Blog 90. Parenting: Find Out How An Unhealed Mother Wound Can Affect A Woman’s Life.
As a relationship therapist, a few years ago I heard myself saying that as a result of years of client observation I have come to realise that, “Women need to heal their relationship with their mothers and men need to be given the right tools to know how to deal with women and relationships”. This statement just slipped out, but I knew I touched on a truth. Let me explain:
The role of men, where they are usually happiest, is when they are able to fully support their wives and their families – especially financially. This enables the woman or wife to become central within the home. This ancient arrangement then creates a good foundation to enable her to become the homemaker, to have children and even to continue to pursue her career if she so wishes. But most importantly, is the recognition that it is the woman or mother – who becomes the core around which the relationship or family revolves.
But if a woman carries an unhealed mother wound, or in other words, if the mother-daughter relationship is not fully understood, she may struggle to fully grasp and understand the larger meaning of the powerful and constructive role she can actually play within society, within her family, her relationships, friendships and indeed with her children. Without this understanding she may remain limited – and in so doing she may limit her children too.
But what is the mother wound?
Most women will have grown up, and especially if they have brothers, with a conscious or even unconscious notion that no matter what – men are more important. What men say, what men do and so on, always seems to be more valued.
This belief is usually past from one generation to the next without question, causing much pain and frustration. A woman may feel less, not listened to, put down and as a result a woman can begin to believe that she really does have little value.
Trying to address this issue, especially in patriarchal societies, can be very arduous as this issue is normally kept well hidden from view, but with deep-felt anger and resentment lurking in the shadows – especially when a brother is thought of as ‘the golden boy’ who can do no wrong in their mothers’s eyes.
And another well-known example and where this particular issue raises its ugly head – is with the family inheritance. Women, even first born, can be left out of wills, and they can see beloved land go to brothers or they can land up destitute as money is left in the hands of the men in the family. Yet the unconscious belief that men are nevertheless, still far more important often continues, even though women may have lost their inheritance, to for example, their brothers. And still, women prefer to protect these men in ways that puts them on pedestals and often any misdemeanor and so on, is quickly forgotten.
But this sets up mixed messages about female oppression – which is often underlined by the behaviour of some mothers. But why?
Sadly, it is often a mother who passes the belief that men have more power and should be listened to etc, on to her children. And even though she may have been the daughter who resented this belief, and even if she tried to rebel against it – once she has her own daughter/s, things change and the belief gets conveniently repeated. And it starts when suddenly a mother is threatened by her daughter. And suddenly it becomes convenient to collude in the belief the men are better than women.
Watching her daughter flirt innocently with her father (her husband), wrapping him round her finger in order to get her way (especially during the Oedipal stage which I wrote about previously), can set up the beginnings of a massive competition and rivalry between a mother and daughter which can continue right into adulthood.
This usually happens if a mother is not absolutely sure of herself. If she lacks confidence and indeed self-awareness. Or if she feels she has made many sacrifices (to have children) which can then cause feelings of deep-seated rejection and anger once she observes the relationship between a father and his daughter.
And threatened that her daughter may have more power over her husband, threatened that her husband may love her daughter more, she naturally can become very jealous.
It is at this point that a mother may manipulate the situation by threatening her daughter with the withdrawal of her love and approval, reminding her too that she also isn’t quite so enchanting after all. Usually this is expressed insidiously and cunningly over time.
But the power asserted has consequences.
The daughter soon learns not to overstep or outshine her mother (let alone her father or her brothers). She learns to quickly remove herself from the limelight thereby colluding with her mother and confirming that she will never attain her full capabilities – as this may annoy mummy who could see this as a personal rejection and even a personal attack.
But in doing so, she may land up betraying herself and her own potential.
For daughters growing up, especially in a patriarchal culture, there is a sense of having to choose between being empowered and being loved.
This then creates a complicated catch-22 situation and it often sets up all sorts of power games, competition and rivalry between a mother and daughter – with a mother reminding her daughter just how much she has sacrificed, just how much she has given up in order to become a mother and so on. And this can be further highlighted if a mother sacrificed her career to have her children.
Demanding loyalty from a daughter can create massive guilt and a deep insecurity – often holding a daughter back from stepping into her power and becoming successful in her own right.
However, much of this can be unconscious and certainly not spoken about. Usually the mother daughter system is created very early on in childhood and daughters unconsciously make a decision never to abandon or betray their mothers by becoming too successful, too clever or too ambitious.
Then as a daughter becomes a young adult and as she begins to attract boyfriends and potential marriage partners, it is often interesting to watch how a mother can attempt to flirt with any of her daughter’s partner choices – but in so doing, revealing not only her fears about getting older – but also the unconscious threat and reminder that she still has the power to remove her love and that the daughter needs to tread carefully.
Unfortunately, this can result in a confusion: being loyal to a mother does not have to mean being loyal to their wounds.
Yet who can blame a mother for feeling jealous when the man she loves begins to admire her daughter? But if she is in any way insecure, she will find that bringing up a daughter can be very hard. This is why it is so important that women develop their full potential so that they don’t ever feel the need to compete with their daughters.
But if the notion that a woman has to be less ambitious and so on, is adhered to, this only continues the frustration and rivalry between mothers and daughters – and this is not healthy especially when it becomes an obsession.
But also society hasn’t helped mothers either. Much is expected of mothers to be nurturing, caring and they are expected to just cope. They are not expected to be high flyers, ambitious and successful. And if the mother senses her daughter about to do things she was never able to do, this could in itself create much anger and even more jealousy. Yet a mother is still supposed to love her daughter. And many do. But the dark human feelings don’t just go away because of this love.
This is why it is so important that women deal with the conscious or unconscious messages they have received and the pain it has caused. Because passing down this mother wound isn’t necessary. It only comes packaged with destructive feelings of resentment, anger, shame and guilt – which lead to a lack of self-worth and possibly even an unfulfilled life.
This is why we need to grieve our losses and not project them on to children, or others for that matter. But most importantly, a mother must try to ensure that she is not solely relying on her daughter for emotional support or as a marker for her own personal growth.
But mothers can and should try to liberate their daughters from the ancient inherited dysfunctional cage which reinforces views that she is not worthy of fulfilling her potential.
But what are the consequences of the mother wound on sons or indeed husbands?
Because a mother normally spends more time with her children than perhaps a father does, children learn and take their behaviour cues from their mother. And if it is taught either consciously or unconsciously, that men are more powerful, this will affect the behaviour not only of the daughters – but also of the sons.
If daughters are taught to give way to their brothers and if this behaviour becomes accepted or indeed accepted by a particular society, then any reinforcement of assumed male and female roles will seem to the sons, like normal behaviour – passed down from one generation to the next – until this belief is questioned or challenged.
Consequently, the mother wound can also become negatively entangled with the patriarchal male view and notion of the roles women are expected to play.
But why take any notice of the mother wound?
Many of my clients have reported that the mother wound has left them feeling insecure and incapable of achieving their goals. It has stopped them from taking risks and it has created a self-sabotaging lifestyle. But most importantly is the need for their mother’s permission or approval before they embark on doing their tasks.
It is therefore an issue that needs to be addressed so that the mother wound can finally be healed. This way we can move from defensiveness to a whole new level of love – which will help create a new degree of support that every women craves as she grows up.
And then as a daughter becomes a wife or a mother, taking on the central core role within the family will be less daunting. And as a mother, she may be less threatened by her daughter/s especially if she has developed her own inner security and self-assuredness.
This will enable her to further develop an important and recognised position of power that will fully support the next generation of women – that is, if she is lucky to have a daughter/s of her own.
And perhaps this way, any accepted traditional female roles which are disempowering can be challenged or at least questioned – by the women who have or are allowing its repetition.
Unfortunately, patterns and belief systems can also become habits and many women repeat the unhealed mother wound with their female friends too.
Women can denigrate a girlfriend’s role, her career, her status, her parental roles, by referring to her husband as the smart one, or by suggesting she was lucky to get her husband – thereby inferring envy and projecting her own unhealed mother wound onto her friend/s.
This is not helpful for either party as often this can lead to the end of a friendship. But sadly, few recognise that many such like issues – actually arise out of the unhealed mother wound.
This is why it is imperative that “women heal their relationship with their mothers” as it will remove a lot of unnecessary friction.
© 2018 Deidré Wallace All rights reserved.
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