How To Heal The Mother Wound

How To Heal The Mother Wound

Did you have a strained relationship with your mother? Maybe now you’re looking for tips on how to heal the mother wound.

First off, you’re not alone! Many people carry this burden from their childhood. This can manifest in several ways, and it can significantly impact your life, and especially your relationships.

What is the Mother Wound?

The mother wound describes the emotional pain caused by a mother who did not (or could not) connect with their child emotionally. That might mean they were just busy or distracted but they could also have been absent, narcissistic, critical, judgmental, or abusive.

The Still Face Mother Experiment

The best way to explain the impact of a mother on a child is with the Still Face Mother experiment.

The famous experiment, conducted by psychologist Edward Tronick, is a landmark study in infant development. It challenged the prevailing idea that babies were passive observers in the world.

The Still Face Mother experiment involved mothers playing with their infants around one year old. After a period of joyful interaction, the mothers were instructed to adopt a neutral, unresponsive expression. Even when their babies tried to get their attention, they remained stone cold.

(You can watch videos of this on YouTube but personally, I find it hard to watch!)

This stone cold “still face” caused a dramatic shift in the babies’ behavior. Initially, the babies were content and happy. After their emotional rejection, they’d try to re-engage their mothers with smiles, vocalizations, and gestures. However, when their mothers remained unresponsive, the babies became distressed, withdrawn, and some even cried.

The Still-Face Experiment highlighted the crucial role of social interaction for infants. It showed that babies have a deep need for responsive communication and emotional connection with their caregivers.

The babies deeply needed their mothers to mimic their own emotional facial expressions back to them. They felt abandoned when this didn’t happen, even though their mother was still physically present.

Just as those babies needed emotional attunement, so did you.

10 Signs Of A Mother Wound

The mother wound can lead to:

  • Feeling of low self-worth, low confidence
  • Lack of emotional regulation (feeling like you’re on a rollercoaster
  • Deeply rooted fear of abandonment or rejection
  • Difficulty in relationships in general/never feeling at ease
  • Difficulty setting boundaries
  • Shame
  • Imposter syndrome
  • Not knowing what you really want
  • A chronic need for people to prove that they like/love you

How Does the Mother Wound Affect You?

People with a mother wound often struggle with:

Low self-worth

Since they lacked emotional attunement as a child, the adult with a mother wound might not feel solid in his or her own identity. That might mean they struggle feeling “good enough” for the relationships, career, or money they desire.


Not getting emotional validation as a child can turn into shame. Instead of realizing that it was our parent who failed us, we think there’s something very wrong with us.

Shame is the profound sense that something is wrong with you. While guilt is feeling like you’ve done something wrong, shame is often toxic because there’s no way to learn or grow from it. We feel cursed because it’s “just the way we are”.

Loud Inner Mean Girl

They might also suffer from crippling self-doubt or a very loud and large Inner Mean Girl (Inner Critic) voice. That Inner Critic voice is frequently the voice of our primary caretaker themselves, who knows just how to push our buttons to keep us unhappy or scared. In the end, they are unlikely to take risks or to put themselves out there, which can further aggravate their unhappy life dynamic.

People-pleasing / Over-performing

Since the person with the mother wound fears abandonment so strongly, they are more concerned about getting someone to like them or love them than they are with their own needs. Frequently, that looks like people-pleasing and/or over-performing coupled with self-abandonment. After all, you can’t make everyone else number one without putting yourself last.

Over time, this can lead to resentment or bitterness.

Difficulty Self-Advocating Or Setting Boundaries

Again, since they fear that others will leave them, they often fear what would happen if they happened to set a boundary or advocate for their own wants or needs. This can lead to long-term relationships that are one-sided, perpetually attracting narcissists or simply being unable to move on from relationships that are no longer serving them.

Guilt Around Success

If you had a mother that was narcissistic or outright complained about children having needs, you might have learned to let her shine more than you. You learned that having the spotlight on you was a bad thing.

Now, as an adult, that might mean you have a lot of guilt around career success or earning money. You’re subconsciously trying not to “steal their spotlight” or upshine them in any way, oftentimes to your own detriment.

How To Heal Your Mother Wound: 10 Steps To Feeling Whole

Here are 10 steps to help you heal your mother wound and move forward:

1. Acknowledge The Wound

If you suspect that you have a mother wound, the very first step is to acknowledge it. Maybe you already know something is wrong because your mother was absent or narcissistic. Or perhaps learning about the mother wound is a whole new thing to you, which is making you see your childhood in a whole different way.

In any case, if you have the signs of a mother wound, that’s good enough. Start by simply naming it and owning that this was part of your experience.

PS – You don’t have to feel bad about feeling bad! Many times we resist doing this out of some sense of loyalty to our mother. But the only way to truly heal this dynamic is to acknowledge it and feel it.

2. Express Your Pain

When you were a child, you could not adequately express the pain you were in. After all, if your mother doesn’t feel safe, then there was likely no one else to turn to. Begin your healing journey by acknowledging your pain. Tune into your Wounded Inner Child and try to remember or listen to their experience.

If you can remember a specific incident, tune into that and journal about it. If you can’t remember anything specific (which can happen if things happened to you as a baby), then write about your general feelings.

(You can also talk about this experience with a partner, trusted friend, or professional.)

3. Support Your Nervous System

Any time you’re working with your Inner Child or revisiting potentially traumatic memories, it’s extra important to make sure your supporting your nervous system.

We do that in three parts:

That means doing the basics: enough sleep, proper nutrition, etc.

That also means adding in some somatic practices throughout your day, just to make sure you’re able to calm your nervous system down no matter what.

Finally, that means understanding what your particular trauma responses are and having an action plan to calm yourself down whenever you get triggered.

Want more? Check out our polyvagal healing guide right here!

5. Accept Reality

Part of healing the mother wound means accepting the imperfect nature of life. We’re not perfect–and that’s okay. It’s okay to be a beautiful work in progress!

It’s also important to accept that your childhood was the way it was. So many people come to the healing space saying “But I had a good childhood!”. And indeed, many parts of it might have been good. However, your lived experience is worth validating–even if no one else in your family understands it.

Finally, it’s important to accept that your mother is who she is. Sometimes we’re still trying to get that love in our adult years–even though we’ve never gotten it before. Accept her for who she is, even if that means changing your relationship by setting boundaries, creating more distance, or perhaps even cutting her off entirely, if need be. She might always be that person who criticizes everything you wear. But you don’t have to be the person who is constantly emotionally injured by her.

5. Grieve What You’ve Lost

Another important part of the healing journey is learning how to grieve. You simply didn’t get the childhood or mother you deserved. And you have some problems in your life today because of what you went through back then.

We obviously can’t rewind the clock. We can’t change who we were raised by. And if you were pretending that everything was fine back then, you can only pretend for so long.

It’s healthy to let yourself be sad and in your feelings about it. Mourn what you lost, mourn who you could have been. Let yourself have those feelings as part of accepting reality. (Just don’t get stuck in the mourning phase forever!)

6. Pivot Your Behaviors

Many times those with mother wounds are subconsciously chasing after people and relationships as a way to get that love and support they craved so much as a child. For others this shows up as anxious attachment: that feeling that someone hates you if they don’t text back fast enough or that they must be picking someone else over you etc.

Know that your mother wound is manifesting itself in one way or another in your life. Look at your chronic behaviors and try to see which ones are caused by it.

Part of this is realizing that not everyone you date is a narcissist or asshole-and that in fact, you might be part of the problem dynamic! But that’s okay because understanding that is the way you get your power back.

(If you’re dating right now, the best thing to do might be to take a long dating break!)

7. Reparent Yourself

Reparenting yourself is all about tuning into your Wounded Inner Child and giving them the love and support they truly needed. We can’t actually rewind the clock! So the next best thing is to learn how to soothe your inner child and make them feel seen and supported.

To learn more about how exactly to do that, check out our reparenting guide right here!

8. Release Blame

Many people believe that the healing process involves confronting your mother and telling them how you really felt back then. While in some instances this can be useful or healing, it’s simply not the reality for many. Many times, our parent has passed on or we’ve already ceased contact with them. Other times, all the words in the world will not make them truly understand how you felt.

It’s much more important to learn how to release the blame. While not everyone and everything is worth forgiving, try to at least lift the load off of you. You were just a child and you didn’t deserve it. And your parent was an imperfect human, who was likely doing the best they could at the time. There are many reasons they might have acted the way they did, that have everything to do with them and not with you. That alone cannot erase the pain of course. But give yourself (and her if you can) some grace.

(Of course, everyone’s situation is completely different and valid here! I cannot tell you how to feel about what happened to you specifically.)

9. Be Gentle With Yourself

Those with a mother wound are likely much harder on themselves than they needed to be. Maybe you dealt with your feelings of unworthiness through perfectionism. Or maybe you developed a loud Inner Critic voice.

In any case, it’s never too late to learn how to be patient and kind with yourself. Think of yourself as being in emotional and behavioral school. In many ways, you’re learning those skills that you should have learned a long time ago. You wouldn’t blame a child for not knowing what they just don’t know! So try to extend that same attitude towards yourself.

10. Work With A Professional

If your mother wound is particularly deep, you had some traumatic experiences, or you just feel you want some extra emotional support, working with ap professional is always the best way to go. While your friends and partner love you, they often cannot be the kind of support we really need. So don’t be ashamed of asking for help! The right therapist can provide valuable guidance and support on your healing journey.

If you’re ready to work through your Mother Wound with the help of a therapist–but can’t quite afford to pay the full price–this is for you! Try out BetterHelp for convenient, affordable therapy you can start at home.

Benefits Of Healing The Mother Wound

  • Increased self-confidence
  • Better, more easeful relationships
  • Able to self-advocate & set boundaries
  • Better emotional resilience
  • An overall more fulfilling, joyful life!

Remember, you are not alone! Many people have already acknowledged their mother wounds and doen the inner work to heal them. By taking action to heal, you are taking the steps towards a brighter future.

Frequently Asked Questions About The Mother Wound

What is the mother wound?

A mother wound occurs when your mother was hyper-critical, absent, judgmental, or emotionally abusive when you were a child. This creates a deep feeling of low self-worth and inadequacy in a child. When that child grows up he or she might struggle with relationships and tries to cope by people pleasing or not having boundaries.

What causes the mother wound?

A simple lack of emotional support is what causes the mother wound. This can happen whether your mother was simply unprepared to parent, was busy or preoccupied, was narcissistic (who put down your needs or was unregulated emotionally themselves (unpredictable outbursts).

Children need a parent to echo their emotional state back to them. This helps them to feel validated and important. Without this validation, they might always feel emotionally stressed by those around them, even if things are actually safe.

What is healing the mother wound?

Healing the mother wound is largely about learning how to raise your self-worth and how to feel secure in relationships. This work isn’t about going back to your mother now to get that reassurance! It’s about learning how to heal those wounds so they no longer weigh you down.

How do I heal the mother wound?

Healing the mother wound can be done through reparenting yourself and making your Inner Child feel safe. It’s about learning how to validate your own emotions and how to feel safe expressing your own needs. As a child, you learned to sacrifice your own needs, so as an adult, it’s about learning how to honor them in a healthy way.

How does the mother wound affect my relationships?

Those with a mother wound will typically struggle in their relationships. This looks like anxious attachment or never feeling safe in relationships. That might mean you’re constantly texting them because you need reassurance or feeling like you have to people-please to keep them in your life.

Through healing the mother wound, you will gradually become more at ease in your relationships, both friendships and romantic partnerships. You will be better at managing your own emotions as well as advocating for your own needs and desires.

True intimacy and connection requires that you’re honest and authentic with others and that you feel safe being yourself. But when you have a critical or absent mother you learn that it’s not safe to be yourself. So you try to be what people want you to be instead of who you really are. This affects everything in your life, not just your relationships.

How does the mother wound limit my success?

The mother wound leaves you feeling afraid to take up space. That can result in many things that limit your success: fear of pursuing the opportunities you really want, imposter syndrome, or strong fear of criticism or judgment.

Healing your mother wound means you’ll stop self-sabotaging yourself in these ways. You’ll be less likely to take criticism or judgment to heart because you value your own opinions above all else.

So what did you think? Do you have a mother wound? Did you learn something useful here about how to heal your wounds so you can feel more confident again?

Your childhood was not your fault. But your healing journey is your responsibility! My hope is that this guide will make your journey a little easier.

By following these steps, you can heal the mother wound in order to increase your self-worth, have more fulfilling relationships and live a more fulfilling and joyful life.

Jenn Stevens The Self-Worth Project

PS Looking for more? You might also want to check out this post about what is Internal Family Systems, or our complete reparenting guide.

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How To Heal The Mother Wound

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