Updated: Sep 5
It's a powerful new phrase for an all-too-universal experience - the early-life trauma of being under-mothered: the mother wound.
It's the inherited grief that women carry from generation to generation.
It's the unspoken pain and silenced shame that our mothers carried, and their mothers, and their mothers before that.
Women with a Mother / Women's Wound may:
- feel shame and secrecy around their femininity and/or sexuality
- struggle to set boundaries, say no, or engage in self-care
- often end up in abusive relationships
- have a difficult time defining themselves to stand in their strength
- deny the existence of their inner child or struggle to care for her
- tolerate high levels of poor treatment from others
- be chronic people-pleasers
- be needy, insecure and codependent, or hyper-independent and isolated
- struggle with connecting to their own role as a mother
- battle obesity and weight-related issues
- struggle with finances, security, and stability in work, housing, and life
When life slowly shifted from living of the land to (men) owning it, women began to lose power. We went from strong, matriarchal, sexual, open, liberated, confident leaders of society to becoming a man's property (even so far as trading our own father's last name for our spouse's... official transfer of property). We were slowly pushed into the shadows, into the kitchen, into child-rearing and monogamy. We were shamed for our sexuality and punished for any final cries of liberty we attempted to make. We were called witches and written out of story books and burned at the stake for knowing too much about medicine and magic.
The mother wound is a major misnomer.
Our mother isn't to blame. Neither is her mother, or her mother before that.
This isn't even about a wound that we carry because of our mother... it is, in fact, our Mother's wound. Our mother's pain.
It is the woman's wound and we've been carrying it, collectively, for thousands of years. The truth is, no child can save her mother. No sacrifice a daughter makes will ever be enough to sufficiently compensate for the high price her mother had to pay, or for the losses she suffered over the years - simply for being a woman and a mother in this culture, in this world.
And yet, this is what many women do for their mothers early on in their childhood. We subconsciously take on our mother's pain. We innocently watch the world unfold around us in our early years and we learn about what it means to be a woman in this life. We learn, subconsciously, through subtle-yet-powerful, almost-translucent limbic imprints, how men behave toward women, how women operate in the home, who earns the money, who spends it, who raises their voice, which insults are hurled.
The decision we make to take on our mother's pain is subconscious and made from the kind of pure love only a small child can have for the woman who brought it into this world - that blind, unabashed, perhaps even misplaced, desperate love - even if our mother isn't able to love us back in the ways we need. And most of our mothers were unable to love us back the way we needed.
It's a sensitive subject... the mother wound. Nobody wishes to "throw their mother under the bus" or blame our parents for our maladapted outcomes. But it's in the social silencing and shaming that we're losing sight of a matter if not shifted into the light will remain a shadow forever: the social and economic conditions in which women are being expected to mother in this life are grotesque and inhumane. And the only way they perpetuate is because we're too afraid to hurt our mother's feelings by discussing them. The truth is - children subconsciously learn that how we treat them is how they deserve to be treated. They need emotional regulation and psychological attunement as desperately as (if not more than) food, water, and shelter. When you bring a child into the world, you're not just tasked with supporting its sustenance of life but also with role-modeling strong mental and emotional hygiene: self-regulation, self-reflection, shining light on shadows. Unfortunately, historically, generations have come into worlds of extreme abuse, poverty, and oppression - making the fight for survival infinitely more pressing than the fight for emotional intelligence. What we're left with as a result is a global generation of middle-aged adults currently processing a post-pandemic landscape in which all of our childhood traumas were collectively shaken up and brought to the surface, and we're all just hyper-connected by the internet enough to realize that how we're feeling, how we're struggling, the pain we're carrying, isn't normal - and that it doesn't have to be this way. These are some of the childhood traumas that everyone's too afraid to admit as being childhood traumas: 1. Being loved conditionally for your behaviour (if good then love/praise/connection were plentiful, if bad then love/praise/connection were withheld)
2. Having a parent dismiss your feelings and/or your reality without scaffolded learning (i.e. "Stop crying! There are no monsters!" vs. "I understand the movie made you think that monsters really do live under your bed, but what you saw on the TV screen is just like the pages of your story book.... it's a story that someone wrote to help you imagine something exciting and make-believe, but it doesn't exist in the real world here when we close the book or turn off the TV!")
3. Not being shown how to express needs, set boundaries, express humility/apology
4. Being silenced or disallowed to express certain sets of emotions 5. Being overly-criticized for appearance, performance, developmental shortcomings (i.e. wetting the bed, a poor grade in school, too fat/too thin, acne) Children are a beautifully innocent and curious creature that cannot disconnect from, or protect themselves sufficiently, against abusive behaviour. Like a dog that will go back to its abusive owner for warmth and love after being abused, a child will continuously return to its parents for warmth and solace - even if its parents aren't capable of providing it. It's like that quote, "A child abused by her parents doesn't stop loving her parents - she stops loving herself."
As a means of adapting, some children will take on an insecure-avoidant attachment style and escape into hyper-independence - while other children will assume an insecure-anxious attachment style of seeking out hyper-connection with anyone within reach to feel safe. These attachment styles will continue to play out in our lives, across all of our relationships, until we stare directly into our shadows and do the work to dispel our demons. Our maladaptive attachment styles came from our parents, whose maladaptive attachment styles came from their parents, and from their parents.. and from poverty, and from war, and from abuse, and trauma, and neglect, and suffering. Our parents played a central role in the development of our own attachment style, and are no more to blame than our grandparents, great-grandparents, or our ancestors before that.
The mother wound, the women's wound, is a bigger, more systemic, collective pain that each of us carry - and each of us is being called to heal. We don't inherit a mother wound for the purpose of suffering. The Universe's design is too intelligent for that. The Mother Wound, the collective Women's Wound is lessened by being passed on to each subsequent generation - in hopes that in each subsequent lifetime we will slowly, systematically rise and heal it; in ourselves, and in each other.
We make the decision to take on our mother's wound. It's made subconsciously and out of love, out of loyalty and from a need for approval and our mother's emotional support. It's also a beautifully, powerfully-designed mechanism by which the wound slowly lessens and heals over time. We are like wooden Nesting Dolls of the trauma; there's the pain I've experienced in this life, and then you open me up and inside of my I carry my mother and her pain... break her open and there you'll find, neatly tucked inside is her mother's pain, and...
The pain we go through in this life is our individual soul's karmic contract. We chose to come into this world, in this life, to experience all the beauty and pleasure - but also to suffer and evolve. Our mothers are not responsible for our suffering... we alone are responsible for how we choose to respond to it. Out deeply rooted emotional trauma is neither good nor bad.. it just is. More importantly....
It deserves to be seen.
It deserves to be heard.
It deserves to be honoured and explored...
... softly, gently, but with courageous warrior spirit.
Unfortunately, our mothers were mothers when poverty, grief, war, and famine, patriarchal abuse and religious stigma were at an all-time high.
Access to emotional and mental support was non-existent. Emotional and mental 'weakness' was a vulnerability - so everyone jointly decided to silence it. "No, not me. No emotions here." - the truth being, of course, that the corrosive impact of painful emotions is tenfold when they are shoved into the shadows. Each of us is being called to stand in our truth that bigger than our mother wound, and our mother's mother wound, and our grandmother's mother wound is the larger-scale descent of the Feminine over time - and each of us are being called to awaken and RECLAIM!
But it's sensitive. Very sensitive. No matter how calm and civil and patient and calculated we intend to be when broaching sensitive topics with our mothers, no matter how well we prepare or how stable we feel when we begin to talk, it seems like the moment we open our mouths we spontaneously descent into that desperate, angry, broken-hearted childlike state when we weren't seen, or heard, or understood when we were small. Our inner child re-emerges, ready to be witnessed, ready to be put to rest - but nobody is ready to re-parent that little girl. Not us, not our mother. It's highly likely she hasn't re-parented hers yet either.
And in these hurricane-force emotional moments, when we're facing desperate, angry, broken-hearted hysterics - the ones that seemingly coming from deep-down places buried so far within us that we can't register their existence until they explode onto others around us - that's when we meet our shadows. The shadow side of the human psyche. The darkness within ourselves that we can't see until we've cast it upon someone else. The truth is, our mothers never really lived in this world. Our grandmothers didn't either. Most of them didn't do much more than endure. They were powerful women made up of innate goodness and brilliance and warmth and humanity, living gently and never intending to cause anyone harm. They were raised to be devoted to doing the right thing, and were groomed to be soft, sweet, pleasant, and of-service. That's how men preferred their women in those times: soft, sweet, and of-service. Of course.
Women used to be considered mystical, powerful, life-giving forces.
She was Sorceress. Enchantress. Priestess and Huntress.
Without apology, she was Temptress. Protectress. Prophetess.
She was sexual, magical, a maven and a sage.
Wariorress. Mother. Unconditional safe space.
But now women have largely become empty shells of the once-fierce, powerful warriors all of us used to be. Meek and timid, asking if she can pour another cup of tea. If only ever cup of tea she ever poured amassed to the peace and pleasure and strength and freedom that's her birthright in this life. If only she was ever taught to fill her own cup as well.
But her wellbeing in the world was based upon how many men she pleased, and served, and cleaned up after along the way. Until the children came - and then it wasn't just the men to please but the relentless demands of narcissistic asshole children who hadn't yet grown to know better.
You wonder today why her skin is tough and her heart is worn...? It's because she lived a life un-lived. She traded herself for what we have today. And we're being called upon to RECLAIM - for ourselves, for her, and for all the women yet to come.
We internalize so much from our own mothers that we will never fully integrate or learn to contend with. So much that she never learned to contend with. That we collectively don't usually even learn to fully recognize until it has full grip on us and control over our life, our love, our connections, our growth. We are being called to break free. We are being called to heal. Otherwise it will continue to consume. And we deserve better.
We deserve to heal.
When we heal ourselves, we heal our mothers and grandmothers and our daughters and granddaughters.
Many women were not mothered out of conscious love and choice. Many were mothered from obligation and necessity.... the sexual intercourse demanded upon them they weren't allowed to say no to. The fourth, the fifth, the tenth child. When their mother sensed life in their womb there was powerful connection and universal love - but was there enough food on the table or time to go around. Had she healed from the wounds of her own abused childhood or violent birth. Was she, herself, seen and heard and loved by the man at her side? Emotionally stable? well-rested? able to draw boundaries and safe to say what she truly feels?
Was your mother sufficiently seen, held, and heard while she was exhausted and attempting to see, hear, and hold us?
Just because you many not feel loved in the ways you need to feel it, doesn't mean she didn't love you with everything she had. But the truth is we were fed, clothed, bathed and housed at the very cost of her life - yet most of us emerged emotional skeletons, starved for warmth, nurturance, and the unconditional affection that simply didn't exist. Money and clothes and baths and homes aren't all it takes to feel safe. A mother wound isn't carried because we don't appreciate that we were given... we carry a mother wound because she was never allowed to acknolwedge her pain, her grief, her silence, and her shame. We don't blame her. But we are hurting. Just like she hurt. And that's okay. We need to be seen, and heard, and held now. Just like she did. Just like she does.
Pain travels through our families until someone is ready to heal it, and
by making the impossible choice to succumb to the agony of the shadows of the healing process, we choose not to pass the poisoned chalice onto anyone else.
This is difficult, honourable, sacred, powerful work. We do it for our daughters.
We do it for our mothers.
We do it for ourselves.