Healing the Mother Wound

Healing the Mother Wound
The issue at the core of women’s empowerment is the mother wound

Difficulty and challenges between mothers and daughters are rampant and widespread but not openly spoken about. The taboo about speaking about the pain of the mother wound is what keeps it in place and keeps it hidden in shadow, festering and out of view.

What exactly is the mother wound?

The mother wound is the pain of being a woman passed down through generations of women in patriarchal cultures. And it includes the dysfunctional coping mechanisms that are used to process that pain.

The pain of being a womanThe pain of being a woman

The mother wound includes the pain of:

  • Comparison: not feeling good enough
  • Shame: consistent background sense that there is something wrong with you
  • Attenuation: Feeling you must remain small in order to be loved
  • Persistent sense of guilt for wanting more than you currently have

The mother wound can manifest as:

  • Not being your full self because you don’t want to threaten others
  • Having a high tolerance for poor treatment from others
  • Emotional care-taking
  • Feeling competitive with other women
  • Self-sabotage
  • Being overly rigid and dominating
  • Conditions such as eating disorders, depression and addictions
Not being your full selfNot being your full self

In our patriarchal, male-dominated culture women are conditioned to think of themselves as “less-than” and not deserving or worthy. This feeling of “less-than” has been internalized and passed down through countless generations of women.

The cultural atmosphere of female oppression puts daughters in a “double bind.”

Simply put, if a daughter internalizes her mother’s unconscious beliefs (which is some subtle form of “I’m not good enough”) then she has her mother’s approval but has in some way betrayed herself and her potential.

However, if she doesn’t internalize her mother’s unconscious beliefs in her own limitations but rather affirms her own power and potential, she is aware that her mother may unconsciously see this as a personal rejection.

It may feel dangerous for a woman to actualize her full potential because it may mean risking some form of rejection by her mother.

The daughter doesn’t want to risk losing her mother’s love and approval, so internalizing these limiting, unconscious beliefs is a form of loyalty and emotional survival for the daughter.

The danger of actualizing your full potentialIt may feel dangerous to actualize your full potential

This is because the daughter may unconsciously sense that her full empowerment may trigger the mother’s sadness or rage at having had to give up parts of herself in her own life. Her compassion for her mother, a desire to please her, and a fear of conflict may cause her to convince herself that it’s safer to shrink and remain small.

A common objection to facing the mother wound is to “Let the past be in the past.” However, we never truly “escape” or bury the past. It lives in the present as the obstacles and challenges that we face every day. If we avoid dealing with the pain associated with one of THE most primary and foundational relationships in our lives, we are missing a pivotal opportunity to discover the truth of who we are and to authentically and joyfully live that truth.

Stereotypes that perpetuate the mother wound:

  • “Look at everything your mother did for you!” (from other people)
  • “My mother sacrificed so much for me. I would be so selfish to do what she could not do. I don’t want to make her feel bad.”
  • “I owe loyalty to my mother no matter what. If I upset her, she will think I don’t value her.”
Mother brushing daughter's hairThe “look at everything your mother did for you!” stereotype

The daughter may experience fears about fulfilling her potential because she may fear leaving her mother behind. She may fear her mother feeling threatened by her dreams or ambitions. She may fear uncomfortable feelings from her mother such as envy or anger. All of this is usually very unconscious and not openly acknowledged or talked about.

We all have sensed the pain that our mothers carry. And all of us are suspicious to some degree that we are partly to blame for her pain. Therein lies the guilt. This makes sense when considering the limited cognitive development of a child, which sees itself as the cause of all things. If we don’t address this unconscious belief as an adult, we may still be walking around with it and greatly limiting ourselves as a result.

The truth is that no child can save her mother.

No sacrifice a daughter makes will ever be enough to compensate for the high price her mother may have had to pay or for the losses she has accrued over the years, simply by being a woman and mother in this culture. And yet, this is what many women do for their mothers very early on in childhood: they unconsciously make a decision to not abandon or betray their mothers by becoming “too successful,” “too smart” or “too adventurous.” This decision is made out of love, loyalty and a true need for approval and emotional support from the mother.

Being a motherBeing a woman and a mother

Many of us confuse being loyal to our mothers with being loyal to their wounds, and thus, complicit in our own oppression.

These dynamics are very unconscious and they operate on a continuum. Even the most healthy, supportive mother/daughter relationships may have this dynamic to some degree by virtue of simply being women in this society. And for daughters who have mothers with serious issues (addictions, mental illness, etc.) the impact is can be very damaging and insidious.

Mothers must take responsibility and grieve their losses.

Being a mother in our society is unspeakably difficult. I’ve heard many women say “No one ever tells you how hard it is” and “Nothing prepares you for when you get home with the baby and realize what is being asked of you.” Our culture, especially the U.S., is very hard on mothers, offering little support and many are raising children alone.

Raising children aloneMany are raising children alone

Our society’s unspoken messages to mothers:

  • If motherhood is difficult then it’s your own fault.
  • Shame on you if you’re not super-human.
  • There are “natural mothers” for whom motherhood is easy. If you are not one of these, there is something deeply wrong with you.
  • You’re supposed to be capable of handling it all with ease: having well-behaved children, being sexually attractive, having a successful career, and a solid marriage.
Difficulty with motherhoodWhen motherhood is difficult

For mothers who have indeed sacrificed so much to have children in our culture, it can truly feel like a rejection when your child surpasses or exceeds the dreams you thought possible for yourself. There may be a sense of feeling owed, entitled to or needing to be validated by your children, which can be a very subtle but powerful manipulation. This dynamic can cause the next generation of daughters to keep themselves small so that their mothers can continue to feel validated and affirmed in their identity as a mother, an identity that many have sacrificed so much for, but received so little support and recognition for in return.

Mothers may unconsciously project deep rage towards their children in subtle ways. However, the rage really isn’t towards the children. The rage is towards the patriarchal society that requires women to sacrifice and utterly deplete themselves in order to mother a child.

And for a child who needs her mother, sacrificing herself in an effort to somehow ease her mother’s pain is often a subconscious decision made very early in life and not discovered as the cause of underlying issues until much later when she is an adult.

Child on mother's lapSacrificing herself in an effort to somehow ease her mother’s pain

The mother wound exists because there is not a safe place for mothers to process their rage about the sacrifices that society has demanded of them. And because daughters still unconsciously fear rejection for choosing not to make those same sacrifices as previous generations.

In our society, there is no safe place for a mother to vent her rage. And so often it comes out unconsciously to one’s children. A daughter is a very potent target for a mother’s rage because the daughter has not yet had to give up her personhood for motherhood. The young daughter may remind the mother of her un-lived potential. And if the daughter feels worthy enough to reject some of the patriarchal mandates that the mother has had to swallow, then she can easily trigger that underground rage for the mother.

Of course, most mothers want what is best for their daughters. However, if a mother has not dealt with her own pain or come to terms with the sacrifices she has had to make, than her support for her daughter may be laced with traces of messages that subtly instill shame, guilt or obligation. They can seep out in the most benign situations, usually in some form of criticism or some form of bringing praise back to the mother. It’s not usually the content of the statement, but rather the energy with which it is conveyed that can carry hidden resentment.

LimboDealing with pain 

The way for a mother to prevent directing her rage to her daughter and passing down the mother wound, is for the mother to fully grieve and mourn her own losses. And to make sure that she is not relying on her daughter as her main source of emotional support.

Mothers must mourn what they had to give up, what they wanted but will never have, what their children can never give them and the injustice of their situation. However, as unjust and unfair as it is, it is not the responsibility of the daughter to make amends for the mother’s losses or to feel obligated to sacrifice herself in the same ways. For mothers, It takes tremendous strength and integrity to do this. And mothers need support in this process.

Mother and daughterIt is not the responsibility of the daughter to make amends for the mother’s losses

Mothers liberate their daughters when they consciously process their own pain without making it their daughter’s problem. In this way, mothers free their daughters to pursue their dreams without guilt, shame or a sense of obligation.

When mothers unwittingly cause their daughters to feel responsible for their losses and to share in their pain, it creates a dysfunctional enmeshment, reinforcing the daughter’s view that she is not worthy of her dreams. And this supports a daughter’s view that her mother’s pain must somehow be her fault. This can cripple her in so many ways.

For daughters growing up in a patriarchal culture, there is a sense of having to choose between being empowered and being loved.

Most daughters choose to be loved instead of empowered because there is an ominous sense that being fully actualized and empowered may cause a grave loss of love from important people in their lives, specifically their mothers. So women stay small and un-fulfilled, unconsciously passing the mother wound to the next generation.

Mother sitting with daughterUnconsciously passing the mother wound on

As a woman, there is a vague but powerful sense that your empowerment will injure your relationships. And women are taught to value relationships over everything else. We cling to the crumbs of our relationships, while our souls may be deeply longing for the fulfillment of our potential. But the truth is that our relationships alone can never adequately substitute for the hunger to live our lives fully.

The power dynamic at the center of the mother/daughter relationship is a taboo subject and the core issue at the center of the mother wound.

Much of this goes underground because of the many taboos and stereotypes about motherhood in this culture:

  • Mothers are always nurturing and loving
  • Mothers should never feel angry or resentful towards their daughters
  • Mothers and daughters are supposed to be best friends

The stereotype of “All mothers should be loving all the time” strips women of their full humanity. Because women are not given permission to be full human beings, society feels justified in not providing full respect, support and resources to mothers.

Susan Colpich photograph detailThe “all mothers should be loving all the time” stereotype

The truth is that mothers are human beings and all mothers having un-loving moments. And it’s true that there are mothers who are simply un-loving most of the time, whether because of addiction, mental illness or other struggles. Until we are willing to face these uncomfortable realities the mother wound will be in shadow and continue to be passed through the generations.

We all have patriarchy in us to some degree. We’ve had to ingest it to survive in this culture. When we’re ready to confront it fully in ourselves, we also confront it in others, including our mothers. This can be one of the most heart-wrenching of all situations we must face. But unless we are willing to go there, to address the mother wound, we are paying a very high price for the illusion of peace and empowerment.

What is the cost of not healing the mother wound?

The cost of not healing the mother wound is living your life indefinitely with:

  • A vague, persistent sense that “There’s something wrong with me”
  • Never actualizing your potential out of fear of failure or disapproval
  • Having weak boundaries and an unclear sense of who you are
  • Not feeling worthy or capable of creating what you truly desire
  • Not feeling safe enough to take up space and voice your truth
  • Arranging your life around “not rocking the boat”
  • Self-sabotage when you get close to a breakthrough
  • Unconsciously waiting for mother’s permission or approval before claiming your own life.
Something wrongA vague, persistent sense that “There’s something wrong with me”

What’s the relationship between the mother wound and the divine feminine?

There’s a lot of talk these days about ’embodying the divine feminine’ and being an ‘awakened woman.’ But the reality is that we cannot be a strong container of the power of the divine feminine if we have not yet addressed the places within us where we have felt banished and in exile from the Feminine.

Let’s face it: Our first enounter with the Goddess was with our mothers. Until we have the courage to break the taboo and face the pain we have experienced in relation to our mothers, the divine feminine is another form of a fairy tale, a fantasy of rescue by a mother who is not coming. This keeps us in spiritual immaturity. We have to separate the human mother from the archetype in order to be true carriers of this energy. We have to de-construct the faulty structures within us before we can truly build new structures to hold it. Until we do this we remain stuck in a kind of limbo where our empowerment is short-lived and the only explanation for our predicament that seems to make sense is to blame ourselves.

If we avoid acknowledging the full impact of our mother’s pain on our lives, we still remain to some degree, children.

Coming into full empowerment requires looking at our relationship with our mothers and having the courage to separate out our own individual beliefs, values, thoughts from hers. It requires feeling the grief of having to witness the pain our mothers endured and processing our own legitimate pain that we endured as a result. This is so challenging but it is the beginning of real freedom.

Once we feel the pain it can be transformed and it will cease creating obstacles in our lives.

Witnessing the painWitnessing the pain our mothers endured

So what happens when women heal the mother wound?

As we heal the mother wound, the power dynamic is increasingly resolved because women are no longer asking one another to stay small to ease their own pain. The pain of living in patriarchy ceases to be taboo. We don’t have to pretend and hide behind false masks that hide our pain under a facade of effortlessly holding it together. The pain can then be seen as legitimate, embraced, processed and integrated and ultimately transformed into wisdom and power.

Once women increasingly process the pain of the mother wound, we can create safe places for women to express the truth of their pain and receive much needed support. Mothers and daughters can communicate with one another without fear that the truth of their feelings will break their relationship. The pain no longer needs to go underground and into shadow, where it manifests as manipulation, competition and self-hatred. Our pain can be grieved fully so that it can then turn into love, a love that manifests as fierce support of one another and deep self-acceptance, freeing us to be boldly authentic, creative and truly fulfilled.

Turning pain into loveFreed to be boldly authentic, creative and truly fulfilled

When we heal the mother wound, we begin to grasp the stunning degree of impact a mother’s well-being has on the life of her child, especially in early childhood when the child and mother are still a single unit. Our mothers form the very basis of who we become: our beliefs start out as her beliefs, our habits start out as her habits. Some of this is so unconscious and fundamental, it is barely perceptible.

The mother wound is ultimately not about your mother. It’s about embracing yourself and your gifts without shame.

We address the mother wound because it is a critical part of self-actualization and saying YES to being the powerful and potent women that we are being called to become. Healing the mother wound is ultimately about acknowledging and honoring the foundation our mothers provided for our lives so that we can then fully focus on creating the unique lives that we authentically desire and know we are capable of creating.

Healing the mother woundHealing the mother wound

Benefits of healing the mother wound:

  • Being more fluent and skilled in handling your emotions. Seeing them as a source of wisdom and information.
  • Having healthy boundaries that support the actualization of your highest and best self
  • Developing a solid “inner mother” that provides unconditional love, support and comfort to your younger parts.
  • Knowing yourself as competent. Feeling that anything is possible, open to miracles and all good things
  • Being in constant contact with your inner goodness and your ability to bring it into everything you do
  • Deep compassion for yourself and other people
  • Not taking yourself too seriously. No longer needing external validation to feel OK. Not needing to prove yourself to others.
  • Trusting life to bring you what you need
  • Feeling safe in your own skin and a freedom to be yourself.
  • So much more…

As we engage in this healing process, we slowly remove the thick fog of projection that keeps us stuck and can more clearly see, appreciate and love ourselves. We no longer carry the burden of our mother’s pain and keep ourselves small as a result.

We can confidently emerge into our own lives, with the energy and vitality to create what we desire without shame or guilt, but with passion, power, joy, confidence, and love.

ConfidenceConfidently emerge into your own life

For every human being, the very first wound of the heart was at the site of the mother, the feminine. And through the process of healing that wound, our hearts graduate from a compromised state of defensiveness and fear to a whole new level of love and power, which connects us to the divine heart of Life itself. We are from then on connected to the archetypal, collective heart that lives in all beings, and are carriers and transmitters of true compassion and love that the world needs right now. In this way, the mother wound is actually an opportunity and an initiation into the divine feminine. This is why it’s so crucial for women to heal the mother wound: Your personal healing and re-connection to the heart of life, by way of the feminine, affects the whole and supports our collective evolution.

Bethany Webster is a writer, transformational coach, international speaker and what you could call a midwife of the heart. Her work is focused on helping women heal the mother wound so that they can fully claim their brilliance, own their power and live as their authentic selves. Visit womboflight.com to explore her work further or read the original Mother Wound article here.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin



0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
4 years ago

This was a great article. Interesting how I have been coming to this understanding and then there it appears so well articulated. It is very validating and reinforcing for me to be mindful to break this cycle. We are so lucky to have access to this wisdom so freely. I posted share knowing that some may read a snippet and be triggered before considering the entire article but I thought it may help someone. When the student is ready, the teacher will come. Lao zu

4 years ago

This is A FABULOUS, SPOT-ON ARTICLE !!!! THANK YOU !!!!!!! Exactly the battle I’ve been fighting for over 6 years now, breaking free from narcissistic abuse with none of my parents willing to grow up emotionally by taking responsibility & processing their emotions, so my question is this:

How does one break free & heal themselves from the mother wound, when the mother refuses to do this work & holds the daughter captive in all her undigested pain, so to speak ?

Investigations Toronto
4 years ago

Easy to check out, easy to read…heck I had
formed to leave a commment!

Lea Taylor
5 years ago

Thank you! I read this article with increasing awareness – it ticked so many of my personal boxes. I only wish I had come across this years ago; it would have validated my suspicions and enabled me to understand myself and my mother better – and perhaps, even helped my Mother. There is so much in this article

6 years ago

great article. i like this analytical approach that is intellectual and full hearted in the same time. but i have one note to the topic. i’d say that after this powerful insight into emotional dynamics it would be a pity if we just blamed patriarchal society and especially all men for causing this unjust horror to women. i say nothing happens without good reason, let alone such perpetuated damage. i think that when the patriarchal society formed – thousands of years ago – this ‘condemnation’ of women served valuable service to survival. and i think that men and women were quite equal in suffering, genders just had different roles and faith. men were dying in wars and women sustained society at homes. men were trained to be heroes because it was desperately needed in war. women had to be broken in their spirit so that they could go on with work at home. off course everything is different for long time now and there is no excuse to do this violence to each other any more.

6 years ago

I liked this discussion. I had a mother who made us powerful but lost her power while we where teenagers. I have worked hard to understand my mother as a woman and it changed the way I feel about her she tried to be a super hero and she was and has bounced back. I’m 33 and still am learning about my mother and all she over came just to work and raise kids. Wow mom your awesome.

Tedy Bear
6 years ago

I find all this true and the same thoughts I’ve had over the years myself. I made a conscious choice to tell my daughter that I want her to have a better life than I did, I want her to go farther and realize the opportunities she has been given and fully utilize and develop her abilities. I always give her permission to be as big as she can be BECAUSE I want my sacrifice to count for something and i want that something to be GRAND!! : ) IT IS A GOOD THING TO HAVE OUR DAUGHTERS GO BEYOND US! That is as it should be, it is called evolution. Otherwise we will devolve and the patriarchy will continue to divide and conquer the feminine.

7 years ago

This article is life changing. I came across it at the exact right time. Spot on. Helps me with my journey.

Ralph Maliphant
7 years ago

Having read through the article, I was surprised to discover antagonism to it by some readers. I don’t think the mother is being blamed, but rather the nature of a young child naturally moulding herself into that which appears to be desired. There is something similar in boys but nothing like as powerful. Understanding the process can help reduce conflict, enabling the adult daughter work more effectively with the consequence here and now. I view the article as a very valuable (and affecting) contribution, for men as well as women to read.

Su Patterson
7 years ago

An interesting read thanks,but the trinity needs linking instead their always a divide and rule and you get godmothers AUNTIES GRAN MAS.and rubbish dad and visa the verse so the power to be calm and be successful in ones life with out ,,struggles is community family and women don’t live on planet with out men so they need to heal the wounds with the dominating father who took them away from the mothers,humanity needs to heal the jealous and Envy and divide an rule good read for mums day thou thanks,

George Griffin
7 years ago

I’m a man. I have seen a lot of pain in my life growing up in a tough coal mining town in the fifties and sixties. There is a lot of fodder for contemplation offered here.
I would like to offer this. Behind every pair of eyes there is an unknown universe.
Progress is being made. Everyone has to beat their own path. Blessed be as you have blessed.
How many of the advertising executives meeting in glass towers this morning are men? It would be interesting to know the ratio. The direction of our culture will be determined by them as well all pour our resources into the illusory fix.
When I see a mother and daughter pressing at each other in any manner I picture this. Deep down in an ocean two angel fish are nibbling on each others fins while above a shark is circling.
I’m a man who does not see the value of nibbling on fins of angels.

Donna Shumaker
7 years ago

This article was such a major breakthrough for me. I have been working on personal issues & trying to clear myself for some time. I knew there was something else there that I could not quite put my finger on. Then POW! there it was. As a grandmother, I can now see this so clearly in both directions thanks to this article. I have a lot of sifting & sorting to do, but now I can.

Michelle Rene
7 years ago

Wow!… blaming mothers now for causing wounds to daughters because we’ve internalised the messages from American-originated marketing techniques and America’s Hollywood culture. Any product you can think of is sold by suggesting inadequacies allegedly in women that could be cured by buying any product you can think of. A total betrayal to blame mothers for perpetuating the wound from one generation to the next. This is a dangerous article which points fingers at a lot of women out there who are still oppressed by patriarchy in the West, definitely not through any fault of their own and because feminists can’t even agree about issues surrounding what it is to be a woman today. Women are now facing another wave of feudal patriarchal oppression coming in from the East in a horrific form. We all know how long and hard western women fought for the few freedoms they have at the present moment and continue to struggle for. This is a shallow, irresponsible, pseudo-scientific, pseudo-psychological blurb or advertisement for the writer’s day job, which will only undermine and cause more self-doubt in the minds of women whose relationships with their daughters are tenuous at best. No clear advice is given on how to heal the wound alongside a host of symptoms mothers may be exhibiting and this is the worst aspect of this article.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x

Subscribe to UPLIFT's free Newsletter

Get our regular newsletter sharing the latest updates, articles, films and events.

How will my data be used?