Many people had a parent in childhood and adolescence who couldn’t meet mental, emotional, or physical needs. Perhaps the parent was struggling to do the best they could with the limitations of society and personal circumstances, but fell short. Perhaps they had mental health challenges, medical problems, trauma, financial hardship, ￼personal struggles, and lack of validation from society. ￼￼
Whatever the reason is, many people are left with relationship wounds from their interactions with primary caregivers.
Mother wounds can show up in the following ways:
- Unrealistic expectations in relationships.
- An inability to practice consistent self-care.
- Emotionally care-taking others to the point of personal exhaustion and disappointment.
- Unconscious self-sabotage in work and in love.
- An inability to ask for and receive support.
- Disordered eating – or other addictions or numbing coping mechanisms.
- Allowing and accepting poor or abusive treatment from others.
- Living out the unlived lives of our mothers and not being true to personal aspirations and dreams.
- Shame, believing that something is fundamentally wrong with you, or that you’re not worthy of love.
- Keeping yourself small – physically, emotionally, or mentally – for fear of stepping fully into your power.
- Feeling relentlessly needy in your relationships.
- Feeling resentful and bitter, and believing that others have it better.￼
- Never feeling good enough no matter what you do.
Everyone needs mothering. Mothering is that nurturing process that helps someone grow. In addition to physical nourishment, including gentle touch, care, safety, and food, emotional nurturing consists of meeting a child’s emotional needs.
As an adult, you still have these emotional needs.
Self-love and re-parenting means working on meeting them as a life long process.
When you have uncomfortable feelings, literally put your hand on your chest, and say aloud, “You’re (or I’m) ____.” (e.g., angry, sad, afraid, lonely). This accepts and honors your feelings.
If you have difficulty identifying your feelings, pay attention to your inner dialogue. Notice your thoughts. Try to name your specific feelings. (“Upset” isn’t a specific feeling.) Do this several times a day to increase your feeling recognition. Putting words to emotions is validation.
Think or write about the feeling and what you need that will make you feel better. You need to sleep, take a time out, drink a hot beverage, eat a snack, go outside, take a nap, call a friend. ￼Meeting needs is good parenting.
If you’re angry or anxious, practice yoga, stretching, meditation, or simple breathing exercises. Slowing your breath slows your brain and calms your nervous system. Exhale 10 times making a hissing (“sss”) sound with your tongue behind your teeth. Vocalizing is ideal for releasing anger.
Practice giving yourself nurturance: Write a supportive letter to yourself. Have a warm drink or eat some comforting soup. Wrap your body in a soft blanket.
Do something pleasurable, e.g., read a book or watch your favorite show, cuddle your companion animal, walk in nature, listen to music ￼or dance, create something, cook something nourishing, or stroke/groom your skin. Pleasure releases chemicals in the brain that counterbalance pain, stress, and negative emotions. Discover what pleasures you.
Adults also need to play. This means doing something purposeless that fully engages you and is enjoyable for its own sake. The more active the better, i.e., play with your dog vs. walking them, make a yummy meal while listening to music, take some selfies (My essay: The Selfie and Mental Health, coming soon). ￼ Play brings you into the pleasure of the moment.
Practice complimenting and encouraging yourself – especially when you don’t think you’re doing enough. Remind yourself of what you have done and allow yourself time to rest and rejuvenate.
Forgive yourself. Good parents don’t punish children for mistakes or constantly remind them of perceived failures. Instead, learn from mistakes and move forward.
Keep commitments to yourself as you would anyone else. When you don’t, you’re in effect abandoning yourself. How would you feel if your parent repeatedly broke promises to you? Love yourself by demonstrating that you’re important enough to keep commitments to yourself.
The point of re-mothering work is to have different experiences with yourself and with others to help you fill in any developmental gaps or unmet needs from childhood that are getting in your way as an adult and sabotaging your ability to fully engage with life.