Growing up identifying as female often means looking to a mother figure for guidance on the transition to womanhood. When there is a mother wound, there can be a profound impact on a woman’s sexuality.
Many women internalize their mothers beliefs, values and traumas that are often passed down via previous generations of women. Receiving shame and judgment around sexuality and womanhood can lead to a lack of openness for discovering and embracing the sexual self.
What is the Mother Wound?
Women often seek approval, acceptance, and guidance from mother figures for a lifetime. Kelly McDaniel, who coined the term, Mother Hunger, writes, “there is an invisible wound that exists on a spectrum.” Not receiving necessary safety, comfort and guidance are common causes of the mother wound.
All individuals are at risk of the mother wound if they had an emotionally absent mother, toxic parenting, or a mother suffering from mental illness. For the purpose of this article, the focus is the impact on mother-daughter relationships and the intersection of sexuality.
A mother is the first source of attachment, the first experience of receiving love and attention and the precursor to positive mental health. Object relations theory explains the infant mother relationship as having a significant impact on an individual’s growth and development towards an authentic and stable self.
Healthy peer and mother attachments are integral during development. As young girls attempt to resolve psychologist, Erik Erickson’s, identity vs. role confusion stage, unsuccessful attempts can lead to poor relationships, mental health issues and confusion about the self.
Developing Sexuality and Mothering
Witnessing a lack of body love and acceptance, glossing over menstruation and coming of age, and shaming burgeoning sexuality are common themes leading to mother wounding. Unlike boys, who are often taught to perform masculinity in order to be a man, girls essentially become women overnight. One of the few benefits of identifying as a woman in our society, you are if you say you are.
Learning about sexuality from witnessing peers and mainstream culture has the potential to create a skewed relationship with one’s self and one’s mother.
Transgender, BIPOC and sexual minority women have additional hurdles finding acceptance and modeling in our society as trends remain heavily focused on the lens of cisgender, white, heteronormative qualities and standards. Identifying with feminist values can assist all individuals in feeling a greater sense of equality and support in their well-being.
How the Mother Wound Can Impact Relationships
Socialization occurs as a result of parenting in early childhood. Gender-role stereotypes and attitudes are learned through listening and watching. Sexism is easily passed down as a form of generational commitment to maintaining the sub status of women.
Mothers who have unresolved trauma are at risk of transmitting harmful somatic and cognitive pathways to their daughters. Research highlights attachment reorganization provides hope that intergenerational trauma, or “the ghosts in the nursery” can be interrupted.
Without attachment reorganization, traumas, maladaptive thinking, dysfunctional coping mechanisms and conservation values can be internalized by daughters.
Internalized misogyny can taint the desire of women to connect and support other women. Generations have been taught to compete and disparage power and potential of other women. In an effort to win a mate and earn financial security, some women learn to disengage from their femininity.
Phrases unconsciously steeped in internalized misogyny abound:
“I’m not like other girls.”
“I have more masculine qualities.”
“I get along better with guys.”
Watching a mother pinch and prod herself in the mirror as she changes, being told to hide your tampons, shave your legs, or witnessing diets and restricted eating are all forms of insidious negative psychological messaging.
Being told to change your clothes, to wipe off your makeup, or having a mother who buys into neighborhood gossip are all subtle forms of slut shaming. The message lends itself to a bifurcation in female identities, and the development of the madonna whore complex.
These ways of being in the world teach young women their bodies are something to be fixed, shamed, and that smaller and thinner bodies are always more beautiful. What follows is an idealized body image and lack of compassion or acceptance for the natural female form.
Mothers who carry their own sexual trauma often send the message that sex is shameful, dirty and unwelcome. A dynamic ensues in which women feel unsafe to share their sexuality for fear of rejection at home and by a male driven society.
If loving and embracing your sexuality wasn’t modeled, it can become an inside job. A job rife with misinformation, and as Emily Nagoski explains in Come As You Are, the media, moral and medical message, leading to endless confusion.
How to Heal the Mother Wound
To heal the mother wound requires objective reflection of childhood relationships that may make you feel angry or disloyal to your mother. However, rebirth and reeducation are crucial.
Identify the values, core beliefs and messages received from your mother, take what you like and rework the rest. Set boundaries in your relationship so you can break the cycle of harmful messaging and narratives.
Understand women are your greatest allies; connect and explore these relationships deeply, without comparison and become part of the women’s empowerment movement.
Utilize mirror work, coined by Louise Hay, who posits it as, “the most effective method I’ve found for learning to love yourself“ and see the world as a safe and loving place.
Differentiation from the mother as a primary attachment figure is a process of becoming the self. What follows is the joy of individuation. You can develop your own thoughts, beliefs and values, while learning how to accept and honor the relationship with your mother.
When you heal the relationship with your mother, you heal yourself. Whatever your relationship, you are more than enough with or without her love.