When Loyalty to Our Mothers means Loyalty to Our Oppression: How to Break Free

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All children are loyal to their mothers. They need her to survive.The more stressed a mother is, the less she can be emotionally present for her child. To the degree to which your own mother’s well-being was compromised, you may have had to develop coping strategies to adapt to your mother’s stress. These strategies may still be unconsciously operating in us even as adults, causing pain and frustration.

As a coping mechanism, children may develop some form of what I call “the impossible dream,” the belief that if only you sufficiently demonstrate your loyalty to your mother through absorbing her beliefs or pain as your own, then she will one day see you fully and love you the way you wanted her to. This is a child’s perspective yet it has enormous enduring power because of it’s early origins in our development.

At a certain point, we have to realize that these strategies did not cause mother to change. They did not work.

Toshiyuki Enoki

A major shift can happen when we see that it’s safe to let go of loyalty to the patterns that we thought would grant us the mothering we needed:

  • Staying small
  • Feeling self-hatred
  • Being fearful and hypervigilant
  • Believing in scarcity
  • Depriving yourself in some way
  • Playing the victim
  • Solving other people’s problems
  • Suppressing your true feelings and responses

These patterns may have been taught to you to some degree by your mother overtly OR you may have learned them through simply observing her behavior. They were likely passed down to her through her own mother and/or her own cultural conditioning. Because we live in a patriarchal society that tells us women are “less than” we all have these beliefs to some degree. (They can be even more damaging if our mother was unhealthy or mentally unstable.)

They may be very hard to let go of because on some level, letting go of them feels like letting go of “mother” –and for our unconscious and inner child this can feel like death. For example, if your mother was very fearful, you may have unconsciously taken on her fearful beliefs as a way to feel close to her. Letting go of a fearful approach to life may feel scary as though you are letting go of your actual mother herself. Another example is letting go of self-blame. If you were taught to blame yourself and were rewarded for that, letting go of self-blame may feel like you are betraying your mother because it is what she taught you to do and when she rewarded you with her love when you did so.

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Because these patterns were associated with being mothered, the patterns themselves begin to unconsciously represent a mothering presence.

These patterns may have afforded us temporary approval, validation or acceptance in moments. But now as adult women, they only serve to keep us down.

Because they were formed so early in our development, these beliefs and patterns tend to be quite unconscious and can endure for years before we see their origin. The most important thing is to see how these strategies or patterns of behavior did NOT bring us what we most wanted— our mother to show up for us in the ways we needed her to. As we mourn that loss, we can free ourselves to live and act in new ways.

Lea Bradovich

There are 3 parts to letting go of these persistent patterns:

1) Genuinely thank the patterns for the ways they have served you.  

Examples:

  • Being a striver to get mother’s love may have helped you to achieve a lot in the world.
  • Being an emotional caretaker may have helped you to be skilled at tuning into people’s feelings.
  • Being controlling or rigid may have helped you to get a lot done.

2)  See that what you’re unconsciously trying to achieve through the pattern is impossible. 

Perhaps the most powerful part of this process is seeing how no matter how loyal you were to those patterns, they could never bring you the mother you truly wanted and needed. The reason why is because whatever was going on in your family when you were a child was never truly about you. (But that is the only way that children can interpret forms of abandonment or abuse; that it’s about THEMSELVES.) When in reality, it’s really about whatever happened to be going on with the parents which the child had absolutely no control over. The truth is that no matter how good you were as a little girl (no matter how smart, pretty, talented, well-behaved you were, etc.) it never would have changed the family situation in the ways you needed it to change to get what you needed.

That’s because the only people who had power in the situation were the adults whose decisions and choices impacted you as child. Whatever was going on in your family environment as a child was not your fault and you had no power to change it.

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Accepting how powerless you were as a child is a major step to freedom. Your parents’ inability to give you what you needed had nothing to do with you. Fully letting this in requires grieving and getting support. The real letting go is in the grieving, which makes space for new ways of being in the world that truly nurture and fulfill you.

3) Identify new, positive beliefs or patterns to replace the old, negative ones. Then commit to taking action on those new beliefs. 

Examples:

  • It’s safe to step through fear and believe in myself (Action step: Soothing yourself through fears as you take a new risk and start a project that requires you to be visible to others.)
  • I give myself permission to honor my needs and speak my truth (Action step: Speaking out on your own behalf in a situation in which your boundaries are not being respected.)
  • I honor my truth even when those around me disagree (Action step: Doing something that you know is true for you even when others reject you for it.)

'Chasca”, 2013. Tom Bagshaw

The action step gives you a new experience which gives your subconscious a powerful message that is IS safe to act counter to what you learned as a child. In other words, not acting in accordance with the patterns will not cause rejection, humiliation or abandonment the way they could in childhood. In a way, it’s as though you’re bringing your inner child into the present moment, where she CAN experience being supported for who she is, because YOU as your adult self are there for her in the ways your mother could not be. This creates deeper integration within yourself and more detachment and distance from damaging patterns that were unconsciously adopted in childhood. The key here is consistency. Consistent, small steps lead to bigger transformations over time. 

Eostre by AngiandSilas

It’s important to see how the strategies did not work. 

Examples:

  • Being really quiet did not cause people to approve of me
  • Solving the family problems did not create lasting peace or protect me from rejection
  • Being mother’s pet and always agreeing with her did not lead her to see me for who I was as a separate person
  • Absorbing mother’s fearful beliefs did not cause me to feel safe
  • Staying small and silent did not lead to mother’s approval and validation of me
  • Focusing on mother and her problems did not cause her to listen or support me

When we see how these strategies did not work, we can then let go of the unconscious hold they have on us. Usually there is some mourning to do. Letting go of these patterns is on some level letting go of the illusion of the mother we thought they could bring us.

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When we can really see that ‘the good mother is not coming’ we can give ourselves permission to choose new ways of being and acting in the world that actually bring us fulfillment and joy. Our lives begin to automatically shift around this realization.

Rejection of these negative patterns is NOT a personal rejection of your mother

Moving beyond these early patterns is about YOU choosing to heal and create new, healthier ways of living and being in the world. Your mother will view the shift in you as a personal betrayal to the degree that she is closely identified with these patterns in herself. Her response to your divergence from these patterns is a statement of where she is at within herself; it’s not about you. You may see how futile and unhealthy these patterns are in your own life but your mother may not; she may still see them as valid ways of acting in the world.  Her opinions do not have to dictate your reality. Let her have her own experience without rushing in to explain or emotionally care-take her; this is a form of respect for her and for yourself.

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For generations, wounded mothers have been unconsciously asking their daughters to compensate them for what patriarchal society and their families would not give them: a sense of purpose, control and personal validation. Daughters cannot provide this. It cannot be given, it can only be found within the mother herself; by committing to her own healing and transformation. Breaking this toxic cycle is done by refusing to comply with the unspoken message from a wounded mother: “Do not abandon me by becoming fully yourself.”

Woman, you have a right to your own life. Letting your mother have her own experience and healing process is not cruel (as patriarchy would tell us); it is healthy and necessary. Your full empowerment is impossible in an environment of dysfunctional enmeshment with your mother.  Refusing to carry your mother’s pain as your own is how the cycle of mother/daughter pain transforms.  A healthy emotional separation is what is needed to bring about a new paradigm of harmony and trust between mothers and daughters. You are not causing your mother pain by refusing to carry her burden, you are ceasing to sacrifice yourself to perpetuate her illusions, and in doing so you are actually correcting an imbalance that has plagued your female lineage for generations.The pain she feels is her own and has been under the surface all along.

Your refusal to emotionally caretake your mother will offer her the opportunity to take responsibility for herself. Her personality may not like it but you are actually serving her on a much deeper level. Your commitment to your own empowerment actually serves your mother as it opens the way for her to own her power, if she chooses. Mothers who are still steeped in patriarchal beliefs will not be able to see this as the gift that it is. The most important thing is that you know it. This is part of a major shift that happens when your integrity becomes more important than your mother’s opinion of you; you show up powerfully and model a new way of being for others.

Alphonse Mucha 1

Questions for Reflection:  

1. Identify one negative, self-deprecating pattern you adopted as a child as a coping mechanism that is also active in you now?

2. What was the original situation that caused you to adopt that negative pattern or belief about yourself?

3. What emotional processing needs to happen for you to truly let go of those patterns? What needs to be faced? What needs to be acknowledged or mourned?

4. What kind of support do you need to process this? What are some ways that you can provide yourself with nurturing and comfort as you emotionally process this?

© Bethany Webster 2014

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Thank you for reading! Please leave a comment below. Have you felt your loyalty to your mother connected to how fully you show up in the world? 

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(Art credits in order of appearance: unknown, Toshiyuki Enoki, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Lea Bradovich, unknown, Tom Bagshaw, Angiandsilas, unknown, Corina Zone, Alphonse Mucha)

The Holy Simplicity of Sitting with Our Pain

James Christensen

Sitting with our pain is such a simple act and yet it can be one of the hardest things to do.

Feeling our pain and not rushing in to fix it, numb it, avoid it, or cover it up takes enormous courage. This is where surrender comes in. We reach a point in our healing where we’ve read all the books, consulted all the gurus or tried all the fancy techniques and all that is left is the last thing we want to do: Feel our painful feelings. Ironically, sitting with our pain is precisely what will eventually bring us all the things we were looking for through avoiding it.

A major key to healing emotional wounding is the willingness to endure discomfort for the sake of transformation. This willingness is essential to truly coming out the other side of childhood wounds.

Elizabeth Peyton 1

Discomfort can come in many forms: 

  • Being misunderstood by family members
  • Sitting with your own pain and just feeling it and allowing it to be there
  • Going through a period of anger or grief without knowing when the uncomfortable feelings will end
  • Having low energy or a feeling of being lost and unsure
  • Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and receive support from others
  • Distance from people who you used to be close to

Our culture promotes the idea of immediate gratification and instant results. It takes enormous courage and strength to stick with the unglamorous process of healing that has a timeline of its own. In addition to the cultural component, there is also the survival instincts within us that tell us to fight or take fight when we feel threatened. That is why having support in the healing process is essential.

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To an unhealed inner child, the only way it knows how to soothe itself is to act in accordance with the patterns that were imprinted by the family of origin, but usually those are precisely the patterns that are causing the pain. This keeps us trapped in a loop. The answer is to cultivate the skill of mothering and soothing our inner child while we make new choices that better reflect our true desires and needs. This inner bond is what helps us to effectively separate from family and cultural patterns that cause suffering.

For most of us, growing up involved a series of self-betrayals in which we had no choice but to create an inner split in order to survive. The split usually involves some form of numbing our feelings and rejecting ourselves in order to be accepted by our families. Healing involves the recovery of our ability to fully our feelings and thus, to feel and express the truth of who we are without shame.

Caitlin Shearer

While we are surrounded with messages to avoid our pain, both externally in the culture and internally through early coping mechanisms, it is through being present with our own pain and allowing our feelings to flow that healing really happens.

Truth is found outside our comfort zone. Outside the comfort zone is the space in which we separate from dysfunctional patterns that have been ingrained in us by our culture and families. 

There are two main phases of learning to endure discomfort for the sake of transformation. Each phase may overlap at times, but generally we move from resistance to surrender.

Patricia DeLeon Alfonso

1) RESISTANCE

Here we usually have a great deal of aversion and avoidance of looking at the painful feelings we experience. We may seek various ways to numb out or repress the truth of what we are feeling. Resistance can take the forms of self-sabotage, forgetfulness, overwhelm and addictions. Sometimes resistance can be helpful as an inner boundary of slowing things down until we are ready to fully see something.  And sometimes it can be avoidance of what we know we must face. It takes careful self- examination to see which form of resistance is operating. We may experience some resistance at each new level of healing, but as we grow, we can better recognize resistance and more easily move through it.

2) SURRENDER

Most of us surrender simply because the pain of resistance becomes too great. We eventually cross a threshold where we’ve learned to trust that embracing pain rather than running from it is what provides relief.  We fully taste the joy and freedom that come from being in contact with the REAL within oneself. There is nothing like having moved through the pain and into the joy of feeling ONE within yourself. The peace of inner alignment: feeling and expressing your authentic feelings without the need to defend them.

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There dawns a harmony between your personal imperfections and your irreplaceable part in the greater perfection of life. 

Eventually the longing and hunger for living your truth overshadows all other desires, including the desire to be free of pain. It is seen that this hunger for truth is trustworthy and will lead you to what you need in each moment. And  sometimes what you need is to embrace is yet another level of inner pain. The moments of relief and bliss that open up through having embraced your pain makes it all worth it. Over and over we learn that the act of embracing and being present with our pain is what connects us with the larger truth of who we are.

I think that one of the reasons why the crucifixion is such a powerful, pervasive symbol in the western world is because it symbolizes precisely what can be profoundly difficult: the willingness to accept and be present with our painful feelings.

Daria Petrilli

A new inner space is created where you have permission to live from the REAL. 

As we do the inner work, eventually a conviction arises; a quickening, a hunger and fierce commitment to living one’s truth. A desire develops to live from each moment from within the fire of your original self. Each moment begins to represent a new, fresh opportunity to live from simple, open, awareness of what is.

We see that awareness itself is an embrace. 

We start on the painful periphery and as we become increasingly skilled in enduring discomfort and the uncertainty of the unknown, there lies the potential to merge with the holy presence that lives at the center of our pain and realize that is the truth of who we are.

Alphonse Maria Mucha

Many of us have a feeling of homesickness deep within. A nameless longing and aching grief. Many of us experienced this as children in relation to our mothers, a feeling of being groundless and adrift. Embracing the homesick feeling within the mother wound leads us to eventually come to a place where we realize that we can never be truly abandoned. This becomes possible by becoming a loving inner mother to our inner child as we embrace her deepest despair.

In that despair is a door; a door to our source, the unified consciousness in which we are one with all.

In this way, our pain is a messenger. A messenger telling us it’s time to come home; to the primordial home within, which is the realization of our true identity as consciousness, the knowing that we are spirit and can never be truly harmed or abandoned because we are one with all. I recall moments in my own healing process  when I would process layers of grief within the mother wound; the sense of worthlessness and wanting to die.  And in that  willingness to simply feel the full scope of that incredible despair and grief, I knew that this was the bottom. There was no pain deeper than that. That pain was the ground. And by standing on that ground and being present with my deepest pain, I was free.

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Feeling our pain frees us from it. 

By sitting with our pain, we begin to recognize that the pain we have felt is not the truth of who we really are. We begin to see that the open, loving presence that we embody as we embrace our own pain is who we are, our true identity underneath all our other identities.

The culmination of living as a “self” is to live as the “no-self”;  the vast, loving space that lovingly witnesses our pain and embraces it completely. This is what a healthy mother does for her child.  Author Rupert Spira has said that awareness is like the space in a room, it unconditionally accepts what happens in it. Likewise, in order to develop optimally, a child needs a mother who is unconditionally present and accepting of her. However, mothers are human beings with flaws who make mistakes. All of us receive some degree of wounding from our mothers.

Through that primary, holy wound, we are called to become that loving mother to ourselves…and to all life. 

As we embody the unconditional love of the inner mother, we become re-connected to life itself. We become re-connected to the birth-less and death-less center that is constantly born and dies in countless forms. This is the evolutionary step that lies within the pain of the mother wound.

Van der. Weyden's Painting

As women, we grow up believing that a holy power lies outside of ourselves and in the healing process, we start to realize that what we most desire, that which is most holy, eternal and pure is inside of us and has always been there. In fact, it is us. Not just in one or some of us, but it lives equally in all of us, in all of life.

Because we are all connected, each time you lovingly embrace your own pain, you activate the power of oneness in all. 

Rodica Toth Poiata

© Bethany Webster 2014

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Thank you for reading! Please leave a comment below. What has been your biggest challenge around embracing painful feelings? 

I invite you to  Sign up here for a free “Healing the Mother Wound Coaching Session” with me. I’d love to connect with you. 

Work with Bethany on healing the mother wound: 

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Sign up here to receive my newsletter and receive a free download of my e-book “Transforming the Inner Mother.”

(Art credits in order of appearance: James Christensen, Elizabeth Peyton, unknown, Caitlin Shearer, Patricia Deleon Alfonso, unknown, Darla Petrilli, Alphonse Maria Mucha, Phoebe Anna Traquair, unknown, Rodica Toth Polata)

3 Reasons Why It’s Crucial for Women to Heal the Mother Wound

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Because the relationship with our mothers is primary and foundational, unresolved pain related to her can have a profound affect on several areas of our lives, including our core sense of who we are. Our mothers were imperfect human beings with flaws who inevitably left us with some degree of wounding. The level of wounding depends on many factors including how severely our mother was wounded herself.

Due to how we develop, the only way a child can interpret moments of maternal abandonment or rejection is to form the belief: “There’s something wrong with me.” If we do not heal the mother wound we risk living our lives indefinitely with this belief operating at our core, affecting everything that we do.

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Reason #1:

The belief at the core of the mother wound is “There’s something wrong with me.”  This unconscious belief can limit you in so many ways:

  • Blocks your ability to have true intimacy.
  • Causes you to live under the painful mask of the false self: arranging your life around not rocking the boat, staying small in order to be non-threatening to others, needing external approval to feel OK
  • Living frozen with fear of failure while still deeply longing to live as your authentic self and bring your gifts to the world.
  • Cause you to unconsciously fear that making more money, being more visible, powerful and successful will cause rejection from or conflict with your mother. (To the un-healed child within, this is just too scary.)
  • Will hold you back from new opportunities and creating your dreams due to guilt or a sense that you don’t deserve it.
  • Overriding guilt that you don’t deserve to be happy, successful and fulfilled if your mother is unhappy, lonely or unwell.

When this belief is released, every area of your life is transformed because on a deep level you know that you are good, valuable, safe, and that life is inherently trustworthy. It’s difficult to put into words just how profound a shift this is. It happens not all at once, but in incremental stages. Slowly and steadily, with each level of grief, of insight and transformation, more and more of your life force is returned to you and available for what calls to you from your soul. Life takes on a new dimension. Because you can see your purity, goodness and innocence, your sight becomes liberated at a deep level, allowing you to perceive truth and goodness in ways that were previously impossible.

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Reason #2:

At the deepest level, the mother wound is a wound with Life itself.

The mother wound serves as a veil between you and life. In the earliest days of our lives, our experience of our mothers was synonymous with life itself. To an infant, mother is food, mother is air, mother is world, mother is self. Our very experience of ourselves and of the world was filtered through the body and psyche of this person that was our mother. As you heal the mother wound, the veil between you and life slowly dissolves. This allows you to feel your very core as goodness; to know in your bones that you belong, to feel your unity with life, with all beings. Ultimately, it allows you to feel an unshakeable love in your heart that becomes a stable background of your life.

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Reason #3: 

No matter how much other personal growth or spiritual work you do, none of it will be long-lasting or truly effective until you address the mother wound.

Until you get to the root of the causes of your inner suffering, which are the foundational patterns that were put in place in the earliest days in your life, and mourn the situations that caused you to internalize them, the personal growth work you do can only go so deep, at a superficial level at best. As a “spiritual bypass-er” in my early twenties, I spent many years avoiding the mother wound because it just seemed too big, too painful and too overwhelming. But over time it became clear that the surface issues in my life all pointed back to a common core, which was the pain related to my mother and the beliefs about myself that originated from that relationship. All signs pointed there to that existential, primordial wound. Surprisingly, I came to realize that everything I was looking for through other things was found there, in the last place I wanted to look. The mother wound was not the dark abyss I thought it would be. Eventually, the darkness gave way to light, to a realization that no other experience could give me. It is now a fountain of wisdom that nourishes my soul and propels my evolution. This is possible for all of us.

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All pain is an opportunity to enter into the heart of life and discover the truth of your divine nature. The mother wound is a particularly potent access point to the deeper truth that will liberate you to live as an awakened being.

 It is your birthright to know your oneness with all life and the goodness at your core.

Healing the mother wound opens up the potential for this to be your experiential reality, not just an abstract concept or idea.

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I invite you to attend my upcoming FREE Teleseminar TOMORROW, Tuesday, August 26th at 1 pm EST called “The Importance of Healing the Mother Wound.”

Click here to register for this free call! 

When you sign up you receive a free copy of my new e-Book entitled “Turning Mother Blame Upside Down: How Healing the Mother Wound Can Transform Your Life and Liberate Women Collectively.” 

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Thank you for reading! I look forward to connecting with you tomorrow on the call!

 

Work with Bethany on healing the mother wound: 

Private Coaching: http://www.b-webster.com/coaching/

Online Course: http://www.b-webster.com/online-course

Live Workshops: http://womboflight.com/events

Sign up here for a free “Healing the Mother Wound Coaching Session” with Bethany

(Art credits: All images in this post are by Georgia O’Keefe)

© Bethany Webster 2014

The Most Insidious Forms of Patriarchy Pass Through the Mother

Patriarchy is the social organization of a culture in which men hold more power than women. There is a common misconception that men are the only problem of patriarchy. Many continue to believe that only men perpetuate patriarchal thinking. However, women also perpetuate patriarchal attitudes.

Maria Pace-Wynters

Most of us learn patriarchal thinking in our families and it is usually taught unconsciously by mothers. This can be particularly damaging for daughters and their ability to flourish as empowered women because a mother’s treatment of her daughter gets internalized as her own sense of self. The patriarchal messages daughters receive from their mothers are more insidious and damaging than any of the cultural messages combined. Why? Because they come from the one person the daughter must bond with in order to survive.

The mother wound is a product of patriarchy. On a personal level, it is the mother’s projection of her own unhealed wounds on the daughter. And on the collective level, it’s the dysfunctional coping mechanisms that have resulted from generations of female oppression. Patriarchy distorts dynamics between mothers and daughters that leave both disempowered. 

The patriarchal thread that runs through all dysfunctional dynamics between mothers and daughters is the demand for obedience in exchange for love.

Julie Massy

The dynamics between mothers and daughters that cause pain all have one similarity. It doesn’t matter whether a mother is neglectful on one end of the spectrum or invasive on the other end; the same patriarchal message is conveyed, which is that compliance is required in order to be accepted. One could say that that is the core message of patriarchy to both men AND women: You will not be loved unless you obey. This message permeates us from all facets of society: education, religions, governments and media.

We have to highlight the ways women perpetuate and sustain patriarchal culture.”

~Bell Hooks

In order to be fully empowered, actualized and fulfilled, we as women must be disloyal to the patriarch in our mothers and consequently, the patriarch within ourselves.

The impacts of a mother’s patriarchal beliefs are especially devastating to a daughter’s personal development and individuation process. Daughters are more likely than sons to see their mothers as victims of their own un-lived dreams, of lack of opportunity or having been devalued by men. Because of the daughter’s sympathy for mother’s plight, she is more likely to absorb her mother’s pain as her own, creating a toxic enmeshment that directly prevents her ability to flourish in her own life. The more unconscious and severe the mother’s own unhealed wounds are, the more threatened she will feel by her daughter’s separateness and individuality. Thus, the mother/daughter bond may be forged in an environment of pain that keeps both stuck.

Elizabeth Peyton

The more spacious and loving a woman is towards herself, the more she can offer that to her daughter. A mother cannot give her daughter the support, love, guidance, and empowerment that she herself does not have. If a woman does not have that healthy model of self-love in her mother, she has to seek those models elsewhere. 

The patriarchal bind is that women are told that they should be successful but not too successful; sexy but not too sexy; strong but not too strong, etc. Mothers may unintentionally perpetuate this out of an unconscious need to avoid getting triggered by her daughter. If her daughter remains disempowered, small, and always a bit doubtful of herself, then the mother eliminates the possibility that her daughter will trigger the unacknowledged pain within herself that she’d rather ignore.

Swim or Swim, original painting on wood. by Lauren Gray

For an unconscious, deeply wounded mother, a disempowered daughter is the perfect antidote to her misery because she allows the mother to maintain an illusion of personal power without having to do the hard work of self-growth and healing. If the daughter is empowered, flourishing, happy and fulfilled, the wounded mother would more likely be faced with the task of confronting her unhealed pain.

A mother may outwardly display a façade of calm and pleasantness but underneath there may lurk a sense of emotional impoverishment that expresses itself primarily in relation to her daughter who may carry the projection of her disowned wounds. Some common dynamics are the “Queen” mother whose rigid, dominating message is “Don’t displease me!” or the “Waif” mother whose helpless, victim message is “Don’t abandon me!”

Lucien Freud

The unspoken message to the daughter is: “Your empowerment is unacceptable.”  The daughter’s empowerment is unacceptable because it reminds the mother of her un-grieved losses or unexpressed rage that the mother was told not to feel from the patriarchy in her family and culture.

A mother may experience her daughter’s empowerment as a betrayal, a personal rejection or a slight. Her unconscious message to the daughter may be “I obeyed the patriarchal mandate to stay small and non-threatening. You have to obey as well! Get back in line!”

An empowered daughter is a stimulus for the unhealed parts of the mother to come forward and be healed within herself. A wounded mother may confuse the pain she feels in her daughter’s presence to be her daughter’s fault and responsibility, not seeing that the pain was there all along and belongs solely to her–the mother. In this way, the daughter is actually giving her mother a gift. Her own light reveals her mother’s shadow and the next step in her healing. If the mother is healthy and open, she can see the gift. But if the mother is unconscious, deeply wounded and stuck, she will probably see it as a reason to lash out at the daughter (covertly or overtly).

Source- varietas

Examples of patriarchal power plays from mothers:

  • Daughter is used as her emotional dumping ground
  • Mother is neglectful but uses daughter as narcissistic tool to bring her attention
  • Mother has no use for you if you don’t conform to her views. “Her way or the highway.”
  • Manipulative tactics: cold withdrawal, overt hostility or bullying, unpredictable, competition, jealousy, triangulating daughter against other family members (Note: All these dynamics could be played out with a son as well. And they could also be features of mental illness in the mother.)

You’ll notice that all of the above dynamics have to do with one thing: gaining power and control. The mother who has given her power away will seek it out in other ways. This is true of all of us. When we give our power away, it creates a vacuum and we are compelled to fill it somehow, usually through processing it or projecting it. For a mother, the easiest target of projection is her daughter. It creates a vampiric quality to the relationship: the daughter stays weak and the mother feels strong. However, it benefits neither mother nor daughter.

The Keyhole Erwin Olaf

The only thing this dynamic serves is the mother’s “pain body.” The female pain body gets preserved and passed to the next generation in the form of the mother wound.

Patriarchy prevents a major human function from happening, which is to feel the truth of all of our feelings. To some degree, both men and women (boys and girls) are shamed away from our feelings, whether through violence, abuse or neglect, whether in our families or in the culture at large. The shame is due to the patriarchal belief that feelings are inherently weak and must be suppressed.

The task is for each of us to metabolize and process our own pain fully. As we do this, owning our wounds, feeling our pain and grieving to completion, the energy of the wound transforms into wisdom, love and power. For mothers and daughters, this means there needs to be a healthy, emotional distance in which both can engage fully with their healing process. Mothers and daughters need healthy emotional distance where each can experience her own personal power and freedom. Both need support and resources to successfully navigate their journey.

Brian Kershisnik

Patriarchy is about power at all costs. One way that power has been gathered is through rigid ideas of what is right and what is wrong. But in truth, there is no absolute right or wrong, just a multitude of preferences and consequences. By increasingly dissolving the charge of polarizing concepts such as right/ wrong and good/bad, infinite possibilities begin to open up and individuals can make choices that are truly authentic and right for them, without fear and shame.

All around us we are seeing patriarchal institutions fail and crumble from within: religions, governments, media, etc. The family is also a patriarchal institution and families will increasingly feel the pressure to shift and accommodate a new consciousness that is emerging. In the dominator mode of patriarchy, a dysfunctional family is threatened by the individuality of its members. In this way, patriarchal mothers may be threatened by their daughter’s individuality and may unconsciously sabotage it. As a new form of the family emerges, I sense that families will be more flexible, inclusive and welcoming of individuality. Perhaps the very definition of “family” will change and expand. People who call themselves family may not do so by blood but by soulful connections that mutually nourish their journey to discover and live their authentic truth. This cultural shift starts at the level of individuals who choose to do the work of healing and recovery.

Ana Grigolia

In older generations, there was a belief in escape; a belief that we can pretend something painful doesn’t exist and it will simply go away. There was a belief that there would be a payoff for pretending. Many are discovering that payoff never comes. Subsequent generations of parents would say “I don’t want to screw up my kids the way I was screwed up by my parents” and think that was enough to prevent that from happening. Just knowing that you don’t want to pass along generational pain is not enough. It takes many, many years of focused inner work to stop cycles of inter-generational pain. And yet nothing is more important or fulfilling than this journey. We can support each other to have the courage, support and the tools to make it to the other side.

For women, the journey of healing the mother wound is precisely what frees their daughters from this painful legacy. 

Meghan Howland

To be whole, empowered women, we have to be disloyal to the patriarch in our mothers. We have to say no. We have to hand back the pain our mothers have asked us to carry for them so that they can uphold their own journey of healing. We must refuse to give up our power to feed the pain body of our mothers, which ultimately, is a great gift to them and to the world. It’s time for us to honor ourselves. It’s time for women to heal the mother wound.  We have to do the hard and holy thing which is to focus on our own healing so that we can finally experience ourselves as whole and model this new level of wholeness for our daughters and the women of the future.

 

Bethany Webster 2014

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Questions for Moms to reflect on to honor themselves AND clear the way for their daughters:

  • What did I need from my own mother that I did not get? In what ways may I be unconsciously projecting these needs onto my daughter or other people?
  • Am I getting the mothering and nurturing I need in my daily life? If not, how can I get those needs met? (friends, experiences, tools, professional support)
  • Am I neglecting my daughter’s emotional needs? Do her emotional needs make me uncomfortable? If so, which ones? What do they bring up for me?
  • Am I asking my daughter to mother me in any way? If so, what are some ways I can get the support I need so that I don’t put this burden on my daughter?
  • Do I feel any rage or resentment about being a mom? If so, what are some safe and healthy ways I can process and work through that?
  • Do I feel at all jealous or threatened by my daughter? If so, why? How does this manifest in my daily interactions with my daughter? How can I find a safe, healthy way to process that?
  • What limitations did I have to accept about myself as a young girl my daughter’s age? How did that impact my life? How can I support my daughter in not accepting those same limitations.
  • How can I demonstrate to my daughter that I value myself?
  • What comes up for me when I reflect on my daughter having more opportunities than I did?
  • In what ways might I be passing along that belief in limitations? How might I turn that around?

 

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Thank you for reading! Please leave a comment below: How have patriarchal views impacted you and your relationship with the women in your family? 

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I invite you to explore my work with women on healing the mother wound: 

 

 

Sign up here for my newsletter and receive a FREE copy of my e-book “Transforming the Inner Mother.” 

 

(Art credits in order of appearance in this blog post: Maria Pace-Wynters, Julie Massey, Elizabeth Peyton, Lucien Freud, Laura Gray, unknown/source: Varietas, Erwin Olaf, Brian Kershisnik, Ana Grigolia, Meghan Howland) 

Guilt, Gratitude and the Emerging from the Mother Wound

Guilt is an obstacle for many women and it can be particularly limiting when it comes to healing the mother wound. It’s common for women to begin getting clarity on how dynamics with their mother have impacted their lives…but then stop when challenging feelings arise, saying things like “I shouldn’t feel this way, she’s my mother. She’s hurt me so much but I know how much she is hurting. It’s wrong for me to feel angry at her.” The problem here is that this guilt prevents the necessary grieving and healing that needs to take place. Guilt shuts the whole process down.

Eduardo Kingman

Guilt may be used a way of hiding from our true feelings. 

The healthy function of guilt is to help us recognize when we have done something wrong; it indicates a functioning conscience. It allows us to identify when a transgression has occurred so that we can feel remorse and take any necessary action to rectify it. However, toxic guilt is unhealthy and greatly limits our ability to realize ourselves as empowered, adult women in control of our lives. Because women are conditioned to view themselves as “less-than”  and powerful women are seen as threatening in this culture, toxic guilt is a very common trap and keeps us disempowered.

Guilt and the “good girl” role

Sometimes guilt is easier to feel than other feelings. We may use guilt to bypass difficult feelings like disappointment, rage, or grief. If we’re still identified with the “good girl” role we may put the feelings of others above our own, willingly diminishing ourselves for external approval and validation. This voluntary diminishment may look altruistic on the surface but it is a form of self-betrayal. As one of my clients recently put it, “I betray myself when I put the feelings of others before my own.” When this self-betrayal is seen as no longer an option we begin to re-gain our personal power.

Unprocessed pain is what keeps the mother wound in place. 

Pablo Picasso

Genuine acceptance and honoring of your mother do not come about through forcing and feeling you “should” forgive. For most, it’s impossible to fully heal the mother wound unless we first get in touch with our anger. Anger and grief are important allies in healing the mother wound. Once fully seen, anger can transform into a deeper connection with our truth, passion, creativity, originality and sheer vitality. And grief is what allows us to move forward into acceptance, gratitude, peace and clarity.

What frees us from toxic guilt is giving ourselves full permission to feel the truth of our feelings. 

A mother has enormous power over a child and a child is biologically pre-disposed to idealize her for the sake of its healthy development. A child needs to idealize its mother in order to form a healthy sense of self. But as adults, this idealization can keep us stuck in guilt for wanting to be powerful in our own lives.

A natural shift must take place where mother and daughter each become responsible for their own experience.

Richard Morin

On a collective level, the mother wound is a manifestation of patriarchal mandate that demands that women remain small. And on a personal level (broadly speaking) it’s the pain of feeling threatened by the very person who gave you life.

One of the most important steps in healing the mother wound is creating an “inner mother” that replaces the deficits that were present in the mother/ daughter relationship. It’s a form of taking personal responsibility and owning your power.

fletcher sibthorp

It’s important for a woman to see that her inner mother is better than her outer mother in terms of filling the “mother gap;” being able to fill her own emotional needs. If we don’t see the inner mother as better at mothering us than the necessary emotional separation will not take place….the separation that clears the way for us to take our power back from the mother wound.

I see the inner mother and outer mother as working together horizontally, not hierarchically. The more we cultivate the inner mother as a way to love and nurture ourselves (not as a judgment on the outer mother), the more we can approach our outer mother with honor, gratitude and spaciousness.

Kevin Ledo 3

If we cut off our healing process too early with guilt and are too afraid to temporarily feel anger towards our mother (which, for some women, is essential in the process of healing) then we are still being complicit with the patriarchal mandate that to honor mother we must diminish ourselves.

There is a place for honoring and gratitude for our mothers–absolutely–but it comes as a byproduct of having first experienced and acknowledged the mother gap and our own responsibility to fill it as the inner mother. If we rush into gratitude and honoring of outer mother too quickly we risk not doing the de-tox necessary for authentic gratitude to emerge.

I hesitate to emphasize gratitude and compassion for mothers too early in the process of healing the mother wound. Why? Because all around us the culture is telling us to honor our mothers by silencing ourselves. We are restoring a balance here. And in restoring the balance we have to give voice to that which has been voice-less, we have to make space for the pain to be legitimized and empathized with. That is a radical and essential piece of this work. 

Gratitude and honoring our mothers are natural byproducts of going all the way into our pain FIRST.

Safwan Dahoul

The inner mother actually supports the outer mother–in terms of our ability to see our outer mothers accurately, loving her with flaws and all, not taking her flaws personally and meeting her from the heart without fear. When we have the inner mother intact within us; strong, steady and emotionally safe and secure, we can really honor our outer mothers wholeheartedly and compassionately.

When we unflinchingly acknowledge the reality of the deficit that is present in the mother/daughter relationship, the space is created for the fullness of what is there to be fully seen and appreciated.  

Pietro Annigoni

As we face the deficit and process that pain, the fullness that can be finally seen and appreciated is not just limited to the mother. Life itself begins to be visible in all its fullness and glory. Because of the connection between how we experience our mothers and how we experience life due to the early conflation of the two in our early development, our sight becomes liberated at a deep level. As we heal the mother wound, a new level of compassion and heart-seeing is possible.

We must be willing to temporarily suspend our need to honor mother at all costs (let go of guilt) in order to actually be able to authentically honor mother. 

There may be a deep unconscious fear of being seen as a perpetrator towards our mothers and guilt keeps this fear at bay. This is the fear of the infant who needs mother for survival. This fear of being seen as a perpetrator is part of hiding from our power. A potential perpetrator lives in all of us. The more we turn away from our pain (through guilt or avoidance), the more we hide from our potential for perpetration and the more this is in shadow, the more likely it will emerge projected outward towards other people. By hiding from the truth of our pain we actually empower our inner perpetrator.

Kelli Pennington

Taking responsibility for our suffering is not the same as remaining a victim. 

Getting stuck in victimhood happens when there is an over-emphasis on weakness and powerlessness.  Victimhood may actually be a defense against fully facing our grief.

Acting out as a perpetrator is the result of feeling like a victim and not honoring our suffering.  It is our responsibility to honor our suffering by feeling the emotions that are incredibly painful and allowing them to transform. (Our challenging feelings cannot transform if we don’t acknowledge them.)

Mario Sánchez Nevado

If we do not have the courage or support to feel these painful emotions, we may feel compelled to repeat the suffering in the role of perpetrator. We have a choice: relief from the pain in the form of emotional processing or relief from the pain in the form of projection (perpetrating against others). The energy must go somewhere.

When we honor the inner perpetrator (by validating our anger) and honor the inner victim (by validating our pain), then the energy of the mother wound can be integrated and transformed into wisdom and love.

The energy potential for perpetration is also the energy potential for creative power. 

KEVIN LEDO

In my own experience, there is a sense of power that is drawn from the integration process that enriches every area of my life. It’s a source of energy unlike anything I have ever imagined. It is the integrated energy that originated from the wound and has transformed— not into the form of perpetration, but into the form of creativity, will, and fierce love. Somehow this awareness that this energy has had potential-for-perpetration but is actualized-as-creativity makes it incredibly sacred and powerful. This energy is uncompromising, with impeccable integrity. It is confident, bold, and yet it is completely willing to be extinguished, to lay down, to become nothing for the Beloved to be central in my Being.

It’s a self-generating source of energy, enthusiasm, knowing and connection with all life.The black hole of the wound becomes a radiant sun that touches every area of your life with power and presence.

Seen in this way, our emotional wounds, especially the mother wound, are opportunities to step into our mastery and use our energy in service to the whole. We have to explore the ways we’ve felt destroyed in order to find the indestructible… in order to feel the phoenix rising within. 

Kevin Ledo 2

 

© Bethany Webster 2014

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Announcements: 

The Online Course on healing the mother wound is now available! All women who purchase the course before July 14th are invited to a special Q & A call with me! Click here to learn more!  

I offer Private Coaching Programs on healing the mother wound. 

The next workshop on healing the mother wound is on Saturday, July 19th in Huntington, NY (Long Island). Click here to learn more and register.

Sign up for my newsletter and receive my FREE e-book on “Transforming the Inner Mother”

(Art credits in order of appearance: Eduardo Kingman, Pablo Picasso, Richard Morin, Fletcher Sibthorp, Kevin Ledo, Safwan Dahoul, Pietro Annigoni, Kelli Pennington, Mario Sanchez Nevado, Kevin Ledo, Kevin Ledo)

Thank you for reading! I invite you to leave a comment below: What is your experience with guilt and gratitude in terms of the mother wound?

The Connection Between Self-Sabotage and the Mother Wound

Self-sabotage is when we are excited about a goal but we unconsciously create obstacles that directly prevent that the achievement of that goal.

Alet Pilon

For some women–being big, visible and powerful may unconsciously feel like a betrayal of their mothers . . . and to relieve this unconscious guilt, they self-sabotage. 

The connection between the mother wound and self-sabotage is rather complex. I’ll do my best to eludicate this connection in this blog article. (I suggest grabbing a cup of tea and sitting in a comfy chair. This is a longer article!)

This pattern starts very early in our development and that’s why it can be so insidious.  Children are biologically hard-wired to seek mother’s approval at all costs to ensure their survival.

Frederic Leighton

As adult women, this pattern may still be unconsciously operating. We may still feel like our happiness rests on the happiness of our mother. You may observe your mother’s unhappiness and begin to feel guilty for your own success. This is particularly common in women who were parentified daughters as children; (the daughter being used as a surrogate parent to the unhealed child within their mother.)

Self-sabotage may have served as a survival mechanism to prevent abandonment and rejection by mother.

We may unconsciously think: “I can’t possibly be fully happy or successful if my mother is lonely, sad, uncomfortable, bitter, jealous, etc.” This is the viewpoint of the child within us that still thinks her survival rests on the well-being of her mother.

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The most common theme I’ve heard from women is “My mother’s happier when I’m experiencing challenges. But when things start going well in my life, she gets increasingly cold, distant and critical.” 

Another common thing I’ve heard is “On some level, I can sense that my mother wants to destroy me.” 

Usually this is very unconscious and unintentional on the part of the mother. But unfortunately, on the other end of the spectrum, there are mothers who willingly make their daughters feel responsible for their own happiness. This may be due to the deprivation consciousness that can be found in some women in patriarchal cultures; women feeling owed and entitled due to the level of sacrifice and the inner split they had to make within themselves to be acceptable and loved in this culture. It’s nothing short of tragic.

Melissa Zexter

In patriarchal cultures, the power of the parent is often considered unquestionable and can easily be mis-used; power for power’s sake. If a mother has not acknowledged or refuses to directly address how her child may be triggering a painful emotional wound within her, she may unconsciously bully her daughter in covert and overt ways to relieve herself of the pain she is pushing into shadow within herself.

(The trigger in itself is not a problem; it’s normal to feel triggered in moments by your children. The problem is when it is not directly addressed and the mother begins to project her wounds onto the child.)

For the sake of illustration, here is a more extreme example of a patriarchal mother who has not addressed her own wounds. She may unconsciously convey the following message to her daughter:

Your smallness makes me feel safe. By staying small you protect me from my pain. Please don’t be your full self–it will remind me of what I had to give up in order to have you. Please don’t leave me with my pain. I’ll be all alone. Be a good daughter and carry my pain for me.”

More examples of unspoken messages of mothers in a patriarchal mindset: (comes from feeling powerless and out of control in her own life.)

  • “You’re being ungrateful when you’re being your full, big, authentic self.”
  • “You’re honoring me when you’re suffering because look how much suffering I endured to bring you in the world.”
  • “I’m your mother and I deserve your respect no matter how much I denigrate or abuse you.”
  • “You make me feel inadequate when you reach your goals.”

What happens is there begins to be an association between being small and non-threatening as a way of feeling loved by mother. In this situation, we give our power away to our mothers in exchange for her love. We may sense her fragility, her weakness, her unacknowledged pain, and out of compassion, we commit to staying small so as not to cause her any more pain. The child within us feels it is the cause of her pain, but the cause never had anything to do with us.  I’ve talked to hundreds of women all over the world about their mother wounds and it’s incredibly sad to hear about the level of emotional abuse mothers are capable of when they feel threatened by their daughters. This is not about love, but about power and control. Because this is such a taboo subject, most women feel very alone in this predicament.

Jonathan Glazer

For many women, one of THE hardest things is allowing your mother to have her own painful lessons and her own healing process. This is about releasing the need to display a false self to please your mother and instead being your authentic self in her presence, even if she expresses disapproval. It involves allowing your mother to express displeasure about your truth without allowing it to dis-orient you and without getting pulled into a battle with her.

You are not a “bad daughter” for allowing your mother to have her own lessons and challenges without rushing to solve them for her. 

In the best of situations, letting your mother handle her own painful lessons and problems is what may stimulate the grief that is necessary to bring true healing within her, but only if your mother is open and willing to grow. The unfortunate truth is that some mothers are patently unwilling to do the hard work of healing their own wounds and would rather make their daughters feel responsible for them.

As a daughter, when you express your own separate self-hood, individuality, realness, power, etc. if your mother has a pattern of reacting with hostility, it may be because your authentic expression has stimulated the seeds of those things that never came to blossom in herself. Your mother may experience your true, vital, authentic self as a painful mirror showing her the ways she had to forsake herself in order to survive her own family and patriarchal society. It may trigger deep grief over her of her loss of self. If she’s unable or unwilling to feel the full grief and process it, she may react with anger, manipulation, competition, jealousy or withdrawal.

Sofia Bonati

The deprivation that your mother feels cannot be solved by anything that YOU do.

Her pain cannot be filled by you staying small and unhappy. Walking on eggshells and “not rocking the boat” may accomplish short-term “peace” but in the long-term you are handing your life-force over to the mother wound. It’s a form of giving your power away. You do not owe your mother anything. Your unhappiness and dissatisfaction will never compensate for her unhealed wounds and struggles. She is the only one that can take the necessary actions to change her situation.

When we emotionally caretake our mother in the form of self-sabotage we actually inhibit our mother’s healing because we become complicit in maintaining her illusions. And we put our lives indefinitely on hold waiting for her approval that will never come.

We best serve both ourselves AND our mothers when we confidently and non-defensively rest in our worth and authenticity while she has her upset.

Hans Holbein

I call these upsets “mother tantrums” because this is when the unhealed inner child within a mother starts projecting unprocessed pain onto her daughter (or son) in response to the daughter not complying with an unspoken mandate to stay non-threatening to her. A mother tantrum can be expected if the daughter has had the role of being subservient, deferential or submissive to the mother, and is now changing the dynamic in the relationship by more fully expressing her authentic, true self around her mother. (This could be in the form of the daughter setting boundaries, speaking her truth, limiting contact, making authentic choices that are not necessarily in alignment with the beliefs of the mother, etc.)

In that moment of a mother tantrum, your mother is NOT seeing you accurately (as her daughter) but rather, she may be seeing you as her own rejecting mother. That’s why it feels like she may want to destroy you–that is the regressive energy of the angry child within your mother that she has yet to integrate and heal within herself. (Understanding this helps to not take your mother’s behavior personally. It’s really not about you at all.)

Internal Sunset | LINDSAY STRIPLING

The “mother tantrum” can range from a minor upset to a full-on episode that can include the mother flying into a vicious rage, jealously withdrawing or sulking, calling you every name in the book or bringing up every mistake you ever made to shame you back into being her emotional crutch.

The intensity or duration of the tantrum depends on how severe her mother wound is. 

No one wants to witness or be subject to this kind of event as it can be incredibly hurtful and disturbing. It’s understandable to want to ignore or prevent this at all costs. And the child within you is terrified of this situation. The point is to support your inner child in realizing that although you were not safe THEN as a child (rejection by mother meant death), NOW you are an adult capable of supporting your inner child through this experience. This is what breaks the spell of self-sabotage and it’s such an important step in healing the mother wound. (It’s important to be ready and fully supported before attempting this. It can take a while to work up to this.)

sealmaiden- heather murray

You WILL survive the tantrum and it will liberate you in more ways than you can imagine. You just have to be emotionally prepared for the consequences and have vital support in place. How you respond in the face of a mother tantrum can look different for many different people and it will be specific to the particular dynamics between you and your mother. The challenge is not get pulled into the drama of victim, perpetrator or rescuer, but to stand in your truth. For example, it may mean speaking out or it may mean remaining silent. Reflecting on what would be the most empowering and appropriate response to a mother tantrum is a powerful process of discovery in itself. 

I recommend that this be deeply reflected upon prior to taking action steps to change patterns of relating with your mother. The most important part is to feel supported on the inner and the outer before attempting a confrontation.

Taras Loboda

How do we stop self-sabotage?

The experience that breaks this pattern is realizing that you can survive your mother’s rejection of you. This may seem obvious to your intellectual, adult mind, but to your inner child, or primitive emotional parts of your brain, rejection from mother still feels very dangerous and way too risky. That’s why we get so far and then, BOOM, we unconsciously feel unsafe and revert to old patterns of guilt, emotional-caretaking, shrinking to please others, apologizing for existing and being addicted to approval and external validation.

Feeling small and stuck doesn’t feel good, but to our inner child it feels SAFE.

  • In order to heal self-sabotage, we need to break the link between: Being authentic = abandonment, rejection (Loss of Mother) 
  • And we need to create a NEW link between: Being authentic = Being safe, Loved, Cherished (by inner mother)

We do this by separating out the past and the present. In the past we needed mother’s approval for survival. But now as an adult you are capable of surviving her disapproval which can take the form of a mother tantrum (her upset when you refuse to cater to her illusions).

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This is one of the most empowering steps of healing the mother wound and self-sabotage. It’s a form of creating the healthy emotional separation between mother and daughter that needs to happen for both to flourish as individuals and to have an authentic, nourishing heart connection between them.

Healing the mother wound is part of healing the female “pain body.”

In order to truly own our worth and live our greatness, we must be willing to be disapproved of, misperceived and unseen — all while feeling deeply safe, loved and cherished within ourselves. Creating this inner safety is essential to blazing new trails, innovation, soulful creativity, inventiveness and originality. There are limitless gifts within you waiting to be discovered and manifested. As we heal self-sabotage we become liberated to access and enjoy ALL that lies within us.

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© Bethany Webster 2014

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Question for reflection:

When you were a little girl, what were the specific situations in which  your mother responded to you with praise, recognition, rewards, validation and love?

And what were the specific situations in which you were met with some degree of rejection, aggressive hostility, cold withdrawal, animosity, jealousy or bitterness?

Can you see a connection between what responses you were met with when you were a child and what comes up for you when you approach new, exciting ventures and goals that require you to be seen, vulnerable, visible and confident? Is your inner child trying to keep you safe by self-sabotage? A simple exercise is to help your inner child feel safe by explaining to her in writing that what happened in the past is not a danger now in the present because you are a grown adult.  Empathize with her pain of what she experienced and her desire for safety. Think of ways you can demonstrate in the present that she is safe. Soothe and nurture her on a daily basis so that her trust of you increases.

I invite you to leave a comment below: What has been your experience with self-sabotage? 

Update: My online course on “Healing the Mother Wound” is now available! 

Sign up here for my newsletter and receive a FREE copy of my e-Book “Transforming the Inner Mother.” 

Thank you for reading! :)

(art credits in order of appearance: Alet Pilon, Frederic Leighton, unknown, Melissa Zextor, Jonathan Glazer, Sofia Bonati, Hans Holbein, Lindsay Stripling, Heather Murray, Taras Loboda, stock photo,  stock photo)

 

Self-Care is Not “Selfish”

olof grind

As women, the need for self-care can trigger feelings of guilt. We’ve been conditioned to automatically think that we are neglecting others when we take time and energy to care for ourselves. Even if we have very supportive partners and family members who actively encourage us to love and care for ourselves, it can feel dangerous in moments to actually do so. This is because there is a very strong cultural message that has powerful intergenerational momentum which states that a good woman is a self-sacrificing woman. 

Many of us have grown up watching our mothers neglect themselves in order to care for their families–not just to care for their children but also to care for their parents and their husbands. Many of us have looked on as our mothers received praise for their self-neglect and we’ve seen the destruction that their inner deprivation can cause–as it manifests in family dynamics–and within our mothers in the forms of rage, depression, emptiness and bitter resentment.

Jane Bouse 1938 Johan Hagemeyer

There is a profound misconception that taking care of ourselves is bad for others. There’s a sense of scarcity; of having to choose between caring for yourself or your loved ones and not being permitted to have both.  It’s a double-bind in which we lose if we care for ourselves because we end up feeling guilty, and we lose if we neglect self-care because we end up feeling resentful.

The more we can actively care for ourselves in small and big ways, the more this old belief can be seen for what it is: a way to control women and keep them ignorant of their power.  It’s becoming clearer to modern women that there are no payoffs to martyrdom and self-deprivation. And as this becomes clearer, the more women can support one another in actively caring for themselves and asking for support when they need it. This support among women is so key to the paradigm shifts that are needed in our culture in order to create a more positive future for humanity and the planet.

Definition of self-care: Activities that nourish and replenish the mind, body and soul.

ye rin mok

Examples of self-care:

  • Rest, sleep, slowing down; listening into inner rhythms and cycles, solitude and reflection
  • Stimulating, creative and enriching activities like reading books, learning new skills, creating art, music or writing
  • Acts of receiving support from others such as mentorship or massage
  • Spiritual and inspirational activities that accentuate one’s sense of place in the world, in the universe and larger scheme of things such as connecting with a larger, supportive community

Claiming our need for self-care is claiming our right to be whole people. 

Esben Bøg

The irony is that this pattern of self-sacrifice and self-neglect creates the resentment that can actually induce one to act in truly neglectful ways towards our children and families.

Self-neglect is a pattern of deprivation and scarcity that we’ve internalized based on the patriarchal belief that women’s lives are less valuable.  

Many of us grew up hearing women being called “selfish” or “ungrateful” if they spent time focusing on their own pursuits or feeling entitled to some degree of independence from traditional female roles. We’ve learned to think of it as black and white, as an “either/or” not a “both/and.” It was rare to see a woman was able to enjoy independent pursuits and simultaneously be seen as a good-enough mother or wife.

We must be willing to be misperceived for the sake of what is true and real.  

I truly believe that in order to break the cycle of exhaustion and resentment, we must claim our need for self-care as valid, even in the face of criticism from loved ones. Even in the face of being called selfish. We have to let go of the fear of being seen as selfish for the sake of our own well-being and that of our children. And if we need support so that we can truly care for ourselves and others, we must begin to ask for support and claim that need as valid as well.

A woman who loves and cares for herself is NOT selfish. She is powerful … and she is harder to control and manipulate. 

Nirav Patel

Self-care is not only available to the wealthy woman who can afford to hire a nanny or pay for a massage. Self-care can come in the tiniest of forms and each step we take to care for ourselves brings rich rewards to ourselves and our children, especially our daughters. We model what it means for a woman to value herself. As daughters see their mothers take care of their own needs and carrying themselves with self-worth, daughters can more easily internalize their own self-worth. The more a daughter sees her mother demonstrate respect for herself and other women, the higher esteem a young daughter will hold herself.

Simple ways we can demonstrate self-care in our daily lives: 

  • Take a little quiet time for yourself every day (meditation, long bath, walk, etc.)
  • Breathe deeply and fully
  • Take care of your physical body with healthy food, enough rest and activity
  • Craft potent affirmations that reflect new beliefs that you want to embody in your life. Speak them out loud daily.
  • Speak your truth; say Yes when you mean Yes and No when you mean No.

Self-care is ultimately about seeing ourselves as good, worthy and holy, even when our families and our cultures have been unable to. It is the work of a pioneer. We are owning our worth and laying new roads for future women.

Part of stepping into our power as women involves processing deep grief; grief not only for the pain you’ve experienced in your own life, but also the grief from acknowledging the oppression that has been experienced by the women in your generational lineage.  On an even deeper level, there’s  the grief of seeing that you cannot rely on your family or society to give you permission to be your full self. It’s the grief of realizing that they are incapable of giving you this permission. If you are to claim your full self, you must give yourself permission to be that full self. Only you can do this.

untitled june 8

Something powerful arises from this reckoning and the grief that follows. It’s the ability to see your worth and value as a human being independent of the ability of other people to understand you.

From that moment forward, you can act from that place of knowing your worth even in the face of outer rejection and criticism. You have stepped across a threshold into a territory many women have never had the fortitude or opportunity to go to. You become a radiant light unto yourself, a light that others can begin to feel burning within themselves by virtue of witnessing your light.

This path may be incredibly lonely at times, but you are never truly alone. When you’ve touched this place of utter aloneness and singularity within yourself, paradoxically, you begin to touch something in the universal collective.

maud chalard

As we move forward diligently with our self-care, we demonstrate the potency of the self-anointed woman who is: 

  • willing to be misperceived by others
  • willing to be seen as inconvenient or “not good enough”
  • willing to be seen as “too much” or “too intense”
  • willing to cease putting vital energy into people-pleasing and approval-seeking
  • willing to be seen as selfish by others for the sake of demonstrating self-care practices to her daughter(s) and other young women
  • willing to follow her inner wisdom and intuition even when it may conflict with the conventions and norms of the culture.

A free, self-anointed woman is willing to do these things because she is committing to living from her own sacred source…no matter what.  She refuses to be confined by the patriarchal conventions of the culture. She demonstrates profound self-trust, aliveness, strength, joy, wildness and deep integrity.

As we become more free ourselves, living from our inner truth and authentic center, we assist others in discovering their own freedom as well. There is also a connection between our commitment to our own self-care and creating the cultural shift toward greater care of the planet. It all starts with the radical and simple commitment to value and care for ourselves.

Dorothea Lange 1

© Bethany Webster 2014

I invite you to leave a comment below. What are your challenges related to self-care? What are your favorite forms of self-care? Thank you for reading!

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(Art credits in order of appearance: Olaf Grind, Johan Hagemeyer, Ye Rin Mok, Esbeg Bøg, Mirav Patel, artist unknown, Maud Calard, Dorothea Lange)