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 is for each woman’s 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 process 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. In gratitude for your time, please accept this download of my free e-book on Transforming the Inner Mother”.

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(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)

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.

Stay tuned for the online course!

Sign up here to receive my free newsletter!

(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!

Loving the Magical Child Within

“Caring for your inner child has a powerful and
surprisingly quick result: Do it and the child heals.” ~Martha Beck

Mother and CHild by Pablo Picasso

There is something so pristine at our core…

The child that we were is not just a snapshot of our history; she is a vital energy that lives within us right now.

Our inner child is part of our authentic self, the self we were before we had to wear masks and take on a false self to some degree in order to survive in our families and in our cultures. When we care for our inner child we begin to recover our authentic, natural self. We begin to restore a sense of goodness and worthiness to those things we may have had to put into shadow.

Welcoming back the parts of us we had to reject is incredibly liberating!

We can welcome our rejected parts back into the embrace of ourselves and  act in new ways that demonstrate to our inner child that the past is over and that now it is safe to be her full self.

Examples of taking actions that heal and liberate:

  • Setting boundaries when it was previously forbidden
  • Using your voice to speak your truth when it caused you to be rejected in the past
  • Giving yourself time to play or do nothing when you were taught that your value only comes from working

We have to be rebels to heal. Healing requires that we have the courage to undo the dysfunctional patterns that were laid early in life. It is a long journey and can be so challenging, but it is so worth it. Ultimately, it expands our capacity for radical new levels of joy, pleasure, creativity and connection.

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Transforming the early beliefs that have kept us stuck

A child has limited cognitive abilities and views itself as the source of parental shortcomings. The unconscious beliefs that we formed as children may still be operating in us as adults causing problems in our lives.

Examples of unconscious conclusions that we may have come to as children in the face of family dysfunction or abuse:

  • “I am bad.”
  • “There is something wrong with me.”
  • “If I was really good and lovable, then mommy or daddy would not reject/hit/abandon me.”

These unconscious beliefs can cause cognitive dissonance when, as adults, we seek to make major changes, such as follow our passion, find a mate or start a new career. For example, if we have an unconscious belief that we are bad we may find it difficult to commit to our soul mate or embark on our dream of self-employment. The cognitive dissonance comes in because the beliefs conflict.

Examples of unconscious thoughts that cause self-sabotage:

  • Amazing things don’t happen to bad people.
  • I don’t deserve to be that happy.
  • It feels unfamiliar and strange to be so content; perhaps I’m not safe.

We have to acknowledge and grieve the loss of having to create an inner split in order to be accepted by our families. Dismantling the belief in our “badness” requires us to mourn that separation from our true self. This is a powerful step in creating safety for our inner child where they may have been none growing up.

Untitled by Дарья Приймачук on Fivehundredpx

When we can see and honor our innocence, we can also do this for others and all lifeforms. It is all connected. The innocence that lives in us lives in all life.

We can find a love within that has no limits.

In our culture, it seems that children are rewarded more for growing out of childhood as soon as possible; and not so easily loved for whatever stage they are at as children. Because of this many of us grew up feeling punished or abandoned for the simple fact of having needs. Many of us learned to hate our needs and to hate ourselves for having needs. The need to eat, the need to be held, the need to be seen, the need to be listened to, the need to be understood, etc. We may be carrying this self-derision within and it can keep us stuck.

I sensed acutely as a child that my mother experienced my needs as an assault. Due to her own wounding and overwhelm my needs were met with withdrawal and anger. I recall a powerful experience during my healing process in which I felt the existential despair of early childhood at realizing that no matter how much I tried, I could not make my needs go away. And thus, I could not make my mother love me the way I needed her to.

As an adult, it was a revelation to see that at my core I had been carrying around an ancient, primal desire to extinguish myself in order to be loveable. Seeing this allowed me to grieve and made way for deep compassion, self-empathy and physical relief to permeate my being. It  explained the persistent pattern of needing to be small, compliant and attenuated; this was the only time I received love.

I was able to say to my inner child: “Of course you would feel this way! It makes perfect sense!” I was able to have compassion and understanding for why it was scary for me to take up space, to ask for my needs to be met and to be my full self without fear. It was like a big puzzle piece slid into place. This compassionate, spacious seeing allowed the pattern to finally begin the process of dissolving because the unconscious belief that kept it in place was clearly seen to be no longer be valid.

We can fill the gaps of love that we missed as children.

Mother and Child by JWSmith

As we work with the inner child, our vitality and inner safety is restored. 

We all need to feel adored, cherished, comforted, nurtured and honored for the unique person we are. When we help our inner child feel these feelings, new energy and vitality comes into every area of our lives because we are releasing shame and anointing ourselves in goodness and blessedness. This gives us new confidence, lightheartedness, and joy.

Our inner child begins to feel safe enough to be her natural self:

  • Having fun (even in mundane situations)
  • Being present in the moment
  • Expressing feelings openly
  • Being openhearted and generous to others
  • Having an attitude of playfulness
  • Being enthusiastic and full of energy
  • Having a sense of vitality and connection to your body
  • Feeling difficult feelings and allowing them to dissolve naturally

Found on agirlsrighttodream.tumblr.com

Creating a safe inner environment for your inner child to thrive

Creating an inner bond starts with the willingness to dialogue with the inner child on a regular basis. Depending on the level of trauma you experienced when you were a child, your inner child may be reluctant to trust you at first and it may take time for her to open up to you. But be persistent and you will be amazed at the results. Even just a little dialogue every day reaps massive returns in the form of physical energy, positive emotions and general well-being.

stock photo of little girl painting

 Examples of affirming things you can say to your inner child: 

  • You are thoroughly good and wonderful!
  • You are lovable and special.
  • You are safe.
  • I respect you.
  • I am so proud of you!
  • I’m so happy you are here!
  • You can do it!
  • I’m right here for you whenever you need me.
  • It’s OK to have needs. I love filling your needs!
  • I love taking care of you!
  • It’s OK to make mistakes.
  • All of your feelings are OK.
  • You can rest in me.
  • There’s nothing you could say or do that would make me not love you.

India

Examples of questions to ask your inner child: 

  • How are you feeling today?
  • What do you need from me in this moment?
  • What can I do for you right now?
  • I sense that you are feeling ______, Would you like to talk about it?
  • What would you like to do right now?

Listen to what she has to tell you and feel the energy shift in your body and in your emotions. Paint, draw, journal, write letters, dialogue with a chair, pull our your favorite old toys. Have fun with the process. You are creating a sanctuary within where everything is OK–no matter what. A sanctuary where it is safe to be a child, where is safe to have feelings, where it is safe to be messy and un-groomed, where it is safe to play and have fun!

Discovering and embodying your indestructible goodness…

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I had this photo of a fox (above) on my desk and I recall one day when every time I looked at it, I felt the urge to weep. Sensing something potent under the surface, I sat down with the photo and allowed myself to feel what was coming up. As I stared into the eyes of the fox, I sensed it’s innocent and pure presence. I began to weep and realized I was weeping for innocent and pure presence of my own inner child. And as I wept I had a major realization. I realized that the innocence and purity had not been destroyed by early trauma, it was actually present with me in that moment. In fact, it could never fully be destroyed, nor could I ever be fully separated from it because this innocence and purity were the very essence of my being and part of my connection to life itself.

Loving our inner child gives us access to our essence, our truth, and our vitality in a way that nothing else can. 

The indestructible bond that we create between our adult self and inner child replaces the deficits of our early childhood with the emotional nutrients that create the strength needed to live as our full, brilliant, authentic self. It is a process of building a new foundation to support the vastness of who you really are.

jessica wilcox smith

© Bethany Webster 2014

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I teach a workshop on “Healing the Mother Wound.” Check out the Events page for upcoming workshops.

Sign up for my free newsletter here!

Thank you for reading! I invite you to leave a comment below…What is your experience with healing your inner child?

(Artist credits in order of appearance: Mother and Child Pablo Picasso, unknown, Untitled by Дарья Приймачук, Mother and Child by Jessica Wilcox Smith, Emily’s contagious laugh by Charlotte S. found on agirlsrighttodream.tumbler.com,  next 3 photos are stock photos, Jessica Wilcox Smith)

 

Re-defining “Honor Thy Mother and Father” in the new paradigm

“Honor thy mother and father,” says the commandment.

Young children are biologically pre-disposed to revere and honor their parents in order to survive. Yet when children become adults and are capable of questioning their parents and evaluating them from an adult perspective, they may be discouraged from looking too deeply, so as not to offend the parents who have given so much for them.

Cherelle Sappleton.

Many see the act of examining one’s childhood to be avoiding adult responsibility and pointlessly dwelling on the past. Yet the epitome of not taking responsibility is refusing to deal with the pain of your childhood and then unconsciously projecting your unprocessed pain onto other people.

This can be very challenging for those of older generations who were rewarded for being silent about the truth of their pain. In generations past, the very definition of honor and responsibility involved hiding painful truths--and this worldview is still quite dominant in our world today. Some parents may unconsciously expect their adult children to be silent about their feelings because this is what was expected of them. That was how family loyalty and honor were defined. Children were to be seen and not heard. And adult children who examine their histories may be viewed with suspicion, distrust or outright scorn.

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Due to the belief that silence is honor, the old form of “honor thy mother and father” has allowed for inter-generational pain to fester and to be unconsciously passed along for centuries.

Seeing the value of conflict in the service of transformation 

One of the major taboos in our culture is that conflict is bad. Yet, conflict that is in the service of transformation is necessary. If we avoid all conflict, we are avoiding growth, greater intimacy and deeper understanding. We have to re-envision how we approach conflict and discomfort, not as a form of personal attack or victimhood, but as a necessary step in creating greater intimacy and understanding.

What we refuse to acknowledge, we unconsciously pass onto others.

We have all to some degree developed a false self, a mask to help us survive in our societies and in our families. For countless generations people have been encouraged to see the masks as their true selves. This has resulted in a persistent background pain and sense of shame. Many address this pain with drugs, alcohol, or end up feeling chronically depressed. There is a wisdom in the body that wants to reject the mask and live from the authentic self.

Simon Burch

There is only one thing that will bring relief: The truth at the center of your Being and living from that place of deep authenticity, no matter the cost.

Because this taboo against exploring our inner truth has been operating with momentum for countless generations, we are each presented with a dilemma. Do we continue with ‘business as usual’, with the persistent, background pain, but with an illusion of peace and security? Or do we directly face the pain for the sake of moving through it, to arrive at a place of genuine truth, clarity and the deep fulfillment that it brings?

Honoring your Authentic Self

street art & graffiti Vitry-sur-Seine - Indigo by _Kriebel_

There is a paradox that in order to truly progress we must temporarily regress, meaning we must look back to truly move forward. We cannot truly move forward until we understand what it is that we are moving on from.

What we refuse to own does not simply go away; it will keep manifesting until we deal with it directly. So why not deal with it directly? Dealing with our unresolved pain directly is increasingly being seen as the only sane choice.

The pressure to look within is stronger than ever.  We can see how full our collective shadow has become; we can see it in the floating trash in our oceans, the squandering of our resources and the poisoning of our atmosphere. This is symbolic of the inner avoidance and of not “cleaning up our own inner trash.” Contrary to the belief of former generations, we’re seeing now that the inner garbage doesn’t disappear even though we may prefer to be silent and pretend it is not there.

In the new paradigm that we are moving into, family honor will not be equated with silence but rather with honesty, integrity and authenticity, even if that involves confronting painful, uncomfortable feelings. The uncomfortable feelings that come up in the process of healing from emotional wounds will not be avoided due to fear, but seen realistically as an integral part of a healthy process that ultimately delivers one to clarity, deep wisdom and compassion.

emmaleonardart

The work of individualization requires that we honestly examine our histories and how they have impacted our lives, not for the sake of assigning blame, but for the sake of authentically moving forward and receiving the gifts that lay dormant in our wounds. 

It is a paradox that the more of us that individualize (live from a place of authenticity and truth) the stronger the collective unity we are capable of creating.

Our hunger for authenticity is starting to exceed our hunger for cultural and familial approval.

I recently went to a talk by a prominent Jungian analyst who was discussing our current predicament in the context of the symbols of the Age of Pisces (depicted with an image of many fish swimming in the ocean)  and the Age of Aqaurius (depicted as a woman carrying a water vessel on her shoulder). The Jungian analyst had an interesting insight. He said this could be seen as a symbol of the new era towards which we are moving; from swimming in the collective, group unconsciousness (fish in the ocean) to a new realm where we each must take full responsibility for our own consciousness as depicted by carrying our own vessel upon our own shoulders. 

We are building a new culture of self-responsibility.

by Iiliana Mendez

The ability to experience intimacy and oneness is preceded by the willingness to embrace the solitude and necessity of self-reflection that result in genuine insights into the self.

The fact that our culture has equated honest examination of our histories with treason or blasphemy illustrates how this commandment is a form of exerting control, not about genuine love. Love that is commanded is not love. Examining our histories, if we stay with the process, ultimately brings us to honor and love for our parents. No commandment needed.

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It is truly revolutionary to do the work of uncovering our true selves.

So many taboos must be broken:

  • the taboo against exploring your deeper self and finding answers within
  • the taboo of honestly feeling your feelings even if they offend others
  • the taboo of feeling fully deserving and worthy of big things
  • the taboo of loving yourself and owning your worth
  • the taboo of process, patience and things taking time
  • the taboo of imperfection
  • the taboo of acknowledging the truth of our childhood histories
  • the taboo of vulnerability
  • the taboo of focusing on self-exploration (labeled “selfish,” especially for women)

Healing the mother wound is a form of honoring your entire female line: the generations of women who have gone before you and the generations of women that are to come. 

Due to the cultural atmosphere of female oppression, women have historically felt caught in a bind: honoring your mother may seem to necessitate dis-empowering yourself and likewise, empowering yourself may feel like not fully honoring your mother. This either/or bind has been a problem in women’s empowerment. This is because of the power dynamic that has been passed down through generations of women living in patriarchy, which is a sense of scarcity that makes it seem challenging for mothers and daughters to both be empowered individuals.

Honoring your mother will be seen as in full alignment with honoring yourself. 

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As more generations of women become individualized and live their authentic truth, it will no longer be taboo for daughters to reflect on the mother wound to seek healing. It will be known that healing the mother wound is essential to taking responsibility for oneself, to living life consciously and with integrity. And it will be seen as a critical step in fully owning one’s brilliance and power. This is also true for the father wound and for the work that men do in healing their own generational wounds. And as men and women increasingly come together and support one another in this desire for authenticity, change can happen on a massive scale.

Our personal mothers are windows into the archetypal power of the Great Mother.

Rima Staines

Archtypes are universal energies. A human being cannot BE an archetype because the energy is much bigger than a single person. Yet mothers in our culture are expected to be the personal mother AND the archetypal mother, which is impossible. We need new models of female empowerment, more symbols of the power of the divine feminine in our culture so that we are not only relying on our personal mothers to provide us with the experience of our divine feminine power.  Thus, we can spread out our mothering needs among many sources and thus, have those needs more likely to be filled.

One of the readers of my blog recently wrote to me that she was visiting a exhibition in her town in the Netherlands that depicted the heroic women who struggled for women’s liberation. She said that in viewing the exhibition, she had a poignant realization that healing the mother wound in herself was a right that these women had also fought for. In other words, the process of healing the mother wound is a continuation of this struggle for women’s liberation and empowerment.

Honoring your Inner Child

Ophelia by IMagine studio

The story goes that Christ told the disciples that one cannot enter the kingdom of heaven until we have become like little children.  This is not about reverting back to childishness or lack of responsibility. It is about re-claiming the original innocence of  our inner child by confronting the false masks that we’ve accumulated that block the expression of the true, authentic self.

The innocence of our child-self combines with the wisdom of the integrated adult-self to create a powerful, new consciousness capable of transforming our world beyond anything we have yet known.

We truly honor our parents and our children when we take responsibility and do the work of healing our own wounds. 

When we are strong advocates for the child within us, we are advocates and stewards of all that is innocent, pure and good. And as we redeem the child within ourselves, we also redeem the children that live in our mothers and fathers, because we can then see them in the light of truth and the light of compassion. This sense of honor then extends to the earth and all life.

sayudeko

© Bethany Webster 2014

I teach a course on healing the mother wound. See Events page for upcoming dates. If you are interested in bringing a workshop to your area, please send an email to info@womboflight.com.

Please stay tuned as I’ll be announcing new, upcoming opportunities to work with me personally on healing the mother wound.

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Thank you for reading! I invite you to leave a comment below!

Sign up for my free newsletter here!

(art credits in order of appearance: Cherelle Sappleton, Imagine Studio, Simon Burch, street art from Vitry-sur-Seine: Indigo by Kriebel, Ekaterina Korolera, Liliana Mendez, artist unknown, artist unknown, Rima Staines, Ophelia by Imagine Studio, Sayudeko)

When Shame feels Mothering: The Tragedy of Parentified Daughters

The Kiss, 1890-1891 Mary Cassatt

The road between a little girl and her mother is supposed to be a one-way street with support flowing consistently from the mother to the daughter. It goes without saying that little girls are totally dependent on their mothers for physical, mental and emotional support. However, one of the many faces of the mother wound is the common dynamic in which the mother inappropriately depends on the daughter to provide her with mental and emotional support. This role-reversal is incredibly damaging to the daughter, having long-range effects on the her self-esteem, confidence and sense of self-worth.

Alice Miller describes this dynamic in “The Drama of the Gifted Child.” The mother, upon having a child may unconsciously feel that finally she has someone to love her unconditionally and begins to use the child to fill her needs that were not met in her own childhood. In this way, the child begins to carry the projection of her mother’s mother.  This puts the daughter in an impossible situation to be responsible for her mother’s well-being and happiness.

Mother and Child 3, evelyn williams

The young daughter then has to repress her own developmental needs in order to accommodate the emotional needs of the mother. Instead of her getting mirroring from her mother, she is expected to be the one doing the mirroring. Instead of being able to use her mother as a secure, emotional base for exploration, she is expected to be the secure emotional base for her mother.

The daughter is vulnerable and dependent on the mother for survival so she has few choices available to her; one is to comply and fill the mother’s needs and the other is some degree of rebellion from her.

A daughter is being exploited when her mother gives her adult roles, such as surrogate spouse, best friend or therapist.

Paul Hermann Wagner

When a daughter is asked to be an emotional prop for her mother, she is unable to rely on her mother enough to get her own developmental needs met. 

There are a number of ways that parentified daughters may respond to this dynamic:

  • “If I’m a really, really, good girl (compliant, quiet, without needs) then mother will finally see me and take care of me” or
  • “If I stay strong and protect mother, she will see me” or
  • “If I give mother what she wants, she will stop abusing me,” etc.

As adults we may be projecting this dynamic onto others in our lives. For example, in our relationships: “If only I keep trying to be good enough for him, he will commit to me.” In our careers: “If only I get one more degree, I’ll be good enough to get promoted.”

These mothers set up a competition with their daughter for who gets to be mothered. 

The message is there’s not enough mothering or love to go around. Girls grow up believing that love, approval and validation are very scarce and one must work to the bone in order to be worthy of it. Then as adults they attract situations that replicate this pattern over and over. (Many of these dynamics and effects are also true for male children as well.)

Parentified daughters are robbed of their childhood.

dorothea lange

The daughter does not receive affirmation for herself as a person, rather she receives affirmation only as result of performing a function (relieving mother of her pain). 

Mothers may expect their daughters to listen to their problems and ask them to provide comfort and nurturing to calm her adult fears and worries. The daughter may be expected to bail her mother out of her problems or to clean up her messes, whether physical or emotional ones. She may be regularly called in as the problem-solver or mediator.

What these mothers convey to the daughters is that they, as mothers, are weak, overwhelmed and unable to handle life. It conveys to the daughter that her developmental needs are simply “too much” for the mother and so the child blames herself for even existing. The young girl gets the message that she does not have a right to have needs, does not have a right to be listened to or validated as her own person.

Parentified daughters may cling to this role even into adulthood because there are many payoffs. For example, the only time the daughter might receive praise or validation is for being mother’s warrior or mother’s savior.

Expressing your own needs may mean rejection or abuse from mother.

As she grows up, the daughter may fear the mother would be too “easily shattered” and so the daughter may hide her truth for fear of what it would do to the mother. The mother may play into this by playing victim and causing the daughter to see herself as a perpetrator if she dares to express her own separate reality. This can manifest into the unconscious belief in the daughter that “I’m too much. My true self injures others. I’m too big. I need to stay small in order to survive and be loved.”

Mother’s Hand. 1966 by Antanas Sutkus

While these daughters may carry the projection of the “good mother” for their mothers they may also carry the projection of the negative mother. For example, this can play out when the daughter is ready to separate emotionally from the mother as an adult. The mother may unconsciously see the daughter’s separation as a replication of the rejection by her own mother. The mother may react with overt infantile rage, passive sulking or hostile criticism.

The mothers that exploit their daughters this way are often the same ones that say to them “Don’t blame me!” or “Stop being so ungrateful!” if the daughter expresses discontent about the relationship or seeks a discussion on the matter. After the daughters have been robbed of their childhood via the invasive needs of their mothers, they are then attacked for having the audacity to propose a discussion about the dynamics of the relationship.

These mothers may be unwilling to see their role in the daughter’s pain because it’s too painful for them. And they are likely in denial of how their relationships with their own mothers have impacted them. “Don’t blame your mother” can be used as a way to instill shame and silence daughters from speaking the truth of the pain they’ve endured.

If we are to claim our power as women, we must be willing to see the ways in which our mothers truly were to blame for our pain as children—and as adult women, how we are fully responsible for healing these wounds within ourselves. 

Stephen Cefalo

Part of being powerful is the ability to create harm, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Whether mothers are completely ignorant of the harm they have created or shy away from that knowledge,  they are still responsible for it. Daughters must own the legitimacy of their pain. If they don’t, no true healing can occur. They will continue to sabotage themselves and limit their ability to thrive and flourish in the world.

Oslo - Vigelandpark

Patriarchy has deprived women to such a degree that when they become mothers, they often turn to the love of their young daughters starving and  ravenous for validation, approval and recognition. A hunger that a daughter could never possibly satisfy. Yet generation after generation of innocent daughters have been offering themselves up, willingly sacrificing themselves on the altar of their mother’s suffering and starvation, with the hope that one day they will finally “be good enough” for her. There is a childlike hope that by “feeding the mother,” the mother will eventually be able to feed the daughter. That meal never comes. You get the “meal” your soul has been longing for by engaging in the process of healing the mother wound and owning your life and your worth. 

Our Lady of Seven Sorrows in the church of San Miguel in Valladolid, Spain

We have to stop sacrificing ourselves for our mothers because ultimately, our sacrifice doesn’t feed them. What will feed your mother is the transformation that is on the other side of her own pain and grief that she must reckon with on her own. Your mother’s pain is her responsibility, not yours.

When we refuse to acknowledge the ways our mothers may be to blame for our suffering, we continue through life feeling there is something wrong with us, that we are somehow bad or deficient. This is because it’s easier to feel shame than it is to face the pain of realizing the truth of how we may have been abandoned or exploited by our mothers. Thus, shame is a protective buffer from the pain of the truth. 

The little girl within us would rather feel shame and self-hate because it preserves the illusion of the good mother. 

(We hold onto shame as a way of holding onto mother. In this way, shaming ourselves functions as a way to feel mothered.)

In order to finally let go of self-hate and self-sabotage, we have to assist our inner child with understanding that no matter how loyal she is to mother by continuing to be small and attenuated, it will never cause her mother to change into the mother she longs for.

We must have the courage to hand back to our mothers the pain they asked us to carry for them. We hand back the pain when we can put responsibility where the responsibility truly lies, with the dynamics that were present with the adult in the situation, which was the mother, not the child. As children, we were not responsible for the choices and behavior of the adults around us. Once we really take this in, we can then take full responsibility by working through it, acknowledging how it has impacted our lives, so that we can make new choices that are in alignment with our authentic selves.

Many women try to skip this step and go right to forgiveness and empathy which can keep them stuck. You can’t truly move on if you don’t know what you are moving on from. 

Why it’s hard to face how your mother was a perpetrator: 

  • As little girls we were culturally conditioned to be caretakers and to not advocate for our own needs
  • Children are hard-wired biologically for unwavering loyalty to mother no matter what she does. Mother love is critical for survival.
  • Having the same gender identification as your mother; the implication that she is on your team
  • Seeing your mother as a victim of her own unresolved trauma and a culture of patriarchy
  • The religious and cultural taboos of “Honor thy father and mother” and the “holy mother” that instill guilt and silence children about their feelings.

Why is self-sabotage a manifestation of the mother wound?

  • As a parentified daughter, the mother-bond (love, comfort and safety) was forged in an environment of self-suppression. (Being small = being loved)
  • Thus, there’s a subconscious link between mother-love and self-attenuation.
  • While your conscious mind may want success, happiness, love and confidence–the subconscious mind remembers the dangers of early childhood in which being big, spontaneous or authentic caused painful rejection from the mother.
  • To the sub-conscious mind: rejection by mother = death.
  • To the sub-conscious mind: self-sabotage (being small)  = safety (survival).

That’s why it can feel so hard to love ourselves, because letting go of shame, self-sabotage and guilt feels like letting go of mother. 

Sorrow by Patrick Palmer

Healing the mother wound is about re-claiming your life from dysfunctional patterns set in place through the early relationship with your mother.

It’s about honestly reflecting on the pain of your relationship with your mother for the sake of your own healing and transformation, which is every woman’s birthright. It’s about doing the work within yourself so that you can be free to be the woman you are meant to be. It’s not about expecting your mother to change or to finally fill a need she couldn’t fill when you were a child. Quite the opposite. Until we face and accept our mother’s limitations and all the ways she truly harmed us, we remain stuck in a limbo of waiting for her approval and keep our lives perpetually on hold as a result.

Healing the mother wound is a form of integrity and taking responsibility for one’s own life.

One reader recently commented on how she has been healing her mother wound for over 20 years and although she had to distance herself from her own mother, she’s done enormous healing that has resulted in a healthy relationship with her young daughter. She captured it beautifully when said about her daughter,  ‘I can be her rock of support because I’m not using her as an emotional crutch.’ 

While there may be conflict or discomfort in the process of healing the mother wound, it is necessary for the sake of healing to take place so that you can confidently move into your truth and power. If we stick with the process, we eventually come to a place of authentic compassion not just for ourselves as daughters, but for our mothers, for all women throughout time and for all human beings.

Yet on that road to compassion, we must first hand back to our mothers their own pain, their pain that we absorbed into ourselves when we were very young. 

The true abdication of responsibility is when the mother makes the daughter feel responsible for her unprocessed pain and blames her when she takes into account how she has suffered because of it. Our mothers may never take full responsibility for the pain they unconsciously placed in us in order to relieve themselves of the responsibility for their own lives. But the most important thing is that YOU, as a daughter, fully own the legitimacy of your pain so that you can feel empathy for your inner child, freeing you to finally heal and move on to a life that you love and deserve.

Deb S

© Bethany Webster 2014

I teach a course on healing the mother wound. See Events page for upcoming dates. If you are interested in bringing a workshop to your area, please send an email to info@womboflight.com.

Please stay tuned as I’ll be announcing new, upcoming opportunities to work with me personally on healing the mother wound!

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Thank you for reading! I invite you to leave a comment below. Were you a parentified daughter? 

Sign up for my free newsletter here!

(art credits in order of appearance: Mary Cassat, Evelyn Williams, Paul Hermann Wagner, Dorothea Lange, Antanas Sutkus, Stephen Cefalo, Sculptures from Vigeland Park in Oslo, Our Lady of Sorrows in Church in Valladolid, Spain, Patrick Palmer)

Why it’s Crucial for Women to Heal the Mother Wound

What many people do not realize is that the core issue at the center of women’s empowerment is the mother wound.

ElizabethBauman

Difficulty and challenges between mothers and daughters are rampant and widespread but not openly spoken about. The taboo about speaking about the pain of the mother wound is what keeps it in place and keeps it hidden in shadow, festering and out of view.

What exactly is the mother wound?

The mother wound is the pain of being a woman passed down through generations of women in patriarchal cultures. And it includes the dysfunctional coping mechanisms that are used to process that pain.

The mother wound includes the pain of:

  • Comparison: not feeling good enough
  • Shame: consistent background sense that there is something wrong with you
  • Attenuation: Feeling you must remain small in order to be loved
  • Persistent sense of guilt for wanting more than you currently have

The mother wound can manifest as:

  • Not being your full self  because you don’t want to threaten others
  • Having a high tolerance for poor treatment from others
  • Emotional care-taking
  • Feeling competitive with other women
  • Self-sabotage
  • Being overly rigid and dominating
  • Conditions such as eating disorders, depression and addictions

untitled by fatma gultekin

In our patriarchal, male-dominated culture women are conditioned to think of themselves as “less-than” and not deserving or worthy. This feeling of “less-than” has been internalized and passed down through countless generations of women.

The cultural atmosphere of female oppression puts daughters in a “double bind.”

Simply put, if a daughter internalizes her mother’s unconscious beliefs (which is some subtle form of “I’m not good enough”) then she has her mother’s approval but has in some way betrayed herself and her potential.

However, if she doesn’t internalize her mother’s unconscious beliefs in her own limitations but rather affirms her own power and potential, she is aware that her mother may unconsciously see this as a personal rejection.

The daughter doesn’t want to risk losing her mother’s love and approval,  so internalizing these limiting, unconscious beliefs is a form of loyalty and emotional survival for the daughter.

It may feel dangerous for a woman to actualize her full potential because it may mean risking some form of rejection by her mother.

Mother and daughter USA 1956  Photo- Leonard Freed

This is because the daughter may unconsciously sense that her full empowerment may trigger the mother’s sadness or rage at having had to give up parts of herself in her own life. Her compassion for her mother, a desire to please her, and a fear of conflict may cause her to convince herself that it’s safer to shrink and remain small.

A common objection to facing the mother wound is to “Let the past be in the past.” However, we never truly “escape” or bury the past. It lives in the present as the obstacles and challenges that we face every day. If we avoid dealing with the pain associated with one of THE most primary and foundational relationships in our lives, we are missing a pivotal opportunity to discover the truth of who we are and to authentically and joyfully live that truth.

Stereotypes that perpetuate the mother wound:

  • “Look at everything your mother did for you!” (from other people)
  • “My mother sacrificed so much for me. I would be so selfish to do what she could not do. I don’t want to make her feel bad.”
  • “I owe loyalty to my mother no matter what. If I upset her, she will think I don’t value her.”

The daughter may experience fears about fulfilling her potential because she may fear leaving her mother behind. She may fear her mother feeling threatened by her dreams or ambitions. She may fear uncomfortable feelings from her mother such as envy or anger. All of this is usually very unconscious and not openly acknowledged or talked about.

We all have sensed the pain that our mothers carry. And all of us are suspicious to some degree that we are partly to blame for her pain. Therein lies the guilt. This makes sense when considering the limited cognitive development of a child, which sees itself as the cause of all things. If we don’t address this unconscious belief as an adult, we may still be walking around with it and greatly limiting ourselves as a result.

The truth is that no child can save her mother.

No sacrifice a daughter makes  will ever be enough to compensate for the high price her mother may have had to pay or for the losses she has accrued over the years, simply by being a woman and mother in this culture. And yet, this is what many women do for their mothers very early on in childhood: they unconsciously make a decision to not abandon or betray their mothers by becoming “too successful,” “too smart” or “too adventurous.” This decision is made out of love, loyalty and a true need for approval and emotional support from the mother.

Many of us confuse being loyal to our mothers with being loyal to their wounds, and thus, complicit in our own oppression. 

kellie hatcher

These dynamics are very unconscious and they operate on a continuum. Even the most healthy, supportive mother/daughter relationships may have this dynamic to some degree by virtue of simply being women in this society. And for daughters who have mothers with serious issues (addictions, mental illness, etc.) the impact is can be very damaging and insidious.

Mothers must take responsibility and grieve their losses. 

Being a mother in our society is unspeakably difficult. I’ve heard many women say “No one ever tells you how hard it is” and “Nothing prepares you for when you get home with the baby and realize what is being asked of you.” Our culture, especially the U.S., is very hard on mothers, offering little support and many are raising children alone.

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 Our society’s unspoken messages to mothers: 

  • If motherhood is difficult then it’s your own fault.
  • Shame on you if you’re not super-human.
  • There are “natural mothers” for whom motherhood is easy. If you are not one of these, there is something deeply wrong with you.
  • You’re supposed to be capable of handling it all with ease: having well-behaved children, being sexually attractive, having a successful career, and a solid marriage.

For mothers who have indeed sacrificed so much to have children in our culture, it can truly feel like a rejection when your child surpasses or exceeds the dreams you thought possible for yourself. There may be a sense of feeling owed, entitled to or needing to be validated by your children, which can be a very subtle but powerful manipulation. This dynamic can cause the next generation of daughters to keep themselves small so that their mothers can continue to feel validated and affirmed in their identity as a mother, an identity that many have sacrificed so much for, but received so little support and recognition for in return.

Mothers may unconsciously project deep rage towards their children in subtle ways. However, the rage really isn’t towards the children. The rage is towards the patriarchal society that requires women to sacrifice and utterly deplete themselves in order to mother a child.

And for a child who needs her mother, sacrificing herself in an effort to somehow ease her mother’s pain is often a subconscious decision made very early in life and not discovered as the cause of underlying issues until much later when she is an adult.

The mother wound exists because there is not a safe place for mothers to process their rage about the sacrifices that society has demanded of them. And because daughters still unconsciously fear rejection for choosing not to make those same sacrifices as previous generations.

In our society, there is no safe place for a mother to vent her rage. And so often it comes out unconsciously to one’s children. A daughter is a very potent target for a mother’s rage because the daughter has not yet had to give up her personhood for motherhood. The young daughter may remind the mother of her un-lived potential. And if the daughter feels worthy enough to reject some of the patriarchal mandates that the mother has had to swallow, then she can easily trigger that underground rage for the mother.

Matt Wisniewski

Of course, most mothers want what is best for their daughters. However, if a mother has not dealt with her own pain or come to terms with the sacrifices she has had to make, than her support for her daughter may be laced with traces of messages that subtly instill shame, guilt or obligation. They can seep out in the most benign situations, usually in some form of criticism or some form of bringing praise back to the mother. It’s not usually the content of the statement, but rather the energy with which it is conveyed that can carry hidden resentment.

The way for a mother to prevent directing her rage to her daughter and passing down the mother wound, is for the mother to fully grieve and mourn her own losses. And to make sure that she is not relying on her daughter as her main source of emotional support.

Mothers must mourn what they had to give up, what they wanted but will never have, what their children can never give them and the injustice of their situation. However, as unjust and unfair as it is, it is not the responsibility of the daughter to make amends for the mother’s losses or to feel obligated to sacrifice herself in the same ways. For mothers, It takes tremendous strength and integrity to do this. And mothers need support in this process.

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Mothers liberate their daughters when they consciously process their own pain without making it their daughter’s problem. In this way, mothers free their daughters to pursue their dreams without guilt, shame or a sense of obligation.

When mothers unwittingly cause their daughters to feel responsible for their losses and to share in their pain, it creates a dysfunctional enmeshment, reinforcing the daughter’s view that she is not worthy of her dreams.  And this supports a daughter’s view that her mother’s pain must somehow be her fault. This can cripple her in so many ways.

For daughters growing up in a patriarchal culture, there is a sense of having to choose between being empowered and being loved.

Darian Blake

Most daughters choose to be loved instead of empowered because there is an ominous sense that being fully actualized and empowered may cause a grave loss of love from important people in their lives, specifically their mothers. So women stay small and un-fulfilled, unconsciously passing the mother wound to the next generation.

As a woman, there is a vague but powerful sense that your empowerment will injure your relationships. And women are taught to value relationships over everything else. We cling to the crumbs of our relationships, while our souls may be deeply longing for the fulfillment of our potential. But the truth is that our relationships alone can never adequately substitute for the hunger to live our lives fully.

The power dynamic at the center of the mother/daughter relationship is a taboo subject and the core issue at the center of the mother wound.  

Much of this goes underground because of the many taboos and stereotypes about motherhood in this culture:

  • Mothers are always nurturing and loving
  • Mothers should never feel angry or resentful towards their daughters
  • Mothers and daughters are supposed to be best friends

The stereotype of “All mothers should be loving all the time” strips women of their full humanity. Because women are not given permission to be full human beings, society feels justified in not providing full respect, support and resources to mothers.

The truth is that mothers are human beings and all mothers having un-loving moments. And it’s true that there are mothers who are simply un-loving most of the time, whether because of addiction, mental illness or other struggles. Until we are willing to face these uncomfortable realities the mother wound will be in shadow and continue to be passed through the generations.

We all have patriarchy in us to some degree. We’ve had to ingest it to survive in this culture. When we’re ready to confront it fully in ourselves, we also confront it in others, including our mothers. This can be one of the most heart-wrenching of all situations we must face. But unless we are willing to go there, to address the mother wound, we are paying a very high price for the illusion of peace and empowerment.

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What is the cost of not healing the mother wound?

The cost of not healing the mother wound is living your life indefinitely with:

  • A vague, persistent sense that “There’s something wrong with me”
  • Never actualizing your potential out of fear of failure or disapproval
  • Having weak boundaries and an unclear sense of who you are
  • Not feeling worthy or capable of creating what you truly desire
  • Not feeling safe enough to take up space and voice your truth
  • Arranging your life around “not rocking the boat”
  • Self-sabotage when you get close to a breakthrough
  • Unconsciously waiting for mother’s permission or approval before claiming your own life.

What’s the relationship between the mother wound and the divine feminine?

There’s a lot of talk these days about ‘embodying the divine feminine’ and being an ‘awakened woman.’ But the reality is that we cannot be a strong container of the power of the divine feminine if we have not yet addressed the places within us where we have felt banished and in exile from the Feminine.

Let’s face it: Our first enounter with the Goddess was with our mothers. Until we have the courage to break the taboo and face the pain we have experienced in relation to our mothers, the divine feminine is another form of a fairy tale, a fantasy of rescue by a mother who is not coming. This keeps us in spiritual immaturity. We have to separate the human mother from the archetype in order to be true carriers of this energy. We have to de-construct the faulty structures within us before we can truly build new structures to hold it. Until we do this we remain stuck in a kind of limbo where our empowerment is short-lived and the only explanation for our predicament that seems to make sense is to blame ourselves.

If we avoid acknowledging the full impact of our mother’s pain on our lives, we still remain to some degree, children.

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Coming into full empowerment requires looking at our relationship with our mothers and having the courage to separate out our own individual beliefs, values, thoughts from hers. It requires feeling the grief of having to witness the pain our mothers endured and processing our own legitimate pain that we endured as a result. This is so challenging but it is the beginning of real freedom.

Once we feel the pain it can be transformed and it will cease creating obstacles in our lives.

So what happens when women heal the mother wound?

iza & mary by gosia janik

As we heal the mother wound, the power dynamic is increasingly resolved because women are no longer asking one another to stay small to ease their own pain. The pain of living in patriarchy ceases to be taboo. We don’t have to pretend and hide behind false masks that hide our pain under a facade of effortlessly holding it together. The pain can then be seen as legitimate, embraced, processed and integrated and ultimately transformed into wisdom and power.

Once women increasingly process the pain of the mother wound, we can create safe places for women to express the truth of their pain and receive much needed support. Mothers and daughters can communicate with one another without fear that the truth of their feelings will break their relationship. The pain no longer needs to go underground and into shadow, where it manifests as manipulation, competition and self-hatred. Our pain can be grieved fully so that it can then turn into love, a love that manifests as fierce support of one another and deep self-acceptance, freeing us to be boldly authentic, creative and truly fulfilled.

Via Mariana Suemi Hamaguchi

When we heal the mother wound, we begin to grasp the stunning degree of impact a mother’s well-being has on the life of her child, especially in early childhood when the child and mother are still a single unit. Our mothers form the very basis of who we become: our beliefs start out as her beliefs, our habits start out as her habits. Some of this is so unconscious and fundamental, it is barely perceptible.

The mother wound is ultimately not about your mother. It’s about embracing yourself and your gifts without shame.

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We address the mother wound because it is a critical part of self-actualization and saying YES to being the powerful and potent women that we are being called to become. Healing the mother wound is ultimately about acknowledging and honoring the foundation our mothers provided for our lives so that we can then fully focus on creating the unique lives that we authentically desire and know we are capable of creating.

Benefits of healing the mother wound:

  • Being more fluent and skilled in handling your emotions. Seeing them as a source of wisdom and information.
  • Having healthy boundaries that support the actualization of your highest and best self
  • Developing a solid “inner mother” that provides unconditional love, support and comfort to your younger parts.
  • Knowing yourself as competent. Feeling that anything is possible, open to miracles and all good things
  • Being in constant contact with your inner goodness and your ability to bring it into everything you do
  • Deep compassion for yourself and other people
  • Not taking yourself too seriously. No longer needing external validation to feel OK. Not needing to prove yourself to others.
  • Trusting life to bring you what you need
  • Feeling safe in your own skin and a freedom to be yourself.
  • So much more…

As we engage in this healing process, we slowly remove the thick fog of projection that keeps us stuck and can more clearly see, appreciate and love ourselves. We no longer carry the burden of our mother’s pain and keep ourselves small as a result.

We can confidently emerge into our own lives, with the energy and vitality to create what we desire without shame or guilt, but with passion, power, joy, confidence, and love.

When The Rain Comes In Silence by Burçin Esin

For every human being, the very first wound of the heart was at the site of the mother, the feminine. And through the process of healing that wound, our hearts graduate from a compromised state of defensiveness and fear to a whole new level of love and power, which connects us to the divine heart of Life itself. We are from then on connected to the archetypal, collective heart that lives in all beings, and are carriers and transmitters of true compassion and love that the world needs right now. In this way, the mother wound is actually an opportunity and an initiation into the divine feminine. This is why it’s so crucial for women to heal the mother wound: Your personal healing and re-connection to the heart of life, by way of the feminine, affects the whole and supports our collective evolution.

© Bethany Webster 2013

I teach a course on healing the mother wound. See Events page for upcoming dates. Also, stay tuned as I’ll be announcing new, upcoming opportunities to work with me personally on healing the mother wound! 

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Thank you for reading! I invite you to leave a comment below. What is YOUR experience with the mother wound?

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(art credits in order of appearance: Elizabeth Bauman, Fatma Gultekin, Leonard Freed, Kellie Hatcher, stock photo, Matt Wisniewski, sock photo, Darian Blake, stock photo, stock photo, Gosia Janik, Via Mariana Suemi Hamaguchi, stock photo, Burçin Esin)

 

Setting Boundaries is Essential to your Empowerment

Aneta Ivanova's Double Exposure Portraits

There is so much to say about boundaries and how foundational they are for our sense of self. In this post, I’ll focus mainly on the relationship between our self-worth and our ability to set healthy boundaries effectively.

Without firm boundaries, we can easily become “merged” or enmeshed with others, causing us to emotionally caretake, be overly responsible, or neglect our own needs. When boundaries are too rigid we isolate ourselves and push others away.

Healthy boundaries are “selectively permeable.” They are not  too rigid nor too loose (not extreme). Rather, they are flexible and can be opened or firm when needed, much like a healthy cell.

Boundaries are related to our early attachment needs as children. They pose the question: ‘Where do I end and where do you begin?’ All of us started out in life as a “we” when we were infants bonded with our mothers. Being securely attached to our mothers helped us internalize this sense of security and helped us to form our own healthy, separate sense of self. If we were not securely attached to our mothers, we may have developed a background sense of inner insecurity and on a subconscious level, we may still be looking for this security from other people as adults.

On one side of the spectrum, this can cause us to have very weak boundaries, letting in anyone who remotely relates to us with care and affection, being too trusting, or having a very high tolerance for poor treatment from others. Weak boundaries can open us up to being taken advantage of by others and can cause us to be on an emotional roller coaster, because our sense of security is not yet fully anchored within ourselves.

Confidence and Feeling Safe in your own Skin

An important step in developing healthy boundaries is learning that no outer person can provide the inner safety that you need; the time for that is only in early childhood and that time is over. However, as adults we can mourn that lost opportunity and develop inner safety within.

Knowing ourselves as individuals is essential to true intimacy and connection. As we fine-tune our self-awareness, we can know more fully our own needs, desires and preferences. Taking the time and space for your inner work is an important form of self-care and it reinforces a deep sense of integrity.

It’s a paradox that the more centered and grounded we are in our own inner sense of self, the better partners and friends we are able to become.

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The old paradigm: Compliance with others = Acceptance from others

You are the expert on You. It’s OK to be yourself, to have differing needs and preferences than those around you. This may seem obvious but we’re surrounded with the images of desirable females being the most yielding and most willing to be dominated. These messages remain in our subconscious until we actively dismantle them. Have you ever caught yourself having a background thought that surprised you? This happened to me when I ran into some friends I hadn’t seen in a while and had gained a few pounds. I noticed an impulse to say something like “I haven’t been to the gym in a while. I’ve been so busy lately.” I was disturbed by this impulse to apologize for and provide a narrative for others about changes in my own body. Noticing this impulse was very informative on the power of unconscious messages and how they can  emerge into our daily lives even though we don’t consciously agree with them.

What you say No to determines the success of what you say Yes to. 

 Gitana de la naranja, Julio Romero de Torres (1874-1930)

Our boundaries determine what we say yes and no to. Learning how to say No is a skill and an art. Before asserting a boundary, It’s important to take the time we need to process emotions like rage and fear that may be initially present so that we come from our highest integrity in the exchange. Anytime we can communicate a clear and clean “No” devoid of bitterness or negativity, we are demonstrating a high-level of self-worth.

Sometimes loving someone involves affirming your separateness, not your sameness. 

We give our power away when we accept the shame that others project onto us because of their own unprocessed pain. We serve others, not by accepting their pain as our own, but by highlighting their ability to make new choices. Don’t feel obligated to absorb pain that isn’t yours.

Healthy boundaries: Sovereignty of Self

paul gauguin

Shame is a toxic emotion instilled in us from childhood that causes us to soften our will, to feel less sure of ourselves, less powerful and thus more compliant to the wishes of others. When we set firm, healthy boundaries we are reclaiming ourselves from the toxic shame we may have experienced in childhood and asserting our sovereignty as individuals with the power and right to define who we are, and what we will or will not allow into the sacred space of ourselves.

For others, being in your life is a privilege…not a right

As we continue to realize our true worth, we are less willing to tolerate the people, circumstances and situations in our lives that do not reflect our worth and self-respect. No one has a right to be in your world; nor is anyone entitled to your time. If people want to have the privilege of being in your life, it must be earned by treating you with consideration and respect. As you emerge into greater self-worth and set new boundaries, the people who may have felt entitled to a place in your life may protest or object, unconsciously seeking to instill a sense of guilt or obligation in you, perhaps calling you ungrateful or selfish for holding your boundaries firm.

Do you give your power away and acquiesce to their demands? Or do you respectfully communicate your boundaries even in the face of their disapproval? How you respond to that is a reflection of your self-worth.

Healing the “good girl” syndrome

Kamil Vojnar

As little girls we were  rewarded for being relational, compliant, quiet and invisible. The covert message is that you don’t deserve to have ownership of yourself. Messages about the primacy of appearance and sex-appeal also communicate that “Your body is not your own. It exists for the pleasure of others.” These early cultural and familial messages may have caused us to develop, to some degree, a false self. This false self helped us gain acceptance from others but at the cost of our own authentic needs and desires.

Maturity involves shedding the false self and discovering our authentic self—separating out our true needs and wants from the fake ones we took on in order to survive. 

In the process of discovering our true, authentic needs and desires things may change in our lives which can be very challenging, but ultimately the changes will bring new forms in our lives that reflect who we really are. People in our lives who have been used to us being compliant, submissive or docile may be surprised or feel inconvenienced when we assert our boundaries.

A Quote from Eve Ensler: 

“To be a strong woman, to be a fierce woman, to be a true woman, to be a leader, to be truly powerful, you have to get to place where you can tolerate people not liking you. And know that when you actually do that, you have to fall back on your own moral imperative in your own moral trunk and say, ‘I don’t care, this is what I believe. This is who I am.’”

Brian T. Kershisnik

You are your own treasure. You belong to You. 

Having healthy boundaries involves being connected to your worth, being anchored to your own center of truth, and being willing to communicate with those around you authentically. It’s a skill that can be learned, practiced and refined over time. When starting out it may seem scary but each time it gets easier and more empowering.  Over time, we start attracting more and more people that that are willing to respect our new, healthy boundaries. The ones who are unwilling to do so will pass out of your life.

When we have healthy boundaries, we feel increasingly safe and supported within ourselves and we also become more effective at everything we do.

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Questions to contemplate on boundaries:

  • In what ways am I giving myself away?
  • What am I taking in that I should be refusing?
  • In what ways was I rewarded for having weak boundaries as a child?
  • What are some current opportunities in my life to start setting healthy boundaries?
  • What do I need to say No to, so that I can more effectively live out my “Yes” to the things I truly desire?
  • Part of having healthy boundaries is respecting those of others. Are there any ways I am violating the boundaries of others?

© Bethany Webster 2013

Thank you for reading! I invite you to leave a comment below: What has been your experience with setting boundaries?

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(Art credits in order of appearance: Aneta Ivanova, Elisabeth Chaplin, Julio Romero de Torres, Paul Gaugin, Kamil Vojnar, Brian T. Kershisnik)