Healing the Mother Wound and Finding Your Freedom

By Dr. Deborah Groening-Rother, Well Baby Center Founder, Chairperson, Board of Directors 

I am going to publish select excerpts from the book I am in the process of writing on Emotional Mother Loss. Emotional Mother Loss is part parenting guide, part memoir, and part spiritual tome. If you are interested in the subject of emotional motherlessness it may be because you identify with it yourself. I encourage you to read the excerpt and if it resonates with you, perhaps you will want to begin therapy to sort things out since, as the saying goes,  there is no time like the present.  It won’t be easy, but, for myself, Buddhist philosophy has gotten me through even the most difficult days and has developed in me a deeply rooted spirituality I previously did not have. It. Is a commitment to facing reality with compassion, self-love, equinimity and detachment. These tenets will help you get through what I know will be a difficult process but I promise you, it will be worth it. You’re worth it.


“When you speak it, it gets lighter.”

This book is about naming the grief of the mother wound, bravely exploring it, and slowly working toward a sense of healthy dependency, separateness and wholeness. It took me over thirty years and several years of psychoanalysis to heal from my childhood wounds. My mother wound left me with a broken sense of self, poor self-esteem, and a feeling of internal emptiness and loneliness. It is my ardent wish is that in telling my story it will inspire you to do the same. 

I see you. I know you. I am just like you. This quest for wholeness is lifelong. The mother wound never completely heals even though it gets so much better. 

What else should you do with your this precious life of yours?  

Here is a simple illustration of my mother wound from an old journal entry. 

August 31, 1993

“I finally understand why we never got along,” my mother announced out of the blue. I was already a mother of two when she gave me her revelation. “It’s because you don’t approve of me and I don’t approve of you”. 

Of course it was hurtful to hear her frank analysis of why we had a failed relationship but I knew deep down that it was true. My teenage rebellion — the one that had us constantly at odds  — was an antidote to my fear that I might end up being provincial, boring, and small-minded like her. Intuitively, I knew that pleasing her would have amounted to my own soul murder. 

Although I desperately desired her love and validation, just as we all want this from our mothers, somehow I intuitively knew ithe cost was too high to pay. This isn’t everyone’s experience, in fact, some daughters instead strive to morph themselves into perfection in order to get their mother’s approval. This approach doesn’t turn out well because they never actually get it. For emotionally stunted mothers, no amount of morphing will get you the love you crave and deserve. I knew myself well enough to know that I wasn’t going to try that route.

Even on the rare occasion that I did try to make her happy, I always felt like a fool afterwards because it never, ever worked. She was still critical just as she had been from as far back as I can remember.  So to get by emotionally I learned to not take her in – even though I longed to have a role model. In fact, I tried to keep her out of my mind so as not to have her influence me. Did this cause my having undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder that is a challenge to this day? Perhaps it did contribute because I was forever trying to forget her ministrations rather than take them in.

For the next 30 years I struggled to understand who I was, but because of this basic fault or crack in my sense of wholeness, I had no clue as to how to get there. During my second 30 years, right up to the present moment, took me on the journey that ultimately led to my wholeness. I no longer second guess myself. I feel secure within myself. I accept that my mother and myself were just a bad fit (more about the concept of “goodness of fit” later on in the book). And I am now certain, without a doubt, that it wasn’t that I was faulty in some basic way, (which is how most EML women feel – inadequate and unlovable) nor was my mother for the most part. We were just very different human beings.

The first important thing I learned when I started my analysis was the importance of maintaining good boundaries between myself and others, and especially with my mother. She was not banished from my life nor from my children’s, but I learned to maintain the healthy boundaries that would protect me from her emotional toxicity. 

The second thing I learned was to let go of the fantasy that I needed her to initiate me into womenhood, adulthood, or motherhood, or for that matter that she could be a source of support for me in any way. That was a bitter pill to swallow but I did it — and I am here to say that it worked. I didn’t emotionally cut her off I just learned to accept who she was and wasn’t.

My mother was what I would call a functional mother. Although she was not able to attune to my needs she did go through the motions of being a “good” parent. She was my Brownie leader, she cooked fantastic meals, and she drove me to and from school. She bathed me and cared for me when I was young or when I was ill. In a way that only made things feel worse. It was so confusing. She seemed so full of mother goodness that I was just not able to access. My more accommodating siblings had a much better feeling about my mother and she to them. This too made me think it must be me. I now know different. Its about personalities and temperaments. Pure and simple. So if I seem judgemental it is just coming from my experience and perspective, which it is my right to have. (Note: my first serious relationship was with someone who had many of these same characteristics. We marry people with similar aspects of our parents because it feels familiar.) My second marriage turned out great. My kids are fine. All is well.

The horrible mother-child relationship that I experienced ended with me. This miserable feeling of constantly yearning for something I didn’t even have a name for, now has a name. Emotional Mother Loss. 

Part parenting guide and part spiritual tome I encourage you to read the book, begin therapy, and start a mindfulness practice. I use Buddhist philosophy every single day of my life. It’s a daily practice and commitment to facing reality with compassion and self-love, equinimity and detachment. These tenets will help you get through what I know will be a difficult process but I promise you it will be worth it.

Stay tuned for the complete book from Dr. Deborah…

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