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The Beginner’s Mother Wound Glossary

Updated: Jan 16

“Mother is not a simple subject.” - Jasmine Lee Cori

woman reading a book

New to learning about the mother wound? It’s your lucky day! In this blog post we’re giving you the beginner’s mother wound glossary. Now those terms like “mother myth” and “parentification” that you’ve been scratching your head about are all in one place.

Looking to take it up a notch? Our upper-level mother wound glossary for committed cycle breakers can be found in MWP Academy.

Okay, let’s dive into it!

Absent Mom

An absent mom is a mother who is absent from her child either physically, emotionally, or both physically and emotionally. Absent moms are one of the ten different types of moms who cause the mother wound.


Abuse is an act of commission or omission that results in harm or potential harm (or has the potential to result in harm). Abuse comes in many forms including but not limited to emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, intellectual abuse, verbal abuse, financial abuse, and spiritual abuse.

For more on abuse check out these resources:

Abuse Apologist

Abuse apologists are people who defend abuse and/or abusers. They are unfortunately very common in dysfunctional families, as well as in comment sections on social media.

For more on abuse apologists check out this resource:


Attachment refers to the bond that forms between an infant and their primary caregiver(s) during the first years of life. The quality of this bond is strengthened or weakened by choices caregivers make during this crucial window of development.


Authoritarianism is an ideology or worldview that’s often recognized to occur in systems of government, but it’s common in dysfunctional families as well. Much like when it occurs in government, authoritarianism in families is characterized by the presence of a centralized power structure—very often the oldest member(s) and/or the wealthiest member(s)—and efforts to maintain the status quo, often in the form of traditions. As a general rule, authoritarian parents are demanding, controlling, punitive, and rarely emotionally responsive. Authoritarianism is one of several risk factors for the mother wound. Authoritarianism within families can sound like:

  • “Because I said so! Do what I say.”

  • “In this family, we’ve always done it this way.”

  • “Children are meant to be seen not heard.”


Bandwagoning is an emotionally abusive behavior that happens when an abusive parent uses the perspectives, feelings, opinions, thoughts, or beliefs of other people (regardless of whether they are factual or not) to position themselves as though they are in the majority. It can contribute to groupthink and silencing. Bandwagoning works because humans do not want to feel as if they exist outside the group.

Example of bandwagoning: Cara tells her moms still feels hurt by something her mom did when she was growing up. Her mom rejects Cara's feelings with bandwagoning when says, "Well, I talked to your brothers and both of them said it didn't bother them." The truth is that Cara's experience cannot be canceled out by that of her brothers, even if what her mom is saying is true.

Blame-shifting happens when one person (or group of people such as an entire family) attempts to shift the responsibility for something onto someone else. It’s a form of emotional abuse that functions as a manipulation tactic. Blame-shifting is particularly common amongst mothers who cause the mother wound, as these mothers are often unwilling to take personal accountability for their choices, behavior, actions, opinions, or mistakes.

For more on blame-shifting check out this resource:

Boundaries are those all-important lines in the sand we use to communicate both to ourselves and to others where we begin and end. Boundaries help us say things like “This is okay with me” and “This is not okay with me.” People who have the mother wound struggle with setting and maintaining boundaries. There are six types of boundaries:

  • Emotional boundaries

  • Physical boundaries

  • Intellectual boundaries

  • Sexual boundaries

  • Identity boundaries

  • Time boundaries

Boundaries are part of every healthy relationship. In abusive and dysfunctional parent-child relationships, the parent is much less likely than healthy parents to honor the child’s boundaries. Learning how to create and maintain boundaries is one of many ways to heal and recover from the mother wound, as well as other forms of relational and childhood trauma.

For more on boundaries check out these resources:


CPTSD refers to complex post-traumatic stress disorder, which is a stress-related mental disorder that occurs as a result of and in response to trauma that occurs over a protracted span of time. The vast majority of mother wound survivors will also qualify as having CPTSD. Since 2018, thanks the the hard-fought efforts of many trauma survivors, trauma researchers, and trauma-informed clinicians, CPTSD has finally been officially recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a disorder. The United States Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) and the British National Health Service (NHS) have also formally recognized the disorder. It is anticipated that the disorder will be recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in the near future.


DARVO stands for “deny, attack, and reverse victim and offender.” It’s a manipulative, emotionally abusive tactic that’s often used by abusers. It’s particularly common amongst mothers who cause the mother wound. DARVO was coined by psychologist Jennifer Freyd in 1997.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse (sometimes called psychological abuse) is a type of abuse that’s characterized by someone subjecting another person to words, actions, or behaviors that can result in emotional trauma. As a general rule, emotional abuse is any type of abuse that’s not physical in nature, although physical abuse can qualify as being emotionally abusive as well. Emotional abuse is common in dysfunctional families, where it’s first modeled by the parent(s) and then over time seen as normal and therefore okay by other family members who then go on to perpetuate the cycle of abuse. The emotional trauma that results from emotional abuse can cause CPTSD, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction, just to name a few. While it was previously believed that emotional abuse was less damaging than physical abuse, this is now known to not be the case. In fact, research has found that emotional abuse lights up the same areas of the brain as physical abuse. Examples of emotional abuse include:


An enabler is someone who encourages or otherwise supports another person’s problematic and even harmful behavior. Abusive parents are often enabled by another parent and/or by other members of the extended family, such as a grandparent or adult sibling. For example, in terms of the mother wound, a self-centered, entitled, absent, or abusive mother might be enabled by her husband, her child’s father. This of course means the abuse will continue and in many cases worsen.


Enmeshment is a phenomenon that occurs in unhealthy interpersonal relationships. It’s characterized by weak or nonexistent boundaries, a loss of individual autonomy, and an unhealthy preoccupation with the wants and feelings of another person. In an enmeshed parent-child relationship, a child can become so unaware of their own needs, wants, and feelings that they lose the capacity for self-direction and cease to know who they are as a distinct and unique individual. Enmeshment is common in dysfunctional families and in mother-child relationships where the child has the mother wound. Enmeshment was first introduced by Salvador Minuchin and later expanded upon by John Bradshaw.

Entitled Mothers

Entitled mothers are the mothers who tend to think of themselves as above other people, particularly their children. Children of entitled mothers are at an increased risk of developing the mother wound. Either consciously or unconsciously, entitled mothers are likely to:

  • Believe that their role as mother (or grandmother) grants them special privileges, authority, or control.

  • Expect preferential treatment.

  • Think their wants, needs, feelings, preferences, opinions, schedules, interests, etc. come before those of others.

  • See themself as the victim when something doesn’t go their way or someone says no to them (e.g. playing the victim).


Estrangement is when contact between two people is either severely limited or completely cut off, hence why it’s so frequently referred to as “going no contact.” Unlike parental alienation (something else entirely), estrangement is voluntary for at least one person in the two-person relationship. In the case of mother-child estrangement, while the person choosing the estrangement can be the mother or the child (or both concurrently), current estimates suggest that children initiate mother-child estrangement 9 out of 10 times.

For more on estrangement check out these resources:

Fake Apology

Family of Choice

A family of choice refers to a group of people not linked by genetics or legal documentation who intentionally come together for the purpose of providing connection, encouragement, and support to one another. A family of choice is very different, therefore, from a family of origin. For people who have experienced trauma in the context of their family of origin, a family of choice can be profoundly instrumental to their subsequent healing and recovery.

Family of Origin

Family of origin refers to the family a person does not choose for themself. People can become connected with their family of origin through birth, adoption, foster care, divorce, remarriage, guardianship, etc. Family of origin is often referred to as "FOO" for short.


Fauxpologies are fake apologies that can seem like authentic apologies. Fauxpologies almost always include the requisite words “I’m sorry.” This of course makes them seem as though they’re the real deal. Ultimately, fauxpologies are used to deflect responsibility or make the hurt party feel guilty for wanting the apology in the first place.

Emotionally abusive mothers will often give fauxpologies to make it seem as if they've given an apology when really they haven't. "But I said sorry!” is a common retort by these moms when confronted about the fauxpology. Fauxpologies can include excuses, tone policing, victim blaming, minimization, and justification. Examples of fauxpologies include:

  • “I'm sorry you think I'm such a terrible mother.”

  • “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

  • “I'm sorry but you mistook what I meant.”

  • “I'm sorry you're so sensitive.”

  • "I'm sorry if you were offended.”

  • "I'm sorry you're so angry."

For more on apologies check out these other resources:


Favoritism refers to emotionally abusive parenting behaviors where one or more children are consciously or unconsciously treated better by one or more parents than another child/group of children. While favoritism usually happens within the immediate family, favoritism can also extend into the extended family (e.g. a mother can favor her child's cousins) or even into a friend network (e.g. a mother can favor her best friend's daughter).

It's important to note that favoritism is not the fault of the children being favored. This includes children recognized as golden children. Parents who choose to engage in favoritism are the ones who are responsible for doing so. Having said that, favoritism is very damaging to sibling relationships. For example, it's not unusual for siblings who experienced favoritism with their mom to carry painful memories and feelings that negatively impact their ability to connect years and sometimes even decades later with each other.


Despite the well-intentioned societal urging of “forgive and forget” or “forgive to heal,” this cultural norm informed by various religious and spiritual beliefs actually leaves out a great deal of necessary nuance and respect for survivors. In truth, definitions of forgiveness vary widely.

What one person means when they refer to forgiveness won’t necessarily be the same as another. For example, while some see forgiveness as moving forward and accepting the past, others include relationship restoration in their definition of forgiveness.

As a therapeutic tool or approach, forgiveness mileage also varies widely. What helps one person won’t necessarily help another. While some survivors of relational, childhood, and other traumas find forgiveness to be critical to their healing process, an equal number find that it actually postpones or even halts it. Before judging someone for not forgiving, we’d be wise to remember two key things:

  1. Survivors do not owe their abusers forgiveness.

  2. Our definition of forgiveness may not be theirs.

Here at the MWP, we believe survivors should never be pressured to forgive those who have harmed or abused them and that forgiveness is a deeply personal choice each survivor gets to make for themselves. Those who choose to forgive are not inherently “less angry,” “more moved on,” or “more healed” than those who do not, and vice versa.

For more on forgiveness check out this resource:

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse whereby the “gaslighter” puts forth a false narrative that creates doubt within the “gaslighted” regarding their own feelings, memories, perspectives, etc.

People who’ve been gaslit often question their own reality as a result of the gaslighting. Gaslighting can be particularly damaging in relationships where one person has more power or authority than the other, say in mother-child relationships.

For more about gaslighting check out this resource:


Guilt is the emotion we experience when we feel we have either done something wrong or failed to do something (e.g. a responsibility or obligation). Guilt sounds like, “I made a mistake,” or “I did a bad thing.”

When someone is being guilt-tripped, an emotionally abusive person, in many cases a mother or parent, is trying to cause them to feel mistaken guilt or unjustified responsibility for the purpose of manipulating them to do differently. A child who has been raised to feel overly responsible for the needs and feelings of others (i.e. parentified) is especially prone to guilt trips, in childhood and also later on into adulthood.

Guilt trips are very common amongst mothers who cause the mother wound. Our research at the Mother Wound Project shows that more than 80% of mother wound survivors have experienced guilt tripping by their mother. This is significant especially because guilt trips are a form of manipulation and thus are emotionally abusive.

For more on guilt tripping check out this resource:

Guilt vs. Shame

The distinction between guilt (see guilt) and shame (see shame) is an important one, yet it’s often missed in our families of origin and even occasionally still amongst mental health professionals. We at the MWP have come to refer to this as guilt vs. shame. Guilt and shame are two very different emotions, yet they are commonly taken to mean the same thing (e.g. “Don’t feel guilty! You’re a good parent!”) In order to have healthy relationships with ourselves and with others, we need to foster a healthy relationship with guilt, rather than work to push any and all feelings of guilt away. Guilt says, “I made a mistake,” whereas shame says, “I am a mistake.” With guilt, the focus is on one’s actions or inactions, whereas with shame the focus is on one’s character, person, or being.

Our inner child is the still childlike part of ourselves that we carry with us beyond childhood. The term was first developed by psychologist Carl Jung prior to the 1960s. Within Internal Family Systems (IFS) there are thought to be many inner children with various feelings, memories, needs, and wants, rather than just one.

Inner Mother

Similar to the inner child, there’s also the inner parent. One’s inner parent is their parentlike self. It’s important to note that different people use the term inner parent differently. For example, some refer to themselves as having more than one inner parent (i.e. “My inner parents” or “My inner mother and my inner father”) while others use the term singularly (i.e. “My inner parent”). Since this is the Mother Wound Project we use inner mother most often, but please feel free to use whatever works best for you and your personal situation. The concept certainly is not limited just to mothers or to painful mother-child relationships. John Bradshaw is credited with popularizing the concept of the inner mother through his books.


Invalidation is a form of emotional abuse that happens when one person discounts, disregards, or dismisses another person’s emotions. Mothers who cause the mother wound are more likely than healthy mothers to invalidate their children’s feelings. Invalidation sounds like:

  • “You’re so sensitive.”

  • “It’s not a big deal.”

  • “You’re overreacting.”

  • “You need to get over it.”


Manipulation is a form of emotional abuse (see emotional abuse) where one person seeks to unethically influence or control another. Manipulation is particularly concerning in relationships that involve power differences, such as parent-child relationships. It’s very common for abusive and emotionally bankrupt parents to manipulate one or more of their children from childhood into adulthood.

Misogynistic Mother

Misogynistic mothers are mothers who project their unprocessed internalized misogyny onto their children. This results in significant mother wounds for their children. Misogynistic mothers teach their children harmful patriarchal values and worldviews such as:

  • The belief that men are superior to everyone else.

  • The belief that feelings are inherently less valuable than logic and reasoning.

  • The belief that women and girls exist to benefit men.

  • The belief that anything feminine is inferior.

  • The belief that women and girls should suppress their anger.

  • The belief that it’s not okay for men and boys to cry.

  • The belief that children are property rather than human beings.

  • The belief that subjects such as math and science are superior to subjects like literature and the arts.

  • The belief that a woman’s value lies in how she appears.

  • The belief that women and girls are not allowed to be outspoken or have strong opinions.

Missing Missing Reasons

Missing missing reasons refers to the widely observed phenomenon whereby estranged parents will claim to not know why their adult child cut them off—the missing reasons—when further analysis reveals that the estranged parents were in fact given reasons for the cut-off by their adult child that they conveniently opted not to mention—thus the missing missing reasons. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the purpose of missing missing reasons is to make the adult child seem crazy, mentally unstable, emotionally volatile, etc. to a third party. Ultimately the estranged parent’s goal is to discredit their own child, which of course is a red flag all by itself. An estranged parent using missing missing reasons might say things like:

“The estrangement happened out of the blue!”

“My estranged daughter never told me what I did wrong.”

“I have no idea why my child cut me off.”

Missing missing reasons was first coined by Issendai. To read the original article click here.

Mom Pressure

Mom pressure is similar to peer pressure, with the difference being that the pressure to conform is coming not from one's peers, but from one's own mom. Mom pressure contributes to the mother wounds of a large number of mother wound survivors. Mom pressure frequently involves things like grades, looks, body size, college, dating/marriage, etc.

Mother Gap

The mother gap is the space that exists between what you needed to receive from your mother and what you actually did receive from her. Because parenting never ends, the mother gap can form not only during childhood but at any point along the lifespan. While some mother wound survivors have really large mother gaps, other mother wound survivors have relatively smaller mother gaps. Regardless of size, however, all mother gaps are worthy of compassion, empathy, and care. When we lovingly attend to our mother gap, we are engaging in the work of healing our mother wound.

Mother Myth

The mother myth includes all the fictions we’re taught in our families and the broader culture about what it means to mother and to be mothered that we are then expected to take as fact. The mother myth is created and maintained by three key things: 1) our evolutionary and physiological drive as humans to believe “mother equals love,” 2) our collective idealization—“mothers are all good”—that informs our larger cultural narrative about what it means both to be a mother and to be mothered, and 3) the taboo and therefore stigma of saying, claiming, or believing anything that brings 1 or 2 into question.

Mother Wound

The mother wound is the pain or trauma someone carries with them from their mother. Because it occurs within the context of a relationship (or the lack thereof), the mother wound (MW) is a form of relational trauma. When it begins in childhood, the mother wound is a form of developmental trauma as well. A person can have the mother wound from their:

  • Biological mother

  • Adoptive mother

  • Foster mother

  • Birth mother

  • Grandmother acting as their mother

  • Aunt acting as their mother

  • Other guardian acting as their mother

There’s no one “type” of mother who causes the mother wound. Mothers who cause their children to have the mother wound are varied and diverse. Having said that, mothers who cause the mother wound tend to fall into one or more of these eight categories:

  1. Abusive mothers

  2. Capitalist mothers

  3. Emotionally unavailable mothers

  4. Self-centered mothers

  5. Misogynistic mothers

  6. Authoritarian mothers

  7. Meritocratic mothers

  8. Absent mothers

For more on the mother wound check out these resources:

Mother Wound Community

There are many different types of mother wound communities, but something all mother wound communities have in common (at least the good ones!) is that they’re centered around providing tangible help and support to their members. Encouragement, education, advice, guidance, friendship, and resources are among the types of help and support most commonly found in mother wound communities. As a general rule, members of mother wound communities are typically in varying stages of mother wound recovery, rather than all at say the beginning stage of recovery. Occasionally mother wound communities are led by experienced mother wound organizations and mother wound counselors who specialize in the mother wound, but this is not always the case. The Mother Wound Project along with founder Stephi Wagner, MSW hosts two private mother wound communities, one on Circle and one on Instagram.

To join The MWP Academy on Circle click here.

To join MWP Subscribers on Instagram click here.

Mother Wound Subtypes

The mother wound presents in seven different subtypes. While most people who have the mother wound experience more than one subtype, it is possible to experience exclusively one subtype. The seven mother wound subtypes are:

  • Emotional mother wound

  • Physical mother wound

  • Verbal mother wound

  • Economic mother wound

  • Intellectual mother wound

  • Spiritual mother wound

  • Sexual mother wound

Mother Wound Triggering Event (MWTE)

Mother wound triggering events (MWTEs) are life events that increase the occurrence and/ or intensity of triggers (i.e. memories and/ or feelings experienced as emotionally distressing) in relation to one's mother wound. MWTEs include but are not limited to life events such as pregnancy, new parenthood, infertility, IVF, miscarriage/stillbirth, adoption, college, marriage, divorce, job/career changes, moving, empty nest, death or loss, chronic illness, going no-contact, etc., as well as everyday events such as loud sounds, reminiscent names/faces, related places, etc.



Parentification is a type of emotional abuse whereby a parent causes a child to feel and/or believe they are responsible for caring for/parenting (i.e. providing emotional, physical, and/or financial care and support for) a parent or sibling. Parentified children bring the effects of this emotional abuse with them into their adult lives in the form of dysfunctional coping mechanisms, limiting beliefs, and mental illness. People often describe their experiences of being parentified by one or more of their parents as a “loss of childhood.”

Psychological Abuse

Relationship Contracts

Relationship contracts are a form of emotional abuse often used in dysfunctional families to manipulate a particular member of the family/group of members of the family. Relationship contracts, although they aren't often expressed so plainly, communicate this: "I won't have a relationship with you if you don't have a relationship with family member(s)."

Relationship contracts are very likely to occur in families where emotional abuse is common and also in families where one or more family members are estranged (see Estrangement). A relationship contract occurs when an adult child goes no-contact, for example, with an abusive mother, and in response, their abusive sibling now refuses to have a relationship with the "non-compliant sibling" until they end their estrangement from mom.



Self-mothering (or self-parenting) is the process of giving to ourselves in the here and now what our mothers/parents did not give to us. This can include but is not limited to affirmations, self-forgiveness, permission to rest, boundary setting, etc.

Here at the Mother Wound Project, we believe it is dismissive of child abuse survivors to insinuate that the parenting they very much deserved and needed as children but did not receive from their caregiver(s) can be replaced. This is why we abstain from using terms like remothering or reparenting, and instead use the terms self-mothering and self-parenting.


Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is abusive sexual behavior by one person upon another person. Sometimes sexual abuse involves direct physical contact, but not always. It’s a prevalent misnomer that sexual abuse must always be physical in nature. In addition to direct physical behaviors, sexual abuse can include words, comments, gestures, the showing of sexual content, etc.


Our definition of shame comes from the large-scale qualitative research conducted by Brené Brown and other shame researchers in the social sciences. Shame is the intensely painful feeling we experience when we believe that we ourselves on a fundamental level are inherently bad or broken. Shame sounds like, “I am a mistake” or “I’m unlovable.”

People who have the mother wound often have extensive histories of being shamed by their mothers as well as other caregivers first as children and then later as adults. These past experiences with shame can make current experiences with shame particularly challenging and painful. See guilt and guilt vs. shame.

The Silent Treatment

The silent treatment is a form of emotional abuse that’s very often normalized in dysfunctional families by emotionally bankrupt caregivers. The silent treatment includes the refusal to communicate with someone who would prefer to communicate with the conscious or unconscious purpose of “teaching through pain.”

Although we might think of silence as relatively painless or “no big deal,” especially those of us who experienced severe physical punishment in childhood, the truth is that the silent treatment has been found to be just as damaging. Clinical psychologist Harriet Braiker correctly classifies it as a form of manipulation, while social psychologist Kipling Williams regards it as the most common type of ostracism.

The once common but now falling out of favor the practice of “time out” is the silent treatment by a softer name. Our research here at the Mother Wound Project shows a clear correlation between “time out” and the mother wound. If you are looking for alternatives to this and other forms of punishment, we encourage you to seek out gentle parenting resources.

Thought-Terminating Cliché

A thought-terminating cliché occurs when someone dismisses someone else’s position or claim as invalid by claiming they (the speaker) have the right to hold their own viewpoint. In reality, the right to an opinion does not alter the truth. Someone can have their opinion AND their opinion can still be wrong. One of the most common examples of thought-terminating clichés used by moms who cause the mother wound is ”I’m allowed to have my own opinion.” Other examples of thought-terminating clichés include:

  • “Well, that’s not how I remember raising you. What? Am I not allowed to have my own opinion?”

  • “Just because you think I was an abusive mother to you doesn’t mean that I was. We can agree to disagree.”

  • “You can say I did that, but I don’t have to agree with you. I’m entitled to my own opinion, and I know for a fact that I would never do something like that.”

Tone Policing

Tone policing is a form of emotional abuse in which someone focuses on the tone, emotional expression, or perceived emotional state of the speaker, rather than on the message itself. Tone policing involves attempting to control or dismiss a speaker's message by criticizing or rejecting their tone or feelings, rather than engaging with what they're actually saying.

When someone is tone policing, what they're essentially trying to do, either consciously or unconsciously, is present the speaker and/or what they're saying as wrong by shifting the focus away from the subject onto how the speaker is feeling about it. But feelings do not change facts. Jenny feels angry and says, "It's April." Her mother Bernice feels happy and says, "It's April." Bernice is not "more right" than Jenny on account of her happy feelings which is in fact April.


Triangulation is a form of emotional abuse whereby an abusive person goes to a third person about something that actually involves an original person with the conscious or unconscious desire for the third person to help the abusive person by manipulating the original person. Triangulation is common in emotionally dysfunctional families.


Although definitions of trauma vary widely, trauma experts and trauma research bot clearly indicate that our prior definitions have been far too narrow. Here at the Mother Wound Project, we believe survivors. If you experienced something as traumatic for you, then it was traumatic.

In the very simplest of terms, trauma refers to the feelings and coping mechanisms that stem from having experienced overwhelming experiences. These experiences might have happened one time or many times over a period of time. They also need not be life-threatening to be experienced as overwhelming, although life-threatening experiences very often are coded as traumatic by those who experience them. As world-renowned trauma expert Peter Levine says, “Trauma is trauma, no matter what caused it.”


Meet Reclaim!

Stephi Wagner, MSW's 60-day mother wound healing journal is here! If you like what Stephi shares on Instagram, you won't want to miss this. Mother wound recovery here you come!

reclaim - 60-day mother wound journal


Learn about how the Mother Wound Project can help with 1:1 support.

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