What You'll Learn
- Overview Of The Mother Wound
- Unpacking The Mother Wound
- Differences Between The Father Wound And The Mother Wound
- Societal And Cultural Messages That Have An Impact
- Symptoms Of The Mother Wound
- Cultivating Our Inner Mother
The connection with our mother is typically the foundation of our relationship with ourselves. To form our own sense of self, as a young child we internalize deeply, even into our brain chemistry, so much about who our mother is as a person. A lot of this is unconsciously inherited from one generation to the next including pain which is referred to as the Mother Wound. This wound can become particularly noticeable when you become a mother and are constantly reflecting on your own experience while also mothering.
The “mother wound” may show up as shame, comparison, guilt, and feeling like you must remain small and not rock the boat to be loved. Understanding these feelings is the first step to healing. Life coach and author Bethany Webster joins us to discuss what the mother wound is, the ways the mother wound shows up, and how we can find our inner mother.
Overview Of The Mother Wound
“The mother wound is a result of patriarchy,” Bethany Webster said.
One of the tasks of becoming a mom is reconciling your upbringing with your approach to mothering. In every present moment, we have one foot in the past reliving childhood events. I had a client say, “I just really grasp and hold onto the term ‘undermothered,’ because it’s not saying I wasn’t mothered, I hate my mother, or I want to lash out against her. It’s just saying in some areas I was undermothered.” The first time I spoke about this online about 90% of people were appreciative to have a word for it, but there was a very vocal 10% who felt this was “mom-shaming,” and everything that is wrong with the world. But this isn’t about shaming mothers.
This is rooted in misogyny. “Our culture has a wounded relationship with mothers. We don’t value women, so mothers are either blamed or idealized,” Bethany said. Either moms are fabulous and how dare we criticize them and nothing could be their fault. Or they’re horrible and everything is their fault. There is no middle ground for mothers to be good at some things and struggle at other things like a normal human.
It’s painful to look at the ways we were undermothered, but it’s part of the process of bringing women and children to the center of society. “We have to look at our capacity to harm, not just our capacity to give life,” Bethany explained. And for generations, we’ve been taught that if we look at the whole relationship with our mother, we’re blaming them. “We’re stretching how we see ourselves as women, and how our culture sees women in a more holistic way,” Bethany said.
Because we avoid examining our relationships with our moms, there isn’t a space for us to talk about true feelings, and a name to tame our experience. The mother wound comes with guilt and shame, and our inner critic is still convincing us that we are the one who is flawed.
We don’t learn self-compassion if we don’t heal and look at these pieces. We can hold space for our mothers and respect that they came from generational trauma and whatever else they went through without invalidating our own experiences. We can hold space for our own traumas while still recognizing our mothers. “Compassion for our mothers can’t eclipse the compassion we have for ourselves,” Bethany explained.
Unpacking The Mother Wound
The mother wound has four levels:
- The Personal
- The Cultural
- The Spiritual
- The Planetary
“The most important one for all of us is the personal mother wound,” Bethany said. This is the dynamics with our mother that caused us to unconsciously limit or sabotage ourselves. This is a combination of our mother’s trauma, the patriarchal society we all inhabit, and how we see ourselves, the world, our bodies. Our mothers also teach us how to be a woman in society. “We’re set up to subjugate ourselves,” she told us. Because our mom has beliefs that were passed down to her and they are then passed down to us.
The personal mother wound comes down to our inner child. We all have a kid inside of us, and our mom is like the gatekeeper of our upper limits. Her role is to keep us safe, so in times of stress and depletion, we’re going to revert back to our safety algorithms. We form these safety patterns for survival like looking for approval—focusing on the external—and we can carry them with us well into adulthood. That’s a sign of the healing work that really needs to happen on the inner child.
We all have a kid inside of us, and our mom is like the gatekeeper of our upper limits.
We can mother ourselves though. We can bring in an inner mother who helps that inner child to release all those needs for reassurance. Bethany called this “the mother gap,” and we can fill it in by parenting ourselves. If we’re feeling undermothered, we didn’t get enough love, support, celebration, and encouragement. And finding a way to give that validation to ourselves helps us raise the upper limits. It relieves Mom and Grandma from being gatekeepers trying to protect us and allows us to feel unstoppable, so we can accomplish more.
We can develop almost a sense of perfectionism, because we’re trying not to rock the boat and keep the adults in our lives happy. And that’s another tendency we can bring with us into adulthood and into our own parenting. We can feel like we’re not doing it right, or we’re not doing well enough. But it all goes back to this little person who just wanted to please their adults because our whole survival depended on that.
Healing the mother wound is about going back to the root and resolving these conflicts, but we can only do that by going back to where the problem started.
Differences Between The Father Wound And The Mother Wound
Both parents have such a huge influence on our lives. Not just the way they interact with us, but also the way they interact with each other.
The mother wound can be harder for women because we learn to mother from our mothers. It’s interesting, because my parents went through this highly stressful divorce, and my dad actually got custody of me. I spent years with him, and because of that I never thought about being a mother or seeing myself as a mother. I had a relationship with my mom and saw her every other weekend, but I didn’t have the day-to-day example of being a mom.
The mother wound can be harder for women because we learn to mother from our mothers.
I have a father wound. At twelve years old, I got everyone up and out of the bed in the morning. Almost like I’d become the woman of the house. It’s ironic, because I have three kids now and run a motherhood platform, but I didn’t have this roadmap of being a mom.
For me, the father wound played out in being able to trust in my romantic relationships, and there was a lot to unpack with my partner. It was work, but it wasn’t the same work as having to unpack the way my mom’s mothering affected my own.
Societal And Cultural Messages That Have An Impact
A lot of the messages are contradictory. Things like, “Motherhood should be natural to you. If it’s not there, something is wrong with you,” or “You should be able to manage children, look fabulous, and have a great marriage.”
“It’s super human standards, and they’re often contradictory,” Bethany said. She explained there is no room for the mother to be human in all the expectations and subversive messaging directed at moms. But our generation is starting to realize how unrealistic this is.
When we heal the mother wound, we really get better at rejecting all of the messaging society throws at us.
When we heal the mother wound, we really get better at rejecting all of the messaging society throws at us. We’re often taught that we need to be small and gentle to be loved. This becomes a core belief and gets passed down from mother to daughter. It can be hard to overcome, but you can be the independent badass you are and still be vulnerable and depend on others. It just may take the work of healing the mother wound to get there.
But doing the work is how we take down the patriarchy. Not making ourselves small and agreeable to be liked or loved is the first step. We can pass down a different message.
“We’re building a new motherline across cultures, across the world, and even across time. As we start to feel safe enough to discard some of these old values that are very harmful to us, children, and the future,” Bethany said. So your inner work is crucial. It doesn’t just benefit you. It benefits the people you interact with, your children, and the future.
Symptoms Of The Mother Wound
If you carry a lot of shame or guilt and feel like you’re not enough, that can be a symptom of the mother wound.
Fearing abandonment—“I’m going to be left alone. What am I going to do?”
Problems in romantic relations can also be a good indicator of a mother wound, because usually problems we had with our primary caregiver repeat in our romantic relationships.
If the same kinds of problems keep showing up, you can usually connect it back to your early childhood.
Look for patterns. If the same kinds of problems keep showing up, you can usually make a connection back to your early childhood. We sometimes look to our partners to fill those needs and make us feel safe, but we don’t have to. We can let go of the shame and work through it.
Once you identify that early childhood problem that is causing this repeating, you can start to mother yourself and take care of that need on your own.
Cultivating Our Inner Mother
The map we have been given to parent by was handed to us by our own mother, so I’ve developed a journal called the motherhood roadmap to help us make our way as a mother. Mothering our inner child helps us break generational cycles for our own children. Doing this work is hard, but it is worth it!
The map we have been given to parent by was handed to us by our own mother.
Secure attachment is to feel safe, secure, soothed, and seen. And a lot of clients who come to me felt safe and secure that their needs were provided for, but they didn’t feel soothed. And now that they’re parents, they look back and think about what being soothed may have looked like.
Some of the first steps to explore your inner child is to get a picture of yourself you really liked as a child and be curious. Be curious about this little child and connect with them throughout the day. Express interest on a consistent basis to this kid that you were.
Bethany sometimes told the picture of herself, “I’m here,” forty times a day. It didn’t take much time and it allowed her inner child to be soothed consistently in a way she didn’t have as a child.
Another thing you could say to that photograph of Child You is I know you were scared or unseen as a child. It wasn’t your fault. Of course, you were scared. But now I’m here. I’m the big you, and you’re seen. This provides a step of differentiation between the inner child and the adult. Bethany said, “We have to differentiate to fully integrate.”
Any time you feel panicked, desperate, or impulsive, that’s a sign the inner child needs help. But the small action of checking in with the child frequently can build trust with the inner child.
What did you need back then that you didn’t give enough of? That’s what you give to yourself now. For a lot of people, that is “no feeling is bad.”
We’re reparenting our inner child and showing up for ourselves and our needs in a way that didn’t happen in early childhood.
Part of the healing is letting go of the attachment of our moms meeting our needs.
Part of the healing is letting go of the attachment of our moms meeting our needs. She’s her own person who may not have the capacity or desire to meet your needs, but that’s okay. As an adult, our main source of love and security comes from inside of us.
Something that comes up in therapy a lot is how hard it is to grieve the relationship with your mom when she may still be in your life. But at the same time, we’re watching these gaps come up in real-time by having her in our life. We can show up and parent ourselves during those gaps almost like a rupture and repair. The rupture with anyone important to us hurts, but we can repair it for ourselves by activating our inner mother.
If you need more resources on how to heal the mother wound, Bethany has a free offering on Reclaiming Yourself, and also the Discovering Your Inner Mother course.