Do you have a mother wound that plagues you in your life and your relationships? Are you still trying to figure out how to deal with a critical mother? Is there still a place within that yearns for loving mothering? The good news is that it is never too late to fill that empty place within.
Hi everyone. Dr. Margaret Paul here with the Inner Bonding podcast. And today I will be talking about healing the mother wound.
Many of us have a deep and painful mother wound from not receiving the nurturing we needed. Without adequate healing, this wound can follow you around your whole life and affect all your relationships.
Are you still trying to get the love from your mother that you did not receive as a child? This is the situation that Katie is in. She said:
“Over the decades, it’s finally dawned on me that my mother is incapable of forming emotional attachments. I always believed she was ‘hiding’ her feelings out of shame, but now I see that she doesn’t have those types of feelings in the first place. Are some people born this way? While she’s always been there and played her role, she doesn’t really BOND or empathize with anyone, apart from controlling and caretaking. Can anything really heal the lack of bonding with one’s mother – especially for women? Even at middle age, I still have the urge to ‘get through’ to her or ‘break down her walls.’ I still share way too much and get judgment or disinterest in return. If it were anyone else, I would have moved on a long time ago!”
It’s likely not true that Katie’s mother was born without the capacity to feel caring and empathy, and to bond with others. What is more likely is that Katie’s mother didn’t receive the love and bonding she needed as a small child, and so developed her own protections against the pain of that early in life. In the case of personality disorders, such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder, research indicates that this can start as early as two years of age. It’s possible that Katie’s mother suffers from this disorder – since she can’t form emotional attachments and lacks empathy.
It’s important for Katie to understand that she can’t heal the lack of bonding with her mother, but she CAN heal from the lack of bonding. Her mother isn’t going to change or heal without intensive therapy and it’s extremely unlikely that, at her age, she will ever seek help. So Katie needs let go of the hope of getting through to her or breaking down her walls. She needs to stop putting her inner child in the line of fire of her mother’s judgments and disinterest by stopping sharing so much with her mother. She needs to fully accept that she will never have the relationship with her mother that she seeks.
However, Katie CAN heal her mother wound by learning to be the mother to her own inner child that she never had and still yearns for, and receiving mothering from another loving, motherly or grandmotherly person. While it’s not always easy to find mothering from a friend or relative, it is possible, and it can extremely healing.
Erika had a profound healing of her mother wound with her mother, and I asked her to share it here. This is what she said:
I grew up with very abusive parents. My mother, even though she was a beloved second grade teacher, was a poor parent who routinely carried a leather strap at her side to keep me and all of my siblings in line at all times. She was given to fits of anger, constant swearing, and abusive language, regardless of the ages of my siblings and me. Once I left high school and moved away as fast as I could, I severed the relationship with her in order to move ahead and forge my own life for myself.
While I was living in Los Angeles and working on my advanced degrees, I had an incident that changed my life. I was driving through Culver City and noticed a little old lady on the sidewalk struggling with what appeared to be heavy bags of groceries. I was shocked to realize that it was my mother who had recently moved to Los Angeles. Suddenly I saw that she was no longer the monster of my childhood but a little old lady struggling just to survive. I immediately pulled the car over and jumped out, “Hi mom!” I said. “Would you like a ride?”
She looked at me with shock and wonder as I reached for the heavy bags and led her to my car. I asked her small talk questions about how long she had been in Los Angeles and if she liked California. When we arrived at her apartment, I was genuinely appalled by the very small bachelor apartment she was living in. I helped her to put her groceries away and as I turned around, she handed me the milk glass candy dish her mother had given her so very many years ago. I took the lid off and found it filled with one of my favorite chocolate candies. I suddenly began to melt like the warm chocolate in her hot apartment and realized that we were no longer in the past but in this moment, we were transitioning into the future.
I began visiting my mother routinely and would drop by just to take her to lunch. I learned that she was riding the bus to a major hotel where she worked the switchboard at night. I was horrified that one of the most beloved teachers in our school system should be living this way. I realized it was my opportunity to allow God to work through me. I hired her as the receptionist in my office and rather than allow her to ride the public bus system at her advanced age, I let her pick a car which I then bought for her. It didn’t take long to watch the healing within her. She was a superb receptionist who answered my phones, booked my appointments, and helped with my accounting. She started making lunches for me every day and running any errand that I needed. She was wonderful with my dogs and other pets, and I could see joy slowly coming into her eyes, joy that had not been there all the way through my childhood.
She would bore anyone to death who was willing to listen, bragging about her successful daughter and all the accomplishments I had. My mother, after so many long decades, had finally become my number one cheerleader. She was proud of me! Over the years we were able to form a lasting bond and that bond is what helped me to heal the wounds of my childhood and help her to heal the rage and judgment of her past.
I came to enjoy taking her on trips to places she had never been. One of her biggest joys was when she would go out on my boat with me which was docked at Marina del Rey. She would always stand at the wheelhouse with me as we left the main channel for the open ocean, singing the music on the stereo at the top of her lungs and searching for the dolphins she loved so much.
When my mother finally passed, I found I missed her intensely. I missed the mom that I had finally gotten, and I missed her laughter, our games of rummy, our weekly meeting to watch The Golden Girls, and her lunches. To this day I think of her so often, especially when I open the white milk candy dish that now sits on my bookcase. My mother is with me always.
Erika and I were friends while this was occurring, and I was in awe at how loving she was able to be to her formerly abusive mother. I knew the extent of Erika’s abuse at the hands of both of her parents, and her ability to forgive and love was mind-blowing.
For me, healing my mother wound was very different than Erika’s experience. As many of you know who have listened to my podcasts, I was an only child and my mother was highly controlling, angry, needy, and judgmental.
My mother was incapable of bonding with me and incapable of having any empathy or compassion for people. Before Inner Bonding, I tried to ‘get through to her’ in many ways and it always ended up with me feeling hurt and rejected.
When spirit brought Inner Bonding to Erika and me, and I learned to love myself, and I received loving mothering from Erika, some of that deep painful mother-wound hole inside me healed, and I was able to address the wound with my mother.
In my late 40’s, after learning and practicing Inner Bonding for a few years, I was no longer willing to tolerate my mother’s constant judgments of me, and I told her that if she wanted to continue to have a relationship with me, she needed to stop judging me all the time. She said she didn’t know what I was talking about, so I told her to find a therapist and I would go with her to help her understand what I was talking about. She did and we had three sessions with a therapist. Thankfully, the therapist was able to clue her in to how critical she was. After that time, whenever she started to judge me, I’d give her a look, saying, “Mother,” in a warning tone and she would say, “Okay, okay,” and stop criticizing!
During that time, due to learning to love myself, I realized that my mother was not capable of loving me. Unlike Erika’s mother, she was never proud of me. She and my father never read any of my books or had any understanding of the work I was doing. Being atheists, they could not understand anything spiritual – and they covertly ridiculed me with things like eye rolls and judgmental looks.
As I learned to understand and have compassion for my own wounded self, I came to accept how wounded my parents were, and have compassion for their woundedness. More of the healing of my mother wound came for me when I was able to mother my mother. When I visited them, I would hold my mother like a small child, and she loved it. She would curl up in my arms like a baby, and purr like a kitten. It was healing for both of us.
Unfortunately, at the end of her life, she did something deeply hurtful to me, which I didn’t find out about until after she died. I had no opportunity to heal the wounded with her, but again, I’ve been able to have compassion for her woundedness and forgive her. It’s my compassion and forgiveness that has healed my mother wound.
In one of my events, a woman asked me this question:
“I have a lot of anger, at my mother. My mother is borderline schizophrenic and has been my whole life. So she is lying, manipulative, and often not in touch with the reality. I know I can’t change her, and I can’t change the situation, but like if you’re married to someone, you can divorce them and move on. But how do you do that when it’s your mother?”
What I said to her is: “One of the things that you want to take a look at is how is your anger serving you? Your anger is likely protecting you from deeper feelings such as heartbreak, and deep loneliness and grief, and especially the helplessness over her and at having a mother like that. These feelings came from your experiences of growing up with your unloving mother, but you’re the one causing the anger. You’re likely hanging on to anger as a way to protect yourself from these existential feelings of life, especially from feeling so helpless over her. Anger is a coverup feeling that make you feel like you have some control when you don’t, and it protects you from the deeper and more painful feelings. You may need some facilitation to go deeper into the heartbreak, the loneliness, the grief, and the helplessness of growing up with a mother like that, who’s never going to change, and you can come to reality and acceptance of that. The fact that you’re angry rather than in reality and acceptance says that you haven’t yet gone into the deeper pain of what it was like growing up with such an unloving mother. The anger will not go away until you have the courage to go into the deeper pain with kindness and compassion towards yourself. This, along with learning to love yourself and give your inner child what you didn’t receive from your mother as a child, and to define your own worth and connect with your spiritual guidance, is what creates healing.”
Another woman at one of my events asked this question:
“I have a work situation that I need help with. My boss has taken away a part of my job that I really like, and I’m very angry at that and I’m worried that l may be in the process of losing my job and I can’t afford to do that. I’m near retirement and I found myself being irritable at work the last few days because someone else has taken over the part of the job that I really like. I know she’s seeing my irritability come through, so she’s asking other people what she should be asking me. I’d like to approach my boss, but I’m afraid she’s just going to let me go.”
What I said to her is, “Before you approach her, you need to deal with the anger and the irritability, because underneath this, there’s likely pain that hasn’t been dealt with. There’s the pain of losing the part of the job that you love. There’s the heartbreak of that and the grief of that. And it sounds like that you’ve been covering that over with the anger and the irritability.”
“Yes,” she said, “And there’s also another factor here in that my boss reminds me of my mother.”
“So,” I said, “perhaps you can take this situation as an opportunity to learn about the unresolved issues with your mother that may be getting triggered by your boss. It’s important to understand your end of this system before you can approach your boss, because as you said, you’re near retirement age and you can’t afford to lose your job right now. Going to talk to your boss with the energy that you have now is not going to work. Your energy needs to change first. And that means that you’ve got some deep inner work to do on both your mother and the current situation until you are no longer angry and irritated. You need to be much more empowered than you are right now. Right now, your frequency is fairly low, which is not a good place to be. If you’re going to talk to your boss, you have to do some work on clearing out the belief system from the past and going to the deeper feelings of sadness and sorrow and grief and helplessness and heartbreak over issues with your mother that are unhealed and that are contributing to what’s happening today. It’s easy to project our unhealed mother wound onto other authority figures like your boss, but when you are doing that, you are acting from your young, wounded self rather than from your loving adult.
I am often asked by my clients, “How do I deal with my critical mother?”
Having a critical mother is a big challenge. As I said, it was a big challenge for me, so I can certainly relate to Lori, who asked the follow question:
“My question is about what to do to take care of myself with my mother. She comes to visit me every so often, brings her husband along, and goes out of her way to put down everything about my life and the city I live in when she is here. It is heart breaking because I am a loving person and choose to keep my heart open, yet she goes out of her way to hurt me by putting down my life. I want to be me, and be loving and giving, yet it hurts a lot to be open with her. Can you provide some Inner Bonding thoughts on this? Thank you so much!”
Lori, I said, there are a few options to consider here.
- You might want to re-evaluate whether you want her to continue to visit you. Do you know that you have the right to not have her visit you? You are not obligated to have her at your home if her being there is very hurtful to you.
- If you do want her to continue to visit, then you might want to lay some ground rules before her next visit, such as saying to her, “Whenever you visit, you criticize everything about my life and the city I live in. This is not okay with me. If you want to visit, then you need to be accepting rather than critical. If you criticize me, I will ask you to leave.” However, in order to say this to her, you would need to be prepared to follow through and ask her to leave if she is critical.
- Another option is to utilize her visits as an opportunity to learn to not take others’ behavior personally, which is especially challenging with a parent. Your challenge is to be you – keeping your heart open and being loving, and when your mother is critical, compassionately attending to your heartbreak while reassuring your little girl that your mother’s behavior has nothing to do with you. I find it hurtful whenever anyone is critical, but I can manage the hurt by staying connected with my little girl with kindness and caring toward her and letting her know that other people’s behavior is not about her. It’s helpful to my little girl when I let her know that when others are being mean, it’s because they are abandoning themselves in some way and taking it out on me, but that it’s not about me and there is nothing I can do about them.
In the case of your mother, it is likely that she has a harsh internal critic who judges herself a lot. She probably learned to deal with her inner pain over her own self-abandonment by projecting her self-criticism onto others. When people act this way with me, once I am fully compassionately connected with my own feelings of pain over being treated badly, I can then extend compassion out to the other person, knowing that they are hurting, or they wouldn’t be acting that way. I imagine how badly their inner child feels with that level of self-abandonment and I feel compassion for their inner child.
- Another option is, if there is any chance that your mother would be open to learning, to ask her, from your intent to learn, why she is so critical of you. However, if you have not had any experience of your mother being open to self-exploration, this would not likely be a viable option. If you do think she would be open, you can combine this option with setting limits before she comes.
Critical parents are a challenging situation for anyone, and I honored Lori for wanting to learn from it.
To sum up, the powerful choices you can make to heal your mother wound are:
- To learn to be a loving mother to your own inner child
- To receive loving holding from a motherly or grandmotherly woman
- If your mother is still alive, accept reality regarding who your mother is, that she isn’t going to change, and learn to take loving care of yourself around her without taking her behavior personally.
- Practice compassion for yourself and for her.
- If your mother has passed, do the inner work of forgiving her.
With Inner Bonding and adequate nurturing from others, we CAN heal the mother wound.
I hope you join me for my 30-Day at-home Course: “Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships.”
And you can heal your relationships with my 30-Day online video relationship course: Wildly, Deeply, Joyously in Love.
You can learn so much about loving yourself and creating loving relationships from my recent books:
- And my newly released book, How to Become Strong Enough to Love: Creating Loving Relationships Through the Six-Step Pathway of Inner Bonding
And we have much to offer you at our website at https:www.innerbonding.com.
I’m sending you my love and my blessings.