The Mother Wound and Adoption

by Lynn Grubb

“If we avoid acknowledging the full impact of our mother’s pain on our lives, we still remain to some degree, children.” — Bethany Webster

I read a fantastic post over at called “Why It’s Crucial For Women to Heal The Mother Wound” by Bethany Webster. You can read it in all it’s wonderful totality here:

This writing is not geared toward adoption, per se, but I wanted to summarize what I thought were transferable ideas into our dual mother wounds.  Since adoptees have two mothers, it stands to reason that we may have double the issues with our mothers than the average woman does.

The article describes how patriarchy, and generational losses and unresolved grief gets passed along to daughters from mothers in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways, just by living in a society that both worships mothers but does not support women in their mothering years.

The author defines the mother wound as:

“the pain of being a woman passed down through generations of women in patriarchal cultures. And it includes the dysfunctional coping mechanisms that are used to process that pain.”

Bethany further states:

“The mother wound includes the pain of:

  • Comparison: not feeling good enough
  • Shame: consistent background sense that there is something wrong with you
  • Attenuation: Feeling you must remain small in order to be loved
  • Persistent sense of guilt for wanting more than you currently have

The mother wound can manifest as:

  • Not being your full self  because you don’t want to threaten others
  • Having a high tolerance for poor treatment from others
  • Emotional care-taking
  • Feeling competitive with other women
  • Self-sabotage
  • Being overly rigid and dominating
  • Conditions such as eating disorders, depression and addictions”

With just a quick review of this list, I can imagine it resonates deeply with almost everybody.  I myself have struggled with not feeling good enough and in the past, have had an unusually high tolerance of poor treatment from others.  Through my work in counseling and dealing with family of origin issues, codependency, and via support from other female adoptees, books and a supportive spouse, I I have come to heal many of my mother wounds.

Here are some wounds I have identified in myself and other adoptees I know:

*feeling pressured to always be on a diet or somehow morph into the same body type as a non-biological mother (and along with this, the lack of recognition by some mothers that genes can play a roll in weight and fat distribution).

*feeling guilty if you don’t really like your mother (taboo!)

*feeling that your mother was hoping for a “different child” than the one she got (aka you!)

* Fear of success

*Fear of failure

*Feeling shame for normal sexual desires

*People pleasing

*Ignoring your personal needs because you are so busy taking care of everyone around you

*Feeling like there is not enough of the good stuff to go around in the world and what right do I have to grab some?

*Tolerating dishonest, unreliable or toxic people in your life

*holding back on your gifts and talents for fear of other people’s jealousy or judgment

As females, daughters and mothers (some of us), we live with  so many expectations that society places on us (many we put on ourselves!) So many responsibilities and an image of “ideal” motherhood to live up to.  These expectations are sometimes completely outside of our awareness (this article has been a wake-up call for me!).  Then when you add a SECOND mother (or a THIRD if you also have a stepmother) and all of those family dynamics to the mix, it can totally get out of hand.

Some of the expectations I struggled with in relation to my “mother wounds” post-reunion:

*Since I’m the one who “found them” does this mean I have to stay in their lives even if they are treating me in a way that is hurtful?

*If my birth mother and I don’t have a lot in common or don’t “click”, does this make me wrong, or her wrong?  (aka not living up to the stereotypical happy Oprah reunion”)?

*What are my obligations to this new family?  Is it more important to be true to myself or should I people please my way through this reunion and be “part of the family” even if I don’t feel part of the family?

*an uneasy sense that I am getting the residue of the competition between my two mothers, which then produces guilt and confusion.

*an acknowledgement that my adoptive mother both loves me and competes with me and has a difficult time understanding my differing interests, beliefs, and priorities.

*a realization that honesty is something I value highly and I can accept nothing less, regardless of how somebody is related or not related to me.

I am sure that you can make your own list.  Every mother/daughter dynamic is unique.  Every adoption reunion is also unique.  The takeaway for me is this:

Acknowledge the forces at play (both inside the family and outside of it) that create and perpetuate these mother wounds in all of us.  Work through the mother wounds so you can be your best, happy self.  The goal is to fully accept yourself, with all your flaws and go out into the world and be the best version of you that you know how to be.     If your mother has not given you permission to be bigger, louder and a more self-actualized person than she was, give yourself the permission.

It’s o.k. to be the best you, even if it provokes other people’s jealousy and insecurities.  Even if you have to push through guilt to make it happen.  Even if it feels a little awkward at first.

Even if your mothers would not approve.

Bethany outlines the benefits of healing our mother wounds:

  • Being more fluent and skilled in handling your emotions. Seeing them as a source of wisdom and information.
  • Having healthy boundaries that support the actualization of your highest and best self
  • Developing a solid “inner mother” that provides unconditional love, support and comfort to your younger parts.
  • Knowing yourself as competent. Feeling that anything is possible, open to miracles and all good things
  • Being in constant contact with your inner goodness and your ability to bring it into everything you do
  • Deep compassion for yourself and other people
  • Not taking yourself too seriously. No longer needing external validation to feel OK. Not needing to prove yourself to others.
  • Trusting life to bring you what you need
  • Feeling safe in your own skin and a freedom to be yourself.

Healing the mother wound is ultimately about acknowledging and honoring the foundation our mothers provided for our lives so that we can then fully focus on creating the unique lives that we authentically desire and know we are capable of creating.– Bethany Webster