Jake* has a business and he has made it into a success. He has a family with kids and a partner. His life is on the outside very good and people in his environment would not know how the external success and the internal feeling of always being on the outside are in conflict. Jake does not really know himself although he knows that he is very capable and his business thrives. He struggles to know his emotions and he feels shame when he gets angry and frustrated at home when his kids complain about something.
His life partner often complains about him being emotionally absent and not supportive. She feels dissatisfied a lot of the time and Jake worries that one day she will have enough, but he does not know how to change it. He would like to be more supportive and have a better relationship with his partner and kids but as his own upbringing was not a great example of loving connection, he does not know how to do it. Jake’s mother was a well-meaning woman who practically took care of him, but she was not emotionally present. Jake does not have many memories of his mother as a child. His father was often absent working and then after work he could be found in the pub. He often heard his parents arguing after his father came home. There was the odd occasion his mother threatened to leave. Jake felt that he had to keep a low profile at home to prevent any further arguments. He turned to friends and hobbies to get his connection needs met.
Anna* was an ambitious woman who succeeded in school and then went to university and built a career for herself. Although she was succeeding at work and getting positive feedback on her efforts, but deep down she always felt like she was not good enough. In her relationships, she had ended up with men who did not prioritise her and when she wanted the relationship to deepen, they would leave. She was confused and sad, and worried that she would never be able to find a life partner. Anna grew up in the suburbs and her upbringing looked ideal on paper, yet she felt a deep longing in her heart which she could not explain. Why was she so dissatisfied with her life when technically she had it all: the career, great friends and hobbies. She wanted more but did not know how to get rid of that underlying anxiety she felt which often resurfaced when she had to do presentations at work.
Was there something in the above that resonated with you?
Both people mentioned above had experienced the mother wound or formally attachment related difficulties (the early bond). Mother wound, perhaps the greatest pain of all, the longing for the emotional connection with your mother who either was emotionally (and physically) absent and/or abusive. There are other blog posts on the topic, such as healing from the mother wound, how the mother wound impacts men, what to do when your mother wound gets triggered.
The mother wound or childhood emotional neglect (CEN) both often mean that you may not have learnt about emotions: tolerating difficult emotions without having to turn to something external to numb the difficult emotions, for example, food, alcohol, shopping, gambling or even relationships.
You may also be only able to express, for example, anger. For many men, the only tolerated emotion was anger or perhaps joy. Whilst for many women anger may be repressed and turned inwards, because it was not acceptable to express anger when you were growing up.
If your knowledge of emotions is limited to expressing certain emotions and not others, having to keep the lid on and not express yourself fully can cause low mood and anxiety in the long-term.
Reparenting yourself in terms of your emotions is about learning to understand your emotional responses, observing, using growing skills and breathing through difficult emotions is one of the first things that I teach my clients. Once you know how to self-regulate, it becomes a lot easier to tolerate difficult emotional responses. You essentially replicating what a good enough mother would have done.
We learn about boundaries in childhood too. Around 2 years of age “the terrible twos” stage which is not terrible at all but a wonderful age of learning to express boundaries and saying “no”. If you grew up in the household where you were rarely asked for your views, opinions or what felt ok or not for you, you may now as an adult find it difficult to express your boundaries and communicate about what is or isn’t ok with you.
Reparenting yourself around boundaries is about learning to ask yourself: “Is this ok or not with me?”, is one of most important tasks in reparenting yourself. It is about giving yourself a voice that you did not have before. It can feel difficult to start with but start with small things and practice first with people who you know are likely to receive your boundary setting well.
Mother wound often leaves the feeling “I have to do more; I have to be better…” with the unconscious wish that my mother would notice me. Practical parenting (which does not include emotional connection) may have meant that you were told to “just get on with it”. Self-compassion is learnt by being in an early relationship where there is compassion and kindness towards oneself.
If that was not the case, you may have become self-critical and find self-compassion hard. Whilst self-criticism and shame are a part of human condition, and they have a function in preventing us from humiliating ourselves and alienating ourselves from our tribe or the social network, too much self-criticism can be paralysing and counterproductive.
Reparenting yourself with kindness and self-love and self-compassion is simply about treating ourselves like we would treat our very best friend. It is also seeing our suffering as a part of the universal experience, and we are not alone. The third element of self-compassion is about observing our emotions. So, the circle closes. Emotion regulation is one the most important skills for our well-being and relationships.
Creating opportunities for emotion connection
Whilst we get hurt in a relationship, we also heal in a relationship. For many who have experienced the mother wound, relationships with other people can be difficult.
One way of reparenting yourself is to create opportunities for loving relationships. Being with a loving partner is healing, but if you do not have a life partner having great friends can help to create those positive relationship experiences too.
This includes also finding a psychologist or a psychotherapist who is trained in attachment related difficulties. This relationship can offer opportunities for leaning to be in a relationship and then it can feel easier to be closer relationships in your network.
How has reparenting been for you? I hope you found it useful to think about it in relation to healing the mother wound. If you are serious about wanting to address your mother wound and heal the emotional wounds that have perhaps held you back in life, take a look at my services page.
*The examples are not actual clients but a combination of stories I have heard over the years.