What You'll Learn
- A brief introduction on the mother wound
- Origination of the mother wound
- Determine if we’re mothering out of trauma
- Setting boundaries with our own moms
- Impact of the mother wound on men
- Coping with jealousy toward partners or friends who have a close relationship with Mom
Has your relationship with your mother changed since becoming a mother? Author, international speaker, and transformation coach Bethany Webster has been here with us before to talk about the mother wound, and it really resonated with my community. So many people had questions about Bethany’s work, she’s back today to answer audience-submitted questions. And as a special surprise, we’ll end with how to get a free offering if you feel you need additional resources.
A Brief Introduction On The Mother Wound
Episode 57 is almost a prerequisite for this, but for anyone who may have missed it, “The mother wound is the fact that we as women have lived in a patriarchal society all of our lives,” Bethany said. “The patriarchy is a backdrop to how the mother wound shows up.”
She went on to explain that, “The mother wound is how we internalize our mother’s trauma or internalized oppression. So, we don’t just bond with our moms but also her trauma and limiting beliefs.” Sometimes in this situation, the mom is trying to protect her daughter, but the mother wound goes across a whole spectrum with mothers and daughters who have great relationships all the way to mothers who are abusive of their daughters.
We don’t just bond with our moms but also her trauma and limiting beliefs.
“We can have a harmonious relationship with our mom and this mother wound can still be activated,” Bethany said. The mother wound isn’t about blaming our mothers. It’s about looking at our upbringing with a critical eye, so we can break the cycle. And this doesn’t mean that your mother didn’t do the best she could. Societies fail mothers all the time, and our mothers may not have been set up for success. Looking at the mother wound isn’t just about healing the trauma but also looking at the way our mother parented in a patriarchal society with compassion.
The Origination of the Mother Wound
“The best book I can find is called The Creation of Patriarchy By Gerda Lerner,” Bethany told us. Lerner tracks patriarchy as a historical era, and all eras have beginnings and ends, so we’re living through this moment in time. And moms are playing a huge role in this and the changes that may come out of it. “Moms are at the cutting edge of the world to come,” Bethany said. “The book really puts into perspective the macro level of this.”
Our brain and bodies are shaped by our moms. The mom is the most important relationship we have. “Adrian Rich said ‘the mother-child relationship is the first relationship distorted by the patriarch.’” Bethany explained. Healing ourselves as women is the first step to building a world that works. “If society was built around secure attachment, what would that look like?” she asked. That would allow us to form a society that worked for everyone.
If society was built around secure attachment, what would that look like?
“The legacy of the mother wound is female shame,” she told us. So, by doing the work to heal the mother wound, we’re creating space in our mind for a better society. “It starts in our mind,” she said.
A lot of friction between daughters and their mothers tends to occur around the teen years and young adulthood. Young adults are looking for encouragement and independence, and a lot of moms aren’t equipped to say, “Go off on your own and fly.” Bethany explained, “There tends to be this cultural expectation of continued enmeshment between mothers and daughters.” And there is a subtle discouragement of women trying to do things in a new way.
It takes a lot of work to step away from our families and say we’re going to step into our own paths and be a role model for other women.
Determining If We’re Mothering Out of Trauma
Any sense of urgency or desperation is a key sign that we’re in a traumatized childhood lens. Black and white thinking is also a sign of this. Vowing to do or not to do something, because someone else did it may also be a sign you’re parenting out of trauma.
When we react out of trauma what’s really happening is we’re looking for safety. Our inner child is freaking out and wants to be safe. “So, what we really need to do is soothe that little girl,” Bethany said. And it’s not hard to do. What’s hard is remembering to do it. “It’s about inner safety. It’s like an emergency--a red button that needs to be pushed,” she explained.
That triggered inner child can translate into we need to keep our child safe, because no one kept us safe. But the mother wound teaches better strategies than controlling our environment or our child’s environment because of a past memory.
When we’re attempting to control our environment—or our child’s—because of a past event, we’re not focusing on what’s actually going on now. That’s a trauma response.
There is nothing wrong with that. Our brains are wired to seek solutions, so when we remember a trauma, it’s normal to try to prevent experiencing it again. But there are better ways to handle it.
We may not realize we’re responding out of trauma until the situation has passed, but Bethany told us, “With practice though, we can start to see the signs really early and turn really inward.”
If we can nurture that child inside, we’re able to stay in control of our adult nervous system and respond appropriately. We can avoid getting swept up into—and getting our nervous system caught up into—the flashback of that trauma.
Setting Boundaries With Our Own Moms
Setting boundaries against your mother’s behaviours is the most powerful place to claim your power. If you can set boundaries with your mom, you can do it with anyone.
If you can set boundaries with your mom, you can do it with anyone.
Part of the process of claiming that power is creating a space where you are on your own. You don’t need to communicate this to your mother. You can just take a step to create a boundary or space. It gives you a connection with yourself where you’ll start to find your own strength.
Decide what you need to set boundaries with Mom about and why. That’s pre-work and then you can move onto the practical pieces, because once you know why it gives you the strength to implement the changes.
“What would the ideal relationship with your mom look like and feel like? How would it be different?” Bethany asked. She explained that would be a good place to start journaling. And this ideal relationship can be whatever we need it to. For some people, it’s “I want to talk to my mom less.” For others, it’s “My mom is very instructive with how I handle my child, and I don’t invite that.” Or, “There are some things I’d rather not talk about with my mom, but she wants to keep talking about it.”
Once we’re clear on where we really need boundaries, we can start working toward them. “Unless there is some kind of abuse or trauma, I recommend starting small,” Bethany explained.
“But I do have a client whose mother is really hard on her son,” Bethany said. “And the client is seeing that her mother is treating her son the way she was treated as a child. She’s seeing that her mother has a fear based reaction to the world, and it has to do with her mother’s own inner child. Her son enjoys a particular activity, and her mom thinks if he likes that he’s not going to be good enough at school. So, she’s had to create boundaries with her mom that you can talk to me about this, but please don’t talk about this in front of my child. And the client had to create this firm boundary really fast, because it’s not helpful for the child to be hearing these negative things. And her mom has actually adapted to this, so it’s working out. The client catches it and reminds Mom not to talk about it, and her mom is reacting well to it. But my client has also gained so much confidence, because she’s realizing that she’s protecting her own inner child and giving her own inner child a voice.”
She's giving her own inner child a voice.
If we were raised in a codependent relationship with our mom where we’re looking to each other for reassurance, we might want a relationship that doesn’t include healthy boundaries. And our ideal relationship with Mom might be one that isn’t realistic or possible.
Some people have this “impossible dream relationship” that stems from a childhood survival mechanism. Our moms may not have met our needs growing up, so we hold onto this hope as a survival mechanism that “one day she’s going to understand me.” Bethany said. “One day we’re going to connect.”
The reality may be that our mom isn’t capable or willing to meet us in the way we need to be met. So, that’s an “impossible dream,” but it comes from this unmet need and the hope that if we try to be the way she wants us to long enough, one day it’s going to click. That’s another layer to the issue of boundaries.
If we look at what’s causing pain and strife right now, we might see that it’s the hope we’re holding on to for a relationship that isn’t happening. The desperate dream is about failing to realize our mother is a separate person on a separate journey, and we can’t force the relationship ourselves. “A relationship takes two people,” Bethany said.
When we can grieve that ideal relationship it creates so much space and energy in our lives, because we don’t even realize how much energy it takes holding on to the hope that maybe one day, our mom will change.
The Impact of The Mother Wound On Men
“The mother wound definitely impacts men just as intensely, but it shows up differently. “Boys and men are socialized differently than women, so the way it impacts them is very different, but the intensity is the same,” Bethany explained. Boys separate quicker than daughters and moms are socialized to accept this.
A mother may unconsciously use her son as a kind of surrogate spouse, and this happens in some cultures more than others. Another manifestation for men is the son feels more abandoned by his mother and may feel resentment. A son may feel a father was really harsh on him with punishment or spanking, and Mom may stand by and watch it. So, there can be some resentment there.
Men are groomed into masculinity and the patriarchy. For some men they may feel a real emptiness and real disconnect from their own feelings. They may turn to porn, drugs, or subtle addictions to cope with it. Men have a real wound around how to feel connected to themselves aside from violence and sexuality.
Coping with Jealousy Toward Partners or Friends Who Have a Close Relationship with Mom
“Envy is normal,” Bethany explained. “It’s normal to long for that.” So, have compassion for yourself, while you’re dealing with this.
But that envy can also inspire you to grieve and let go of the hope of this ideal relationship with your own mother. We can use it as fuel to do our own inner nurturing.
Just because we didn’t get the nurturing we needed from our mothers doesn’t mean we didn’t deserve it. We can give that to ourselves now to help us heal, and we can use the jealousy we feel of people who have good relationships with their moms to fuel our own healing. And our children will benefit from us being more supported, because we’ve nurtured ourselves.
Our children will benefit from us being more supported.
Bethany’s course and community is a great place to feel connected to other people who are trying to work through this when we may not have people going through the same things in our own life.
People form a really tight sisterhood in this community, and it forms a kind of motherline where we get the support and nurturing from other women who have experienced the same thing.
Discovering the Inner Mother
Bethany teaches a course called Discovering the Inner Mother. It’s an online 8 week course, and it walks you through the healing process both cognitively and emotionally to help you recover from the mother wound.
The course is designed with the 7 steps of healing the mother wound and each step has a module:
- Understanding Your Mother as Your Foundation — This focuses on your mother’s beliefs and how we inherited them to form the foundation of what we deal with today.
- Looking at the Stereotypes of Mothering — Myths like moms and daughters should be best friends and “the perfect family.” Any kind of taboo myth that can cause you shame.
- The Mother Gap — This looks at how we may not feel nurtured by our moms and how we’re trying to compensate for that and really explores the burdens that may be putting on our other relationships.
- The Impossible Dream — Are we operating under the hope that if we just do XYZ, one day we’ll have the connection we crave with our Mom?
- Grieving — In grieving, we’re letting go of the loss and making room for the new. This step is about giving yourself the support to grieve.
- Transforming the Inner Mother — This is the nuts and bolts of mothering our inner child. What are some ways we can show up for ourselves and fill the mother gap? This is about creating inner safety, so our inner child no longer shows up and causes problems in our current lives.
- Emergence — This looks at what to expect as you continue to work the practice. Inner mothering is a practice that you live into with more and more layers over time, and as you do this you let go of past traumas.
“Each module has a video or PDF and then you have an exercise or journaling activity, and then we have the community. When you join you will be embraced and asked to share. I’m extremely active in the group and we do live q&a calls every two weeks, and there is no limit to how many you get. I get to coach with you in real time. It’s a combo of curriculum and community,” Bethany said.