Mother. Mommy. Mom. Momma.
When you were just a baby, your first smile was for her. And when she locked eyes with you and smiled back, something cemented deep down inside. As a child, seeing your emotions reflected back from your mom’s face was validating and connecting for you at a foundational level. That “mirroring” became an understanding for how you on how to move through relationships with yourself and others.
So, what if mom didn’t smile back because of her own depression or pain? What if that Mommy Mirror was broken and she couldn’t lock eyes with you? Parents give us a sense of themselves and in turn who we are. Since Mom is the very first relationship we have, there’s something even more powerful to that bond; for better or worse.
In this 2-part series, Josh and Kit sit down to talk about Understanding and Healing the Mother Wound. The conversation is as delicate and intense as the topic. As an adult, whether you know it or not, you carry those needs still.
Listen first. Take notes the second time. Because when the Mommy Mirror is broken, it leaves behind pieces. We pray this two-part conversation will serve as a building block for you on your journey to “Becoming Whole.”
Mom is supposed to be foundational. Mom is supposed to be a secure source for the child. So, if mom’s not doing okay emotionally in this moment then I’ve got to take care of her in order to be okay. And plus, there’s not really enough room for me to deal with my own stuff.
If there’s something that we needed from our moms that God designed us to receive from our moms, or things we were designed to receive, when something goes sideways then it leaves us with a mark
Mom has a unique place because she’s that very first relationship with the child, she almost serves as a bedrock foundation under a child and if that’s shaky that can be a difficult thing for kids to reckon with.
“MIRRORING” can be defined as the act of validation and connection through active reflecting.
Six Themes Related to Mother Wounds:
- Boundary Issues
- Not Trusting Your Own Feelings
- Not Being Able to Trust Others
- Being Over-Sensitive or Being Ultra-Reactionary
- Chronic Difficulty in Relationships
- Low Self-Esteem
Genesis 1:27 God created man and woman in his image.
Still face experiment Dr Edward Tronick https://youtu.be/apzXGEbZht0
Matthew 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” (NIV)
Luke 13:34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (NIV)
Click for Full Podcast Transcription
Many of us, you know, actually all of us have some residual effects from our childhood. And you know, God designed parenthood to be so beautiful. And, you know, so perfect. And it doesn’t, it doesn’t exist in that way in our broken world. And yet, you know, God is redemptive, and He’s the perfect parent. And so we can bring all these things to God and he can heal them. A few weeks ago, we talked about father wounds and the really large impact that can have on us and today, we’re going to talk about mother wounds. And this is a reality that comes up a lot with women that I am doing spiritual coaching with, and there’s many different levels of wounding, but being able to identify it and bring it to God is is an important part of becoming whole.
Right? And I think about, you know, the the number of men also who have experienced wounds from mom and I think like we said, last time When we talk about color wounds, we know that our most parents really try to do their best. And so this is not about trying to throw our parents this week, especially our moms under the bus in any way. But it is about just facing the reality of where we may have been wounded or where we may have had needs that weren’t met. And, and how that impacts us today. We as we want to be whole people.
Yeah, really is important. And a lot of people really do hesitate. Well, you know, they did the best they could. And we make a point of saying this is not about you know, dissing your parents at all. We just know that everybody has some experience of wounding I have. I am a mother and I’ve done wounding unintentionally to my kids. So it’s just about acknowledging that it happens and it might be extremely insightful and helpful to look at it.
So okay, maybe we should just pop in kind of slow down a little bit. And what do we mean by A mother wound when you when we talk about being wounded by mom or mother wound, what are we talking about all kinds of things?
Well, you know, because we’re imperfect mothers, we do the best we can, but we, we miss some things we miss. Maybe we’re really different than our child. And so we don’t connect, or we’re not as attuned to that child, or maybe we’re really busy and exhausted. And so we don’t realize the way we check out and how that affects a child. And certainly there are situations of sexual abuse where, you know, there’s it’s going on in the family and the mother for whatever reason, fear, denial, doesn’t acknowledge it and doesn’t protect the child and that can be a huge thing. And so we see all of these kinds of things, in people who come to see us about relationship, emotional, you know, sexual issues, and sometimes we go, oh, it sounds like you had some tension in that relationship with the Am I how can we talk about that so that we can call that a mother wound.
And I think that, like the, to me, the theological background for it is really that God created male and female in his image, right Genesis 127. And so when he designed it, that male and female together would create new human life and raise every little boy and every little girl. Part of what he was wanting from from mom and from dad was that mom and dad would together bring some things to their kids, dad would bring some things to the kids that mom wouldn’t be able to mom would bring some the kids that dad wouldn’t be able to. And when something gets messed up in there, those needs don’t just go away and need as a need. And that means not an option. And so if there’s something that that we needed from our moms that God designed us to receive, or our moms or things that we were designed to receive, when something goes sideways with those things, and it leaves, please a market leaves an impact on us and we just want to get after those things.
Yeah, and there’s early things that happen between a key you know, caregiver and a child. You know, These are developmental issues that, you know, are pretty well known, but we don’t always talk about it in reference to our own story, you know, but if there is a, an illness or a, you know, a mental illness or physical illness or addiction, or just a mom who’s emotionally overwhelmed, like, I know that, you know, my mom was candid with me about some of her own difficulties in feeling emotionally overwhelmed as she tried to parent. And if you are really just, you know, so out of gas all the time, you know, it’s, it’s really hard to be present to be attuned, you know, it’s hard to do that. It’s hard to be like that, even when things are all going well. And so some kids are going to be like, roll with it, like whatever, and other kids gonna be like, wow, I really, you know, I remember my mom was just not there for me
as a kid, so talk a little about I know, I’ve heard you talk before about the role that a mom plays in mirroring and I think that’s one of the first places that we really come into face to face with reality that mom gives something really unique to kids, especially especially in infancy.
Yeah. You know, it’s funny, I have a picture of my older daughter gave me a picture, a little, a little group of pictures when you’re from Mother’s Day and one of the pictures is she’s probably like, nine months old, and she’s laying on her back on the floor, and I’m, you know, the six inches from her face, and she’s laughing and giggling and I’m laughing and giggling You know, that’s a picture of mirroring your baby. You know? When they’re laughing and happy, you’re laughing and happy, you know, when they’re sad. You have a sense of, you know, you, you become sad, you begin to SUV. And so, you know, when we mirror we know that now right? When we’re talking to somebody and they’re like, empathizing with us and, you know, attuned to our emotions. Well, that’s very validating. And so as a young as an infant, with a caregiver, that can be really you know, very critical.
So really what we’re talking about is kind of this it’s an it’s a, a picture of, of, I mean, just what you said just that word or that word mirroring it’s it’s a baby or a young child looking at a mom’s face and feeling something and the mom and then seeing on the mom’s face and hearing in the mom’s voice, something that seems to resonate with what the child is experiencing. And then that that validation that connection with with mom does something for the child. I was I looked this up before the podcast today. And for a fascinating Look at this. listeners. Take a look. You can Google still face experiment just still face experiment. One, I think there are a couple out there but the one I saw was a guy named Dr. Edward tronic. I think is how you say his last name. And it’s it’s a it’s basically watching a mom with her baby in front of her and the mom holds her face and doesn’t change your facial expression. You can watch this child become increasingly agitated. And until it starts to basically scream and squirming that seat, until mom again, engages with the child and begins to reflect back some of what the child experiencing. I think it’s just a, it’s a visceral kind of image of what you’re talking about.
Yeah. And so you can imagine, you know, we have heard some very clear theories about attachment, you know, secure attachment when we’re younger and insecure attachment. So you can imagine that if a mother is mirroring this baby, you know, this message is going to be sent, I’m here for you, you know, I, I see you. And if not, then a different message is going to be sent, you know, like, you’re not here for me, you don’t see me and so that can both of those things can feed into a child having a secure attachment and a child having an insecure attachment.
Kid so you know, I’m keep thinking about like really little kids but, but it occurs to me as you’re talking. As you’re thinking about clients you work with, you’re not necessarily talking always about, you know, the first year of life You might also be talking about, you know, preschool, elementary school, middle school, high school. I mean, how far does this go?
Oh, gosh, you know, I think it’s probably to some degree, a lifelong thing. You know, our relationship with our parents is very delicate, sensitive, significant. But yeah, you know, I’m thinking about, um, you know, my own experience both being mothered and being a mother or clients of mine that you know, shared this with me that you know, like Middle School, let’s just say what a sensitive area you know, age that is and you know, if if you are very different from your mother, and you guys are in conflict, and the mother saying things to you, like, you’re so quiet, you know, or You’re so loud or you know, you’re You’re hearing messages that you’re not okay, that how who you are is not okay. And again, most of us don’t mean to intentionally inflict that, but we can definitely receive those messages. at any age, any age,
there were things I’ve heard from male clients that I’ve walked with one has been a situation where, especially as they get older mom does not let them go, or maybe a different way to help them grow. And so they’re still you know, mom’s little boy, even as they move into later years of elementary school, middle school, high school. And so there’s this kind of like, just this that can either be a failure to really kind of stand up and become the young man they’re created to be working there can be this increased resistance and pushing away from mom and feeling controlled by mom, and which can have its own negative consequence. So that’s, that’s one and the other that I’ve heard For a lot of guys is is where something’s happening with dad in the relationship with mom, maybe Dad’s not in the picture, or dad’s emotionally aloof or maybe dad’s mean in some way. And so mom turns to the young boy and kind of uses him as a sort of surrogate spouse and kind of confides in him. Maybe even talks negatively about dad, his dad to him, which just can really mess with a young, young boy young man’s sense of what it means to be a man. Yes, and corollaries for girls.
Oh, gosh, you know, I really do hear that often. Whether it’s a single mom or just a mom that’s overwhelmed or has some underlying issues, you know, this idea that the the young girl whether it’s elementary school, or or middle school, or high school becomes the parent role. So they’re the listening ear for their mom listening to all their problems. What are you looking for? The mom is looking to the to the daughter to be the strong one, to take care of things to do the cooking to watch the kids like that happens a lot. And so that can be very difficult for a young person who’s trying to live their own life and figure out who they are to feel responsible for a parent instead of the other way around.
Right. I think that’s I think that’s a good way of putting it that’s the key because it’s not like it’s not the kids shouldn’t help around the house. It’s nice. You know, we’ve got six kids in our house. Our kids help with the younger ones. That’s kind of part of part of how they’re growing up. But the but the piece is are we expecting our kids to bear the adults burdens and the adult load emotionally and physically Are they still allowed to be under their their mom and their dad swings?
Yes. You mentioned that it’s very different scenario.
Yeah. So so cute. How do these play out like you know, say these. This is These are some of the things that someone’s experienced. they’ve experienced the mother wounds when they’re younger. How does this end up playing out in someone’s life? What are some of the, the, what this might lead to for somebody?
Well, you know, I think we all have dysfunction in our lives, you know, so, this is just one possibility to explore. But when, when people come to me, and they’re like, you know, I’m really having a lot of difficulty, you know, in relationships or self esteem or sexually, you know, and I have them tell them, tell me their story. I’m looking for some of these things. I’m not digging for problems, but, you know, there might be some places where because, you know, one thing I think of is a mom telling a daughter, like, maybe the daughter has a very different style and likes to dress a certain way, like not really that into wearing makeup and, you know, dresses or whatever and I had, I had talked to a client about this a couple months ago, and And the mom really wanted her to be ultra feminine, like she was in the the mom was insecure that the daughter wasn’t, you know, mirroring her. And so the daughter became very insecure about her looks or appearance. And you know, so that played out then when she began to want to have relationships with, you know, the opposite sex, she just didn’t always feel attractive. And so, you know, these things can play out in ways that we see ourselves and the way we think other people see us and it can affect our ability to have healthy relationships to feel secure.
And it is interesting if you know, we’ve talked about fatherhood, both mom and dad plays such a significant role in giving and feeding a child’s sense of themselves and giving a sense of what it means to be a little boy or little girl what it means to be in relationship, their own sense of agency, their own sense of security, I think I think you know, mom, and I can’t speak for everybody here, but it does strike me that that mom has a kind of unique place because she’s that very first relationship with the child that she almost like, serves as a she can almost be like that that bedrock foundation under under a child and if that’s shaky, I think it can it can be a difficult thing for for kids to kind of reckon with. Yeah. So can you you mentioned or you have six different areas or I think you called them themes that this can lead to, or somebody has problems can lead to, why don’t we Why don’t we Why don’t you tell us what they are and then we’ll walk through them.
Yeah. And you know, there’s certainly more than six but these are probably the things that I see most often when I’m working with people. The first one is boundary issues. The second one is not trusting your own feelings. The third one is not being able to trust others. Fourth is Being oversensitive or being ultra reactionary. fifth one is chronic difficulty in relationships, you know ongoing unhealth and relationships. And then finally, just a low self esteem just not really self critical. You may be self, you know, hatred.
Okay. Well, let’s, let’s walk through them start start with boundaries. Yeah, I just, you know, I think a easy way of thinking about boundaries is simply it’s a it’s a visible or invisible demarcation between two people. And so when when there are boundary issues from a mother wound, what what kinds of things? What does that mean, and how does that pan out?
Yeah, and this is something I can relate to in my own life and certainly see in a lot of other people’s lives. And it’s this idea that you know, if we didn’t get what we needed growing up, we may learn to believe that we must please Others to be loved and accepted. And so we don’t know how to say no, we don’t know how to set limits, you know, or use our voice trust that we have something to say and to use it in a healthy way. And so we can become really obsessed with pleasing others and really to the, to the neglect of our own very healthy normal needs. And so I often see women who don’t know how to say no.
Then when I think about about men, I think one of the things that we’ve seen and we’ve talked before about the lack of boundaries between a little boy and his mom, where he becomes that kind of surrogate spouse or the confidant that can be confusing for a little little boy and I match for a little girl to growing up because there’s a sense of who’s whose emotions Am I supposed to feel. And so instead of having the freedom in the room to feel his or her own little emotions, mom’s emotions because their adult size emotions become kind of the the primary topic if you will, or the primary focus In the relationship, and so they, they learn to shut down their own emotions, or at least at least feel like hey, if I’m going to be okay. And I think some of this just kind of kicks in because mom is supposed to be foundational mom is supposed to be a secure source for that for the little child. So if mom’s not doing okay, emotionally in this moment, then, you know, I’ve got to take care of her in order for me to be okay. And plus, there’s really not room for me to deal now and stuff. And so I think that can lead into the same kinds of things you’re talking to and kind of another picture of how boundaries can be become confused. Yeah, process.
And it’s really a common thing, you know, just feeling like oh, it’s okay to do that. It’s okay to say no, it’s okay to you know, it’s not unkind. And so it is an important, it’s an important adulting kind of thing that we all need to learn a little bit about, but in some cases, it’s more extreme than others.
So an A Maven have kind of almost turned the corner into that next The next of the six you mentioned you said not trusting our own feelings. Yeah. So talk talk more about that.
Well, if we learned, you know, to cope by turning into other people’s feelings, you know, our mothers, we just may dismiss our own. Yeah. So it does go hand in hand a little bit with it. But we may have difficulty acknowledge that we even have feelings. You know, we may like how do you feel about that? And people are like, I don’t know, what do you I use a color wheel a lot. You know, for people who have trouble. They just paid attention to understood what it means to have feelings and how to identify them and express them. So they just kind of go along.
So part of what you’re doing in spiritual coaching is even even giving people room and practice to even identify like, what am I feeling in this moment using that that color wheel?
it sounds almost like a like, there’s just an atrophied emotion muscle. You know, maybe that’s not a real thing. But if it were a real thing, that is It’s almost like you’re you’re helping people exercise something they haven’t had the room or the opportunity to exercise before.
Yeah, and it’s it, you know, can be really, really eye opening when suddenly someone’s like, I don’t know what I feel you know, and that’s my that’s it’s complicated. My my relationships and my own sense of how I feel about myself because I don’t know what I feel much less know how to express it. So it can be very, very important.
If we don’t know what we feel, then we really are crippled in our ability to engage the world and we are by God’s designed feeling creatures we have emotions, we have physical feelings in our bodies. Our our emotions actually impact how our bodies feel. Yeah, and so we’re really are limited then and in our ability to engage in meaningful ways. Yeah. So how about this third one not being able to trust others?
Well, you know, I think a lot of times if we’re having trouble trusting others One reason is because we feel like we’re not worthy, you know, of someone’s love and attention. And so, we may always feel insecure about the relationship. And if we did feel neglected or ignored, we might find it really hard to rely on somebody. And if there was harsh treatment, either verbally or physically, for sure, you know, there’s good reason why we wouldn’t feel readily safe. But and when and when there are when I do have clients with physical abuse, I go very slowly and unpacking these things, you know, there can be some very, very deep wounds, and they may need some therapeutic intervention as well. And certainly with sexual abuse, you know, that that process is uniquely significant. And we often recommend both, you know, spiritual coaching with prayer and therapy in those situations. And so, you know, this this idea of trusting Others can be, you know, more minimal or it can be really extreme and but it’s important and learning to trust yourself to trust others can be really important.
Yeah I think about some of the even those early experiences with a mom You know, the mom is is where a child breastfeeds and there’s that safety in her arms. There’s the nurturing in her arms. Jesus uses the expression in both Matthew and Luke he says like a like a mother hen longs to gather her chicks. So I gather my people. So there’s a sense that that mom is this place of security this place on home to to be covered by Yeah, and so for whatever reason, whether it’s something more significant, like abuse, like you mentioned, or just a mom’s own, you know, her own anxiety or difficulties or if she’s walking something difficult in her life, so she’s not as emotionally available. That makes sense. Then there be ongoing residual stuff and it’s being able to relax and trust yourself in with other people.
And there can be a lot of grief here. For, for men and women, you know, when they realize that they, you know, they long for that kind of, you know, mother hen sheltering, whether it’s because how the mother is wired, or the circumstances or how the child is wired, whatever, you know that they don’t feel like they received that there can be a lot of sadness and a lot of grief to work through with that.
Yeah. So So talking about the next one, this one is a little little newer to me, over sensitivity talk to me about how mother wound and oversensitivity go hand in hand.
Well, this is one that I can definitely relate to. You know, I learned kind of people pleasing out of some of those, you know, when I talked about the, how you learn to people, please because you need to earn your love for whatever reason I felt that message and as a child. And so when we do that, if there’s a deep fear that we’re not worthy to be loved, we need sense abandonment even when it’s not there. And so there can be this over reactive, you know, overreaction to things, over sensitivity to things. And I remember at one point, my kind of just realizing, like, I take like everything personally, you know, with my children and my husband, like, you know, and in, and I had to really learn that sometimes what they said and what they did, and absolutely nothing to do with me. Right in it, and it took me a while to, you know, kind of get in touch with the fact that I was believing that, you know, everything they said and did had to do with me. And so that can cause a lot of chaos in in, you know, your own internal sense of self and also your relationships.
And I think this one this, I mean, it makes sense to me that what you’re saying and I think it’s pretty common to any type of wound for our paths in general and because there is the sense in in our past colleague Bob passman, a member attempt Talking about this, that if you if you are wounded on your knee, and somebody comes up and they slap you on the knee because you’re sitting next to each other like they would anybody else or anybody else is gonna it’s not you’re not gonna feel anything. It’s gonna be like, yeah, you know, you’ve been friendly. But because I’ve got this wound, all of a sudden, I am an incredible amount of pain. And yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Yeah. So then the next one is chronic, unhealthy relationships.
That’s actually Yeah, it is. It’s, it’s just, you know, we expect so much when we are, you know, when we’ve had some of these woundings, you know, we’ve become clingy and demanding. And, you know, I get that I that’s something I can relate to, to and I certainly see it, you know, with some of the people I work with, and, you know, having relationships with people like that wears people out. And so just getting in touch with the fact that, you know, we we expect so much from people and it’s just too much.
Yeah. So this is kind of like, you know if mom is that nurturing presence and dad in his own way as to but even in that, on that physical level that we mentioned early on as a baby, it’s almost like those again, those needs don’t just go away. And so there’s a there’s a continuing grasping that goes on for somebody who hasn’t gotten that from mom. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And one kid.
Yeah, yeah, the last, the last one has to do with a lack of confidence, you know, and all of us struggle with lack of confidence and, you know, not always thinking well of ourselves, you know, right. We all do a lack of identity. But, you know, when it’s really significant, it can really, we can’t bring our best selves, we can’t even imagine that we can bring our best best selves into a relationship and so, in when we look to other people, we look to other things to give us our identity and sense of you know, Self and well being, and that’s very precarious. And so in healing prayer, and you know, when I work with people in this area, you know, we go to God, you know, he’s the one who can say, this is who you are, this is why I created you to be. And so that’s really important.
So can I want to, I want to transition us to talking about how we, how do we heal and hear more about that and discuss more of that with you. But let me ask this question, just just as a point of curiosity. I think I know the answer. But when people come it, like, is the majority of it, hey, I’ve got some stuff my past that I want to talk to, or is it the majority of times it’s him dealing some present day issues? And in the dealing with present day issues, part of what comes up are the connections to these these old things in the past?
Yeah, it’s both. It’s both you know, some people come and say, I’m realizing that there are some things that happened to me as a child, some memories that I wasn’t aware of some things that I’ve gotten in touch with as I’ve gotten older. One big thing is when people start to have children, it’s big, because they’re raising these little children, you know, they’re interacting with an infant. They’re raising a toddler preschooler, and they’re realizing what they didn’t or did receive or experienced in their own childhood. That’s a trigger.
Unknown Speaker 27:25
So actually remember hearing at one point that, and I can’t confirm this, but I might, in my gut, there feels to be like, there’s some sense to it. But remember here at one point that that you you may become most sensitive to the wounds you experienced as a child when your kids hit the ages where you experience some of the significant ones.
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And so that’s true. But then also, you know, people can come and just say, my life isn’t working. I relationships aren’t working. I’m feeling I had a better Christian. I have a Have faith but it’s failing me. I don’t feel like I feel like I’m falling away from God. And there’s all kinds of different reasons why people come or there’s been betrayal. You know, there’s been a betrayal by a spouse or or a boyfriend or girlfriend. So different different different things.
Yeah, it’s beautiful. I mean, not beautiful, but it’s a it’s important to, to be looking back at that. And I think it’s a it’s a beautiful thing when God allows us to realize we’re walking with wounds, because it’s hard. It’s really to bring the kind of healing that we’re after.
Yeah, and it’s not, you know, if we were all honest, we’re all in recovery for something. You know, again, we don’t credit create it, we don’t look, we don’t go digging for problems. But the fact is, we all grew up in a broken world and there’s disappointment and being able to have somebody do trust, whether it’s a friend or a mentor or a spiritual coach or therapist. To be able to talk these things through it’s really helpful.
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