Aiding Daughters in Healing From the “Mother Wound”

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In a previous post, I discussed what I called “the father wound,” which involves adults looking back to their family of origin, seeing injustices that still lead to hurt, and then forgiving. In that case, the focus was specifically on forgiving a father for emotional wounds inflicted and still in need of healing.

In this post, we focus specifically on mother-daughter relationships, with the adult woman now looking back and seeing injustices from the mother still in need of healing. Let us consider five reflections that may be helpful to those of you carrying emotional wounds caused by your mother’s unfairness when you were a child or adolescent.

Reflection 1

So often, mothers are the ones who extend nurturance toward children, who then feel protected in the home. While the situation of a rift with a mother over a failure to nurture tends to be less likely than in a relationship with a father, this mother-daughter rift can be particularly painful because it is not as common.

In other words, the daughter, now an adult, may conclude that she has had a different and more negative experience with the mother than her current friends have. Thus, when she compares her own upbringing with that of others, she now knows in adulthood that she can become angry at what she did not have, but deserved.

Reflection 2

This insight that the adult woman now has of her upbringing with her mother can lead to deep resentment. She might now see control by the mother that the adult daughter simply took for granted when growing up. She might see narcissism that led to the mother’s neglecting her when she was a child. She might see constant and even subtle criticism leveled at her to such an extent that she now has low self-esteem, questioning her own competence.

Any of these insights can lead to anger that is unhealthy in that it is long-lasting, perhaps for many years, and is deep, affecting her energy, her concentration, and her competence. The unhealthy anger can lead to skepticism and a worldview that is negative, seeing the glass as always half-empty.

Reflection 3

The unhealthy anger described above can lead to the displacement of that anger onto her own family members now. If her mother was overly controlling, she now may have a similar pattern with her own children or with her partner.

Being neglected may lead to her now neglecting. If criticized by the mother, she now may be overly critical of her own children or partner, and so on.


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Reflection 4

If the adult daughter is showing any of the patterns described here, a partner or friend sometimes can do an informal identification of the problem by asking themself this question: “Is she overreacting, perhaps often, in certain ways with her family members?” If so, the origin of the consistent overreacting may center on her family of origin and specifically on her mother’s particular patterns of overreacting while the adult daughter was growing up.

If the partner then sees consistent behavior such as overreacting, then this person can wait for an opportune time and gently ask, “May we examine this pattern of behavior to see if it has occurred from your own mother toward you when you were a child?” This requires patience, because the woman may be in denial, especially if she has loyalty toward her own mother. In such a case, it takes time to break the denial and admit emotional woundedness. Of course, we have to be careful not to assume there was a problem from the mother because there might not have been one.

Reflection 5

If, upon careful reflection, it is concluded that the mother in fact failed to nurture, then the daughter can move forward in addressing her own anger/sadness and its healing. If the adult daughter can be brought to see that there is a safety net for admitting anger and that the safety net is forgiving, then she may be more likely to take a courageous look at what happened to her in childhood.

In other words, people can be afraid to see the depth of their anger if they see no cure for it. Yet if they can be brought to see that forgiveness is a scientifically supported approach (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2015) for reducing and even curing anger, then taking a courageous look at that anger and its causes is more likely to occur.

Once denial is lessened and insight about one’s upbringing is seen, then the next step is the insight into the link between what happened to her in the past and what she is doing now. This can serve as motivation to begin the forgiveness journey so that the pattern of passing on the pain ends with her. The children then are spared passing the pattern along to loved ones when they become adults.

To begin the forgiveness journey, I recommend cultivating the mind of forgiveness by seeing your mother’s own woundedness at different stages of her life. Spend more time getting to know your mother. Do you realize that your mother is more than just the insensitive things she has done to you? Might she be inside more uncertain than confident, someone who never quite healed from her own wounds?

Who is your mother? See her beyond her actions that wounded you.

We have to realize that this kind of forgiveness journey can take time and cannot be rushed. After all, the adult daughter is dealing with an atypical situation of a mother failing to nurture, and this can be both unexpected and deeply painful.

Yet the hope is in the forgiveness, both for the healing of the adult daughter’s heart and in the healing of her current family. The forgiveness might even be the beginning of a reconciliation between daughter and mother.

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