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How We Hold Our Mothers Inside

Dear friend,

There is no more important work we can do for our psycho-spiritual development than to heal wounds we have with our parents. Initially, our mothers.

It may no longer be possible, safe, or wise, to mend this relationship in live time. But how we hold our mothers inside of us stays with us for the duration of our lives. And this is where the healing is most important--internally.

The health (or lack of it) in this essential bond reflects in all our relationships. Most notably, the one we have with ourselves.

We learn how to love as a result of how we related to our mothers. In most cases, our mothers were our first source of nurturance and home. In Jungian theory, the feminine is represented by the dark unconscious -- like the womb. Discordant maternal relationships, whatever the cause, may lead to body issues, struggle with self-trust, nurturance, worth, creative expression, or attunement in adulthood.

Maureen Murdock, author of The Heroines' Journey, discusses how the first step on a woman's path of maturation in a patriarchal culture is a rejection of the feminine, and identification with the masculine.

Often, our mother is our first caretaker, and represents our relationship with our inner world, as well as all things feminine. If we grew up with a father figure, we watch as he cultivates his relationship with the outer world. Perhaps he went off to work, networked, and built his own career and rapport while our mother cared for us. Or maybe it was our mother who went out into the world. In today's culture, it's more common to have a mother who lived guided by these values.

Either way, the masculine notion of building/expanding the external, "empire" self is appealing to a young woman who may look at her mother's life, if centered around caretaking, as menial and uninspiring. Often, a young woman will reject the feminine in herself by identifying with, or modeling the masculine figure. Perhaps she will prioritize power, influence, financial gain, and status, while neglecting her inner life, creative drives, and close relationships.

For a man who rejects the feminine, he turns away from the part of himself that knows how to nurture, comfort, intuit, and guide in an attempt to masculinize himself, as culture would suggest he do. He may be successful, but inside he is hollow and unsure of himself, particularly in relationships.

This drive to differentiate from the mother is an important step in maturation. But it can be catastrophic if we're not conscious of the implications over the longterm.

Each one of us, women and men, have to take back the discarded elements of the feminine in order to reclaim our full, embodied and realized power.

If a woman continues to resent her mother for any reason, she remains chained to that resentment by means of fate that will only to repeat itself in her future. As unfinished patterns replicate themselves until they are fully realized.

Perhaps by rejecting her mother, she raises a daughter who also comes only to value masculine traits and modes of being. Or perhaps a man who casts off his mother and/or feminine values, partners with a woman who serves more as his mother than his lover because of this earlier, unmet need. There are many ways unprocessed maternal rejection can present itself.

What if you had/have a wonderful relationship with your mother?

There are two main accepted archetypes of the mother - the "good" mother, and the "evil" mother. If a child experiences his or her mother as nurturing, offering safety, and guidance, he/she will view her as a "good" mother. If a person experiences his or her mother as neglectful, smothering, unstable or unsafe, she will be deemed an "evil" mother.

A beautiful relationship with your mother is one of life's great blessings. Nevertheless, there are patterns to be mindful of, even if your relationship with moms is nothin'-but-love. If you had what you deem a "good mother," you may struggle to individuate in adulthood. Larger than life, inspiring, or nurturing mothers are far harder to separate yourself from, psychologically and geographically. It may be easier to split from a mother you deem as "evil." But with a mother that you viewed as "good" or near perfect, this becomes more challenging, though every bit as essential.

Adult women with "good mother" figures may spend their lives in homage to their moms, trying to emulate her every move, or fearful to step out and do it her own way. Adult women who fail to individuate from "good mother" types may struggle to mature, or to put their own immediate family first, before their mother.

As Glennon Doyle says, “A woman becomes a responsible mother when she stops being an obedient daughter. When she finally understands that she is creating something different from what her parents created. When she begins to build her island not to their specifications but to hers. When she finally understands that it is not her duty to convince everyone on her island to accept and respect her.”

Of course, the entire world wants to blame mothers for everything. Sigh. Clearly, no woman, parent, or person can be boiled down into "good" or "evil." It's just not that simple.

As adults however, it is our job to understand our own unique relationship with our mother, and take ownership for the implications in our lives.

How, then, do we reconcile this important relationship within ourselves?

Journal prompts!

  1. Identify your true feelings about your mother - what was/is your relationship like with your mother? The truth of it? Think about it for a moment. What were her strengths as a mother? What was difficult about being her child? How does your past relationship with her influence the relationships in your life now?

  2. Accept context - we are all a product of our environment as well as time period. Can you see how given your mother's set and setting, her past and conditions, came to influence who she was as a mother? Consider the time period, relationships, upbringing of your own mother for a moment. See if this helps you understand her a bit more.

  3. Extend compassion - Once you see the context for your mother's upbringing, even if she is no longer in the physical world, or even if she was abusive or neglectful, extend compassion to her. She did the very best she could, with the knowledge and background she had, even if it wasn't enough. Do this as a regular visualization or meditation, extending compassion to your mother in the form of white or golden light. Imagine yourself sending it to her. It will do wonders for YOU and your wholeness.

  4. Find strength in her story - Whether your relationship with your mother was/is tremendous or fraught, there is strength somewhere in her story. Identify one of these strengths by bringing it into your conscious awareness. Think about it regularly as part of your legacy. "I come from a woman who..." Think this to yourself, journal about it, talk about it. Find power in the woman from whom you come, even if you never knew your mother. You can envision it and use it to build your story of strength.

  5. No matter your experience, give thanks - remember, you would not be the adult you are proud to be if your parents were exactly who you wanted them to be. Give thanks for who your mother is/was, or for what you learned as a result of who she was/is. Remember, feeling thankful does not mean opening up unhealthy relational lines, necessarily. It is an internal practice, first and foremost.


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