Mothers and Daughters: Sexuality and 'The Mother Wound'
We can break the legacy and cycle.
Posted January 23, 2014
Daughters complain a lot about their mothers. And mothers can talk endlessly about their difficulties with their daughters. Much has been written about "The Mother Wound" which is this idea that collective generational pain is passed down from mother's to daughters.
For daughters it can feel like we will never be quite right for our mothers. This feeling that we will never totally win our mother's complete approval. We are too fat or thin. Not feminine enough or showing too much skin. This feeling that our mother is always comparing us to someone elses daughter or even our sister, who has a better job or does more for their mother. It can be about our parenting, our dress code and most of all—this unspoken shame around our sexuality.
Many daughters feel that they have to remain sexually small because how dare they want to have more sexual freedom and pleasure than their mothers had. Or maybe their mother's were sexually or emotionally abused—and there is this fear that if the daughter is sexually alive the same fate will befall her. The daughter may not even know this on a conscious level, but somewhere deep inside, she knows that she cannot explore who she is on a sexual level because it will trigger her mother's fear and disapproval.
In my sexuality and intimacy coaching practice and at my retreats, "The Mother Wound" has been one of the prevalent issues that lay right under the surface for so many women.
They keep themselves sexually small because they don't want to threaten other women or call too much attention to themselves. There is this fear that "something bad will happen to them" that they will not be able to control. Or worse - that they will be blamed. They compete endlessly with other women and have this feeling that they cannot trust other women.
After all, some feel that they couldn't they trust their mother to protect them or see them as they truly were/are.
They have this secret fear that they are broken in some way and not worthy of creating what they really want in their lives. There is this fear around shaking things up too much. Women talk to me about attracting men into their lives that step all over their boundaries or are "safe and uninteresting". When asked about their desires, there is only this vague sense of unrest.
Many who struggle with their 'mother wound' take incredible leaps forward in exploring their sexuality and then self-sabotage by dropping out with excuses that range from money and time to feeling that they have gotten all that they need. Mostly they are frightened "of going too far and falling off a rail". The fear of anyone finding out that they are exploring their sexuality is extraordinary. No one wants to be a "bad girl" for real. So instead, many women develop anxiety, eating disorders, depression, addictions and complain of a general feeling of numbness in their genitals that we call "Low sexual desire" or "Low Libido".
So many of our mothers were raised in service to others rather than ever thinking about their own needs. They have their own mother wounds. It's important to remember that our mothers are someone else's daughter. She may have all of the same feelings that I just described above.
How is she suppose to teach and support her daughter to be anything other than filled with these same feelings of shame and comparison? This is a legacy that is carefully protected, shrouded in fear, shame and conflict. As daughters so many of us want our mother's approval; and if that means remaining small so that we do not challenge our mother's belief's about being a woman we will do that.
For many daughters that means shutting down their sexuality instead of taking on her own sexual power and potential. The risk of rejection and shaming is far too big a fear. I wonder if that is why so many women wait until mid life to sexually awaken. By then we are far enough out of the house, have accumulated enough life experiences of our own, and we may have lost our mother through death or conflict.
Many of us develop a late life compassion for our mothers and a deeper understanding of our mother as daughter. That she is/was a product of the same legacy. We begin to know at a deeper level in mid life that we will not lose our mother's approval or love—or if we do we are strong enough to walk away from the legacy.
While it may still feel risky for a woman to step forward and decide to connect to her body, her sexuality and a practice of self loving and pleasure out of a fear of risking angering and rejection from her mother—somehow in mid life we seem to be gathering the fortitude. As daughter's age, many of us come to this awareness that while our mother's may have given up parts of herself to her own mother—we no longer have to. We can break the cycle. This does not mean that we deny the legacy—it actually means that we take it on and look at it. Often there is grieving to be done.
In order to fully get into our bodies and let go of the fear of our own sexuality—it is vital to look at our own mother wounds as they are the foundation on which our relationship to our sexuality and our bodies are built.
As daughters we cannot repair or save our mothers lives. But we can choose to offer ourselves and our mothers compassion. We can offer our mother's and ourselves understanding and forgiveness. And we can step away and fulfill our own potential as women without this underlying fear that our relationship with our own pleasure and sexual expression is something dangerous and an act of defiance against our mother. We can step into our discomfort of "leaving our mother's behind" or even perhaps feeling their envy as we live lives that they were unable to have. In mid life many of us feel the disappointment that our mother's have in their own self sacrifice and the hunger for what they didn't have. Perhaps it is this maturity and ability to see what our mother's have held in their own lives that creates this burning mid life desire not to forever limit our own true potential. In mid life - it can feel like now or never. It is finally time to become all of those things that we repressed in fear of hurting, angering or betraying the sacrifices that our mother's made for us.
It becomes time to love our bodies as they are. It becomes time to be as big, creative, successful and smart as we can. This can be a remarkable time of rebirth and recreation in a woman's life. We want our own experience of being a woman, and this reaching for our full potential is not about abandoning our mothers. It is about finally realizing that we will never be able to fully pay our mother's back for what they gave us—or letting go of the deeply held desire to win this approval and love. It is the final falling out of the nest.
And as a mother who is a daughter we have work to do too. Being a mother is one of the hardest roles we will ever occupy. Occupying motherhood in our world is a job that no one can prepare you for. And it sets you up for all the old feelings of being a daughter like being competitive with other women—only this time it's about your kids plus all the other stuff that you were carrying before. It's hard to confront all of the "Mother" feelings when we think we are enlightened. This is not "old world" feelings. This is a legacy. In our own role of mother/daughter, we may be trying to take back our own sexual power while we are seeing our children out pace us. It can be terrifying to feel fear for our daughters while we envy them.
"The Mother Wound" is one of the most complex obstacles women face, and it's the leading cause of women staying small. As women we may have a tremendous amount of anger for the boxes that we are put into and the sacrifices that we make as mothers. Where can we talk about feeling left out in our daughters lives? Hating being the one that has to be the constant giver and nurturer? Who can we speak to without shame that we are tired of being in service to our daughter's whims, desires, anger and resentments?
There are few safe places to bring this rage and confusion. While there are a few advocates working hard to provide those safe places like Nekole Shapiro and her Holistic Peer Counseling Program for Birth and Parenting—these programs are rare and new.
It's time for all of us to take a look at the mother wound. How it has affected us as mothers, daughters and ultimately as women. It's time for us to peek at how the mother wound has affected our relationship with our bodies and our sexuality. It would be wonderful if young women could do this—and it's not too late ever for any woman of any age to do this work and have this transformation.
I have seen women in their fifties, sixties and seventies heal their wounds and take back their bodies with extraordinary pleasure. I have watched them experience their sexuality in ways that they felt were completely out of the range of possibility for them. I have been inspired by women who have left the regret and the legacy behind them. It is a stepping out and letting go of the internal monologue of 'mother wound' self criticism, guilt, shame, fear, and obligation that robs us from our full potential.
This wound can be healed and women can have lives that are full of love, self acceptance and sexual expression. I see it happening everyday.
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