As Mother’s Day approaches in Canada and the US, it’s the perfect time to talk about the Mother Wound: what it is, who is affected, how it manifests itself in our lives, and what we can do to heal it.
When I first heard of the Mother Wound years ago, I didn't have a clear understanding of what it is. I had a great relationship with my mother, so I didn’t think the Mother Wound applied to me or to my life.
I. Was. Wrong.
What is the "Mother wound", exactly?
Bethany Webster, who has done extensive work around the mother wound, defines it as the pain of being a woman. It’s passed down through generations of women in patriarchal cultures and includes the dysfunctional coping mechanisms used to manage this pain. It affects all of us; even those of us who don’t immediately recognize it.
What does that mean? It’s important to know that it doesn’t matter if you had a good relationship with your mother or an abusive one. It doesn’t matter if it’s inflicted by your biological mother or another female central to your life.
The Mother Wound cuts deeper than our relationships with our biological mothers.
As spiritual women who are constantly growing and evolving, it’s important for us to identify how the Mother Wound shows up in our lives so we can move toward healing. It is a critical part of our self-actualization and saying yes to being the powerful, creative women that we are called to become.
Let’s consider two myths: Inanna, the Sumerian Goddess (also known as the Queen of Heaven) and the infamous mother-daughter duo, Demeter and Persephone from Greek mythology.
Inanna willingly goes to the underworld while Persephone is abducted into Hades (Hell, or the Underworld). Two different situations with two different lessons. Persephone and Demeter are a harmonious mother and daughter. When Persephone is taken to the underworld, Demeter feels overwhelming guilt and blames herself. This is reminiscent of any trauma that happens when a young girl may be abused or is even simply hurt. Her mother wonders how she could have prevented it.
Inanna, the Sumerian Goddess, is an older myth prior to the Greeks’ Persephone and Demeter. Inanna makes the choice to go to the underworld voluntarily, to visit her sister, and brave the trials through the 7 Gates. This type of separation, like choosing a lover over her mother, also fractures the bond between a mother and daughter.
There is an interesting contrast between these two myths: Persephone is basically an innocent victim in her story, whereas Inanna voluntarily makes the choice – and in this we see a key to healing the Mother Wound. These two tales show how we must grow and evolve from Maiden (Persephone) to Queen (Inanna).
As I said earlier, the mother wound is the pain of being a woman passed down through generations of women living in patriarchal cultures and its dysfunctional coping mechanisms. We see the pain manifest through a variety of different attitudes and behaviors:
Comparison: feeling like you are never good enough
Shame: the consistent feeling that you might have something wrong with you
Attenuation: feeling that you must remain small to be loved
Guilt: for wanting more than what you currently have
These dysfunctional coping mechanisms keep you from being your full, powerful self because you don’t want to threaten others. You sabotage yourself by having a high tolerance for poor treatment from others or comparing yourself with other women. These feelings can become self-destructive behaviors such as depression, addiction, eating disorders, and staying in abusive situations.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Even those of us with good relationships with our mothers still suffer from this pain because we absorb it from other women in society: other family, friends, co-workers. Competition in the workplace is quite common, where, as women, we have to do more, be more.
The competition continues at home. In motherhood, women sacrifice many things. Sometimes it’s a job, an education, or maybe relationships or dreams. Our daughters may remind us of our unlived potential, and she may become the target of anger and rage.
Maybe understanding these behaviors will help us to be more forgiving and compassionate towards our mothers when we consider their sacrifices for us— and as we look back even further to how she experienced her relationship with her own mother, and our grandmother's relationship with her mother, etc.
Can you can see now how the pain continues right down the ancestral line?
Many of us are not only daughters but mothers as well. What happens if the daughter doesn’t internalize her mother’s limiting beliefs, but instead affirms her own power and potential?
For example, if the daughter moves away from her childhood home to strike out on her own, her mother may see that as a personal rejection. She didn’t have what her daughter has. Perhaps she envies her daughter’s ability to be so adventurous and independent. The daughter may try to find a balance because she wants her own life but doesn’t want to upset her mother and risk losing her love and approval. So, she may unconsciously decide to not ‘abandon’ or betray her mother by becoming too successful, too smart, or too adventurous.
Bethany Webster, who defined the Mother Wound for us, reminds us that the “decision to hold ourselves back because we don’t want to upset our mothers is a decision that’s made out of love and loyalty, but it is sadly misguided. That is confusing being loyal to our mothers with being loyal to their wounds. And, therefore, we are complicit in our own oppression.”
This is a profound way of saying that as women growing up in a patriarchal culture, there is a sense of having to choose between being empowered and being loved.
A woman can either be empowered, strong, independent, smart, and successful, or have the love and acceptance of her mother, sisters and friends, but rarely both. Or so we subconsciously believe.
Our first encounter with the Goddess is through our mothers.
Let’s think back to our earlier stories of Persephone and Inanna. To heal, we have to evolve from maiden to Queen. Persephone is our maiden; she doesn’t have any say in what happens to her because she is taken by force to Hades, a victim. But Inanna demonstrates the Queen. She takes responsibility. She makes a conscious decision to venture to the underworld. She is accountable for her choice.
How do we evolve and heal?
There are three stages. The first, is death. Death to the maiden. Death to our victim mentality and essentially death to the ‘old’ you. Sarah Dunham Wilson has also done a lot of work around this subject as well. She says:
"Our life deconstructs, the ground falls out from beneath our feet, we descend into darkness. We reach out, but there is nothing anyone can do for us. It is up to us to turn inward. We are witch-hunted, we lose those we love, we lose our business, we lose our health. We publicly implode, we lose all that we identify with like Inanna’s possessions, being taken from her at each of the seven gates, into the underworld. When there is nothing left on the outside, we must turn finally to the inside. The Maiden begins to die. We literally have become sick of ourselves."
That is stage one: death of the maiden. It's painful, but it is necessary because this is where you find your own power, sister. It's where you have choices. It is where you step out of the victim mentality.
Stage 2 is where we surrender to the will of the goddess or Divine. We surrender to the transformation and whatever that may look like. This is where we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We are in the underground, in the dark. It hurts, but it feels good. We acknowledge the pain we have experienced firsthand from our mothers or that we have internalized from the collective unconsciousness and that inherited pain. It’s transformative once we face it and embrace it!
We can stay stuck in this stage by continuing to blame others for our circumstances and misfortune. If we stay here, we never get to experience the empowered Queen stage…we move right to the bitter Crone. So, let’s take responsibility for our choices and our lives and move to stage three.
Lastly, stage 3: This is where we rise to the embodied woman that steps into our queendom. We take the first steps toward our throne. We set boundaries to keep out what once made us sick and small. Here we become deeply connected to our power and to the Divine. As we become connected to the great mother, we know we will never be the same.
We sometimes become unrecognizable to our friends and family, and often we will need to let go of relationships that no longer accept us. They continue to demand the ‘old’ us. Sister, now we are a completely new person, and we rise into the embodied woman and become the Queen.
Moving through these 3 stages is a continuous process, and the healing is cyclic. We will continue to recognize different wounded patterns throughout our life when we are ready to face them and heal another layer.
The Mother Wound truly affects us all, because the Divine Feminine has been denied to us for aeons.
With the feminine face of God vilified, ostracized, and made wrong by many of the world’s major religions, it’s no wonder that we all feel like there’s a piece missing. This also translates into our destructive relationship with our environment; this precious planet we call home, Mother Earth, and how we continue to rape and pillage Her. It’s all connected to how we disrespect the Feminine and are wounded in our relationship with our Mothers specifically, and in our relationship to Great Mother, spiritually.
The biggest blessing that the COVID-19 pandemic has given us is the opportunity to deeply understand what’s really important to us; what’s truly valuable in our lives. Environmental advocacy will continue to be on the rise until we reach the tipping point where the human race remembers once again to view this planet as an extension of ourselves and an expression of how well we care for it.
On Mother’s Day this year, I invite you to show some love to your Mother— whether that’s your biological mother, a woman who is your soul-family Mother, YOURSELF as a Mother, and of course, Mother Earth.
Did you learn something? I’d love to know in the comments. And if you enjoyed it, feel free to SHARE it around!