Healing pain our wounded mothers passed on to us
British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott believed that a child’s sense of self is built by the kind of a relationship that they have with their primary caregiver (usually mum).
When it comes to our mums, and all that the mother-child bond entails, the territory can often be fraught. So much can be bound up in this relationship — love and regret; frustration and admiration; the feelings of being supported, smothered or neglected.
Hence, psychologists suggest that the mother wound is the trauma that is carried by a mother – along with any dysfunctional coping mechanisms that have been used to process that pain – and inherited by her children (with daughters generally bearing the brunt of this burden). If the wound is not healed, negative perceptions, choices and parenting styles can be passed down through the matrilineal line – causing new pain with each generation.
Juliet Kinya is a mother of two who has suffered mother wound. “While in secondary school and campus, my biggest fear was not failing exams, but getting pregnant. I always wondered if it happens, how would I raise my children. Would I ever love them?” she poses.
Kinya claims how her mother wasn’t there for her emotionally, physically and even financially. She was cold and still is to date.
“Without parental love, a child lives in his or her own world. I was neglected and rejected at the age of three weeks. I don’t know how it feels like to have a mother who loves you. I don’t know what it means to say mum or dad. I may not be aware of what made my mum to be absent in my upbringing, but what I am sure of is that I was a mistake in her life,” she explains.
She offers: “Being a mother to a daughter means that you are a confidant guide, but I don’t have anyone to look up to when things go wrong. I don’t have that mother to share my personal life with. No one was there to guide me on how to be a woman. By the time I decided to become a mother, I had prayed about it. I remember telling God not to give me children if He knew that I can’t love them. I was afraid of transferring my mother’s hatred to my children. All in all, I have tried to be the best mother to my sons, but sometimes question my abilities and whether am doing it the right way.”
Like mother like daughter
Jessica Masera, a practicing psychotherapist says the diversity and in-depth knowledge of people’s behaviour in relation to their childhood and upbringing have shaped an astute skillset in comprehensively dealing with dysfunctional patterns.
“One day, I was taking a walk around the garden with my then one-year-old firstborn son. He tripped and fell and his hands became muddy. He ran to me wanting to touch me, as he cried and sought comfort. I avoided his touch because his hands were dirty. My dear mother used to dismiss us and didn’t like us toouching her. She kept pushing us away whenever we moved near her. When I noticed myself avoiding a crying one-year-old because his hands were dirty, I realised that I had layers of psychological issues to deal with,” says Masera who is licensed to practice in Kenya, Hungary, Saudi Arabia and the UK.
“In as much as I loved my son and didn’t wish to dismiss him, I simply didn’t know what else to do. I had been socialised to dismiss dirty people and was not able to act in a loving way towards my dear son. This realisation compelled me to seek alternative approaches to parenting. I enrolled for conscious parenting training that unearthed a lot of psychological trauma and dysfunctions I had embraced as normal behaviour from my childhood. My background in psychotherapy helped me gain in-depth understanding of the psychological dynamics behind how my upbringing contributed to my not knowing how to show love and compassion to my child,” she adds.
Masera who holds a Master’s of Science and Bachelor’s degree in Advanced Occupational Therapy from the University of Plymouth, UK says her liberating personal journey has unearthed compassion and grace while engaging with clients.
She offers: “I developed a comprehensive method of self-treatment, which could assist in parenting more consciously, and at the same time heal my trauma. I created a conscious parenting series comprising consecutive five one-hour sessions. I was inspired to make the classes available because of feedback I get. One client shared how she is now able to interact with her child from a neutral emotional point. Another client told me that she no longer shouts at her children in the morning before leaving for school, and her children are actually more cooperative and they are on time nowadays.”
The expert shares how she discovered that what is referred to as normal upbringing; the caning, being shouted at, separating from your parents to go to boarding school among others, all added up to a substantial amount of psychological trauma in a child.
“I remember sitting down with my child breastfeeding and thinking to myself; why did I pass by a beautiful dress at the shop without buying it after admiring it? I remember realising that it was because I didn’t feel deserving. I didn’t feel enough. I remembered when my mum questioned me whether I was a prostitute because I had a short dress on. I connected the feeling of unworthiness and undeserving of nice dresses in particular, to that comment which was made when I was six years old,” she shares
She started noticing how she didn’t even have friends who wore dresses. She didn’t apply for jobs where dresses were required. “That’s how one comment that was deep in my subconscious created my life. I resolved to get to know everything that was going on in there. It was ridiculous because it was almost all negative. Actually, research shows what goes on in the average person’s subconscious mind is 95 per cent negative. All one needs to do is change the content of their subconscious mind. I got better. I am better,” she says
While the mother wound is not a clinical or medical diagnosis, it is a factor that people struggle to address and to heal. More women than men carry “mother wounds,” which negatively affect their own mothering abilities. Therapy helps one to explore the feelings of the inner child and allowing those feelings of being ignored, unloved, unwanted, or not valued to be expressed in a safe, therapeutic environment.