by Andrea M. Darcy
The mother wound is not a clinical diagnosis.
But is a useful short hand to describe a very real psychological issue – being under mothered.
Those with a mother wound are left to navigate adulthood without the base of confidence and security that enough mothering instills.
[Do you feel your mother issues are so big you need help, fast? Harley Therapy booking platform provides affordable online therapy as soon as tomorrow.]
But my mother was so ‘nice’….
Sometimes it’s very apparent we were not mothered. Our mother had psychological issues, or an addiction, or a physical illness. She was clearly unable to provide the consistent love and support needed for a child to prosper.
But there is another type of mother that can leave us an adult who feels guilty for daring to think we have a mother wound. This is the fun, generous mother everyone else loved. The mother who took care of us in a physical sense. We had a nice home, nice clothes, we were driven to after school classes, we never wanted for anything.
Except we did. We wanted for love and acceptance. A child has an innate need to feel loved and accepted no matter what their moods, thoughts, and actions.
A mother can appear very together and even do her best, given what she learned from her own mother, to follow her idea of ‘good parenting‘.
But if our mother was emotionally absent or unreliable, often distant and preoccupied, emotionally cold, or only loved us when we pleased her? Then we were essentially ‘under mothered’.
What does under mothering look like?
Under mothering has many faces – and voices.
In fact one way to know if you are under mothered is to tune in to the little voice in your head, shaming and criticising you. Often this little voice takes its cues from our parents, or can even sound exactly like one of them.
If we are under mothered this little voice will be telling us we are not wanted, not good enough, too difficult to love. That we have to try harder, that we are second best, that we annoy people.
Or cast your mind back to childhood and try to remember how you felt growing up. If you were under mothered it would mean that you felt:
- unable or scared to turn to your mother in times of need
- unsure your mother was glad you existed
- uncertain she would be happy to see you or annoyed
- aware you must be you ‘good’ self around her or risk her bad mood or even being punished
- scared to take up your mother’s time
- worried your mother loved you or even liked you
- nervous, anxious, or in danger around their mother
- aware you had to take care of your mother, instead of the other way around.
Get angry, or totally forgive?
If our mother was unable to be a reliable source of love and care we can become an adult who struggles with how they feel about their mother.
On the one hand, now we are also grown up, or perhaps even adults ourselves, we can start to see how hard parenting is and want to be compassionate.
On the other hand, we can feel consumed by anger and bitterness when we try to connect with our mothers.
If we only live from the rage of the child we once were, we can feel vindicated, but also lonely. There is a constant sense that something is missing in our lives.
If we try to instead completely submerge our anger and protect our mother (she is, after all, the one who gave us life, isn’t it ‘wrong’ to be angry at her?) . And try to only be compassionate? We can end up with a host of mental health issues.
These can include depression, anxiety, poor self-esteem, lack of boundaries, anger issues, and a confused sense of identity. And we will struggle to have loving, secure relationships.
So what is the solution to the mother wound?
There can actually be room for both perspectives.
We can learn, through self development and therapy techniques, how to allow our ‘inner child’ out to vent her feelings in ways that are safe. On the pages of a journal or the contained space of a therapy room, we can let ourselves rage at the mother the woman who birthed us once was.
This creates space for our adult self to then see more clearly the woman our mother now is. The truth is that she has changed too, even as we have, even if just a little. We can decide what sort of relationship we’d like to have with this woman, as and when we are ready.
We can also learn how to parent ourselves, and give ourselves all the things we never received as a child.
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But isn’t it all my mother’s fault?
Completely blaming our mothers for everything that is wrong in our lives does sound convenient.
But living our life out from a place of blame leaves us in victim mode, where we forget about our personal power to make choices and change.
And at some point we are going to do something that is like something our mother would do. Make mistakes, not give someone what they need, be a less than perfect parent to our own children. In order to blame our mother for everything, we will have to use denial over our own flaws. Blame cuts us off from our very selves.
Allowing our feelings of blame towards our mothers to pour out in the safe space of a therapy room, and momentarily inhabiting the feelings of the lost and lonely child we once were? To make room for new perspectives? That IS useful.
Harley Therapy connects you with some of London’s best counselling psychologists and psychotherapists who can help you with your mother wound and childhood issues. Or try our sister site harleytherapy.com to book therapists across the U.K. and also worldwide via online.
Still have a question about the mother wound and being under mothered? Post in the comments below.
Andrea M. Darcy is the editor and lead writer of this site who was herself bought up by an emotionally unavailable mother. Find her on Twitter and @am_darcy.