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Erica's New Book Releasing the Mother Load is officially out! Order your copy today!
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February 20, 2024

March 8, 2023

How Our Childhood Wounds Impact Our Parenting: Unpacking Our Past, Breaking Cycles, and Moving Forward

E:
163
with
Vienna Pharaon
Founder of Mindful MFT

We have exciting news–Happy as a Mother has evolved into The Momwell Podcast! The podcast is staying the same–same great experts, same mission, same format. But we’re now operating under a new name–Momwell.

What You'll Learn

  • Why Our Childhood Wounds Resurface After Having a Baby
  • How Our Childhood Wounds Impact Us as Moms
  • Why Childhood Wounds Are Hard to Overcome
  • People-Pleasing and Perfectionism as a Mom
  • How a Lack of Safety in Childhood Affects Our Parenting
  • How to Start Working Through Your Childhood Wounds
  • How to Let Go of the Pressure of Perfection
  • Working Through the Mother Wound or the Father Wound

Moms often find themselves grappling with people-pleasing, perfectionism, or fear of emotionally damaging their children. But what many don’t realize is that these tendencies are often rooted in unresolved childhood wounds. 

Today on the podcast, I’m joined by marriage and family therapist Vienna Pharaon, founder of Mindful MFT, to discuss why childhood wounds arise in parenthood and how to identify and work through our pain. 

Acknowledging My Childhood Wounds 

I was a child of a high-conflict divorce, and it made my upbringing tough at times. I often felt like a pawn, I observed a lot of unhealthy relationship dynamics, and I taught myself to be a people-pleaser and a perfectionist so I wouldn’t contribute to the problem. 

So, as I grew up, I felt like I had a great example of how I didn’t want my marriage and family life to be. I did a lot of self-work and processing, and I felt that my past was water under the bridge—that I had worked through everything and that I was healed enough to avoid those patterns. 

But when I became a mom, I was shocked to discover how much of my past came barreling to the forefront. As I struggled with the adjustment to parenthood, I was constantly being reminded of my past. Wounds and trauma that I believed were long-resolved came to the surface. I was surprised by how difficult it was to regulate my emotions. 

I was shocked to discover how much of my past came barreling to the forefront.

I was so focused on being the perfect mom and giving my kids the childhood I didn’t have that I felt like a failure for every mistake, every moment of struggle, and every negative emotion.

I ended up in a spiral, eventually being diagnosed with postpartum depression (and having a breakdown that ended up being a breakthrough). 

It took a lot of curiosity to realize that:

  • Healing was an ongoing process, not a destination I had arrived at
  • My past impacted me far more than I ever thought possible
  • I had wounds that needed to be validated and worked through

Motherhood has a way of bringing up old wounds, past trauma, and events from our childhood through a different lens. While we have one foot in the present, pushing ourselves to be the best moms we can be, we also have one foot in the past, hurting over what we didn’t have. 

I was excited to talk with Vienna about origin pain, childhood wounds, and how these come to the surface in motherhood. 

Why Our Childhood Wounds Resurface After Having a Baby

Vienna also witnessed a high-conflict divorce at a young age. She became a needless child, trying to fly under the radar so she didn’t contribute to the conflict. And she pretended that she was fine, all the way into adulthood.

This is the pattern that many of us go through, unaware of how strongly our past impacts our relationships, parenting, and emotional regulation. 

Vienna pointed out that our family systems are our first influence for everything—how we engage, how we communicate, and how we set boundaries. 

She believes that anytime you try to change something about yourself or create a shift and you encounter difficulty, there is likely an origin pain looking for attention and processing. 

There is sometimes a perception that all therapists want to do is talk about our childhood. But Vienna said that our family of origin almost always needs to be addressed in our mental health journey. 

She shared a story about a client who had difficulty trusting in relationships. The client was on the verge of becoming engaged and was waiting for “the other shoe to drop.” As Vienna explored her past with her, she asked about her childhood. 

At first, the client insisted that her childhood was happy and there were no wounds. But through the course of therapy, she revealed that she had discovered her father’s affair at a young age and he had asked her to keep his secret. She had been holding onto that secret for decades. 

Vienna said that from the outside looking in, it might seem obvious that experience impacted her ability to trust. But when we experience these wounds, we often bury them out of self-preservation, pushing them down and not processing them. Because they have never been worked through, they often resurface when we are in relationships or becoming parents ourselves. 

How Our Childhood Wounds Impact Us as Moms

Motherhood in particular brings up past wounds very strongly. When we care for and love our children, we often want to do a better job or improve on what we lacked as children. But we miss the self-work piece that is so important. They can then begin to impact the way we show up as parents. 

For example, Vienna pointed out that one of the most common childhood wounds is the worthiness wound. When we learn as children that our worth is connected to a condition (people-pleasing, behaving or complying, or being a perfectionist, an athlete, or a good student), we internalize that. We grew up learning that we had to meet a condition to receive validation, love, care, or affection. 

We grew up learning that we had to meet a condition to receive validation, love, care, or affection. 

But if we don’t resolve that worthiness wound, we can end up self-sabotaging or even pushing ourselves away from the love and connection we receive from our child. 

Worthiness wounds become particularly intense when fueled by intensive mothering ideology and the “perfect mother myth.” 

We are conditioned to believe that as moms we must do and be more for our children, as if we are never enough. That ideology can exacerbate an unresolved worthiness wound. 

Vienna pointed out that often when we experience fear or shame or self-judgment, it’s an arrow pointing inward at one of our childhood wounds. When we fear that we aren’t good enough or start to question if we’re failing as moms, it could be a sign that our worthiness wound is impacting us. 

Why Childhood Wounds Are Hard to Overcome

Childhood wounds are often so woven into who we are that we don’t realize how strongly they play out over the course of our lives. But they impact everything, from relationships to parenting, to work. We often begin creating patterns in childhood in response to our wounds—patterns that are difficult to break out of later in life. 

For example, if you experienced a worthiness wound, you might have developed people-pleasing tendencies as a child in order to receive the love and attention you craved. 

If your priority is pleasing people, that affects how you navigate through conflict, how you communicate, or how you set or lift a boundary. 

You might become very porous with your boundaries, saying yes to everything even when you don’t want to because you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or you can’t tolerate someone being upset with you. 

You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or you can’t tolerate someone being upset with you.

When you become a mom, you might begin to realize you need to set boundaries—with your children, with your partner, or with family members. However, breaking out of those patterns is hard. If people-pleasing has created love or attention or safety for you, it’s going to be very difficult to just stop doing it. 

Vienna said that’s why working through our childhood wounds is so important. These wounds are often so ingrained that it’s too threatening for our internal systems to just overpower them. Our nervous systems might sound alarm bells—is someone going to criticize me? Is someone going to start screaming? Will I be safe? 

Until we address the underlying wound, the patterns will be very hard to break out of. 

How a Lack of Safety in Childhood Affects Our Parenting

Another common childhood wound that creates long-lasting patterns is the safety origin wound. This one is often formed in traumatic situations or homes where abuse was present, but it can be caused even in non-abusive environments. 

Vienna defines it as feeling as if the adults in your life did not have concern, respect, and honor for your wellbeing. 

When people experience this wound, they often come away feeling as if they have to protect themselves. In this case, instead of becoming too porous with their boundaries, they might become too rigid. 

If you have always believed that you must protect yourself from those around you, it’s common to put up walls that are too high. They serve their purpose in childhood, but later might come at the cost of intimacy, relationships, friendships, or close connection with others. 

In order to work through this childhood wound, one has to learn to bring the walls down.

Vienna said that in order to work through this childhood wound, one has to learn to bring the walls down—not recklessly, but slowly and carefully. 

To work through our childhood wounds, we have to become witnesses to our wounds, reflect on what caused them, and rewrite our stories. 

Vienna also pointed out that to do that, we don’t necessarily need the person that caused the wound to be part of the process. It might be helpful to hear a parent acknowledge their contributions to our wounds, but it isn’t necessary to heal. 

How to Start Working Through Your Childhood Wounds

Working through our childhood wounds often involves going through a grieving process. But as we grieve, we can begin to make changes. 

That might look like letting someone in when we would normally keep them at arm’s length, or expressing ourselves when we normally swallow our feelings. 

Our growth and expansion might look like tiny moments, but they are huge for us. Vienna shared that learning to say, “I’m not okay with this. This feels disrespectful to me,” was a life-changing lesson for her. She had lived her entire life pushing those feelings down. Learning to embrace them opened up the world for her. 

Our growth and expansion might look like tiny moments, but they are huge for us.

It’s also important to give ourselves grace on the healing journey. We might take small steps and then slip backward. Growth isn’t always linear. 

Vienna also pointed out that our childhood wounds don’t always show up as repeated generational patterns. Sometimes, in an effort to do better, we actually swing the pendulum the opposite way. For example, if we saw a lot of conflict in our home, we might become determined to never engage in any conflict in our relationship.

When we swing that pendulum but we still come from a place of pain, we are still suffering from those childhood wounds. We’re not centered or grounded—we’re still being controlled by our origin pain. 

Becoming conflict-avoidant and teaching ourselves not to express our discomfort or unhappiness doesn’t free us from our wounds—it just causes us to show up in a different way. We have to resolve the wound in order to be free. 

How to Let Go of the Pressure of Perfection

We all worry about how our children will turn out. We don’t want them forming their own wounds or carrying trauma into their adult lives. 

But Vienna pointed out that perfection isn’t the goal, or the answer. People-pleasing and perfectionism are often interlinked—and for moms, the focus of those tendencies isn’t always external. Often, we are more focused on our child’s view. 

Vienna pointed out that we see ourselves in our children—we reflect on the tender moments we share with them and remember our own experiences, for the good and the bad. We want to know that our children feel safe, worthy, and prioritized. 

Of course, we all want those things…however, it can be taken to an unhealthy extreme when we become so driven with the idea of doing no harm that we punish, berate, or shame ourselves in the process. 

I had to work through this in my own postpartum mental health journey. I had to understand that showing up as a safe, nurturing support for my children didn’t mean reaching this target of perfection I had laid out for myself. 

Instead, I had to work on myself, continue my healing path, and show up in a way that aligned with my values. 

The best thing that we can do for our children is to commit to continuing to resolve our unresolved pain.

That’s why working through our wounds is so important. Vienna said that the best thing we can do for our children is to commit to continuing to resolve our unresolved pain. 

When we resolve that pain, we can start to break away from the patterns, release the pressure, identify our values, and chart a path in motherhood that feels right to us—a path not based on pain. 

Working Through the Mother Wound or the Father Wound

One of the reasons that mother wounds and father wounds begin to feel so visceral and fresh when we become moms is that we are often confronted with them as our parents form grandparent relationships with our children. 

The pain of a contentious relationship, unmet needs, or unresolved trauma can be very strong when we’re spending more time with family members who contributed to them. This can be even more complicated when we rely on our family for support with the baby. 

We might even start to quiet our own feelings, telling ourselves that our parents did the best they could. But Vienna pointed out that our pain is our pain, even if there was context to the story. 

Our pain is our pain, even if there was context to the story. 

Vienna said that there is a real need for gentleness with ourselves when we’re coping with wounds. She also recommended taking time and space when our family members are not around to see and acknowledge what feelings come up and process those origin wounds, grieving, witnessing, and working through them. 

As you start to feel wounds or questions come up, ask yourself, “What did I need or crave for as a child that I didn’t get?” 

Another clue is to think about what in our daily lives triggers us or makes us the most reactive. That’s often another arrow pointing to a childhood wound waiting to be resolved. 

Vienna pointed out that while this is difficult work, it is also beautiful. Working through our childhood wounds can lift us up, provide peace, allow us to align with our values, and positively impact our relationship with ourselves, with our partner, and with our children. 

If you are struggling on your parenting journey or coping with childhood wounds our virtual therapists can help. We offer Parenting Support to help you navigate the challenges of parenthood! Book your FREE 15 minute virtual consult today.

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Tags:

Mother Wound, Perfectionism, The Perfect Mother Myth

Stage:

Pregnancy, Postpartum, Motherhood

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OUR GUEST

Vienna Pharaon
Founder of Mindful MFT

Vienna Pharaon is a licensed marriage and family therapist and one of New York City’s most sought after relationship therapists. She has practiced therapy for over fifteen years and is the founder and owner of the group practice, Mindful Marriage and Family Therapy. She received her Master of Science in Marriage & Family Therapy from Northwestern University, and trained extensively at The Family Institute, Bette D. Harris Center. Pharaon has been featured in The Economist, Netflix, Vice, and Motherly, and has led workshops for Peloton and Netflix, amongst others. She currently lives in Upstate, New York with her husband and son. The Origins of You is her first book.

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.
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