By Eileen Shoals

 

Slumped over the steering wheel with hands gripping the dashboard, she sat sobbing. We had just received the phone call a few seconds earlier, a call made from the car inside the garage. “Can you please help grandma get out of the car? My back hurts and I have a shooting pain going down my leg. I’m physically and emotionally exhausted!” She sighed and then sobbed. After helping his 91 year old grandmother get out of the passenger side of the car, I watched my boyfriend reluctantly ask his 69 year old mother if she too needed help getting out of the car. His facial expression was less than empathic. It was resentful. The night before his mother refused to make him a plate of food at her house and exclaimed “Contrary to what you may believe, I’m not here to wait on you. Plus, I have been taking care of two little boys all day.” She was speaking about her grandsons which she adores. Nevertheless, my boyfriend offered to help his mother out of the car. In typical fashion, she declined his offer.  She sat in the car for several more minutes, looking up occasionally to see if anyone was paying attention to her private pity party. Eventually, she emerged from the car and walked into the house limp-like with the spirit of the martyr. This wasn’t the first melt down I had witnessed after her poor behavior, and it wouldn’t be the last. I had been the unfortunate witness of their dysfunctional communication many times. Little girls and little boys look to their mothers for love, guidance, and validation. At its best, the mother-child bond creates a self-concept that is safe, secure, and confident. At its worst, the relationship can leave the child unsure, confused and angry. I would love to explore the impact of chaotic relationships between mothers and their sons, but that will be a future article. For now, I want to discuss mother-daughter relationships. What exactly are mother wounds?   How does a mother wound affect a woman’s self-image, her romantic relationships with men, and her relationships with other women? Furthermore, how do you know if you have created mother wounds in your own daughter? Finally, how does a woman heal the ever open wound inflicted by her own mother?

What is a mother wound?

My poor self-image stemmed from the expectation that my ideas would be shot down by my mother. Eventually, I didn’t need her to shoot my ideas down. I did it myself, as I internalized her words. Outward rejection insidiously became self-criticism which resulted in self-rejection.

 

Evidence of a mother wound can be expressed in many different ways. They look like so many different defense mechanisms. They can be the sensitivities from childhood that play out in relevant areas of a person’s adult life such as professional or personal relationships. Mother wounds are created from any experience where a child felt unloved, unprotected, unwanted or abandoned. From being the less favored child in a family to being alone when parents were needed the most, mother wounds go deep. These emotional wounds, stemming from painful interactions with one’s mother, produce a circular cause and effect loopWhen a woman feels unsupported, unloved, judged, criticized or in competition with her own mother, she has also experienced a mother wound.

 

In my own life, I had a beautiful mother. She was very popular and had a lot of friends. Even all of my friends loved her. She called her own mother, her best friend. She spoke three languages. She had so much going for her. She was special and people noticed her. Yet, with all of these wonderful traits, my mother and I had a tumultuous relationship. She had high expectations that often felt too high for me to meet. She was dogmatic when proving a point. When my choices didn’t meet her approval, her critical words cut like glass. I often felt like nothing I did was ever good enough. We didn’t see eye-to eye on many things and I often felt like she was trying to control my life.

 

How does a mother wound affect a woman’s self-image?

Unsuccessful attempts to please your mother, while trying to be yourself creates cognitive dissonance. Some women live with this dissonance for a lifetime, struggling to make personal decisions. Instead of just making an assertive choice from her gut, the woman may entertain her mother’s voice in her head analyzing whether or not mom would approve. Second guessing one’s decisions or developing a pattern of self-criticism will result in a perpetual feeling of rejection. It’s just a matter of time before this constant self-rejection turns into self-loathing.

How does a mother wound affect a woman’s romantic relationships with men?

I sat reflecting on my boyfriend’s relationship with his mother and I thought about how much it has affected him. Then I began to think about my own tumultuous relationship with my mother and its impact on me before and since she died.  Could it be that our relationship problems were the direct result of our mutual mother wounds? As much as I hate to admit it, there are times when I see my mother in his mother…times when I see his mother in me.

 

If a woman has internalized her mother’s negative voice, she is probably critical and judgmental, not only of herself, but of the men in her life too. Romance with a wounded daughter can be a challenge. Men often experience the brunt of a mother wound as his wife or girlfriend nit-picks about everything that isn’t done correctly. The woman may not even be aware that she is being so critical of her man. Sub-consciously, she is programmed to think like her mother and she pays tribute to her mother by making the man in her life feel the way she felt when her mother was criticizing her. The unfortunate cycle continues over and over again. The woman wonders why she can’t sustain a healthy relationship. The man thinks she is crazy and he wonders what happened to the sweet girl he initially met. Even when she becomes aware of this dysfunctional behavior, she doesn’t know how to turn off the negative mother voice in her head. Only the strongest of men can survive the torture.  Without healing, the relationship most likely won’t last.

How does a mother wound affect a woman’s relationship with other women?

When my relationship with two of my girlfriends came to an end at the same time, I knew I had a choice to make. I could decide to never be close to another woman again, or I could ask for new friends. I decided to ask God to send me new girlfriends who would be like sisters to me…women I would know for the rest of my life.

 

Some women never experience healthy relationships with other women because of the pain they experienced with their mothers. They move through life cold, distrusting, jealous, bitter, etc. Other women, look to heal their mother wound in the healthy relationships they develop with other women. The beauty found in healthy female relationships is precious. There is nothing more healing for a woman than the sisterhood of women. Healthy female relationships with women means there is an absence of jealousy and competition. It means a woman is safe to be her true self in the company of other women. This is a wonderful healing experience for women who allow it to occur in their lives.

 

How do you know if you have created mother wounds in your own daughter?

Consider your daughter’s worldview, self-image, attitude, body posture and over all view of herself. Does she reflect confidence and inner peace? Does she enjoy being around you? Does she eagerly confide in you without fear of judgment? Is she free to be her authentic self around you? Do you judge her, criticize her or make her feel badly about herself? Do you cherish your daughter and take every opportunity to encourage her and build her up to be the best woman she possibly can be? Is she inspired by you or embarrassed by you? Does she enjoy your company? Does she introduce you to her friends? Does your opinion matter to her? Do you get along with your own mother? Have your own mother wounds influenced how you have raised your child? Are you at peace with yourself? If you ask her to grade you as a mom, what would she say about you? These questions are just a starting point. It takes courage to ask the tough questions, but the answers to these types of questions are very revealing.

 

How to heal the wound?

The wonderful thing about the brain is that it can program or de-program any message. There are several forgiveness rituals that would benefit a woman with a mother wound. Journaling helps. Anger may be appropriate. There are many ways a woman can cope with a mother wound. In a perfect world, each mother would apologize to her daughter for any and all inflicted wounds. However, there is power in taking personal responsibility for one’s own healing. Knowing that the wound can be healed with or without mother present should be a comfort to many women.

Just as one can internalize her mother’s negative voice, a woman can also internalize her mother’s positive voice. Assuming that there were occasional affirming words that were loving and supportive, the woman should take the time to reprogram her old thoughts with better thoughts. Using her mother’s voice in her head, she must stop the negative loop. She can easily break the cycle of replaying her mother’s negative voice in her head by choosing to believe her mother’s affirming words and discrediting her mother’s devaluing words.

If there are no memories of positive interactions with mom, the old images and communications can still be replaced by what you would like to hear. A woman can create her own positive voice and replace her mother’s negative voice. This exercise is easy and produces a sense of well-being. When the negative mother voice speaks, immediately find another thought that is comforting. Once you have the positive thought in your head, prepare to replace the negative mother voice with the positive mother voice, by laughing. A few seconds of laughter breaks up the negative energy charge associated with the negative mother voice. After the laughter, immediately think of positive thought. Then repeat the positive thought 21 times within a half hour period.

For example, if the negative mother voice says “Why are you wearing that shade of lipstick? It doesn’t match what you are wearing!;, stop and think of a positive thought such as “You look so pretty”. Then think of the negative thought again. Laugh. Replace the old thought with the positive comment your mother made “You look so pretty”. If your mom never said “You look so pretty”, you can decide to say it to yourself and absorb these words into your consciousness.

You may choose to write down the positive thoughts you remember hearing your mother say so you have them at your disposal when you need them. If you don’t recall hearing positive words from your mother, create phrases you would like to hear. Overtime, after repeating these new positive thoughts at least 21 times, you will have a collection of new affirming thoughts. These positive affirmations will be your mother’s positive voice in your head. In this way, you are nurturing your own mother wound and closing the open sore.