More than anyone else in our lives, our parents have the power to harm us emotionally. Because they’re our parents, we need them to see us, love us, show up for us, and guide us. When they falter in this job, it can hurt, deeply.
Our moms have a particular power to hurt us because of the unique role they play in our lives. We are intertwined with our moms at the deepest level. Our mother carried us in her body for nine months. We were physically connected. We were physically a part of her. Her body kept us alive and gave us what we needed to grow. We don’t have this experience with anyone else. Even when we were no longer physically a part of her, her body fed us, carried us, and held us. Our mothers not only gave us life, they gave us existence.
Because this is how it has always been, we have millennia’s worth of expectations about our moms. They are supposed to be attuned to us and our needs more than anyone else. They are supposed to love us and care for us the most because, for thousands and thousands of years, they always have. We are born trusting this, trusting her. These expectations are built into our being.
Our mothers wound us when they don’t live up to these cellular-level expectations, when they don’t love us as we want and need to be loved. Though sometimes they actively, intentionally hurt us, often the wounding comes from an unintentional lack of attunement. When our moms are not attuned to who we are and what our needs are, it hurts because they are supposed to be, according to our instincts.
Here is how I describe it in my book*:
“Our ties to our mothers, and to the wounds our mothers give us, are ancient. They are built into our cells, established by evolution. It was this cellular-level attachment to my mom that drove my unrelenting need to be seen by her. I needed her to see me so she could love me, not the version of me she projected. Every time she refused to see me, it felt like losing the chance to truly be loved by my mom.
Every time she refused to see me, she strengthened her projection of me. Because of my attachment to her, how she saw me mattered. Deeply. I needed my mom to allow me to exist as me. If she didn’t see me as valid, I couldn’t see myself as valid. It felt like I was in a constant fight for my existence. And I never won.
This ancient attachment to our mothers sets us up for intense emotions and intense relationships. I hated my mom because it mattered to my core how she, of all people, felt about me and treated me. Because she had the power to love me like I needed, and she couldn’t. Because she had the power to validate me like I needed, and she refused. I hated her because, according to my instinctual expectations, she was failing me.”
As painful as these wounds are, our mothers don’t even know they exist. They don’t see us clearly enough to see our pain. Our moms are not tuned in to us because they’re so tuned into their own pain. Our moms aren’t trying to hurt us; they are trying to take care of themselves. But by subconsciously reacting to their own pain, they pass it down to us.
Our mothers tend to wound us in the same ways they have been wounded. The tools my mom used to wound me – control, judgment, and denial – were the tools her parents had wounded her with. If your mother is controlling and judgmental and denies the existence of anything that makes her uncomfortable – like your feelings – she is subconsciously trying to make her pain feel more tolerable. Unfortunately, she is also sending you the message that she is in charge of what is important in life. She gets to decide whose opinions and thoughts and feelings matter (spoiler alert: it wasn’t mine). Mother wounds tend to make us feel small and insignificant.
When we feel insignificant and/or unseen, we learn that we are not worthy of what everyone else is worthy of: their mother’s regard. We learn that we’re not good enough. We do not matter enough. When we feel unloved by our mothers, we learn that we are unlovable. We grow to feel ashamed of who we are. Because it’s our mom giving us these messages, we believe her. Remember, we are born trusting her.
We learn who we are by the way our mom, specifically, treats us. Until we learn that she is wounding us because of her, not because of us, we will continue to believe her.
This is the power of the wounds our mothers give us: they shape how we see ourselves and who we become. We go through our lives believing we are less-than, worthy of pain, not fully deserving of being loved and cherished. We spend our energy chasing love and approval instead of being ourselves and doing what feels meaningful to us. We live life on her terms instead of ours.
When we are able to start connecting to ourselves more than to our mom, we will start healing. When we are able to center in our life what is meaningful to us more than we center our pain, we will start healing. When we claim ourselves based on our truths, not hers, we will start healing.
Our mother wound is powerful, but it’s nothing compared to us.
For more on the impact of mother wounds:
*I Hate You (A Love Letter to My Mother): Healing Paper Cuts, Mother Wounds, and Intergenerational Pain by Suzanne Manser, PhD
Discovering the Inner Mother: A Guide to Healing the Mother Wound and Claiming Your Personal Power by Bethany Webster (who coined the phrase “the Mother Wound”)
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