Forgiveness in Mother-Daughter Relationships
Pregnancy is usually a joyful time, but for those who have strained relationships with their mothers, it can bring up past conflicts and uncertainties. They may feel unsure about how to be a good mother themselves. This can be extremely challenging, but if they use these challenges as an opportunity for self-reflection and self-discovery, it becomes possible to transform and heal their relationship with their mother.
Unfortunately, societal expectations around childbirth have shifted, considering it a “natural process” and assuming that women should instinctively know what to do. As a result, traditional rituals and rites of passage into adulthood have been largely abandoned. Nowadays, many women become mothers without proper preparation for parenthood, as they are focused on moving away from their family or community units. They are so busy that they don’t have the chance to discover who they need to be as a mother or explore how their own childhood experiences may affect their parenting capabilities, especially if they had a difficult relationship with their mothers. I personally never thought that my past relationship with my mother would impact my relationship with my own child.
In my book “Hiding in Plain Sight, No More,” I discuss how my childhood trauma resulted in infertility and Imposter Syndrome. Through working with hundreds of professional women on their pregnancy journeys, I discovered that their main struggle was the constant need to prove themselves worthy. They felt they had to constantly be busy and successful in a male-dominated world, adopting a “superwoman” persona and juggling multiple responsibilities. This busyness left little time for self-care, rest, and reflection. Slowing down and asking for help were seen as weaknesses, and they soldiered on, unknowingly setting themselves up for difficulties when they became pregnant.
Pregnancy is designed to facilitate easy and effortless childbirth. However, many women no longer follow traditional roles or live with extended families, so they often end up juggling numerous responsibilities. In order to cope with these challenges, their bodies become “hardened” and less receptive and flexible, contrary to what is ideal for pregnancy and without regularly slowing down and taking care of themselves, their bodies can become less efficient and can lead to various pregnancy complications. Slowing down can also trigger a sense of panic as it challenges their identity. But for those courageous enough to address their pain, confront their mother wounds, and learn to forgive themselves and their mothers for past hurts, misunderstandings, and unresolved conflicts, their journey becomes transformative. They get to develop connections and loving relationships with themselves and their mother.
Forgiveness can be defined as “a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness” . Forgiveness is important because holding onto negative emotions can have detrimental effects on our physical and mental well-being. It can create distress in our bodies and potentially impact the quality of our eggs and the health of our baby.
Emotional wounds behave similarly to physical wounds. When our bodies are wounded, they release chemicals that initiate the clotting process to close the wound. Similarly, our emotional wounds have “tags” or triggers associated with them. These tags are always alert, primed to remember feelings of hurt, pain, and resentment for future protection. When these tags are triggered, stress hormones are released and if we don’t self-regulate our emotions it can disrupt our body’s normal functioning. During pregnancy, with the presence of circulating pregnancy hormones or artificial infertility drugs being abnormally high, these tags become extra sensitive, making self-regulation even more challenging.
Stress hormones can cross the placenta and affect the baby. Research indicates that mothers who can regulate their emotions tend to have calmer, more resilient, and successful offspring. Therefore, healing past grievances and pain not only breaks free from the trauma cycle but also helps regulate the mother’s and baby’s nervous systems. Pregnancy is a crucial time for a baby’s brain development, and the mother’s impact on changing her baby’s neurology is significant during this period. By addressing and resolving their own past traumas, mothers can potentially free their babies from the effects of inherited trauma.
It’s important to understand that forgiveness is a process that requires self-reflection, empathy, and a willingness to let go of revenge or retribution. It does not mean forgetting, condoning, excusing, or downplaying the seriousness of the offense. Forgiveness is about releasing the negative emotions associated with the offense. It also does not require reconciliation or absolving the person who harmed us of accountability.
Why is mother wound different from others?
The mother wound is unique because it has been with us since our infancy, shaping our identity and becoming intertwined with who we are. Our first separation experience from our mothers’ womb establishes a bond, even if our mothers were not emotionally available to us. We make “sacred contracts” or decisions to maintain that bond, even if it hurts us. These decisions are formed at such an early stage in our lives that we often forget about them. However, as we grow up, these deep mother wounds manifest in our relationships, particularly during pregnancy when triggers are heightened.
Many of my clients are professional women who experience Imposter Syndrome, a persistent self-doubt and distrust of their capabilities despite evidence to the contrary. According to Big Think 75% of professional women will experience at least one imposter event in their lives. However, for some, this chronic undermining of their success and relationships continues. These women are always on high alert, struggle with self-regulation, exhibit high sensitivity, lack confidence, and fear abandonment. Most of these issues can be traced back to having mothers who were not attuned to their needs. They learned that others’ needs were more important to maintain a sense of belonging, even at their own expense.
These women often lack an internal somatic reference for safety, making it challenging to trust themselves. Trust, feelings of safety, decision-making, taking action, etc., have been shown to be primarily driven by feelings and not thoughts. By disconnecting from their feelings to survive, they struggle to believe in their own worth, regardless of external validation. In order to forgive, they must unravel their beliefs, stories, incorrect assumptions, and sacred contracts that they have made.
Forgiving is a higher form of cognitive and emotional processing. It requires that we use both our feelings and thoughts to understand and make sense of. It often begins to when a person realises that forgiveness is the only choice that will set them free. When we are emotionally upset this activates our body’s safety mechanism to remind of what hurt us so we can avoid it happening again but when we have be primed to react for so long, it takes more time to regulate our emotions. But to learn to forgive we must unravel all the beliefs, stories and incorrect assumptions and sacred contracts that we have made before we can change them.
We need to first learn how to:
- Move away from “black and white – either or thinking” and accept that life is much more complex than what we fist imagined it to be.
- Access those deeper truths, understand our role in how the structures were set and that “everyone, was just doing the best they could”.
- Acknowledge and accept that we would have wanted it differently but that the way it was.
- Recognise that we are enough and okay even if, the other person never apologises.
- Recognise forgiveness is about freeing ourselves from our burdens, not taking on others burdens. not us!
Only then can we break free from the shackles of the past and move towards emotional healing and growth. Forgiveness allows us to develop self-compassion, which in turn enables us to be more empathetic and understanding towards others. By putting ourselves in their shoes and gaining insights into their perspectives, motivations, and experiences, we can soften our hearts and find peace.
The act of forgiveness offers a path to healing our mother wounds and rebuilding relationships with our mothers, even if they have passed away. It is a process that takes time and effort; it cannot be rushed. Before we can truly have compassion, understanding, and forgiveness for others, we must first extend those qualities to ourselves. Forgiveness sets us free unconditionally, even if the other person never apologizes.
Finally, learning to forgive may require individual therapy, family counseling, or other forms of support to facilitate the process as sometimes, we need a non-judgemental outside perspective, such as a coach or therapist might offer, to help us reflect and guide us through the journey.
If what you have read resonates with you and you’d like to discuss it further, please feel free to book a chat with me using the button below.