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Hi, pod fam!!

Buckle up—we’re healing our mommy issues (AKA the “mother wound”) this week.

Mommy issues are a real thing—and they can cause long-term nervous system dysregulation. To help us understand how these formative and complicated relationships can affect our whole lives, I chatted with UK-based psychotherapist Sian Crossley. 

Sian uses her professional training and personal experiences to help others heal old wounds through Instagram and online courses. We’re talking about the all-too-common mother wound: how it’s formed, how it presents in adulthood, and how to begin to heal ourselves.

Let’s get juicy!

The common thread between many mental health issues…

Sian, who previously practiced psychotherapy via private practice, came to realize that something was missing from the traditional approach to mental health: addressing the root cause of trauma. In her experience, the National Health System (NHS) was very regulated—focused on day-to-day symptoms and disorders instead of what led to those. For example: depression is often treated separately from anxiety, she says, even though “it’s rare that somebody will experience depression and never anxiety.”

After working with clients for years, Sian started to notice a common thread: unmet needs in childhood. A majority of her clients had experienced some kind of trauma in their formative years. She notes that it’s not always “big T” trauma. Many people never experienced anything “horrible” or “significant” in childhood, but what they did experience was unmet emotional needs—and those tend to leave a lasting impact on both the brain and body.

What do unmet emotional needs look like?

Safety is fundamental to all functioning as a human, Sian tells us. In fact, “we’re wired for safety and connection from the moment we’re born.” While everyone is unique in our needs and perceptions, we all need to feel “emotionally safe.” Some of the ways we might experience unmet needs include:

  • Conflict in the household: arguing, unpredictability, chaos
  • Parents who don’t let you develop in the way you might like
  • Excessive boundaries OR not enough boundaries 
  • Not being checked up on – a simple “How are you feeling?” can help us feel validated and move through an emotional experience

Around the time we recorded this episode, I was reading a book called The Body Keeps the Score, which totally supports this connection between unmet emotional needs and mental, emotional, and even physical concerns in adulthood. A couple of takeaways I learned from the book are:

  • When we’re constantly exposed to a chaotic, dysregulated environment, our nervous system can get used to this, and we might subconsciously seek chaotic environments into adulthood
  • Why? Because our nervous system gets accustomed to this chaos, so in a weird, twisted way, calm and relaxation and peace feels unfamiliar and “dangerous” 

On that note, let’s dig into how the “mother wound” is formed, what it might look like in adulthood, and how to start to heal from it.

Okay, first—what is the “mother wound”?

Sian recognizes two types of mother wounds—and many of us are affected by both in some way or another. These are 1) the individual mother wound, and 2) the collective mother wound. 

The individual mother wound is basically “the gap between what we needed from our mother and what we got.” Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean you were always fighting with your mother or even had a bad relationship at all. You might have had (and still do) a pretty good relationship with your mother, but her unresolved trauma within herself could have led to your needs not being fully met in more subtle ways. 

The collective mother wound is basically the impact of patriarchy—long-term—on men and women. This includes any systems in place that make the role of a mother more difficult. Systems like being a stay-at-home parent who is financially dependent on a partner, the guilt of being a working mom, or the limitations regarding maternity leave or financial assistance.  

And the two tend to go hand-in-hand. In Sian’s experience, if “you heal the individual mother wound, you’re healing the collective as well.” 

So, how does the “mother wound” manifest itself in adulthood?

Sian notes that the mother wound tends to present itself in two ways:

  1. Perfectionism – having high standards for yourself (and possibly those around you) and being hard on yourself 
  2. Boundary Issues –  being codependent, having difficulty asserting yourself, having people-pleasing tendencies, being hypersensitive 

The mother wound creates a kind of hyper-empathy in many people, which can bleed into adult relationships. It’s often related to those who consider themselves highly sensitive people. Some of sensitivity is innate, some is personality, and some is linked to the way we were parented.

More generally, it can look like a dysregulated nervous system: being stuck in survival mode—in this constant fight-or-flight state. Our nervous system needs to discharge negative energy in order to release trauma; otherwise, the trauma can get “stuck,” which is when we often find ourselves getting stuck in difficult situations later in life, which can further traumatize the nervous system.

Okay, but what if you’re not sure if you have a mother wound or some kind of internal dysregulation that needs healing? Here’s how to recognize a dysregulated nervous system:

  • Are you super busy? Finding it hard to relax or switch into “off” mode?
  • Do you sleep too much? Not enough?
  • Do you experience racing thoughts?
  • Are you turning to alcohol, drugs, or unhealthy coping mechanisms to soothe yourself?
  • Are you turning to others for validation or acceptance? 

How to begin to heal the “mother wound.”

One of the most important things Sian notes is that healing the mother wound is not about healing your relationship with your mother (though, that can happen in the process); it’s about healing yourself. Beginning to heal this wound can look like:

  • Learning to be your own mother 
  • Grieving the loss of what you needed/wanted from that relationship
  • Practicing self-care and compassion 
  • Releasing trauma from the body (tapping, crying, massage therapy, exercise, etc.)

Because the mother wound is caused by not feeling safe or emotionally secure, the first step to healing is creating a safe space for yourself. Some great ideas from Sian include:

  • Being in nature
  • Getting off your phone 
  • Getting away from people for a bit, saying no to people who don’t make you feel safe
  • Breathwork (box breathing)
  • Cold water (cold showers)
  • Saying no, not overworking yourself 
  • Asserting boundaries with people 
  • Eating nutritious food 

I hope you’ll commit to creating a safe space for yourself today or this week! Whether or not we have trauma to unpack, we could all benefit from calm and security! As always, tune into the episode for allll the juicy goodness in this ep! And be sure to share your thoughts with me on our NEW IG, @shoporganicolivia



Connect with Sian:

Follow @breakthecycle_coaching on IG

Visit the Break The Cycle Coaching website

Recommended Reading:

The Body Keeps the Score

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