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Is your mother difficult?

Lately I have a lot of clients who are experiencing maternal narcissism, or what we colloquially call The Mother Wound. Many of them didn’t even realise that the issues they have in the present, like feeling empty or hollow despite achieving so much, or relationship issues with their spouse, or their fear of turning into their mother or their need to be around authentic, real people stem from their relationship with their mother.

I decided to write about it here to help you identify if this is the kind of relationship you have with your mother and to point you in the right direction if you’d like to explore it further. So let’s dig into The Mother Wound and think about what it is.

Essentially, maternal narcissism is where a mother is so caught up in her own stuff, her parenting lacks empathy or care for the emotional needs of her children. Whilst emotionally neglecting, she may meet your other physical needs. It’s important to be aware that this narcissism and lack of parental care exists on a scale, from the mild to the emotionally and physically abusive. Mothers may act this way due to mental health issues, Mother Wounds of their own, bereavement and lack of support.

So what are the signs you suffering with a Mother Wound?

  • You try to win your mother’s love and attention, but you are never good enough.
  • Your mother values what you do above who you are or how you feel.
  • How good your family looks on the outside doesn’t show how messed up things are on the inside.
  • However much you achieve is never enough.
  • It’s always about your mother and you have to tend to her emotional needs or walk on eggshells around her.
  • You feel constantly criticised.
  • There are no boundaries with your mother, it’s hard to separate from her.
  • You want to be around authentic people who don’t pretend.

If you are experiencing any of these, it is likely maternal narcissism affects you. The best course of action is to see a registered therapist who specialises in The Mother Wound like me.

They can help you to untangle the web, stopping it being passed down to your own children or affecting your romantic relationships, and help you to rebuild your self-esteem, manage your relationship with your mother and build and maintain critical boundaries so that you can recover.

If you’d like to take this further why not have a look at my free resources

Why we need a new conversation around motherhood

In the UK it’s Mother’s Day weekend a time of gift guides, flowers, and cards, but what if you struggle in your relationship with your mother? How do you cope then?

As a psychotherapist and fellow survivor, I work with women who have difficult relationships with their mothers to recover from the trauma and to lead happier lives. I believe it’s time we had a conversation around toxic parenting and how we can be emotionally wounded by our mothers, and this is my contribution.

When I talk to my clients about their relationships with their mothers there are several similarities that make up a difficult or toxic relationship, here’s what I found women in my Facebook group experienced:

  • Lack of praise as a child and adult
  • Mum is overly critical
  • Mum’s needs and wants comes first
  • Role-reversals, where we parent our parent
  • Isolation from friends and family for you and her
  • Boundaries between you are blurry and you may have little privacy even as an adult
  • Your needs for emotional security, safety, and to be heard aren’t met
  • There is gaslighting and denial
  • Nothing you do is good enough
  • Constant comparison and competition with others
  • Mum erodes your relationship with your siblings if you have them

These difficulties can feel normalised as it is all we have experienced since we were very small, it may have taken you until your teens or later to realise not every mother is like this.

This toxicity exists on a spectrum with some women experiencing mild difficulties and others outright abuse.

The problem is our relationship or lack of, with our mother is foundational in helping us to understand ourselves and our place in the world. Her words and actions are internalised by us into our core beliefs about who we are and how we should show up in the world.

For example, if all we hear is criticism, we learn to have a strong inner critic who can silence and censor us so we struggle to express ourselves, say ‘No’, or have any boundaries.

What I am saying is what we learn about ourselves from mum becomes our beliefs, which become our feelings, which become our actions.

Belief > Feeling > Action

My work, and this conversation is about beginning to repair the damage, to replace those toxic beliefs with supportive ones through meditation techniques, inner child work, education, awareness and empowerment.

I do this by offering a safe and supportive space, for women to explore these difficulties and to be part of a community which understands and doesn’t stigmatise them for not worshipping at the altar of the perfect mother.

You can find out more about my work and joining my group by clicking the button below:

Rejection and emotional absence

It is really common for difficult mothers to be emotionally absent, to ignore, belittle, or seem apparently unaware of your feelings, or need for a relationship with her.

What you learn is that her feelings are paramount, this may mean you need to please her, take care of her emotional ups and downs, agree with her even when you don’t want to, and walk on eggshells waiting for the next rejection.

Rejection usually occurs when you do or say something she dislikes, this may be because you are perceived to have challenged her authority, not put on the perfect image in front of her friends, not agreed with how she sees things, or not played the role she wants you to.

Rejection, ignoring, passive-aggressive behaviours, belittling, and shaming, become forms of coercive control. Mum brings you into line by pressuring you with one of these behaviours.

One of my clients recently put it like this ‘Every time I disagree she cries, I just feel so guilty I end up giving in. I then end up comforting her and making her feel better. It’s like I’m the parent and she’s the child.’

Can you see the pay off for Mum?

This rejecting behaviour keeps you close and compliant, your self-worth is eroded away and you feel unlovable. Relationships become about what you can do for others and not about being loved for who you are which has huge consequences.

If you’d like some support with this, check out my free resources:

Boundaries

In my support group on Facebook we’ve been exploring the importance of boundaries in our relationship with our difficult mother and I’d like to share some of what we discussed with you.

Difficult mothers often see you as an extension of themselves, or as a playing piece in a game. It doesn’t occur to them that you may have your own thoughts and feeling, what matters is you play a part.

Mary for instance has a very critical mother, she can’t do anything right, and nothing is good enough for her mum. For Mary’s mum keeping up appearances is everything, everyone needs to know what a great mum she is, how much she sacrifices and how trying it is to have a daughter like Mary.

Mary has been criticised and belittled so much by her mother that at the age of 32, she often belittles herself, calls herself stupid, fat and an idiot. She is almost pre-empting mum’s cutting remarks and constantly tries to do better.

Mary has learnt that she is never good enough, and that her mum’s love is conditional on her complying with mum’s need to be the best mother ever. Mary has to take on her mother’s belief or risk rejection.

You may question why Mary doesn’t walk away, the truth is rejection is one of the worst and scariest feelings humans can experience. To be ousted from the tribe/family is life threatening. Just because we have evolved and live differently doesn’t mean that fear goes away.

As children we know instinctively that our survival depends on having a parent to depend on to feed and protect us. This is why the human psyche goes to great lengths to maintain damaging and toxic relationships with our parents, even at the expense of our sense of self.

Most people in this situation find it hard to walk away and live in hope that their mum will see how they feel, or acknowledge the pain they have caused. Some are brave enough and have enough support to put in a hard boundary and choose not to see their toxic parent again. For others this is not the right time, or the right choice.

Boundaries may feel daunting, that you will be met with resistance, cause an argument, and where does that leave you? Tired, stressed, worried and hurt. It doesn’t have to be that way.

To begin with it can be enough to register your disagreement you can do this by using a small gesture like raising a finger, or taking a breath. This small step can be hugely significant, as it means you are beginning to see yourself as separate, and that it is ok not to agree with mum.

Take some time for yourself to consider if you believe the same thing as your mother or if your views differ. Can you work out what your beliefs and values are?

Once you’ve done the internal work and want to set boundaries with mum, start small. Think about what you want to say, how you will enforce it and what you will do if she becomes upset or angry.

Let your partner, friends and other trusted family members know so you have support if she does react badly. If you have no one to turn to, join a support group like mine.

Follow through, it may be difficult but it’s the quickest and easiest way. If you cave in the next time you try it may be harder.

If you’d like to dig deeper on how to work with boundaries, why not check out my freebies:

Can men have a mother wound too?

I’ve been asked this a lot lately and the answer is: Yes men CAN have a mother wound too

It may however be experienced and expressed differently

I am writing this as a therapist who is working with men who are experiencing mother wounds of their own. They can experience the same emotional neglect and meaness women experience, but this is what I feel is different.

Where narcissistic mothers may be in competition with their daughters, seeing them as rivals for affection, for example think of the story of Snow White, or Cinderella, where the step-mother or evil mother figure is vying for the affection of her spouse or the accolade of being ‘the fairest in the land’.

For the young boy there is a different pressure. From a very early age he is taught to suppress his emotions. ‘Boys don’t cry’, ‘You big girl’s blouse’, ‘Oh grow up’, are just some of the phrases that are used to shut boys down emotionally. Yes there are some enlightened parents out there doing things differently, but we’d be foolish to think it doesn’t still happen, and even if it was eradicated as an ideal, we still have generations of men who were brought up this way.

So what are the consequences?

This kind of messaging to small boys has consequences:

  • Confusion-The young child that cannot turn to his mother for emotional support, has to regulate his emotions by himself. As an adult he may find it hard to access emotions or name them, and find women difficult to understand and relate to.
  • Self-esteem issues-A lack of loving care means the young boy feels unlovable, not good enough and like he doesn’t matter. This can lead to an adult man who struggles in relationships, who doesn’t take care of his needs and who uses work, money or power to feel like a somebody.
  • Externalising self-soothing-If mum was unable to help the young boy to name and regulate his emotions, as an adult he is likely to use external gratification or substances to feel better. Gaming, gambling, alcohol, extreme physical activity and drugs are common ways men try to self-soothe.
  • Relationship difficulties-the child who is taught to suppress their emotions becomes an adult who struggles to relate to others emotionally. This can cause distance in your relationships where you rely on sex or money to show love.
  • Suicide-The child who can’t express emotions and share them becomes an adult who struggles to resolve them, when noone understands and all feels hopeless, it may feel easier to end things.
  • Domestic abuse-Suppressed emotions often lead to anger as the only form of expression, anger at the emotional abndonment of your younger self is a recipe to holding women responsible for your pain. This can lead to abuse if it is not dealt with.
  • Stigma-The child that is taught not to speak about emotions, becomes the man who feels shame at having them, in a society that belittles men for being human.

If you feel you are affected by this, don’t suffer in silence, get in touch

Just click on the button below

Love and light

Charlotte

Ps I mean it, please don’t continue to suffer in silence, let’s break the stigma together!

Feeling empty?

Having a mother that doesn’t recognise your emotional needs is hard, it’s like a part of you doesn’t exist or that what you do is more important than who you are.

As a kid you just want to be loved, seen and heard. When we are validated by our mothers we feel whole, worthy and emotionally wealthy. When this doesn’t happen it leads to a feeling of emptiness, a loss of confidence, negative self-beliefs and often a need to people please.

So how might this manifest in you, have you ever felt?

  • You need to tend to your mother’s emotional needs, protect her or walk on eggshells around her.
  • That you people please so others like you, and don’t criticise.
  • You avoid conflicts and arguments.
  • You take on too much responsibility, often for things you can’t control, like others feelings.
  • You over-deliver at work, or as a volunteer but receive little praise.
  • You feel like an imposter, that you are not good enough for your job/partner/life and that soon someone will figure this out.
  • It’s hard to receive praise or compliments but when you do they feel hollow and can never seem to fill you up.
  • You have little self-esteem or confidence.
  • You feel like somehow this is all your fault, and there’s something unlovable about you.

As children we look to our mothers to help guide the way, to compensate for our lack of experience when this guidance is missing, we fill in the blanks for ourselves. We assume it’s on us, we are left because we are not enough, and we carry this feeling with us into our adult lives.

This is The Mother Wound.

If you would like to dig deeper into your childhood trauma and your mother wound click the button below to access my free resources: