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.

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(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.

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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!

Click here to sign up for my newsletter and receive a FREE download of my e-book entitled “Transforming the Inner Mother.” 

Private Coaching program now available! Click here for more information.  

Online course on healing the mother wound is almost ready. Stay tuned! Thanks for your patience!

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

The Mother Wound as Initiation into the Divine Feminine

We live in a very fast-paced culture. There’s an atmosphere of pressure to be productive, to show our value through what we do, and to expect instant results from our efforts. This atmosphere of being rushed can be challenging when we are in the process of healing emotional wounds, because the process unfolds on its own timeline. The tendency to “power through”doesn’t work in terms of the healing process, which has an organic intelligence that can’t be forced. It has cycles and spirals of ups and downs. It’s not linear the way our minds would like it to be.

Catrin Welz-Stein

Healing the mother wound takes time. It’s common for people to reach places of intense discomfort and think “What am I doing wrong? I thought I was healing, but I feel miserable! When is the pain going to end?!” It’s at this point that people can get down on themselves, get distracted, or doubt their ability to heal. Yet, it’s at this place when it’s important not to give up, to hang on and get the necessary support to keep going.

It’s important to keep going because the pain does in fact come to an end. Transformation is indeed truly possible. But only if we stay committed. I came so close to giving up so many times, and I’m so glad that I didn’t because I had no idea what gifts and transformations were lying before me. The light at the end of the tunnel was more than I could have imagined during all the years I spent processing my early wounds.

Edouard Antonin Vysekal--A Figure in Shadow,

In this post I’d like to talk about what it’s like to come out the other side of the mother wound and why its so important to stay committed to your healing.

The process that I offer on healing the mother wound supports one to:

  • Gain mental clarity on the “mother gap” (gap between what you needed and what you actually received from your mother) and how you have compensated for this gap through dysfunctional patterns and beliefs.
  • Process the emotions of grief and anger that arise after we have the mental clarity.
  • Fill the mother gap with our own love and love from those around us.
  • Transform the inner mother into an unconditionally supportive one.

I would say the steps above are phase 1 of the healing process, which together work to de-construct the false self. As we complete these steps, and if we stick with the process, there begins a second phase. During this second phase of healing the mother wound we begin to increasingly integrate, embody and realize ourselves as the Divine Feminine, and ultimately as the Self.

Alexei Jawlensky, Blasse Bluten

The problem is that many of us stop short and never make it fully through all the steps of phase 1, so the fruits and gifts aren’t fully tasted. We usually stop short because it gets intensely uncomfortable and we think this means something is wrong. But what we must realize is that it’s necessary for a de-construction to take place within us. By virtue of living in a patriarchal culture, we’ve had to internalize structures and beliefs that are  actually built to prevent our empowerment and self-realization as women. So without this necessary de-construction and the discomfort it brings, no authentic transformation can take place. That’s why I’m so passionate about being brutally honest about the fact that this work takes time AND emphasizing that each woman is worth the time and effort it takes to do this work.

If we follow the process of phase 1 all the way through, this is what we can expect to unfold in phase 2. I call the second phase:  Emergence of the true self, which contains 3 steps.

1. Integration.   

After we have done the work of phase 1 (identified the main issues of our mother wound, have seen how they have caused us pain and have given up the hope of our mother changing, etc.) we can deeply let go and begin the process of building a new structure within us that supports us in flourishing as our authentic self. Time is critical to integration. It is a natural process, much how healing a physical injury has its own timeline. Our psyche is the much the same. We fully integrate when we have long-enough received and sufficiently internalized the love (from the outer and inner) that we never got as children. This creates a fertile inner environment to subsequently expand our ability to receive in a variety of ways, because we now feel worthy and deserving. We finally know ourselves as infinitely good. This foundation is strong and can now support us in receiving and offering higher energies and experiences.

Alison Blickle - Cypress

2. Embodiment.

After we have deeply integrated this love into our being, through the unconditional love of our inner mother and supportive people in our lives, we begin to have the capacity to embody the divine feminine. What this means is that we begin to have the increasing ability to express, in our words, bodies, actions, thoughts, behaviors, dreams, creations, etc. the energies of the divine feminine. Not just intermittently, but more and more sustainably. We begin to operate primarily from a space of Being, rather than with an emphasis on Doing. We no longer experience ourselves as only a child of the Goddess, but we begin to have moments of experiencing ourselves AS the Goddess; to hold these powerful energies and bring them into our lives as women.

You become capable of embodying the Divine Feminine because you’ve filled the gaps within yourself, and by doing so, you increasingly become a container and vessel of higher energies that impact and elevate your environment.

The more we heal the mother wound, the more we can embody these qualities:

  • Ability to take emotional risks; being open and radically honest
  • Willing to be vulnerable and transparent
  • Ability to be imperfect without self-recrimination
  • Owning one’s physical presence with confidence and power
  • Embracing one’s cycles and natural fluctuations without judgment
  • Lightness, laughter and deep trust even when you don’t know
  • A greater capacity to experience pleasure and welcome good things
  • The ability to hold space for others to know their deeper truths
  • The ability to experience abundance as part of your own nature, not something outside of you.
  • The ability to welcome fear and uncomfortable emotions (of yourself and others) into the core of your Being to be transformed into light and higher consciousness.
  • So much more…

Agnieszka Szuba

3. Realization.

If we continue still on the path of healing the mother wound, something truly miraculous and profound may begin to awaken within us. We may become aware of our own presence in a palpable way, perhaps a presence that feels familiar. It may feel like a divine longing, a bliss, a source within us that is always there, and always has been there from the beginning. We may begin to realize it’s power as an overflowing emanation from within, the core true self, the source of all. What results in this stage is knowing. A knowing of your divine nature dawns in your being. 

At the realization stage, we begin to know ourselves as the one divine presence within all forms and to see this presence reflected back to us in everything we see. This is beyond ego and gender identification. And it’s not just an intellectual understanding. It’s deeply knowing your divinity and your humanity as one. It becomes apparent to you; self-evident. So much is released here, and yet there is still so many layers to be uncovered and revealed; but rather than it being a burden of suffering, the unfolding process is pervaded instead by a stable baseline of peace, joy, and love. Even grief and disappointment are relished because they bring us ever deeper into contact with Truth, with the Real, with the One that we are and that lives in all beings. This is the dawning of unity consciousness.

Mark Schaller, Big Orange Nude

It’s a paradox that we arrive at unity consciousness by first committing to fully embracing the pain of our deepest aloneness, which resides in the mother wound, the site of our first heart-wound as a human being. Any place of pain or wounding can serve as a doorway to this higher consciousness. The mother wound is a particularly potent access point because it touches our deepest vulnerabilities as human beings and impacts every area of our lives.

In order to fully arrive at realization of unity consciousness, we have to bring a certain mindset to the healing process. This mindset is quite counter to what is commonly believed in our fast-paced culture, which demands quick fixes, brute force to achieve, and lack of patience with things that inherently take time.

Antonio Fonseca Vázquez-Title- Eve

The mindset that we must espouse to make it to the other side, is a deep letting go: 

  • Surrender attachment to outcome
  • Trust: both the process and yourself
  • Accountability to keep your commitments to yourself
  • Integrity and self-honesty: to not turn away from your deepest pain or your deepest truths
  • Willingness to be uncomfortable for the sake of knowing and embodying that which is true and real.

In order to fully let go, we first need to feel fully supported. We have to first make sure we have a safe environment in our lives to support this work. In my opinion, the most ideal environment for support for this work has three elements simultaneously, however, this is not required. Each of these elements are wonderful on their own, but together they form a powerful base of support that can move you through the mother wound to the other side. You may experience one or more at different times of your journey.

1. Individual, long-term psychotherapy with a therapist that you deeply resonate with. This allows you to go deep into the emotional processing that needs to happen to create meaningful change in early patterns and beliefs. (I strongly recommend this component for women who have experienced trauma or abuse in relation to their mothers. And I think women who have not experienced trauma can greatly benefit from it as well.)

Gabrielle Senza

2. Coaching with a competent, compassionate mentor/life coach who has already been though this process herself. This person supports you to take action on the shifts and insights that happen as you process and heal the mother wound. This is a service I provide through my private coaching.

3. A supportive, stable community that fosters safety, authenticity and transparency. This could be in informal group of friends or it could be a formal community that meets regularly with the intention to support one another’s unfoldment.

Because the mother wound has two levels (personal mother and collective patriarchal inheritance), when we heal, we do so on two levels. We heal our own personal selves, and we also contribute to a massive cultural shift on the collective level.

I’m excited to share this process and greater vision with you to inspire you to see what is possible when we focus on healing the mother wound. And to underscore that when we commit to the healing process, it ceases to become a black hole that we’d rather avoid and ignore. Through our willingness to do the work it takes to heal, the mother wound begins to transform into a door into our greater wholeness and evolution. It is a second birth; a birth into your core, authentic, Divine Self.

© Bethany Webster 2014

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I teach a workshop on healing the mother wound. The next workshop is on June 28th, 2014 in Shelburne Falls, MA. For more info, see Events page. 

The online course and private coaching packages are about almost ready to launch! Stay tuned for more information. Coming very soon!

Click here to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free copy of my e-book on “Transforming the Inner Mother.”

(art credits in order of appearance: Catrin Welz-Stein, “A figure in shadow” by Edouard Antonin Vysekal, Alexei Jawlensky Blasse Bluten, “Cypress” by Alison Blickel, Agnieszka Szuba, “Big Orange Nude” by Mark Schaller, “Eve” by Antonion Fonseca, Gabrielle Senza)

The Importance of Resisting the Cultural Pressure to Ignore the Mother Wound

In January, I posted a blog article that went viral called Why It’s Crucial for Women to Heal the Mother Wound.”  One of the themes in the feedback I received is that some women felt guilty for being in wholehearted agreement with the article. Even though they felt great relief in reading it and totally resonated with it, some women expressed fear of their mothers finding out that they had read it because it articulated the deep pain they had been feeling in relation to her.

W. T. Benda

This struck me as a vivid illustration of the very strong cultural taboo against examining the relationship with one’s mother. Let’s look at the reasons why this taboo exists and why it’s so important to break this taboo in order to step into true fulfillment, wholeness and empowerment as women.

There are many variations of the taboo that says “Don’t look at your relationship with your mother.” Most of these beliefs equate the desire for healing from painful feelings in relation to your mother with “mother-blame.” This is a false equivalence, a distorted view that puts a daughter who is seeking healing into the position of a perpetrator against her mother, which instills guilt and shame. This can greatly thwart her process and keep her stuck.

The tragedy is that the fear of being seen as “mother-blaming” while pursuing our own healing, may prevent us from accessing the many gifts and powerful transformation that lie within the pain of the mother wound.

Ryan J. Michaels

When seeking healing in relation to our mothers, we may be encouraged to ignore our feelings and blame ourselves.

  • “She didn’t have it easy. Don’t put extra more of a burden on her.”
  • “Your mother tried her best. You know she loves you.”
  • “Focus on the good in the relationship. You only have one mother.”

These things may well be true: your mother may love you; she may have tried her best; you only have one mother; she didn’t have it easy, AND that shouldn’t be cause for you to swallow your pain, stop seeking healing, and silence yourself. This silencing is in accordance with the silencing of women as a whole.

The underlying message is “Bury your pain. Don’t be inconvenient.”

There is an interesting paradox operating here: As daughters, we don’t want to be in alliance with the patriarchal culture that perpetrates against our mothers, so we turn away from the opportunity to examine the relationship for insight and healing. We’re taught to think of this willful ignorance as beneficial and protective to her and to ourselves. But it is precisely when we turn away from the opportunity to heal the mother wound, that we actually are in cahoots with the patriarchy, because we are then enabling our own oppression, stuck-ness and smallness.

David et Myrtille

We must resist the cultural pressure to deny unpleasant thoughts and uncomfortable emotions in relation to our mothers. This task of resistance is essential to our realization of wholeness. 

Not healing the mother wound is very costly. If we ignore the pain of the mother wound, we risk living our lives indefinitely with persistent feelings of deep shame, self-sabotage, competition, comparison, self-doubt and attenuation. We also risk passing it along to our daughters and sons. The template that we inherited from our mothers (with its patriarchal distortions) will remain intact until we consciously act to transform it so that we can live in alignment with our deepest truth and thus experience deep fulfillment.

We fear being complicit with the damaging cultural paradigm of mother blame. “But mother-blaming” is very different from healing the mother wound. This is an important distinction: Mother-blame is avoiding responsibility and healing the mother wound is a form of taking personal responsibility. 

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Healing the mother wound is a process of gaining clarity on the predominant dynamics with our mothers that impacted our early development and our choices as adults. It also involves processing the challenging emotions that accompany those dynamics for the purpose of healing and discovering our authentic self. Eventually we reach a place of insight, wisdom, acceptance and gratitude.

Accessing your truth and power is worth the risk of being misunderstood and misperceived by others. 

Alexandra Levasseur

“Mother-blame” is different than healing the mother wound. “Mother-blame” is characterized by:

  • Complacency and a sense of victim-hood
  • A way of hiding from your own power
  • Projecting unprocessed anger and avoiding underlying grief

In the healing process, there may be moments of experiencing challenging emotions towards our mothers like sadness, rage, disappointment, etc. They are temporary places on the cycle of healing. If we stick with the healing process, those feelings eventually transform into peace and acceptance.

We have to believe that we are worth it and have what it takes to come out the other side of this wound. 

by Meghan Howland

Healing the mother wound is a personal journey which does not require that your mother heal herself. The focus is on YOU and your own healing and transformation. However, it is very possible that your own healing process may trigger your mother in some way. The trigger can be viewed as a valuable opportunity; an opportunity for mother and daughter to potentially come to deeper understanding. It could also be an opportunity for the mother to reflect and have insight on herself and her own life, if she is willing.

It’s interesting that we can only come to genuine acceptance and gratitude for what our mothers could give us only after we have honestly acknowledged the difficult feelings we may have about what she could not give us.

Healing the mother wound is characterized by: 

  • Examining the mother/daughter relationship with the intention to gain clarity and insight in order to create positive change in one’s life.
  • Transforming limiting beliefs you’ve inherited with the intention of adopting new beliefs that fully support you in flourishing as your authentic self.
  • Taking responsibility for your own path by becoming conscious of previously unconscious patterns  and making new choices that reflect your true desires.

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Healing the mother wound is a powerful catalyst for exponential growth; for discovering and living as our authentic self. When we examine and reflect on the mother wound, we gain powerful clarity about who we really are, and what our genuine wants and needs are. It’s a chance to articulate our deepest self, and to live in alignment with that.

There’s an old belief that says “Only one of us can win.” This is a patriarchal belief that unconsciously manifests in dynamics of competition and dominance between family members, including mothers and daughters. We can replace this unconscious belief with a new belief: “I can validate and heal myself without the need to condemn you.” As we live from this new paradigm, we may experience backlash from others who still subscribe to the old patriarchal beliefs. However, we mustn’t give up in the face of backlash, but continue to stand firm in our integrity and get the support we need to live our truth.

by Erin Fitzpatrick

It’s important that you know there are no guarantees. Our own healing does not necessarily mean that we will have a better relationship with our mothers nor does it mean that our mothers will also seek their own healing. Accepting this unknown is part of surrendering to the organic process of healing and trusting it will deliver us to our highest good. It’s the risk that we have to take.

Healing the mother wound is not a rejection of mother, it’s a powerful form of claiming oneself as whole. 

Because our relationships with our mothers served as the foundation for our relationship with ourselves, they offer massive potential for growth and transformation. That is the point of healing the mother wound; not to blame, not to judge or reject one’s mother. But to experience the peace and freedom of self-actualization, which is the birthright of every woman.

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© Bethany Webster 2014

(Art credits in order of appearance: W.T. Benda, Ryan J. Michaels, David Et Myrtille, unknown, Alexandra Levasseur, Meghan Howland, unknown, Erin Fitzpatrick, unknown)

I teach a workshop called: “Healing the Mother Wound: Move Beyond What Your Mother Never Gave you and Become the Woman You’re Meant to Be.” Click here to see dates of upcoming workshops! 

A big, heartfelt THANK YOU to all who completed my survey on what you’re looking for in a program on healing the mother wound! I’ve received 137 responses and I’ve been carefully reading every one. Thanks for your continued patience and enthusiastic support as I build the online course and coaching packages! Stay tuned! Love, Bethany

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

 

 

A Daughter/Mother Revolution for Personal Empowerment and Cultural Transformation

La Nature by Alfons Maria Mucha,

“All great truths begin as blasphemy.” ~George Bernard Shaw

A very basic definition of patriarchy is “a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.” The patriarchy of western civilization is damaging to both women and men. In order for us to truly discover our innate wholeness and create lasting change in our world, we have to detox from the damaging patriarchal messages that we have all internalized to some degree.

Patriarchy is not a distant concept. It is alive and active in our daily lives, impacting us in internal and external ways that we are largely unconscious of. The process of naming and identifying is a powerful key in any kind of individual or collective transformation. I highly recommend this article by Bell Hooks entitled “Understanding Patriarchy.”

As women in patriarchal cultures, we are caught in a double-bind. If a woman focuses too heavily on caring for others, she is devalued and seen as weak. On the other hand, if she focuses on herself and her independent pursuits, she is seen as selfish. In either case, there is little opportunity for a woman to be accurately seen and valued as an individual.

What is needed is for us to find a way to come into balance–to be seen as distinct, unique individuals AND to have authentic connections with others.

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A woman may adapt to this double bind by either becoming compliant, passive and silent OR becoming patriarchal herself, as in controlling, dominating and rigid. In either case, the woman remains stuck.

It is time for women to courageously individuate, to become more fully themselves and to voice their innate, inner wisdom.

Individuation is the process of becoming uniquely oneself, of bringing to birth a consciousness of human community precisely because it makes us aware of the unconscious, which unites and is common to all mankind. Individuation is an at-one-ment with oneself and at the same time with humanity, since oneself is a part of humanity.” ~ Carl Jung

Individuation is different from Individualism. Far from being selfish, an individuated person feels a strong responsibility to support, serve others and to advance wholeness, peace and integrity in the world.

Individuated women are needed in our world now more than ever.

Women’s needs for individuation have been thwarted by the culture causing us to feel an unnamed aggression or chronic, low-level frustration simmering under the surface of our daily lives. A new model is needed to transform ourselves on the personal level AND to transform our culture as well.

Cleopatra, Thomas Ridgeway Gould

Not every woman is a mother. But every woman is a daughter. In order to become the women we are meant to be, we must start with ourselves as daughters to address the early patterns that were laid down in the earliest days of our lives.

The mother/daughter relationship is one of the most powerful relationships that humans can have. It is also one of the most ambivalent, conflicted and challenging.

The process of separating and individuating from mothers is generally more difficult for women than for men. This is because of the gender identification between mother and daughter, which may cause the mother to unconsciously push a son to differentiate from her much more than she would her daughter.

Because we have all internalized patriarchal values to some degree, mothers pass down these values unconsciously and unintentionally. And daughters absorb their mothers’ values as a form of loyalty to mother, but the loyalty to those values becomes a form of disloyalty to their own potential.

In order to stop the unconscious, inter-generational wounding of women by women, we have to address how the mother wound is a product of patriarchy and how women have had to compensate for the patriarchal mandate for women to remain small and non-powerful.

We have to take the risk and summon the courage to love and validate ourselves even though we may have never received this from our mothers or from the culture.

Even though we’ve never had the models we needed, we’re being called to step forward anyway and be the women that we’re being called to be. 

We’re being called to take the risk to fully bless ourselves and one another, even without the external approval of family and society. Are you willing?

Evening, Frederick W. Ruckstull

Most people believe that if we want something, we pray to an external force (usually male) to give it to us. This keeps us in spiritual immaturity. It is time for us to see that when we ask for something, what we actually receive is the shift in our own consciousness that is needed to create that thing from within ourselves.

“Worth is not given. It can only be claimed.” ~unknown

We are being called to consciously own our power and to step out of all forms of victimhood that hold us back from the realization of our true responsibility as creators.

We do not birth the new world by asking for it to be given to us by external forces. We create it by embodying it within ourselves. We create it by BEING it. 

The journey of individuating and becoming the women that we are meant to be requires that we first address the template for womanhood that we received from our mothers that was distorted by the patriarchy and transform that template into the divine blueprint that we are meant to live.

Leda and the swan, Albert ernst carrier belleuse

Issues involved in the mother wound that are rooted in patriarchy:

  • Receiving love in exchange for being small and non-threatening
  • Scarcity and power dynamics between mother and daughter
  • Unresolved issues of the mother being projected onto daughter
  • Mother being threatened by daughter and unconsciously sabotaging or causing daughter to feel doubtful of her aspirations
  • Daughter fears of surpassing mother and losing her love
  • Daughter feels she owes it to her mother to sacrifice herself the same way her mother did
  • Mother feels compensated for her own pain by seeing her daughter suffer

Rodin hands

A critical step for a woman’s authentic empowerment is to heal the mother wound; transforming the generational pain of maternal wounding into divine feminine power. In order to do so, both mothers and daughters must start with themselves as daughters because this is the place where the wound originally occurred. This is the deep work that is required to embody our truth, authenticity, power and creativity for the benefit of all beings.

I offer women a comprehensive process to heal the mother wound that addresses the need for both personal and cultural transformation.

Based on the many years of my own healing process and my own research on the subject, I discovered that there are 7 main steps that we pass through in healing the mother wound. I teach this signature system as a roadmap for the healing journey. In my workshops and soon-to-be-released online course, I offer tools, resources, exercises and templates for each step in the process. I describe the entire process very briefly below.

How the mother wound is transformed: 

  1. Identify the ways your mother has served as your foundation in life.
  2. Identify the cultural taboos and stereotypes that have prevented you from healing the mother wound.
  3. Identify your mother gap: the gap between what you needed and what you received from your mother.
  4. Give up the impossible dream that one day your mother will change into the mother you’ve always hoped she’d be.
  5. Allow yourself to grieve.
  6. Transform your “inner mother” from a duplicate of your mother with her limitations into an inner mother that unconditionally supports and loves you.
  7. Emerge: Living life beyond the mother wound.

Camposanto monumentale, pisa italy

The implications of this work are huge…

As infants we experience ourselves as completely one with our mothers. Because the mother = life, the mother wound is essentially a wound with life itself. As it is healed, we have the potential to realize our unity with life on a very profound level. The gift within the crisis of the mother wound is the potential to be birthed into unity consciousness.

Healing the mother wound is a revolutionary and necessary act that allows us to separate ourselves from the patriarchal mandates that have been passed down through countless generations. It is a way of honoring the women who have come before us and the women who are yet to come. It is creating within yourself the container needed to hold powerful energies that are needed for our collective evolution.

“Nothing is more important for the future of our culture than the way children develop.”~ Gabor Maté

As more women heal the mother wound, the way we treat Mother Earth will shift; the way we raise children will shift; the way men and women relate to one another will shift; the way we relate to our work and creative life will shift. I call this a “Daughter/Mother” revolution rather than “Mother/Daughter” because the transformation stems from each woman addressing herself first as daughter. This is how the cycle of pain is broken.

An attendee of one of my workshops said “I realize now that the more I nurture the daughter within myself, the better I will be at nurturing my own daughter.”

Healing the mother wound cannot be done alone or in isolation. Support is needed. Around the world, a community is being formed in which women can support one another in this process. You are not alone!

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For this process, we need courage and we need each other. 

As women, when we claim and own our worth, we embody both the holder and the held. And we do this not only for ourselves but for each other and for all life.That is why our inner work is so pivotal and impactful at this time. There is a connection between our own inner healing and the healing of the world we live in. This is not a connection that depletes us, but a connection that strengthens and energizes us because it comes from the inexhaustible heart of all.

A quote from Jeff Brown:

“We must not give up. It takes so much time to heal because we are not just healing our own wounds – we are healing the world’s wounds, too. We think we are alone with our ‘stuff’, but we aren’t. With every clearing of our emotional debris, with every foray into a healthier way of being, with every excavation and release of old material, we heal the collective heart. So many of our familial and karmic ancestors had little opportunity to heal their pains. When we heal, their spirits breathe a sigh of relief. We heal them backwards, while healing ourselves forward. We heal in unison.”

© Bethany Webster 2014

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I invite you to complete a survey on what you would look for in a program on healing the mother wound.

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

(Art credits in order of appearance: Alfons Maria Mucha, Thomas Ridgeway, unknown, Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, statue from Pisa Italy, Frederick W. Ruckstill, Rodin, unknown)

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR E-ZINE OR WEB SITE?
 You can, as long as you include this complete statement with it: Bethany Webster is a writer, international speaker and what you could call a midwife of the heart. Her work is focused on supporting women in realizing their true identity as consciousness, claiming their brilliance and embodying their truth with authenticity and self-love. She is the author of the forthcoming book “Healing the Mother Wound: Move Beyond What Your Mother Never Gave You and Become the Woman You’re Meant to Be.” Visit her website now at: http://womboflight.com/

 

We Can’t Save Our Mothers from their Pain

Women’s capacity for empathy has been exploited in our culture; distorted into guilt, a sense of obligation, emotional care-taking, co-dependency and self-recrimination. These distortions can paralyze us when we feel the desire to express our true power in our lives.

For those of us who have mothers who have been unable to claim their own power in their own lives it can seem very frightening to do it for ourselves. Loving ourselves may feel foreign. It’s a skill that we are all being called to learn.

David Hockney

A common dynamic that many adult daughters experience is the compulsion to rescue, fix and heal their mothers. This is complicated by the fact that many older mothers frequently present their emotional problems to their daughters feeling entitled to significant and intensive support.

A mother’s pain may show up in various forms:

  • An unhappy marriage
  • Addictions and/or mental illness
  • The dramas that may play out in her own relationships
  • Illness, health problems, disabilities
  • Loneliness and fears of aging
  • Financial problems

There are legitimate ways that we can support our mothers that do not deplete us emotionally. And then there are other ways that our mothers may ask for support that are not appropriate, that may violate our boundaries and keep us stuck in a cycle of guilt, exhaustion and self-doubt. We may comply with inappropriate demands or behaviors out of love and compassion, but it is not sustainable if our basic well-being is increasingly diminished.

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In order to express and embody our power we have to sever any threads of dysfunctional enmeshment we may have with our mothers.

The dysfunctional enmeshment between mothers and daughters can show up in many ways:

  • Mother using daughter as comforter and dumping ground for her unprocessed emotions
  • Daughter needing mother’s approval on all aspects of her life before she’s able to feel good about herself and her choices
  • Mother finding comfort in having her daughter as a “pet” who always agrees with her and conforms to her views and beliefs; rejects daughter if she expresses independence
  • Mother using daughter as narcissistic tool to bring attention and praise back to herself
  • Daughter feeling overwhelmed with mother’s needs; spending inordinate amount of energy worrying about her mother’s problems and how to solve them
  • Mother must speak to daughter hourly or several times daily in order to maintain her own emotional stability
  • Mother feels entitled to access and/or control over major aspects of her daughters’ life, from physical items to personal details and information

Mothers usually do these things totally unconsciously and unintentionally as a way to relieve their own pain and avoid their own unresolved personal challenges. Yet mothers who use their daughters in these ways are exploiting their daughters’ empathy in a patriarchal fashion.

Mothers must recognize and own the ways that they may be unconsciously holding their daughters down because of their own unresolved issues. Mothers must own the patriarchy within themselves. If mothers are unwilling to do so, daughters must stand firm and claim their own right to themselves and their own lives.

Kees van Dongen

In order to come into balance and heal the exploitation of our empathy daughters need to refuse to feel guilty for their desire and ability to be powerful and independent. Even if that means rejection from our mothers when we set clear, healthy boundaries in the relationship.

We can be good daughters AND set healthy boundaries with our mothers. But we can’t rely solely on our mothers’ opinions of us to feel secure in that. We have to feel empowered and secure with the limits we set in the relationship. 

Daughters are not responsible for the emotional stability of their mothers. When we are able to face the fact that we are powerless as daughters to heal our mothers, we can do the mourning that is necessary to move on and finally step forward in the ways that we are called to own our power and live authentic, joyful, abundant lives…without guilt.

It’s a tragedy that some mothers actively manipulate their daughters out of their own unconscious feelings of deprivation and fears of abandonment. And it’s a tragedy that some daughters miss the opportunity to step into their empowered self-hood out of a feeling of paralyzing guilt toward their mothers.

The deprived child in a mother may be looking to her daughter for the emotional nourishment that she never received from her own mother. This is one of the ways that the mother wound gets passed down. 

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In some female lineages there is an unconscious, unspoken contract that since you were deprived of maternal nurturing by your own mother, your adult daughter then owes you that nurturing in return. This dynamic creates an atmosphere of scarcity in which its impossible for both mother and daughter to BOTH feel authentically connected to one another AND secure as separate individuals. It sets up a power dynamic where only one can “win.”

If an adult daughter refuses to comply with this unspoken, generational expectation of being enmeshed and mothering her own mother, the rage of countless generations of deprived daughters may be unleashed upon the daughter, which can be deeply disturbing and difficult to endure. The rage that is projected on the daughter is usually not actually about her at all, but is the projection of the mother’s own worst fears and distortions, which she had to carry out of her own sense of patriarchal obligation and deprivation of maternal love. 

Bad Trouble over the Weekend

It’s so important to get support with this process. 

No matter how much your mother protests when you respectfully convey that you will no longer emotionally care-take her, it’s important to let her have her upset without rushing in to comfort her. This can be very difficult yet it’s such an important step. It is what must be done to halt the momentum of this kind of generational enmeshment between mothers and daughters. A daughter in this situation must say no in order to stop the cycle.

In order for this kind of relationship to come into balance (in which both mother and daughter feel equally honored in the relationship) it’s necessary for the daughter to first own her legitimacy as an individual. This includes setting boundaries, setting limits, speaking her truth, honoring herself, etc. Those first steps of asserting your individuality can be very challenging. And with time, those steps can also be incredibly liberating and empowering.

FRIDA by atelier olschinsky

Mothers are not served by their daughters’ self-sacrifice and co-dependency with them. It perpetuates their stuck-ness and denial. And it is detrimental to the daughter; it directly hampers her ability to confidently embrace her own separate self.There is a misconception about self-sacrifice based on the residues of older generational beliefs that says:

  • Martyrdom is admirable.
  • Women are naturally happy to serve and care-take others.
  • Women are not supposed to be vocal, willful or assertive.
  • Women who refuse compliments and are prone to self-deprecation are commendable and praiseworthy.

The compulsion to heal mother

If we look deeper there may be an unconscious, child-like belief operating that if we as daughters can heal or save our mothers, they will eventually transform into the mothers we always needed–strong, unconditionally loving, happy, nurturing, etc. and as daughters we can finally get the mothering that we’ve needed.

But this is not possible. It’s impossible because our childhood is over and we can never go back and get what we needed.

Grieving this fact is a key to our freedom.

There is a direct relationship between our child-like desire to save our mothers from their pain and our fear of powerfully claiming our own lives.

Laurindo Feliciano

Each mother/daughter relationship is different. Each adult daughter in this situation must reflect and come to clarity on what she is and is not willing to do and accept in relationship to her mother and to respectfully communicate that to her. It is an individual choice and it can take time to come to clarity. Ultimately, the daughter has to be loyal and true to herself first and foremost. Ironically, this is what every mother in her healthy state would want for her daughter: to be good to herself and do what is best for her.

But when a mother has unresolved trauma and early unmet developmental needs, her desire to to get her own needs met can override her ability to accurately see and love her adult daughter as a sovereign, separate, independent adult who has the right to say no without guilt.

Sue Stone

Giving up the impossible quest to save our mothers is a key to transforming ourselves and our culture.

There is something very profound for us to mourn here. We have to mourn the ways in which our mothers have been casualties of the dysfunction of their families and of the patriarchy. And we have to mourn the fact that we as daughters are not capable of healing our mothers from their pain. This mourning process is what ultimately allows us to own our worth without guilt.

Really taking this in, doing the necessary grieving, all while standing firm with healthy boundaries that support your highest self, is an incredible act of courage and strength, the fruits of which will be felt in your own life and which will benefit generations of women to come.

Shannon Taggart

A quote from Jeff Brown

 “One thing I have learned with certainty is not to
stand in connection with those who diminish me.
This is particularly difficult when family is involved,
because we have a vested interest in perpetuating the
family system for all kinds of different reasons.
I don’t believe one should endure abuse no matter how
attached they are to an idea of family. There are many
families (read: soulpod) waiting for us just outside our
habitual awareness. We are not responsible for those
who diminish us. We really have to get that. We can be
compassionate and we can certainly understand where
their abusiveness comes from, but understanding the
origins does not mean we have to endure it. It’s not
our cross to bear.” –
from his book “Love it Forward”

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General tips for setting healthy boundaries with an enmeshed, dependent mother: 

It’s important to know at the outset that as you begin to set boundaries in this situation, you are likely to experience some degree of push-back (guilt, manipulation, withdrawal, etc.) But if you stay consistent with your boundaries over time, it’s possible that your mother may reluctantly learn to adapt to them. The most important thing is not how your mother reacts but the fact that you are taking this action for yourself, and for the sake of your greater health and well-being. When you communicate honestly, respectfully and with integrity, you can feel good about yourself no matter how your mother responds. You begin to embody your best self around your mother and this is very powerful.

  • The first step is to get clarity on the specific behaviors which behaviors you would like to set boundaries around. Make them as concrete and tangible as possible. (Examples: over-sharing, unrealistic demands of your time, entitlement to emotional rescuing, etc.)
  • Do what you need to do to get into the mindset of deservingness, of your right to say no to demands or behaviors that do not honor your space, time or self-hood. Get the support you need to engender this solid sense of your worth.
  • Do some writing in your journal. Craft an empowering, respectful response to when your mother exhibits the behaviors that you wish to limit in the relationship. Clear, concise, calm, respectful statements are optimal, especially ones that you can easily remember under stress.
  • Write these new responses down and envision yourself speaking them to your mother in the situation.
  • Practice visualizing this until you feel confident. Practice speaking the statements out loud. You could even ask a friend to help you practice the situation and responding with your empowered statements.
  • When you feel ready begin using your boundary-setting statements with your mother as you visualized. (Don’t expect them to come out perfectly the first time.)
  • Soon after this initial interaction, I think it’s important to do something concrete to nurture yourself in some way. Perhaps a nice meal, some free time to reflect, spending time with a friend, get a massage, etc. Some action to reinforce your worth and deservingness. Congratulate yourself on your courage and affirm that you are willing to do whatever it takes to honor yourself in all your relationships, including the one with your mother.

© Bethany Webster 2014

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I teach a workshop on healing the mother wound. See Events for more information.

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(art credits in order of appearance: David Hockney, unknown, Kees van Dongen, unknown, Dorothea Lange, Atelier Olschinsky, Laurindo Feliciano, Sue Stone, Shannon Taggert, Ugne Henriko)

Thank you for reading!