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A young woman is experiencing a type of trauma called the mother wound.

Yes, the Mother Wound Is Real—Here’s How to Heal

4 min.

If your mother was emotionally unavailable or neglectful during your childhood, you may be dealing with this type of trauma. Read on to learn what the mother wound is and how to heal.

By: Alex Bachert, MPH

Clinically Reviewed By: Don Gasparini Ph.D., M.A., CASAC

January 19, 2024

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For many people, their mother or mother figure is one of the most influential people in their lives, providing comfort, teaching them the importance of resiliency, and serving as a role model. So what happens if someone’s mother was emotionally unavailable or disengaged during their childhood? One possibility is that these children may develop a type of trauma called the “mother wound” — a theory based on the proven mental health effects of neglectful parenting

“The mother wound is emotional trauma one may carry from childhood into adulthood due to the absence of a mother’s nurture or their disengagement from their child,” said Na’Keora Bryant, M.S., a Charlie Health Group Facilitator. Bryant notes that anyone can experience the mother wound, but in her experience, eldest children (particularly eldest daughters) are most at-risk. Keep reading to learn more about the mother wound and how to heal from childhood trauma.

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What causes the mother wound?

The mother wound typically occurs when a mother passes unprocessed trauma along to her children. For example, maybe a mother has suffered emotional or physical abuse, suffers from a mental health condition, or has limited empathy or emotional awareness. 

Intergenerational trauma, defined as consistent and persistent years of traumatic challenges within families across generations, can also be a culprit of the mother wound. For instance, women who deal with intergenerational trauma may pass along collective trauma affecting their ethnic, cultural, or racial group as mothers. 

Signs of the mother wound

The mother wound can present differently in children and adults. In childhood, those affected by the mother wound may notice issues and behavior patterns directly related to the mother-child relationship. If the mother wound isn’t addressed, though, it can continue to affect people into adulthood, manifesting in behavior and relationship patterns. Here are some common signs of the mother wound in childhood and adulthood. 

In childhood

  • Never feeling like you had your mother’s acceptance or approval
  • Feeling an emotional absence from your mother
  • Feeling like you had to protect or care for your mother 
  • Feeling like your mother did not respect your emotions 
  • Living with unrealistic expectations from your mother
  • Lack of affection, such as kisses or hugs, from your mother
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In adulthood

  • Lack of sense of self
  • Not knowing how to set healthy boundaries 
  • Being overly rigid or dominating
  • People-pleasing behaviors
  • Lack of emotional awareness
  • Mental health conditions such as depression, eating disorders, or addiction issues

The mother wound and attachment style

Since the mother wound can begin when a person is still an infant, it’s important to recognize how it affects attachment style. Attachment theory states that people’s early interactions with their primary caregivers, such as their mothers, impact their future mental and emotional health. According to attachment theory, children’s attachment behaviors are part of an evolved behavioral system, and research shows having a secure attachment with their caregiver can help them feel safe and protected in the long term.

Also, people who grew up with sensitive, responsive, and emotionally available caregivers are more likely to develop a secure attachment style. But people whose caregivers were less engaged may be more prone to developing an insecure attachment style, such as avoidant attachment style, dismissive attachment style, or anxious attachment style.

How to heal from the mother wound

Although the mother wound is not an official medical diagnosis, it’s still important to find ways to address and overcome the pain and trauma of childhood neglect. This can improve your quality of life and set a precedent for healthy behaviors among future generations. 

“I don’t believe people can truly heal from the mother wound unless they acknowledge the emotional trauma endured,” said Bryant. “Simply doing the opposite of what your mother has done isn’t enough because it leaves room for resentment and may harm future generations.”

According to Bryant, therapy is one of the best ways to help people overcome an emotional trauma like the mother wound. In addition to therapy, she recommends the following four practices to cope with trauma:

1) Embrace your feelings

Bryant suggests allowing yourself to be non-judgemental, forgiving, and understanding of your feelings during your healing journey.

2) Reparent your inner child 

Create a safe space to connect with your younger self and offer the compassion and comfort you didn’t receive as a child.

3) Try a mindfulness practice

Mindfulness practices like meditation and deep breathing can help you better understand your emotions, manage painful memories, and focus on the present.

4) Consider reconnecting with your mother

Once you acknowledge and process your feelings about your mother-child relationship, consider finding space for a meaningful relationship (whatever that looks like to you) with your mother as an adult. 

A young man is healing from the mother wound by going to therapy.

Overcome the mother wound with Charlie Health

If childhood trauma is taking a toll on your mental health, Charlie Health is here to help. Charlie Health’s virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) provides more than once-weekly mental health treatment for young people dealing with complex mental health conditions, including those resulting from adverse childhood experiences. Our expert clinicians incorporate a variety of evidence-based, trauma-informed therapies into individual counseling, family therapy, and group sessions. Fill out the form below or give us a call to start your healing journey today.

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