As Mother’s Day is approaching, this is to acknowledge that it is not always a day of joy for all. There are many who experience sadness on the Mother’s Day when the mother has not been a source of loving nurturing.
Previously I wrote a 3-part series on the Mother Wound and healing from it. This was largely based on the book Will I ever be good enough by Dr Karyl McBride. The book has been written mostly from the female perspective. I have also written about what to do when Mother wound gets triggered.
I am writing this both as a clinician working with men who have reported having experienced a Mother Wound, and as a mother of two boys. I see boys needing as much maternal nurturing and having the same right to learn about emotions as girls. Societal values often discourage boys to recognise and express their feelings and emotions. Growing up boys often hear statements like “Grow up – don’t be such a baby!” or “Men/ Big boys don’t cry”. This can then have serious consequences on men’s emotional well-being (anxiety & depression) and relationships. Some time ago I also wrote another post “Are men allowed to be vulnerable?”
Mother Wound could be described as having a mother who was not emotionally available when growing up. Perhaps the mother was distant, critical and cold. She could have also been very anxious and preoccupied with her own “stuff”. This could have been for a number of reasons. Often the mother herself was emotionally neglected or even abused herself and then unfortunately unable to be loving and nurturing. Perhaps your family struggled to make the ends meet and the mother was away for work a lot and you were looked after by baby sitters and other childcare providers a lot. Perhaps there wasn’t a consistent relationship with your mother as you were growing up.
Confusion of a little boy and even later on feeling confused, unable to label it or name it but being deeply baffled about the mother’s behaviour. If the mother was emotionally neglecting and not other trauma was experienced as a child, this is even more baffling as one may not be able to pinpoint where this sense of confusion comes from. In the society mothers described as having characteristics such as being warm and caring perhaps like a peer’s mother or a mother in a film but one’s own mother appears distant, even cold or frightening.
The confusion is because biologically we are all supposed to attach and a baby will try to attach to the primary caregiver. When the mother’s actions and emotional absence tell that he is not special in her eyes and over time baby/child learns that he cannot rely on the mother as a source of comfort. Then the only reliable source of soothing is oneself and the little boy learns to cut off that part of himself that longs for the mother’s loving gaze and touch.
Difficulty to access or label emotions
When being nurtured by a good enough mother, a little boy learns to notice and name his internal sensations. He learns that when he falls, his mother will come and comfort him. He learns that when he becomes overwhelmed by his big feelings and he throws himself on the floor as he doesn’t know what else to do, he can trust his mother to be there with him and help him to calm down his nervous system.
If a mother ignores or perhaps shames a little boy in some way when he experiences big feelings, he learns to shut down. He glosses over and hides his sadness for not having a mother who helps him to understand his feelings. Over time he compartmentalises his feelings and becomes cut off from his emotions. His overwhelming feelings of e.g. sadness, disappointment, feeling lost may become masked by anger. In our society, it is a lot more acceptable for men to feel and express their anger than any other more subtle feelings. This anger may then start to come out in seemingly random places, such as in traffic, work or at home, with seemingly trivial triggers causing a big eruption.
Longing for mother’s love
As an adult, you may say to yourself that you are “ok” with your mother not being emotionally available and/or even critical. You may have numbed your feelings, your sadness and longing for having a mother who held you in her arms when you were a little boy and who looked at you with love in her eyes, giving you a smile that means: “I love you. Perhaps you told yourself that you will be “ok in the world” and “able to do anything you like”. Allow yourself to acknowledge the pain and sadness of not having this experience.
Self-esteem difficulties – Who am I?
A nurturing mother helps to develop a sense of “I am loveable” and “good enough”. Attachment gaze gives a message to the baby “I am wonderful in the eyes of the other”. When a mother fails to be present with her baby, this message is received by the baby with a tag “I don’t matter”. This message is then internalised and it impacts self-esteem. A mother’s job is also to help you to know yourself. She is a mirror and her responsive behaviour helps a growing boy to learn about himself. Mother Wound contributes to having an unclear sense of self and you may struggled to know who you are as a person, which can then lead to other difficulties. You may experience being ashamed of who you are without being able to name it or fully understand it.
Turning to external matters to self-soothe
The Mother Wound may have left a grown-up man a hollow feeling inside and he doesn’t know why. You may feel lost. You may have found external matters to help you with self-soothing as you don’t have an image of a soothing (m)other to turn to. You may have sought comfort in alcohol, drugs, gambling, food, meaningless relationships and sex…. However, no matter how hard you to try to fill the void by external matters, you don’t feel better.
A romantic partner may say “why don’t you talk?” or “you are so distant”. We learn about relationships in our early relationships. When you have experienced a Mother Wound and your mother was not nurturing to your emotional needs, you grow up with a view on relationships that you cannot trust someone to be there for you emotionally. It may be difficult for you to trust in a romantic relationship. You may struggle to commit and keep seeking for the next best thing. You may always find fault in your current partner.
You may end up in a long-term relationship but you may end up with a person who is equally distant and over time your relationship dies. You may end up growing apart without even having many arguments. Earlier I also wrote a post on the signs of fear of rejection in relationships.
I hope this has been useful to you. Some time ago I also wrote a post on “Are men allowed to be vulnerable?”. If you are looking for a therapist to help you heal from the Mother Wound, start having getting to know your emotions and improve your relationships, take a look at my services page.