Guilt is an obstacle for many women and it can be particularly limiting when it comes to healing the mother wound. It’s common for women to begin getting clarity on how dynamics with their mother have impacted their lives…but then stop when challenging feelings arise, saying things like “I shouldn’t feel this way, she’s my mother. She’s hurt me so much but I know how much she is hurting. It’s wrong for me to feel angry at her.” The problem here is that this guilt prevents the necessary grieving and healing that needs to take place. Guilt shuts the whole process down.
Guilt may be used a way of hiding from our true feelings.
The healthy function of guilt is to help us recognize when we have done something wrong; it indicates a functioning conscience. It allows us to identify when a transgression has occurred so that we can feel remorse and take any necessary action to rectify it. However, toxic guilt is unhealthy and greatly limits our ability to realize ourselves as empowered, adult women in control of our lives. Because women are conditioned to view themselves as “less-than” and powerful women are seen as threatening in this culture, toxic guilt is a very common trap and keeps us disempowered.
Guilt and the “good girl” role
Sometimes guilt is easier to feel than other feelings. We may use guilt to bypass difficult feelings like disappointment, rage, or grief. If we’re still identified with the “good girl” role we may put the feelings of others above our own, willingly diminishing ourselves for external approval and validation. This voluntary diminishment may look altruistic on the surface but it is a form of self-betrayal. As one of my clients recently put it, “I betray myself when I put the feelings of others before my own.” When this self-betrayal is seen as no longer an option we begin to re-gain our personal power.
Unprocessed pain is what keeps the mother wound in place.
Genuine acceptance and honoring of your mother do not come about through forcing and feeling you “should” forgive. For most, it’s impossible to fully heal the mother wound unless we first get in touch with our anger. Anger and grief are important allies in healing the mother wound. Once fully seen, anger can transform into a deeper connection with our truth, passion, creativity, originality and sheer vitality. And grief is what allows us to move forward into acceptance, gratitude, peace and clarity.
What frees us from toxic guilt is giving ourselves full permission to feel the truth of our feelings.
A mother has enormous power over a child and a child is biologically pre-disposed to idealize her for the sake of its healthy development. A child needs to idealize its mother in order to form a healthy sense of self. But as adults, this idealization can keep us stuck in guilt for wanting to be powerful in our own lives.
A natural shift must take place where mother and daughter each become responsible for their own experience.
On a collective level, the mother wound is a manifestation of patriarchal mandate that demands that women remain small. And on a personal level (broadly speaking) it’s the pain of feeling threatened by the very person who gave you life.
One of the most important steps in healing the mother wound is creating an “inner mother” that replaces the deficits that were present in the mother/ daughter relationship. It’s a form of taking personal responsibility and owning your power.
It’s important for a woman to see that her inner mother is better than her outer mother in terms of filling the “mother gap;” being able to fill her own emotional needs. If we don’t see the inner mother as better at mothering us than the necessary emotional separation will not take place….the separation that clears the way for us to take our power back from the mother wound.
I see the inner mother and outer mother as working together horizontally, not hierarchically. The more we cultivate the inner mother as a way to love and nurture ourselves (not as a judgment on the outer mother), the more we can approach our outer mother with honor, gratitude and spaciousness.
If we cut off our healing process too early with guilt and are too afraid to temporarily feel anger towards our mother (which, for some women, is essential in the process of healing) then we are still being complicit with the patriarchal mandate that to honor mother we must diminish ourselves.
There is a place for honoring and gratitude for our mothers–absolutely–but it comes as a byproduct of having first experienced and acknowledged the mother gap and our own responsibility to fill it as the inner mother. If we rush into gratitude and honoring of outer mother too quickly we risk not doing the de-tox necessary for authentic gratitude to emerge.
I hesitate to emphasize gratitude and compassion for mothers too early in the process of healing the mother wound. Why? Because all around us the culture is telling us to honor our mothers by silencing ourselves. We are restoring a balance here. And in restoring the balance we have to give voice to that which has been voice-less, we have to make space for the pain to be legitimized and empathized with. That is a radical and essential piece of this work.
Gratitude and honoring our mothers are natural byproducts of going all the way into our pain FIRST.
The inner mother actually supports the outer mother–in terms of our ability to see our outer mothers accurately, loving her with flaws and all, not taking her flaws personally and meeting her from the heart without fear. When we have the inner mother intact within us; strong, steady and emotionally safe and secure, we can really honor our outer mothers wholeheartedly and compassionately.
When we unflinchingly acknowledge the reality of the deficit that is present in the mother/daughter relationship, the space is created for the fullness of what is there to be fully seen and appreciated.
As we face the deficit and process that pain, the fullness that can be finally seen and appreciated is not just limited to the mother. Life itself begins to be visible in all its fullness and glory. Because of the connection between how we experience our mothers and how we experience life due to the early conflation of the two in our early development, our sight becomes liberated at a deep level. As we heal the mother wound, a new level of compassion and heart-seeing is possible.
We must be willing to temporarily suspend our need to honor mother at all costs (let go of guilt) in order to actually be able to authentically honor mother.
There may be a deep unconscious fear of being seen as a perpetrator towards our mothers and guilt keeps this fear at bay. This is the fear of the infant who needs mother for survival. This fear of being seen as a perpetrator is part of hiding from our power. A potential perpetrator lives in all of us. The more we turn away from our pain (through guilt or avoidance), the more we hide from our potential for perpetration and the more this is in shadow, the more likely it will emerge projected outward towards other people. By hiding from the truth of our pain we actually empower our inner perpetrator.
Taking responsibility for our suffering is not the same as remaining a victim.
Getting stuck in victimhood happens when there is an over-emphasis on weakness and powerlessness. Victimhood may actually be a defense against fully facing our grief.
Acting out as a perpetrator is the result of feeling like a victim and not honoring our suffering. It is our responsibility to honor our suffering by feeling the emotions that are incredibly painful and allowing them to transform. (Our challenging feelings cannot transform if we don’t acknowledge them.)
If we do not have the courage or support to feel these painful emotions, we may feel compelled to repeat the suffering in the role of perpetrator. We have a choice: relief from the pain in the form of emotional processing or relief from the pain in the form of projection (perpetrating against others). The energy must go somewhere.
When we honor the inner perpetrator (by validating our anger) and honor the inner victim (by validating our pain), then the energy of the mother wound can be integrated and transformed into wisdom and love.
The energy potential for perpetration is also the energy potential for creative power.
In my own experience, there is a sense of power that is drawn from the integration process that enriches every area of my life. It’s a source of energy unlike anything I have ever imagined. It is the integrated energy that originated from the wound and has transformed— not into the form of perpetration, but into the form of creativity, will, and fierce love. Somehow this awareness that this energy has had potential-for-perpetration but is actualized-as-creativity makes it incredibly sacred and powerful. This energy is uncompromising, with impeccable integrity. It is confident, bold, and yet it is completely willing to be extinguished, to lay down, to become nothing for the Beloved to be central in my Being.
It’s a self-generating source of energy, enthusiasm, knowing and connection with all life.The black hole of the wound becomes a radiant sun that touches every area of your life with power and presence.
Seen in this way, our emotional wounds, especially the mother wound, are opportunities to step into our mastery and use our energy in service to the whole. We have to explore the ways we’ve felt destroyed in order to find the indestructible… in order to feel the phoenix rising within.
© Bethany Webster 2014
(Art credits in order of appearance: Eduardo Kingman, Pablo Picasso, Richard Morin, Fletcher Sibthorp, Kevin Ledo, Safwan Dahoul, Pietro Annigoni, Kelli Pennington, Mario Sanchez Nevado, Kevin Ledo, Kevin Ledo)
Thank you for reading! I invite you to leave a comment below: What is your experience with guilt and gratitude in terms of the mother wound?
Does this article resonate with you? Sign up here for a free 30-minute “Healing the Mother Wound Clarity Session” with Bethany to learn about her private coaching on healing the mother wound.
Ways to work with Bethany: