“The natural state of motherhood is unselfishness.” – Jessica Lange
Sadly, not all mothers are able or willing to maintain such a natural state. If you lacked a mother figure, or if your mother was negligent or abusive, you may be suffering from a mother wound — relationship difficulties and low self-esteem rooted in subconscious belief that you’ll never be loved unconditionally. More women than men carry “mother wounds,” which negatively affect their own mothering abilities.
Causes of the Mother Wound
It’s not always the abusive or self-centered mother whose children grow up with “mother wound” pain: it can happen with perfectly “normal” mothers who don’t understand a child’s special needs, or whose natural temperaments conflict with their children’s. However, pain that inflicts a lasting “wound” typically has more serious causes:
- Unrealistic expectations plant the idea that love is fickle and must be “earned” by intense striving.
- Stereotypes and pressure to “be a lady” tell girls to bottle up their assertiveness. When these girls become mothers, they transmit this attitude—and the inner tension that goes with it—to their daughters.
- Lack of self-confidence on Mom’s part means she’s dominated by fear of getting something “wrong.” This makes her parenting either too strict or too lenient, neither of which helps a child feel secure.
- Maternal absenteeism—whether due to death, illness, workaholism, or emotional disconnect—leaves deep pain and insecurity.
- Substance addiction or mental illness becomes the center of a mother’s life, leaving her incapable of making time for or connecting with her children.
Symptoms of a Mother Wound
Whether or not any of the above remind you of your childhood, you may have a mother-wound problem if:
- Thinking about your mother stirs anger, despair, or guilt
- You were pressured to “mother” your mother or otherwise take on responsibilities prematurely
- You feel you don’t deserve to be loved unless you can be “perfect”
- You’ve always struggled to connect emotionally with others
- You can’t deal with your own emotions
- You use alcohol, drugs, or other unhealthy means of stress relief because your mother did—and you’re showing symptoms of addiction that were (or are) also present in her.
Healing the Mother Wound
Deep-running emotional problems require professional help, so if you have mother-wound issues, make an appointment with a therapist or psychiatrist. Here’s what else you should know about healing:
Don’t blame yourself—or your mother. Whatever she (or you) did wrong, understand that your mother’s problems weren’t your fault, and there was little you could have done to make things better. Understand also that dwelling on her mistakes won’t do any good now. Talk to your therapist about working through your feelings, especially if a reconciled relationship with your mother is still an option.
Learn healthy ways to express your emotions and self-soothe. People with mother wounds tend to feel like victims, see emotions as the enemy, and use unhealthy coping techniques. Mindfulness, deep breathing, fitness exercises, and developing your natural strengths can help you take back control: your therapist will help you decide what works best for you.
If you’re a mother yourself, bring your children to therapy. If they’re already grown up, work out a plan with your counselor to make amends for any wounds you left on them. If you’re pregnant or might soon conceive a child, pay special attention to your mental health—chances are you’re more susceptible to “baby blues” and worse than is the average woman.
Special Note: Parental Substance Abuse
A mother’s substance use disorder poses special health risks for children not only in utero, but in every future stage of life. Drug addiction hurts a mother’s ability to care for her children’s physical needs; it gives the children a bad example to imitate; and it often indicates the presence of genes that make the children susceptible to becoming addicted themselves. And it makes the mother incapable of proper nurturing and emotional bonding, leaving the children vulnerable to mother wound and other lasting psychological issues.
If you have dependent children, it’s vital to get prompt treatment for any addiction disorder, and also to get therapy for the whole family and practical help caring for the kids. Do it for the sake of your children’s and their children’s future.
HELP FOR MOTHER WOUNDS AT BRC RECOVERY
BRC Recovery treats not only chemical addiction but the co-occurring disorders behind addiction: we know that effective detox includes therapy and counseling to ensure a full recovery. If your addiction disorder is complicated by a mother wound—or if you have addiction disorder and suspect you’re inflicting mother wounds on your own children—contact us online or by calling 866-291-2676. Ask, too, about options for getting your mother and/or children into our family counseling program: treatment is most effective when the whole family heals together.