We live in a culture that either idealizes mothers or undermines them. Through this distorted cultural lens that there's not much space for mothers to be real human beings, with various shades of light and dark. For daughters with a Mother Wound, Mother's Day can bring up deep shame and guilt around having seen the darker sides of their mothers. There's no cultural validation for having been a victim of emotional abuse at the hands of one's mother. It's a silent road often met with bitterness, confusion and suspicion from others.
Against the backdrop of the myth of Mother's Day with its sugary sweetness, adult children struggle with the unacknowledged dark legacy that was their lived reality of their mothers. That stark contrast can be a place of lingering self-doubt, shame and guilt.
I was recently speaking with a client who was struggling with the upcoming Mother's Day. She recalled a powerful moment when she said "something permanently broke" between she and her mother. In a conversation between the two, her mother was unconsciously trying to get her to play her long-time role of emotional caretaker, expecting her daughter to suppress her true feelings out of obligation. When the daughter did not obey this, opting instead to be kindly straightforward and honest with her, the mother simply replied, "You're dead to me then." This statement revealed something in the light of day that had never before emerged in its entirety: the transactional nature of the relationship. For mothers who have been deprived emotionally, their daughters often represent emotional nourishment that they do not get any other way. Refusing to be nourishment for our mothers is key to our own healing as women. Otherwise we remain prisoners of our mother's own wounding.
Acknowledging our mother's shadow liberates us to truly see our own light.
As my client told me this story, it brought to mind my own moment where I felt something irrevocably break in my relationship with my mother. By speaking my truth that I could no longer continue playing the role of caretaker and longed for an authentic connection with her, she said in reply "I have no daughter." Her quickness to relinquish all connection to me in the face of my own boundaries based on hard-won self-worth was stunning. The implications reverberating through my entire life. Our relationship was largely based on a transaction, not love.
Mothers deprived of their own source of emotional nourishment will see their daughters' boundaries as an attack and typically respond with a chilling coldness, devoid of anything we would call "mother."
For daughters who have experienced this level of "irrevocable brokenness" with their mothers, Mother's Day needs to be re-constituted from the ashes of the myth. It must be re-claimed in a new way that affirms the mother within oneself. One cannot go back to the sugary sweet, surface sentiments of Mother's Day after hearing those words come out of your mother's mouth. It is as though, in that moment, one is forced to really take in that void where mother should be and take steps to fill it within yourself.
That day was the day my "inner mother" was born. Not as a fully formed aspect of me, but one that I had to cultivate every day thereafter.
As we face that glaring "lack of mothering" in our own mothers, we can no longer live in the fantasy world of "my mother loves me, I just have to be who she wants me to be in order to get her approval." By facing that gaping void of "mother" we open to an even larger and more powerful form of mothering, the Mother archetype within ourselves. This energy can then become a living reality that supports us. In doing so, we become newly capable of taking in mothering from other women, from the earth and from life itself.
From the fertile ashes of the "mother myth" a larger matrix of mothering can take shape, a visceral nurturing, profound holding that pervades our entire lives.
It takes work to grieve the myth of mother and the ways that we've suffered from the Mother Wound. Once the wound is opened, it is incredibly painful and yet there is also deep relief. Relief that what we may have sensed deep within us is revealed to be true, the shadow has been taken into the light. And what we see in that light, however painful, is empowering because we can then build upon that firm ground of reality, not the illusions and projections that we've inherited through the generations.
"Can't you just forget it?" I was asked this several times by some in my family about what happened with my mother. I was amazed to learn that this is how many people move on. And this is what my mother expected me to do, to brush it under the rug, never speak of it again and go back to being her emotional servant. This is what women (and men) have done for generations upon generations: suppress and move on. "At Mother's Day, forget the shadow, be a good girl and suppress your pain for Mommy." This seems to be the general expectation of our culture.
I think of myself at 28 years old in the card aisle at the drugstore in Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of NYC where I lived, looking at all the Mother's Day cards. I stood there for about an hour, battling within myself. The part of me that wanted to avoid the exhaustion of conflict wanted to just buy one and get it over with. And the part of me that valued and honored myself would not let me do it. I realized that loving myself involved not enduring abuse from anyone, not even my own mother. It was my turn to do the expected thing in my mother line and I couldn't do it: absorb and carry my mother's pain as my own. That part of me that could not buy the card, that could not buy the lie, is my true mother, my inner mother. And I celebrate this part of me every Mother's Day.
The connection between inner mothering and outer mothering
If you are a woman who is consciously mothering yourself, celebrate and affirm how your own inner mothering will liberate your children from the pain of the Mother Wound. You are stopping the cycle, taking responsibility, metabolizing your own pain and clearing the way for future generations. This takes incredible courage and fortitude. Celebrate your commitment to this journey!
It's important to remember this:
Yes, your mother gave you life AND you have a right to your feelings about the dynamics of the relationship. (Especially for those women who have suffered deeply from trauma, abuse or neglect as children.)
The point is to honor that both are true. She gave birth to you AND your feelings are valid. You shouldn't have to suppress your truth in order to be considered a good daughter.
It's my belief that part of stepping into our full divine feminine power is to step into the role of the Inner Mother for ourselves. This doesn't mean we don't acknowledge our mothers, it's just means that we take over the PRIMARY responsibility for loving and affirming ourselves and most importantly, filling the gaps of what our mothers couldn't give us. It's such an empowering process. It helps lessen attachment to any toxic patterns with your mother and helps to establish a strong, healthy attachment within yourself, in which YOU become your own powerful source of unlimited love and nurturing.
My question to you is: How can you mother yourself this Mother's Day?
How can you embody an unconditionally loving mother to your inner child?
Here are some tips:
1. Journal about your truth: One of the things you can do is to write in your journal your authentic feelings towards your mother, to validate your own feelings and prevent any shame from getting a foothold. Give yourself permission to really be honest with yourself, to get your true feelings off your chest and affirm your courage to be real. This can help you get those challenging feelings off your chest so that you can feel lighter and freer. Imagine holding your inner child and reassure her that YOU as her Big Self will always be there to support and nurture her.
2. Find Evidence of Your Value: A powerful element of the inner mother is the quality of being a cheerleader, celebrating your achievements, wins, and all the progress in your life, even the smallest thing!
Exercise: Outer worth - Feeling your outer worth for your skills, talents, etc.
Sit down with a blank sheet of paper and write an exhaustive list of all the talents, experience, wisdom, and qualities you have. List every skill you have, every degree or certification, everything you can think of; big and small. When you think you are done, challenge yourself to think of 5 more things. Pull out this list often. Add more things to it as you gain more skills and develop more qualities in yourself. Pull it out when you feel down and need reminding of the extraordinary person you are. Ideally, look at it every day, especially if you are trying to make a big shift in your life. This is a powerful mirror for your value and worth.
Exercise: Inner worth - Feeling your worth for simply Being.
Imagine holding yourself as a little baby on your chest. Feel yourself as the strong, loving mother, feeling how capable you are of holding and supporting this child. Then switch, feel yourself as the little baby, being soothed, held and loved exactly as you are, simply because you are. Allow your body to relax and be held. Take in that unconditional love and support into your cells. Awaken feeling refreshed, supported and energized, knowing you can always return to this place of inner holding and acceptance.
Does this article resonate with you?
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Copyright Bethany Webster 2016-2018
Art Credits: "Rebirth" by J.J. Joyce