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Suzanne Manser, PhD

Licensed Psychologist

Understanding and Healing from Our Mother Wounds (Part 2)

What is a mother wound?

Our mothers have a unique role in our lives – they are the one person who is supposed to love and care for us the most. They are supposed to see us, accept us, and support us. They are supposed to offer us understanding, compassion, and comfort. When they don’t, it is incredibly painful. When they don’t repeatedly, it is wounding.

Not only are the wounds painful, they are also incredibly damaging: They teach us that we don’t matter. They teach us that we’re not enough. They teach us that we’re not worthy of even our mother’s love. 

We grow up believing these devastating truths about ourselves. We believe that we’re not enough, that we need to earn our acceptability, and that until that happens, we don’t deserve to take up as much space as everyone else. These self-beliefs are the long-lasting consequences of the mother wound.

I grew up believing all of this about myself because of the wounds my mother gave me. It’s taken me decades to change these beliefs – it’s hard work, getting ourselves to trust that we are enough.

To heal your mother wound, there are 7 steps to consider. They are not linear; you don’t finish one and then move on to the next. Life (and healing) doesn’t tend to work that way. Some of these steps could take months – or years – to get through. You’ve probably already started most of them.

 

7 Steps to Healing

 

Step 1

Acknowledge and validate the pain so you can heal it.

Your mom has repeatedly hurt you, whether it was intended or not. She has repeatedly criticized you, dismissed you, deprioritized you, disrespected you, ignored your needs or boundaries, not kept her word, lied to you, gaslighted you, not protected you, neglected you, been mean or cruel to you, and/or physically harmed you.

Do not minimize this. This is not nothing.

We often minimize the pain caused by other people if it isn’t glaringly obvious abuse. We don’t know if we have the right to claim harm. That makes it much harder to heal from.

If you have felt the pain of not feeling chosen, seen, protected, or loved by your mom, that’s all you need to know. We’re not here to blame or judge her. We’re here to acknowledge and validate you. Once you can identify and claim your pain, you can work with it.

 

Step 2

Bring in self-compassion. Listen to your inner child.

It hurts when anyone dismisses us or is mean to us. When it’s our mom of all people, it wounds us. Over and over and over. Mother wounds are so painful.

Be kind to yourself about this pain. No little kid deserves to be hurt. Even if you haven’t talked to your mom in years, the young part of yourself is still feeling the pain as if it were happening today, especially if your mom never apologized or tried to repair the harm she’s caused. 

If your mom is not going to try to help you heal, it’s up to you to do it. Imagine yourself as a child feeling that pain. Then imagine hugging that child, letting her know she deserves love and comfort and support and protection, letting her know she deserves better than what she got, letting her know that you see her and her pain, and both are valid. If your mom is still wounding you, offer your adult self love and comfort and validation.

You deserve kindness when you are in pain. This is self-compassion.

Importantly, self-compassion helps expand your capacity to manage the pain. Not only is it soothing in the moment, but it has lasting impacts the more you do it. The practice of self-compassion makes pain less devastating.

 

Step 3

Get distance so you can start to detach.

The more you focus on the pain of your mother wound, the more you will suffer. The goal is to not let the pain be the only thing you see or feel or pay attention to. Start to detach from it.

Get distance – practice shifting your attention from the pain to something bigger, like yourself or your life. When you can stand outside of the pain like this, you see it from a different angle. It may look slightly different. With this bit of distance, you can also look around and notice the rest of your life. What else is in your life that is worth paying attention to? What relationships make you feel good about yourself? What isn’t in your life that you want to be in your life?

It’s a relief to remind yourself that the pain doesn’t have to take up so much space, and that the pain of your mother wound is not all there is. Look around at what else you can attach to that might serve you better. It can be hard to see anything else – pain is compelling, but we definitely don’t want to be attached to it.

 

Step 4

Choose a more helpful focus: self-connection.

Once you’ve looked around and gotten the lay of the land, pick a few things that will be more helpful to focus on than the pain. These could be fun activities, meaningful pursuits, or important relationships. The point is that you’re paying attention to and connecting to you, not the pain. The more you focus on the helpful stuff, the less you will focus on the pain.

The goal is to make more of your day-to-day life about things and relationships that feel good and support you. This will take intentional check-ins with yourself. You’ll have to listen to yourself. This is self-connection. Be patient – it will take practice keeping your focus here. You already have a lot of practice focusing on the pain.

 

Step 5

Build self-acceptance. Know your worth.

The special lineage of the mother wound is that we do not realize that we are already worthy and acceptable. We assume we have to earn those things. This sets us up to give all our power to others; other people get to tell us whether or not we are acceptable. We spend our lives focused on trying to be worthy, instead of focusing on the stuff that really matters to us, the stuff that feels good. Not only does a lack of self-acceptance make us feel bad about ourselves, but it robs us of the ability to have a truly fulfilling life.

If you have self-acceptance and self-worth, your inner critic has no leverage. Neither do any external critics, even your mom. When you know that you are acceptable and worthy, and that no one else gets to have a say about that, what other people think of you just doesn’t matter. It takes away your mom’s power to make you feel less than. It removes a lot of the noise and wasted energy of trying to convince others that you’re acceptable. And, it gives you more energy to focus on the stuff that makes life feel juicy.

 

Step 6

Assert your boundaries. Increase them as needed.

You deserve to limit your engagement in any harmful relationship, regardless of who it’s with. If your mom is still actively wounding you, it is up to you to protect yourself. 

Figure out what boundaries you need to set with your mom so she can’t continue to so badly hurt you. Do you need to see her less? Not go on vacations with her? Not have her stay at your house? Not stay at her house? Do you need to talk with her less? Only talk about certain topics? Only talk for a certain amount of time? Respond to her texts only after waiting a day? Do you need to stop contact with her altogether? These are all valid options, even if she doesn’t think so.

Your boundaries tell people how to treat you respectfully. They exist to protect you from being treated in a way that doesn’t feel good to you. That is the whole point of them. In case you need to hear it, you have the right to set any boundary with anyone. No one gets to tell you what boundaries are correct or allowable for you.

 

Step 7

Get support.

All of this is hard. You may feel like you don’t deserve some parts of it, or feel guilty. You may not have any idea how to start to build self-compassion or self-acceptance. You may not know how to set or maintain the boundaries that will work best for you.

There is support out there. Start with friends and family who love you. Ask for their support as you work through this stuff and try new things. There are also therapists, online courses, books, workbooks, podcasts, and social media accounts dedicated to supporting people as they heal from their childhoods and mother wounds (some resources are listed below).

 

Healing from the wounds our moms give us is not a quick or easy process. We are healing some of the deepest parts of ourselves. And we deserve it.

 

Resources:

Already Enough: A Path to Self-Acceptance by Lisa Olivera

Discovering the Inner Mother: A Guide to Healing the Mother Wound and Claiming Your Personal Power by Bethany Webster (She also has an online course and Instagram account: @themotherwound)

I Hate You (A Love Letter to My Mother): Healing Paper Cuts, Mother Wounds, and Intergenerational Pain by Suzanne Manser, PhD (and my Instagram account: @suzannemanserphd)

I Hate You (A Love Letter to My Mother): A Journal for Healing Your Mother Wound and Transforming Your Life by Suzanne Manser, PhD

Radical Acceptance and Radical Compassion by Tara Brach

Understanding and Healing Our Mother Wounds (Part 1) by Suzanne Manser, PhD

@motherwoundproject (on Instagram)

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