The first time I came across the term “Mother Wound” was during a deep dive into women’s history, specifically the history of witchcraft. While the Mother Wound is often defined as personal grief over an abusive or emotionally unavailable mother, it is often left unexplored in a wider context. Alternatively coined the “Witch Wound,” the concept encompasses the inherited and shared trauma of women’s suffering due to countless atrocities. Women throughout history have been oppressed, beaten, murdered, and psychologically battered in practically every corner of the earth. The impact of these collective traumas is then passed down through generations, from mothers to daughters.
Generational trauma and oppression of women is unconsciously passed to girls, cementing patriarchal values and misogyny within the roots of tender young minds. Perhaps the stifling of daughters began as a survival mechanism to ensure the relative safety of young girls. In a world where being outspoken or refusing to conform to patriarchal expectations was often a death sentence, women had to conform and ensure the conformity of their daughters by any means necessary. As a result, the Mother Wound has become insidiously entwined within society at large, and every woman is affected by it to a degree.
It’s time to uproot the trauma, examine it, and analyze what aspects of the Mother Wound we carry within ourselves so we can heal and grow.
From childhood, girls suffer from acts of misogyny both historical and contemporary. Women’s history is often ignored in schools. The comparative lack of important female historical figures undermines the value of women in the minds of children, for it is only notable men in history books who play as major actors. Obviously this is untrue, but by virtue of obsolescence, women’s place in history is rendered null in the eyes of youth. Girls may feel powerless about their futures, without strong ties to the past.
At home, girls are often encouraged to cook, clean, and babysit while boys somehow avoid these duties altogether. Without intending to, these duties and gendered roles are impressed upon girls by their mothers as bonding activities. Don’t get me wrong—I loved baking cookies with my mom on holidays, and I still fondly remember preparing Thanksgiving feasts with all the women in my family. However, the overarching theme of these activities as the sole duty of women is problematic with far reaching implications.
Little by little, girls inherit outdated practices, mindsets, and expectations. It’s death by a thousand cuts, and it is absolutely blasé. Women and girls are told to always be aware, watchful, alert of any sign of danger. Of course this is not without reason, but being taught to be fearful can swallow us whole. We shrink. We make ourselves less. We don’t go out at certain hours, or at all. Perhaps our posture suffers, slouching shoulders subconsciously to hide our breasts.
As girls grow into understanding of the societal expectations of women, we begin to shove ourselves into boxes. We do what is expected of us, and avoid learning many practical life skills that remain elusive well into adulthood. Girls are not taught to use power tools, to strengthen their bodies, or value themselves in a way that doesn’t rely on perceived attractiveness. We spend hours staring at ourselves in mirrors, desperately picking apart our flaws and attempting to become acceptably “attractive.” We view ourselves as objects to be decorated or enhanced via intricately styled hair, various makeup products, or invasive surgical procedures. We serve men, wash their dishes, and clean homes without a second thought as to why we are designated these chores—or why we accept them as our lot.
The Mother Wound may manifest as:
- Harmful actions taken to fit beauty standards/body dysmorphia
- Unexplained fear/anxiety
- Feeling estranged from other women
- Fear of being alone (or serial relationships)
- Lack of boundaries
- Inability to say no/being a “people pleaser”
- Resentment of other women (there is no male “Karen”)
- Feeling “not like other girls”
In my own experience, I developed an eating disorder. I desired smallness and frailty in an attempt to outwardly portray my wounded inner self. Without understanding the implications of my actions, I was embodying the very picture of the stereotypical “weak” woman; incapable of independence by virtue of my femaleness. I became the modern version of “Consumption Chic” popularized in the Victorian Era. Obviously, I had my own traumas I was misguidedly processing, but the manifestation of self-harm popularized as a means to achieve an impossible beauty standard is not lost on me. Ultimately I realized I was slowly killing myself, and sought help. It is only with the distance of time and wisdom of age that I am able to connect the dots of my actions back to an unhealed Mother Wound.
Healing internalized misogyny caused by the Mother Wound is key to moving forward individually as well as collectively. The steps we take to heal our Mother Wound will result in a brighter future for women and girls.
So, how do we heal?
We can center women in our lives. When we feel critical of other women (or ourselves), we analyze the fairness of those criticisms. We discover our strengths and we grow. When we feel slighted or experience sexism, we speak our truth and demand rectification.
For some women, it may be helpful to delve into the lost history of our foremothers: healers, midwives, and those accused of witchcraft. For others it entails learning how to do traditionally “male” skills, like fixing cars or wilderness survival techniques. Many women find the concept of body neutrality particularly healing in light of ever-changing beauty standards and expectations for women’s appearance. A key is seeking personal empowerment in a world where women are encouraged to disavow it.
Find value in sisterhood, by reaching out to the women in your life. Offer encouragement and understanding. Receive those things in turn.
Pay attention to your speech and what you say about yourself, your body, and other women. Consider eradicating slurs aimed at women from your vocabulary. Realize this is an ongoing process, and it may be difficult.
Mothers can bake cookies with their sons, not just their daughters. Parents can teach children life skills without confining them to gendered expectations. Praise actions, intelligence, and creativity over a girl’s clothing or appearance.
Recognize what is getting better for women, and celebrate it. Discover what is harming women, and fight against it. Believe in your own power and love yourself as you are.
Most importantly we must forgive the women who walked this earth before us; it was not their choice to develop maladaptive coping mechanisms and mindsets to survive. Forgive yourself for these things too, for our own choices are never made in a vacuum.
Lastly, if the Mother Wound has rendered your life and mind too fraught to cope, please seek out a licensed therapist for help. Bit by bit, our personal healing can translate to a collective conscious where the Mother Wound is no more than a distant memory.
Get more like this—Sign up for our daily inspirational newsletter for exclusive content!
Photo: Jonathas Domingos via Unsplash