The greatest pain of all – the mother wound, the emotional absence of your mother in your early years. The first part of this 2-part series looked at what the mother wound means and how it can impact your well-being as an adult. The mother wound can be defined as your mother not being emotionally attuned and available to you as a child. She may have been present physically but emotionally absent. There could be a multitude of reasons for it. Often the mother wound is a repetition of your mother’s own mother wound and lack of adequate, good enough mothering and having experienced emotional absence.
The mother wound could have contributed you to having toxic relationships and the way you are in adult relationships, experience anxiety and/or depression and using food, alcohol other things for soothing your emotions. Another post on mother wound looked at specifically how the mother wound can impact men.
The aim of this post is to offer you some actionable steps towards healing from the mother wound. This is not an exclusive list and your mother wound may be very different from another person’s, however, there are some commonalities in experiences. Some mothers may be self-absorbed to the point of being narcissistic, very critical or just focused on external factors (education, your appearance etc) whilst other’s are well-meaning but only able to show love in practical terms and lacking the ability to emotionally engage with their child.
For healing it is important you start to separate yourself from your mother, she is a part of you and your make up (genes), but she is not you (McBride, 2013). You may have struggled to form a clear sense of who you are because your mother was unable to offer you mirroring that helps children to develop a sense of themselves.
It is important to start the healing process from the very basics of understanding the relationship you had with your mother and then moving on towards building a clearer sense of who you are as an individual. It is not necessarily a linear process and often facing the pain of mother wound is very difficult, but at the same time, it can help you to free you from the pain you are likely to carry. I hope these steps can help you on your journey of recovery from the mother wound.
It is possible to heal from the pain of having an emotionally absent and/or self-absorbed mother
1.Acknowledge that the emotional absence was not your fault
- Your mother was not emotionally available because you did something as a child. It was not because you were not good enough or unlovable. If your mother was emotionally absent and/or critical of you, you are/were not responsible for her behaviour. She was the responsible adult.
- You deserved love and being cared for as a child and also now as an adult.
2. See your mother as she is, not as the person you would like her to be (McBride, 2013)
- It is very painful to come to accept and let go of the hope that one day your mother may change and be the loving and cuddly mother you always hoped for. This wish may keep you in a very anxious and depressed place, as your wish is never fulfilled and you continue to hope for a change but continue to experience emotional absence by your mother.
- When you learn to accept that your mother is only able to give you as much as she can, your healing can start and you can have a relationship with her on that level (if you wish to have a relationship with her)
- You have to decide what kind of relationship you would like to (if any) have with her – Reflect on the emotional impact of both having a relationship with her and not having her in your life.
3. Allow yourself to grieve the absence of an emotionally engaged mother (McBride, 2013)
- Let yourself feel the pain of feeling unloved as a child
- Express the pain by talking, painting, writing or in any way that comes naturally to you
- It is ok to have mixed feelings about your mother for wanting her attention and love (this is our survival instinct as children) whilst feeling angry towards her and hurt for her not being able to prioritise your (emotional) needs as a child. Acknowledge all your feelings.
4. Get to know yourself – You may struggle to understand what you want or need, and often seek guidance from other people to the extent that it is very confusing for you.
5. Pay attention to your emotional experiences: You may struggle to understand your feelings and they are vital for you to understand who you are and what you want/need.
- Stop and listen to your body – what is the emotion you experience and how does it feel in your body?
- Learn to name your feelings but slowing down and taking time to reflect on them
6. Develop self-soothing skills – When our caregivers didn’t provide us with soothing as children and we experienced emotional absence, we can learn these skills as an adult. We have an innate ability within our body to regulate ourselves. For example, spending time in nature and fully immersing yourself in your experience can teach you about self-soothing and regulation. Use all your senses to take in soothing experiences offered by nature.
- Take a Mindful walk in the nature focusing on your sensory experiences
- Practice deep breathing focusing on your exhale, aiming to extend it for as long as you can, e.g. counting up to 9 or even 11 when exhaling.
- Mindfulness and guided visualisation / meditation
- Surround yourself with pictures, objects, and scents that help you to relax
- Listen to music that makes you slow down and relaxes you
- Watch funny things that make you laugh
7. Be kind to yourself – You may be very critical of yourself and blame yourself for things that either go wrong or even for things that are not to do with you.
- Self-compassion has 3 parts (Neff, 2017)
- Be your own best friend – what would you say to a dear friend in a given situation?
- Acknowledge that suffering is universal – You are not alone with your pain.
- Be Mindful of your feelings – acknowledge them but do not over-identify and get stuck with them.
- When you criticise yourself, listen whose voice you hear – if you e.g. recognise that it is your mother’s critical voice, notice where that it is located in your body, place your hand on it and imagine yourself ripping that criticism away from you, it doesn’t belong to you. You can hand it back to her. Reflect on how that feels to hand it back to the original source.
8. Review your boundaries – You may feel you have to be there for others at all times and you may struggle to set boundaries with people. This can leave you feeling exhausted and angry and/or depressed. If your mother is in your life, it is important for you to start setting boundaries with her. I understand that this may feel very difficult to start with. It is about empowering you to the ownership of your life and the direction, you want it to take from now on. If your mother has been controlling, this is your time to find freedom.
- Learn to say “no” when you have previously said “yes” and then regretted it
- Ask yourself as Brene Brown says: “What’s ok with me and what’s now ok with me?”
- Remember: You are allowed to set boundaries and express your needs – You are as important as everyone else. We are all equal.
9. Spend time with people who help you to relax and appreciate you as beautiful and unique person as you are
- Review your friendships and only have people around you who are supportive of you and want who you to be the best version of you, and do not hold you back.
- Who is worthy of your friendship? Are some people there just to get their own needs met?
10. Seek support
- Therapy with a therapist who understands your attachment trauma and mother wound can help you to heal your mother wound as we both get hurt and heal in a relationship.
Healing the mother wound and recovering from the emotional absence is a process and takes time depending on your mother wound and experiences. It is a journey of becoming the person you are meant and want to be and the healing the wound can set you free from self-criticism, self-doubt, reduce anxiety and depression, improve your relationships and benefit you in many other ways. I hope you have found this post series useful.
If you are looking for a therapist to support you in your journey of recovery from the mother wound, please take a look at my services page.
McBride, K. Will I ever be good enough? Healing the daughters of narcissistic mothers.
Frederick, R.J. (2009) Living like you mean it. Use the wisdom and power of your emotions to get the life you really want.
Neff, (2017) www.self-compassion.org
Other recommended further reading:
Lee Cory, J. (2010) The Emotionally Absent Mother: A Guide to Self Healing and Getting the Love You Missed