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Exploring the Deep Roots of Mother Wounds: How They Shape Our Identities

mother and daughter hugging relationship

In honor or National Women's Health Week, I wanted to post a series on mother wounds. It's something not just women deal with but it's something we are impacted by on multiple levels. I also hosted a workshop called "Womb to Wound" at Soho Warehouse here in Los Angeles. If you missed it, here is a little introduction on mother wounds.

Mothers play a huge role in shaping who we become. But what happens when that primary maternal relationship is fraught with emotional neglect, abuse or abandonment? This is what's known as a "mother wound" - and its effects can ripple through our entire lives if left unaddressed.

At its core, a mother wound stems from an attunement misalignment between mother and child, a lack of nurturing, and a lack of unconditional love. This ruptures the foundational sense of safety, security and self-worth that children require to develop a healthy self-concept. Children internalize deep beliefs about being unlovable, flawed or unworthy based on their earliest interactions. These interactions can also impact our attachment styles leaving children with insecure, anxious, or disorganized patterns in future relationships.

From a developmental psychology perspective, infants and children are completely dependent on caregivers for survival. When their psychological and emotional needs aren't adequately met, they have to adapt. This could mean becoming hyper-vigilant to others' emotional states and needs as a protective mechanism. While adaptive in childhood, this often translates into people-pleasing, codependency and diminished boundaries in adulthood as the underlying wound remains unresolved.

That's why the concept of "unconditional positive regard" from Carl Rogers' humanistic psychology approach is so powerful for childhood development. Unconditional positive regard means a child feels complete love and acceptance from their parent - no matter what. This fosters a healthier self-image and sense of self-worth from day one.

In contrast, "conditional positive regard" is when the love and emotional attunement gets withdrawn or provided inconsistently based on living up to the parent's expectations. This breeds the insecurities, self-criticism and external validation-seeking that can pervade someone's life if those mother wounds aren't healed.

There are different types of mother wounds that can occur, many of which relate to broader concepts in psychology:

  • Emotional neglect/abandonment correlates with attachment theory and impacts around intimacy

  • Enmeshment relates to lacking healthy boundaries and differentiation of self

  • Narcissistic or self-involved mothers can breed codependency issues

  • Overt abuse, whether physical, verbal or sexual, is inherently traumatic

The good news is that just by becoming aware of these mother wound patterns, you open the door to breaking the cycle. The goal isn't to shame or blame mothers, who often endured their own traumas. It's about looking inward with compassion to do the reparenting work and shift the generational tides.

Recent generations have embraced this healing journey, determined to stop passing down dysfunctional patterns to their own children. And while our mothers' stories may have shaped us, we get to write our own new, empowered narratives going forward.

I'll be posting another blog post about how we cope with mother wounds next and you can also check out this series on my tiktok @Dr.Ally

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