Such an easy thing, forgiveness is, when we give it to strangers in the grocery store, our friends or our romantic partners.
It is easy to let go of our attachment to anger or pain when the transgressions of others are only holding temporary space in our lives.
But when it comes to our mothers, sometimes the wounds are so deep and raw that forgiveness is elusive.
We can’t always find compassion for the woman who has shaped our lives, one way or another, in the most profound manner.
For those of us who are women, the bruises we carry are often the result of bloody battles we’ve had in our own minds—caused by seeds of unworthiness, shame, guilt and obligation planted, more often than not, by our mothers. Our inner voice of wisdom is intertwined with the harsh criticisms and judgments we received, sometimes long ago, from our mothers.
Mother wounds are complicated things. In order to heal, there are a few things we need to get honest about.
We want to believe our mothers to be superhuman creatures whose job it is to offer unconditional love and support throughout our lives. We want to feel limitless love from and for our mothers—for them to be our best friends and biggest cheerleaders—yet so many of us have learned that being vulnerable to them can open us up to painful experiences.
We want them to be who we need them to be, and when they aren’t, we blame them for our broken relationships, lack of self-esteem or destructive choices.
We want our mothers to fit into our own expectations.
A big part of the equation is missing. Our mothers, too, are just as human as we are. Most of the time, they do the best they can with the tools they’ve got.
Sometimes, though, they are dealing with their own fallibility, even their own unresolved mother wounds, and they simply don’t have the tools they need. They aren’t perfect people, as much as we hold them to that standard.
When my children were young, I was bound and determined not to make the same mistakes my mother did. In many ways, I didn’t. But the truth is, I made different ones that my own children will, most likely, be just as determined to not repeat with their children.
To this day, I struggle with forgiving myself for some of my choices. My inner critic, who sounds remarkably like my mother in my head, still tells me I am not good enough, not thin enough and not worthy enough of love or tenderness.
Here’s the crux of the situation, though. Being able to forgive ourselves for our own shortcomings has everything to do with finding forgiveness for our mothers.
We don’t have to agree with everything they have said or done, but we do, at some point, have to recognize that even our mothers have scars. They, like us, function around those scars.
The things our mothers project on us are often the result of their own inner struggles. The harsh criticisms, the feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness that originated when we were children were never ours to own.
Healing our mother wounds takes courage. We have to be strong and honest to reframe our stories and claim our power. We can do it, though, and we can begin to heal.
1. Learn to separate expectations from reality.
Make a list, mental or on paper, of all of the things you wanted your mother to be to you. Perhaps you wanted her to tell you she loved you. Maybe you wanted her approval. We all have perfect-scenario desires of what we wanted out of our mothers. Once you are finished, take a look at your list and think of a time when you or someone close to you failed to meet each expectation. Did you forgive them? Did you forgive yourself? Like you, and like others around you, your mother is human and came with her own set of baggage.
2. Notice the good things.
While you’re making lists, make a list of the good things you learned from your mother—both because of and despite her actions or words. She is part of your ongoing journey, and there is value in that.
3. Quit holding out for an apology.
You may have a dream that someday your mother will ‘fess up to all her wrongs and beg for your forgiveness. Let go of that dream. Expecting her to admit to her own shortcomings is not realistic, and holding on to that desire is, at its core, about needing to be the one in control. It is not healthy for either one of you.
4. Let it out.
Whatever stories you are holding—whatever pain and anger you are keeping inside—let them see the light of day. Write them down. Tell a trusted friend. Talk to a therapist. We tend to give more power to the things we hold inside than they deserve. When we can hear ourselves say them out loud or read them on paper, we often find that they are not as big as we gave them credit for being. Even if they are, letting them out can be cathartic.
5. Learn to forgive and love yourself unconditionally.
You won’t need to expect it from your mother if you can provide it for yourself. Once you do, you will begin to see that your mother may well be the one who needs the unconditional love. It may be your mother who needs healing the most.
Healing our mother wounds is part of breaking a cycle that digs deeply into our souls. It is an ongoing legacy that affects us in more ways than we know. We have the power to heal ourselves—to heal generations of pain inflicted by mothers on daughters, and daughters on granddaughters.
These wounds have served their purpose in our lives, turning us into who we are and how we treat others. Sometimes they teach us how to walk through life, and sometimes they show us what we don’t want to be.
The stories we tell ourselves about how and why things happen are just that—stories. We can close the book on our mother wounds.
We have a choice.
Hold on to only the parts that serve you, and begin to live out a new ending to a story that has gone on far too long.
Author: Amanda Christmann
Editor: Toby Israel
Image: Marta Nørgaard/Flickr