Ally or adversary? For some, the mother wound feels like a thousand little cuts. And for others, even as grown adults, it’s a raw weeping wound despite being decades old. Even if your mother was more Lorelai Gilmore than Mommie Dearest, we all have our stuff (read: trauma) to unpack.
“A mother wound, which can be carried through generations, is how your mother’s unprocessed trauma impacted you. This could influence one’s relationships with self as well as with others and one’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being,” says counsellor Avanti N. Rastogi of Samata Soul. The old adage of ‘hurt people hurt people’ rings true.
Perhaps it was borne by her casual neglect or conversely, hypervigilance which sees you catastrophising the minutiae of life even today. Maybe her constant criticisms about your appearance or achievements still make your grown adult self feel belittled and never good or deserving enough. Or that her reactions seemed to minimise the big feelings you should have been supported through. These emotions can be complicated to untangle, particularly in our Asian society where the respect for elders and other Confucian values normalise ‘tiger moms’ on overdrive.
Whether the hurt was built up over a lifetime or occured in one singular bond-shattering moment, our bodies and relationships often bear the palpable aftermath of such wounds.
What do mother wounds look like and how do they manifest in the body?
“Mother wounds may manifest as an overwhelming sense of inadequacy, fear of abandonment, difficulty in forming healthy attachments, or a persistent need for external validation,” shares doula and women’s coach, Chantel Kismet of Blooming Birth Doulas. “They can contribute to self-sabotaging behaviours, self-doubt, difficulties with trust, and challenges in setting healthy boundaries. Additionally, mother wounds can impact our ability to nurture and care for ourselves and others, perpetuating cycles of pain and unmet needs.”
“Common signs of a mother wound are low self-esteem or self-worth, co-dependency or excessive independence, fear of rejection and abandonment, self-sabotaging behaviours such as substance abuse, self-harming, boundary issues, or difficulties in expressing emotions,” explains senior therapist, Antoinette Biehlmeier of Samata Soul. Biehlmeier, who practices as a hypnotherapy and regression therapist continues: “Mother wounds can cause stress-related symptoms, psychosomatic issues, such as skin conditions or unexplainable pains, immune-system dysfunctions, or eating disorders such as bulimia or binge eating, and body image issues.”
How to self-mother and hold space for yourself
According to counsellor, Rastogi: “Self-mothering is primarily about learning how to nurture yourself. A great start would encompass making room for joy, practicing gentle self-discipline, setting healthy boundaries, and allowing yourself to truly feel your feelings, no matter how complex or difficult they might be.”
Steps to heal a mother wound and embody the love that you should have received
“Grieving the loss of the mother you wish you’d had is an important part of the process,” adds Carla Henry, senior therapist, leadership and reiki practitioner at Samata Soul.
“Remember you deserved the love that you didn’t receive. There is naturally loss associated with coming to terms with the fact your mother was incapable of giving you this love.”
“Identify all the needs your younger self had that were not met and vow to build those into your life, for example, if you never felt able to share things with your own mother, then ensure you build safe and supportive friendships that allow you to be yourself.
“Set healthy boundaries with your mother. You cannot heal in the same environment that brought you pain–so it’s OK to create distance, take a break from your own mother or even go no contact for periods of time or forever.” Assures Henry: “This does not make you a bad daughter.”
For Kismet, acknowledging your wounds just the start of your self-mothering journey. “Recognise the existence and impact of your mother wounds, allowing yourself to feel the emotions that surface. Validate your experiences and offer yourself the empathy you may have longed for. Practice self-compassion: Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would offer to a dear friend.
“Challenge self-judgment and cultivate self-acceptance, embracing your vulnerabilities and celebrating your strengths. Reclaim your narrative: Explore and redefine your personal identity, independent of the wounds. Cultivate self-awareness and develop a positive self-image rooted in your unique strengths and qualities.”
Like Henry, Kismet says setting boundaries also means prioritising your own wellbeing and emotional needs. ” This empowers you to protect yourself from further harm and create space for healing.” Cultivating a self-care practice that honours and nourishes your mind, body and soul also helps.
“Foster self-forgiveness when you are ready. Release the burden of blame and guilt, both towards yourself and your mother,” says Kismet. “Reframe with affirmations and kindness to yourself.”
Alternatively, enter a meditative state to parent the inner child at the age where it was most affected. Lovingkindness may not erase the past, but it does set us up for being healed, better regulated adults in the present.