Updated: Sep 23
"I believe not only that trauma is curable, but that the healing process can be a catalyst for profound awakening—a portal opening to emotional and genuine spiritual transformation." - Peter Levine, Phd
Since every mother-child relationship is unique (even for biological siblings) and no two mother wounds can ever be exactly alike, it only makes sense that the road to mother wound recovery will be different for everyone too. The toolkit you need to recover from your mother wound will be different from the toolkit someone else needs to recover from their mother wound. Anyone knowledgable about the mother wound will tell you that’s not only okay, it’s also what we’d expect.
Healing the mother wound isn’t about following an “8-step roadmap” that worked for somebody else. It’s about finding the unique path that’s right for you.
As a counselor who focuses solely on the mother wound in my private practice, I’ve seen all sorts of effective mother wound recovery toolkits. For example, the outgoing artistic client who had an emotional mother wound needed different tools than the introverted entrepreneur client who had a physical mother wound. My job as a counselor isn’t to instruct my clients to use the same tools I used to recover from my own mother wound, but to help them figure out and then put into action the tools that work best for them.
Having said that, my experience has also taught me that there’s this certain handful of tools that I’ve seen in enough toolkits to know they deserve a spot in every mother wound healing toolkit. I’ve come to refer to these almost universally necessary five tools as the “Foundational Five,” and I’m sharing them with you right here in today’s blog post. Let’s get started.
1. Accept your mother wound
As someone who did everything she possibly could to avoid seeing her abusive mom for who she really was for decades (including but not limited to randomly getting married at the ripe old age of 20 between my sophomore and junior years of college!), I’m not about to preach to you that accepting your mother wound is easy. There’s nothing easy about waking up to the brutal realization that the one person everyone said was supposed to love you unconditionally has actually caused you more pain and trauma than you can even begin to know what to do with. If there’s a problem we humans would prefer to run away from, this one’s definitely it.
“Nothing was really successful until the truth about my life was acknowledged." - Darrell Hammond
This truth I’d been running from for all these years turned out to be the thing that eventually saved my life. Allowing myself to acknowledge my mother wound didn’t destroy me like I feared it would. Instead, it gave me my life back. That energy I’d been using to prop up my denial could now be put towards my recovery.
“If we simply try to avoid confronting painful experiences, there is no way to begin the healing process." - Peter Levine
Please don’t get me wrong. This wasn’t a quick transformation by any means. It took going to therapist school (all that talk about therapists being drawn to the profession by their own stuff isn’t an accident) and then becoming a mother myself years later for me to finally even begin the process of accepting my mother wound. If you’re someone who’s been living in denial like I was, remember to be gentle with yourself. Mother wound acceptance is really, really tough stuff.
What mother wound acceptance is not
One of my favorite ways to really get my mind around something is to learn what that something is not. Here's what mother wound acceptance is not:
Downplaying: "My childhood with Mom wasn't that bad."
Resignation: "I'll always feel this sad so why bother?"
Resisting: "I'm not going to think about my mother wound."
Denying: "My stuff with Mom isn't that big of a deal."
Condoning: "Mom spanking me was actually okay."
Fantasizing: "Maybe this time Mom will change."
What mother wound acceptance is
Accepting your mother wound doesn’t mean appreciating your mother wound. Accepting your mother wound simply means allowing yourself to know the truth about your mother and how she has treated you. Physician and addiction expert Gabor Maté defines acceptance as the recognition “that in this moment things cannot be other than how they are.” I love Maté’s definition for three reasons:
It’s simple and to-the-point.
It doesn’t tell you how to feel.
It focuses on the present moment.
My clinical studies have taught me that for the vast majority of mother wound survivors, accepting the truth about our mothers and about our painful experiences with them is not at all easy. In a world that says, “No one will ever love you better than your mother!” and “All moms love their children!” accepting the fact that your mom has acted (or failed to act) in ways that have hurt you is no small thing. Remember to be patient with yourself.
You’ll know you’re on the path to accepting your mother wound when you find yourself consistently thinking or saying things like:
"I have the mother wound."
"My painful childhood experiences with Mom are real."
"The abuse with Mom really did happen."
"My pain from my mom is valid."
"The trauma of my mother wound matters."
"My mother failed to meet my needs as a child."
"It doesn't matter if Mom might change someday. This is who she is now."
"I believe what I remember about Mom."
2. Allow your feelings
Our feelings are as human as our need for oxygen. Yet most mother wound sufferers have a difficult if not downright contentious relationship with their own feelings. Before we heal this part of the mother wound, it’s as if we’re going through the day with “How I feel is not okay” running on repeat inside our heads. We aren’t allowing our feelings. We’re guarding against them.
“Make room for your own thoughts and feelings! Allow yourself to feel sad, angry, guilty, doubtful.” - Jeff Foster
And when you’ve grown up with a mom who invalidated and dismissed your feelings with harsh words like “Stop crying” or “Get over it” or “You’re too sensitive,” this discomfort with your own emotions isn’t surprising. It actually makes perfect sense. The one person who was supposed to accept and love you—your big, messy feelings included—exactly as you are didn’t. Of course that’s going to leave a painful scar.
Thankfully, we can learn to relate to our feelings in ways that are healthy and loving no matter how old we are. In other words, we aren’t doomed to make our mothers’ war against our feelings our own war against them. Ultimately their fear of our feelings is about them, not us.
“People who feel are a threat to the system, whether they feel angry, happy, hateful, contented, vindictive, or joyful.” - Anne Wilson Schaef
Of course if you weren’t taught how to allow your feelings or worse you were shamed or punished for expressing them, learning to do differently will take time. A good way to begin this process is to teach yourself the truth about your feelings. Nine key truths about your feelings to teach yourself include:
Your feelings are okay.
Your feelings are allowed.
Your feelings matter.
Your feelings are valid.
Your feelings do not define you.
Your feelings aren’t “too much.”
Your feelings aren’t permanent.
Your feelings aren’t a burden.
Your feelings just are.
3. Get support
Getting support from other people is a crucial part of healing the mother wound. Despite all the sexy hype out there about do-it-yourself “self-healing,” the truth remains that we are social creatures who are wounded AND healed within the context of relationships. World-renowned psychotherapist Carl Jung once poignantly said, “We don't get wounded alone and we don't heal alone.”
Jung, were he alive today, certainly wouldn’t be adding #selfhealers to his social media posts. The idea that we should heal from trauma all on our own is just more of the same pull up by your bootstraps guilt tripping mythology that capitalists love to sell us. It simply doesn’t work.
“Finding supportive, healthy relationships is the foundation of recovery.” - Patrick Carnes
Having said that, there’s no one right way to get support when it comes to healing the mother wound. In other words, you have options, and it’s important to find what works for you. Some of your support options include:
Going to mother wound counseling.
Participating in a mother wound peer-to-peer support group.
Joining a mother wound learning community run by a mother wound specialist.
Let’s take a minute and look at each of these more closely.
Mother wound counseling
If you’re looking for individualized, one-on-one support that’s tailored specifically to you and your unique needs then it’s time to start looking for a therapist. When it comes to the mother wound, not all mental health professionals are created equal, as the mother wound is a unique area of care. If you can access working with a clinician who specializes in treating the mother wound, we strongly recommend going that route. And remember, lots of counselors are offering their services remotely these days, so where you live is often much less of an issue.
The Mother Wound Project was founded by a mother wound specialist. To learn more about working privately with Stephi click here.
Mother wound peer-to-peer support groups
If you’re more of an extrovert (or communicating through a screen makes you feel more extroverted) you might find the support you need to heal your mother wound in a peer-to-peer support group. A serious upside to these groups of course is that they’re free. And beyond that you also have the option of participating as much or as little as you want to. Want to make your own detailed posts asking fellow members for specific advice? Great! Want to participate by reading along quietly? That’s great too! Quick word of caution: steer clear of groups that don’t allow members to make their own posts. That’s not a support group. That’s a life coach advertising to you.
The Mother Wound Project hosts a free mother wound peer-to-peer support group on Facebook. To join “The Porch” click here.
Mother wound learning community
In the market for a hybrid between individual therapy and a peer-to-peer support group where yo A mother wound learning community could be just what you’re looking for. When choosing a mother wound learning community, you’re going to want one that’s run by a qualified professional or organization. Bonus points if it’s run by a qualified professional AND a qualified organization. Bottom line: you’re not looking to get your questions answered by someone who does the mother wound as a side hustle. You’re looking for the sort of expertise that comes with focusing on the mother wound all day every day.
The Mother Wound Project offers a private mother wound learning community that can be accessed with your Instagram account for less than a coffee. Our founder and executive director (who’s also a counselor) is there to answer your questions directly. To learn more about becoming an MWP subscriber click here.
4. Set boundaries
While it’s true that you can’t change your mother, something you can do is change how (and maybe even if) you interact with her. This is where my favorite b-word comes in. Boundaries. Now since you’re reading this blog post, chances are your mom didn’t encourage or support you in developing healthy boundaries. If you’re like many of my mother wound clients, your mom may have even shamed or punished you as a child for attempting to have boundaries. Whatever the specifics, I’ve yet to work with a mother wound client who couldn’t benefit from working on their boundaries.
When you’re still in contact with mom
If your mother is still in your life, you’ll want to spend some time thinking about any boundaries you might need to put in place with her order to best care for yourself moving forward. Healthy boundaries for you might look like:
Choosing not to speak with Mom about contentious topics.
Meeting up with Mom somewhere neutral like at a park.
Limiting the amount of time you spend with Mom.
When you’ve gone no contact
If you’ve made the decision to estrange yourself from your mom or your mom has cut you off, your work around boundaries as you heal your mother wound will look a little bit different. Healthy boundaries for you might look like:
Not responding to your ex-mom’s texts, emails, or calls.
Asking family members not to pressure you into seeing your ex-mom.
Declining to justify to a new friend why you don’t have a relationship with your ex-mom.
When mother has passed-away
Some of my clients are surprised to learn that the death of their mother doesn’t involve an end to their need for boundaries. In fact, sometimes the passing of one’s mom can necessitate needing to have even more boundaries than when she was still living. Healthy boundaries if your mom has passed-away might look like:
Asking your dad not to share with you how much he misses your mom.
Telling your sisters you won’t be attending your mom’s funeral.
Making the decision to not look through old photographs of you with your mom.
To read more about boundaries as they relate to the mother wound check out these other MWP blog posts:
The word “mother” isn’t just the role someone played (or failed to play) in your life. It’s also a verb, which means this is one baby you don’t want to toss with the bath water. Just because our moms weren’t capable of mothering us doesn’t mean we can’t learn to mother ourselves in ways that are infinitely nurturing, loving and supportive. What we’re talking about of course is self-mothering, which is a specific type of self-parenting that’s especially helpful for anyone who who knows what it is to have a self-centered, entitled, absent, or abusive mother.
How to mother yourself
The number of different practices and techniques that you can use to mother yourself are truly limitless. I could write a whole workbook full of them. But since this is a blog post and I want to be mindful of your time, here’s some examples of self-mothering to help get you started:
Speaking to yourself from a place of compassion and empathy instead of animosity and shame (e.g. telling yourself “Making mistakes is part of life” instead of “What’s wrong with you? You’re so stupid!” when you make a mistake).
Giving yourself permission to rest when you need to rest instead of prioritizing productivity and busyness (e.g. not pressuring yourself to every single maintain plan when what you really need is to take an afternoon nap or read a book on the couch with a pet).
Allowing yourself to say no to relationships with people who aren’t good for you, even if they might feel disappointed or rejected by your choice.
Refraining from punishing yourself for not knowing better or for doing differently today than you would have liked.
Looking for words of wisdom that your inner mother can share with your inner child? Check out these other MWP blog posts:
Are you someone who wants to take your mother wound healing journey to the next level? Come join the conversation, learn more about the mother wound, and receive compassionate support in our now 100% free private mother wound healing community over in The Porch. Interested in keeping up with the latest Mother Wound Project news? Follow us on Instagram.