‘The Mother Wound’

The Mother Wound

What is it?

The Mother Wound is a term used to describe messages from our mother or primary carer which we internalized during our developmental years, These messages may become ingrained as a belief about ourself for example: I’m not wanted / loved or I’m a nuisance. This can impact our behaviour throughout our life and in relationships.

So How does it happen?

As an infant human, we are completely dependent on our primary carer for a relatively long time compared to other mammals. A foal or calf can clamber to its feet almost immediately after birth, so could potentially run from danger.

An infant child has a need to feel safety by proximity to the mother both physically and emotionally. Think of the impact on post-war babies, as newborns were wheeled away to nurseries. As the Western world understand more about psychological nurturing and the need for love and care, babies are now quickly laid skin on skin with their mother. The bond created in the womb continues to develop as they immediately begin to mirror each other in an interaction that is subtle and nuanced. When baby’s calls for attention; smiling, crying, gurgling, pooing, wriggling, and protesting are attended to it feels safe.  Even with what Winnicott (1) termed ‘good-enough mothering’ where there is enough consistency and our survival needs are met, we may still internalize messages. These may become apparent to us later in life, let’s say a tendency to stay quiet or become angry.

Psychological wounding is of course deeper where there is abuse or emotional or physical neglect. This might range from a mother who is emotionally or physically absent, one who is cold and distant, or under pressure to care for more children or to bring in income. A mother may be struggling herself with mental health issues or loss. Sherry Gaba (2) suggests that wounding may manifest as a lack of self worth or co-dependency.  Which can lead to an inability to form relationships due to lack of trust or expressing people pleasing behaviors in an attempt to be liked and accepted.

The attachment bond is key

If we are securely attached in infancy and receive adequate love and nurturing, we tend to find adult relationships easier. When insecurely attached we maybe always looking for security and come across as anxious, needy or looking for someone to complete us. When we had to buckle up as a baby and take care of many of our own needs, we may have developed avoidant attachment which makes it difficult to commit to a relationship. Attachment theory is worth exploring in more depth, if you’d like to learn more about how it affects your adult relationships I recommend ‘Attached’ by Levine and Heller (3)

So, what can we do about The Mother Wound?

We cannot change the past but by becoming aware of the drivers in our behaviour we can take steps to heal these gaps in our development. As we make the link between current behaviours which hold us back, we start to ask the question Is this serving me? Or am I suffering?

My Experience

Born in the 1960’s I feel that I was a product of ‘let them cry to toughen them up” childcare. This could have resulted in a level of independence, which has both served me and at times prevented me from reaching out for support. Born as third child into a catholic family with 2 elder sisters, another early internalized message may have been “I should have been a boy”. I can’t be 100% certain but I did spend my childhood as a tomboy falling out of trees. I’m grateful that it has also served me as I can wield a sander and still love to climb trees!

Where did our mother learn to be a mother?

Like animals we have an innate mechanism to care for offspring. However, our psychological make up means that we carry imprints of Ancestral Trauma. Our mother is from a line of mothers, who may have had less than perfect mothering. Dale Kushner (4) discusses the effects of war, poverty and displacement even within our recent past. On the other-hand, privilege could have seen us handed over to a Nanny or sent off to boarding school. Tara Brach (5) writes of these fears, insecurities and longings that can inhabit generations.

How do we heal it

Fortunately, there is more awareness of these impacts and mothers are taking steps to heal themselves. We might start by journalling or meditating on what we find. Personally, being in Psychotherapy educated me about the areas in which I was struggling. I learned the skill of Self Compassion which Dr. Kristin Neff (6) says, can take time depending on the extent of wounding.

David Wallin (7) says that working with a professional therapist is key to learning about healthy attachment bonds and how to form a secure relationship. In therapy we feel validated in our own experience, we begin to trust ourself in relationship with another and practice this in our wider world.  We learn to be the parent to our own inner child says John Bradshaw, (8) meeting the needs in our present that weren’t met in the past.

Alongside Psychotherapy and Self Study, Focusing has been my practice for managing this journey, it enables me to attend to all the emotions that rise up. Focusing shows us how to turn towards and acknowledge what is there. We take time just to be with it and stay curious, listening to all that it might wish to share. As we return again and again, we can work the through layers. Ann Weiser Cornell (9) describes this process.   (Focusing Resources)

Connect with Paula

Paula offers Psychotherapy and Focusing sessions and Focusing Training.

I would love to receive your comments if that has touched you in any way info@paulacharnley.com

Listen here to an interview with Paula talking about the Mother Wound

Join me for a free online session 24 november, 2023, where we will explore ‘The Mother Wound’ through the lens of Focusing:

Register here: https://calendly.com/paulacharnley/a-taste-of-focusing-nov


  1. Donald Winnicottin Wedge:  https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/suffer-the-children/201605/what-is-good-enough-mother
  2. Sherry GABA : https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/addiction-and-recovery/201910/the-mother-wound
  3. A Levine & R Heller : https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9547888-attached
  4. Dale Kushner: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/transcending-the-past/202202/recognizing-and-healing-inherited-trauma
  5. https://www.tarabrach.com/growing-up-unworthy-2/?cn-reloaded=1
  6. Kristin Neff. ( https://www.momwell.com/blog/the-self-compassionate-mother)
  7. David Wallin : https://www.psychotherapy.net/interview/david-wallin
  8. John Bradshaw: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12124.Homecoming
  9. https://focusingresources.com/2021/05/05/focusing-tip-751-i-carry-so-much-wounding-from-how-my-parents-treated-me/



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