At the heart of the work of therapy, at least the way I practice it, is the idea that we are both wounded by relationship and yet can also be healed through a different kind of relational experience.
Let me explain: We don’t arrive into this world pre-programmed like a computer or piece of software. We form our patterns, our beliefs, our ways of being in the world in response to the environment and the relationships around us.
And sometimes this may mean being wounded because of our early environments and relationships, including with our father and our mother.
Specifically, when it comes to being wounded in our mother relationship, this can often arise when we have/had a mother in our childhood and adolescence who couldn’t meet most or any of our mental, emotional, or physical needs.
Whatever the case was for you personally, almost ALL of us have places inside of us that may need to be remothered or, in other words, healed through reparative experiences of relationship that we simply couldn’t get from our family-of-origin, flesh-and-blood mother.
And the good news is that with awareness and a different kind of relational experience, whether that’s with yourself or with others, there’s opportunity to heal and strengthen any of the gaps or wounds you may have unconsciously or consciously developed in response to your childhood experience.
So this post is not meant to lambast or denigrate mothers out there — far from it!
It’s simply an acknowledgment of our mother’s humanity (in other words, her limitations) and the reality that many of us (if not all of us) could benefit from more conscious, active psychological re-mothering work in our lives.
And it’s our responsibility now as adults to do this work for ourselves in order to grow, to heal, and to show up for our lives as fully as we can.
(And please note: Men can possess the qualities of an archetypal mother, too. So while I use the feminine pronoun throughout this article, this post still applies to you if you grew up with a single or multiple fathers and no female-identified or female-gendered figure(s) in your life.)
So why is remothering work so important?
The point of remothering work is to have different experiences with yourself and with others to help you fill in any developmental gaps or unmet needs from childhood that are getting in your way as an adult and sabotaging your ability to engage with and enjoy life.
The way that mothering wounds manifest for each of us is going to be unique and complex.
Growing up, we each develop myriad and usually unconscious coping skills in order to process and tolerate the pain that can come from having a neglectful, absent, or unequipped mother.
So while I can’t personally tell you how your own mothering wounds will manifest, for some, mother wounds can show up in the following ways:
- Unrealistic expectations in relationship.
- An inability to practice foundational self-care.
- Emotionally care-taking others to the point of your own exhaustion and resentment.
- Unconscious self-sabotage in work and in love.
- An inability to ask for and receive support.
- Disordered eating – binge, bulimia, or restriction – or other addictions or numbing coping mechanisms.
- Allowing and accepting poor or abusive treatment from others.
- Living out the unlived lives of our mothers and not being true to ourselves and our own dreams.
- Shame, believing that something is fundamentally wrong with you or that you’re not worthy of love.
- Keeping yourself small – physically, emotionally, or mentally – for fear of stepping fully into your power.
- Feeling relentlessly needy in your relationships.
- Feeling resentful and bitter at your own children or what it means to be a woman in this world.
- Never, ever feeling good enough no matter what you seem to do.
And while these are just some of the many, many ways mothering wounds may manifest, if you find yourself nodding as you read through this list and clearly feel that remothering work may benefit you, good. I invite you to scroll down to the next section of this article.
We can be the same. You don’t know what you don’t know and, in this case, you may not even be aware that remothering yourself is a healing task facing you because you’re not even aware that something else – something potentially better and healthier – may exist for you as an option in moving through the world.
If this is the case for you, if you find yourself feeling stuck imagining what your own remothering work might be, if you don’t see yourself in the list above but you have a niggling sense that something’s just not right, you may want to consider working with a therapist for a brief stretch of time to even begin to explore what this may look like for you and what might be possible instead.
Because the reality is, there is so much you stand to gain from conscious remothering work!
And, again, while the benefits of this work may look different for all of us, essentially at the core of more conscious, active remothering work is the possibility of a more cohesive, integrated and grounded sense of self which can immeasurably contribute to our ability to show up for and more consciously engage with our own lives.
What does it actually look like to remother yourself?
So we’ve talked quite a bit about what remothering work is in theory and how and why this may be needed in our lives and what, fundamentally, we stand to gain by doing this work, now I want to dive more deeply into what remothering work actually looks like and provide some creative examples for you that you could imagine weaving into your own life.
So to begin this work, I want you to consider what qualities or characteristics “mother” and “mothering” may mean to you. And while we all have different ideas of what it means to mother, some common characteristics attributed to mothering may include:
Take a moment and consider what else you might add to this list. What else comes up for you when you consider what it means to mother?
Now, I want you to consider what actions, thoughts, or beliefs would be in alignment with qualities like these. What actions, thoughts, or beliefs did you not receive from your mother (or did receive but could use/want more of) that they you may cultivate?
Because it is with acts and thoughts both large and small that we consciously and actively re-mother ourselves.
And, given this, the opportunities to actively re-mother yourself and to embody the qualities and characteristics of a “good-enough” inner mother are endlessly creative and absolutely unique to each of us.
Remothering yourself, in this case, might look like actively working to learn how to reach out again, tolerating the discomfort that comes up for you when you do this, and seeking out more constructive sources of help so that you can increase your odds of feeling received and supported when you’re struggling.
Other creative ideas for actively re-mothering yourself may include:
- Learning to expose yourself to more examples of healthy, functional mothers — whether this is in real life or in reading books and stories that feature good-enough mothers — and then beginning to internalize and embody their supportive ways of being inside of you.
- Spending time with girlfriends or neighbors who are mothering little children – letting yourself observe and soak up the kindness and love that they show their children.
- Making a list of all the things that you imagine a good, stable, loving mother might do for her child — taking them to medical appointments, making sure they have good clothes that fit, making sure they’re having playdates with friends, etc. — and then doing some of these things for yourself.
- Finding pictures of yourself at different ages and asking that child inside of you what she needs from you.
- Seeking help when you need it (medical, dental, therapy, legal, etc.) and then giving it to yourself.
- Honoring your emotions, listening to them for the information and wisdom they contain and then meeting any needs within you that arise.
- Working with a therapist, perhaps one who embodies some motherly characteristics or one who even has children, so that you can have reparative relational experiences with someone warm, caring, and present.
- Creating a soothing, comforting bedtime routine for yourself.
- Reading parenting books (even if you don’t have children!) which can yield some terrific insight into the developmental needs of children at different ages and what’s appropriate/needed from parents at that time.
- Asking for and allowing yourself to receive supports – whether from your therapist, your friends, spiritual guidance, etc.
- Reflecting on what you DID receive from your flesh and blood mother. Celebrating this. Seeing the mothering acts you learned from her that you already do or want to incorporate more into your life.
- Reflecting on what you didn’t receive in childhood. Grieving this. Understanding that grieving the losses and hurts in your childhood may take some time. Seeking out support for this process if you need it.
As you can imagine, this list of examples is but the tip of the iceberg!
Open up a Google doc or your journal and spend some time with this. And then, if you really want to deepen this work, bring that list of insights to your next appointment with your therapist to discuss it.
Hopefully, you’re understanding by now that active remothering work is endlessly creative and can be customized specifically to you and what you personally need and want in your own healing and personal growth journey and that it can have tremendous benefits for you if you engage in it.
And if you’re in doubt about what you need and want or what your own remothering work may entail, please consider working with a therapist to gain some clarity and some support around this. It’s one of the best and biggest gifts and investments you can ever make in yourself.
I truly believe we all do what we know and when we know better we do better. And so on and so forth it goes down the generations until someone in the family lineage learns and practices something different with her children, thus passing on different ways of being.
And so this post today is meant a support in helping you learn something different, the concept of active remothering work not only for you but for the generations that may come after you if you choose to have children.
So if you’re ready to make this investment in yourself and you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’d love to work with you! You can book an appointment here or email me at email@example.com for more information.
And until next time, please take very good care of yourself and remember that no matter where you’re starting from, transformation is possible.
If, in reading this article, you saw yourself in it AND if you could use some support establishing healthy boundaries with those in your life that challenge you, I want to let you know about my upcoming course “Hard Families, Good Boundaries.”
Here’s the thing: Identifying your needs and wants and asserting your boundaries skillfully is a big, complex issue and something I’ve spent nearly a decade helping others learn how to do.
I’ve often wanted to reach way more people than I can ever see in my therapy practice who want my support around this and that’s why I’m excited to say that I’m launching my first ever online course – “Hard Families, Good Boundaries” – very soon and would love to have you in my first class cohort!
This course will teach you:
- What boundaries actually are and how to know if yours are being crossed;
- Why having and holding clear and firm boundaries actually benefits you and that other family member;
- How to hold boundaries even when you’re afraid to (and especially when you feel like you “can’t”) ;
- The critical steps you need to take in order to cope with any external or internal backlash (strong, hard feelings from them or from inside of you).
If you’re interested, please join the waitlist here and I’ll let you know when the course pre-sale goes live.
I’m soooo excited to teach this. Will you join me?
- How To Take Care Of Yourself If Mother’s Day Feels Hard For You.
- Yes, sweetheart, you DO actually get to grieve this.
- A digital “Care Package” of soothing, supportive resources and articles.
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