknowledging the full impact of our mother’s pain on our lives, we still remain to some degree children”.
Bethany Webster

As adults we can reclaim our power whether we are mothers or not! What ever age we are there is still hope to transform the relationship. We can work through the core beliefs and unhealthy patterns we learnt and free ourselves of the unspoken ‘rules’ and emotional pain from the wound developed in childhood. This way we get to let go of old ways and family systems that didn’t work for us and live a life in our own fullness. As a woman unhindered by unhealthy relationships from the past our capacity for love grows, for ourselves and for those around us. Feeling authentic and ‘enough’ stops the need to keep the power over approach which passes on the pain to our children (our future), thus breaking the cycle.

The effects of healing the wound

What can we expect if we do the work?

· We get to know ourselves fully.
· Can show deep compassion for ourselves and others.
· We can learn to trust life and believe in our ability live our purpose.
· We can show gratitude for what our mothers could give us and compassion and acceptance for what they couldn’t give us.

Discovering the mother within

We don’t need to have permission from our mothers to do this; although in a strange way it feels like that’s what we are waiting for! I can see from my own experience even when I had made the decision to show up for myself, for many years later I was still waiting for my mother to realise I was not the enemy and see the truth. I have become aware that I left an unconscious door ajar with the hope she would see me and be proud of who I am. For my own sanity I had to close it eventually, but even writing this I still feel the tug of grief for the relationship I really wanted with my mother and didn’t have,

We can all discover the mother within us, and we can all learn how to reparent ourselves. We can give ourselves what we needed and didn’t get, including compassion, boundaries, love, and acceptance. We can heal the pain and feel emotionally strong enough to be an equal to our mothers.

You can do this healing within your relationship with your mother; I don’t advocate cutting ties unless there is no other way. Unfortunately for me it became the only way I could be authentic in my life. I wonder if I had been aware of this concept before now, if it could have been different, but I don't think so. Without my mother facing and healing her own wounds nothing would change, and I couldn't Influence that.

Its ok to walk away from situations that cause you pain – even if it is family, even if it is your mother. No one has the right to treat you as less than and no one has the right to stop you reaching your full potential!

So, for all those women breaking the cycles

– I applaud you (I know how hard this is!)

For those whose relationships with their mothers are healthy

– appreciate them, they are rarer that you think!

For those who recognise these patterns in your relationship and want to break the cycle

– get in touch!

Like it or not, our mother is the most influential person in our lives and you as a mother the most influential person in your child's life - Although the mother wound effects all children it is passed on through the female line and therefore the mother and daughter relationship, but my experience confirms that it effects all children in some way, so sons can also be effected by the wounding also.

I help adult children identify and work through the unconscious and conscious patterns that are showing up for them linked to this wound. I help people break free of the invisible and life limiting ties and the uncomfortable silence of loyalty and embrace themselves fully. By doing this together we help their children, and their children's children and break the cycle that causes painful wounds and dysfunction in our lives.

This is absolutely something you can work on alone - but its painful. It helps to have someone to guide you and help facilitate the painful feelings that have blocked your healing up to this point. Having your voice heard and your feeling validated is a part of the process. If you want to learn more about the Mother Wound there are a lot of books and webinars on this topic – but I recommend you start with :

Bethany Webster – Discovering the Inner Mother – A guide to healing the mother wound and claiming your personal power.

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