We are all born with a need and a longing for a mother.
When we come into this world, we are entirely dependent on the care and support of adults. We need their basic care for survival but also deeply crave their love, attention, physical affection, and tenderness that provide a nurturing foundation for our growth and well-being.
This longing for a safe, nurturing, loving presence remains with us throughout our lives, and the extent to which it is fulfilled shapes our self-perception and our relationships with other people.
Unfortunately, not everyone has had the privilege of experiencing the healthy and nurturing mothering they needed during their childhood.
As a result, we often internalize unhealthy patterns from our mothers, which in turn lead to self-destructive behaviours when we grow up. We might become overly self-critical, learnt to sabotage our goals or seek a substitute ‘mother’ in our intimate relationships, just to name a few most common coping strategies.
In other words –how we were mothered as children determines how we mother ourselves as adults.
In this blog post, I want to tell you about three key areas where the impact of difficult mother-child relationships becomes most evident. And I will share with you the antidote to these unfulfilling mothering patterns that can pave the way for personal transformation and finding true fulfilment.
The Antidote To Toxic Mothering Patterns – Discovering Your Inner Mother
Our Inner Mother represents a nurturing presence within ourselves that we can tap into for guidance, support, and self-care.
It is the part of us that embodies qualities such as love, compassion, and tenderness, but also reflects strength, provides structure and the ability to set boundaries—the same qualities we often seek from our external mother figures. By cultivating our Inner Mother, we create a safe and nurturing space within us, that provides the care and attention we may have missed in our early years.
Take a moment to imagine what it would be like to have this sense of safe, unconditionally loving presence always at your side as you move through your days and cope with your challenges.
Embracing our Inner Mother is an empowering journey of self-discovery and self-compassion, allowing you to rewrite your narrative and shape your life in alignment with your true desires and values.
1. Self-Worth – Healing the Impact of the Lack of Validation and Approval
When we are very young, we learn about ourselves and the world through interactions with our primary caregivers. As infants and children, we deeply need to feel seen, loved and appreciated for who we are. This is how our innate sense of worth is confirmed and strengthened.
But what happens if we don’t receive warm appreciation? If our need for validation and approval is consistently ignored? If our emotions are left unacknowledged or dismissed? What do we learn then?
One of the most persistent and recurring beliefs that we develop as a result is the felt sense of not being good enough or deserving of love and respect.
There are two common ways in which people try to cope with low self-worth. Some strive to prove their worthiness by seeking external signs of success, such as professional achievements, financial wealth, or having a perfect relationship or family. They believe that achieving these goals will prove to the world, and most importantly to themselves, that they are worthy. However, this constant pursuit often leads to a sense of emptiness and dissatisfaction, as true worthiness cannot be solely derived from external sources.
Others accept their unworthiness and build their lives around it. They often find themselves in abusive relationships or toxic work environments that reinforce their belief that they don’t deserve respect, appreciation, or love.
Let me tell you about my client Sarah. Sarah grew up with a mother who was deeply frustrated and unhappy and thus very critical of everything and everyone around her, including Sarah.
Sarah tried her best to please her mother, instinctively understanding, like every child does, that her life depended on her mother’s love and attention but no matter how hard she tried, her efforts went unnoticed.
Sarah would clean the house, take care of her younger siblings, and always put on a smile. However, her mother was never happy with the results and barely noticed Sarah’s efforts. And even when she did, it was only to find fault. So Sarah tried harder and harder, always hoping that if she could just ‘make things right’, her mother would finally see and appreciate her.
What do you think Sarah learned from this relationship?
She internalized a painful belief – that she had no value and didn’t deserve love, attention, or appreciation. These deep-seated patterns and beliefs followed her into adulthood, creating an undercurrent of inner dissatisfaction, disapproval and, at times, even disgust toward herself.
In an attempt to cope, Sarah became a high achiever, constantly striving for success in all areas of her life. She sought perfection in everything she did, from work to relationships, parenting, and her social life. But none of her successes was enough to change the way she felt about herself.
When Sarah came to me in her late 40s, she was burnt out and on the edge of depression.
She began to realize that external accomplishments didn’t bring her any closer to what she truly desired – a sense of self-acceptance and worthiness. She was exhausted with constantly having to ‘make the effort’ and longed for the feeling of “I’m okay” and the understanding that she was worthy of love and appreciation just as she was, without having to constantly prove herself.
Sarah yearned for that sense of inner peace, of being at ease with herself and creating authentic relationships with others.
2. Comfort Zone Trap – The Impact of Overprotectiveness
One of the most important aspects of mothering is building self-belief and a sense of self-efficacy in the child. From the earliest moments of life, the child starts to venture towards independence, and their mother’s role is to facilitate this process by encouraging safe exploration.
A good-enough Mum allows the child to try new things, attempt tasks on their own, take risks, and she provides comfort when needed. In that way, she nurtures a sense of safety, support and growing independence. This is particularly evident when a child is learning to walk – a secure child wanders off a little, looks back to see if their mother is still there, and with reassurance, happily moves forward to explore the world a bit more. This process continues throughout childhood in many different aspects and on many different levels.
But what happens when a mother is anxious, overprotective, or feels threatened by the child’s growing independence? What beliefs are formed when exploration, risk-taking, and independence are discouraged?
Emily, one of my clients, grew up in a household with an alcoholic father. Her mother was deeply unhappy and felt lonely in her relationship with Emily’s dad. When Emily was born, her mother clung to her as the sole source of love and happiness in her life. She consistently expressed to Emily that she loved her more than anything else in the whole world. Her mother showered her with love, and attention, and did her best to protect her from her father’s addiction. However, subconsciously, her mother was terrified and strongly resisted Emily’s growing independence. She wanted Emily to remain small and dependent on her because she relied on her for emotional support.
As Emily grew up, this dynamic became a significant challenge in her adult life.
Firstly, her mother’s anxiety and overprotectiveness instilled in Emily a belief that the world was a dangerous place and that exploring outside her comfort zone was not safe. She internalized the idea that it was better to stay within the familiar and avoid taking any risks. However, the most detrimental aspect was Emily’s belief that her natural need for freedom and independence was hurting the people she loved the most. She learned to believe that love meant sacrificing herself, staying small, and giving up on her dreams and passions.
This pattern hugely impacted on how Emily showed up in her relationships, particularly in her marriage. She unconsciously sought a partner who mirrored her mother’s tendencies, someone who desired her dependency, tried to control her and heavily relied on her to fulfil his emotional needs. Emily felt compelled for years to sacrifice her own desires and aspirations to maintain this relationship. It felt to her like the obvious choice to suppress her independence and give up on her aspirations and dreams, believing that love requires this level of self-sacrifice.
When Emily came for the first season she felt she was suffocating. She said she did not know who she was any more and that if she stays in this marriage a bit longer she might disappear. But she was completely terrified of the option of leaving as well.
3. Embracing Your Own Rhythm – Unveiling the Power of Rest and Play
The third area I want to emphasise here might seem less significant and is often underestimated or ignored in serious discussions about the impact of mother-daughter relationships. However, I believe, it is extremely important to pay attention to – it is our ability to rest and play.
It is quite obvious to most of us that infants need a healthy routine, a balance between activity and sleep, regular meals, and time in the fresh air. A good enough mother can tune into the natural rhythm of the child and follow it. As the child grows, the rhythm naturally changes, but the importance of acknowledging and respecting it remains the same.
When our mothers are able to adequately notice and respond to our needs for activity, rest, food, closeness, and more, we learn to listen to our own rhythms. We internalize the belief, and a felt sense, that our activity and rest, as well as closeness and separation patterns, are significant and deserve respect. We learn to acknowledge the needs of our body and our nervous system and listen to the information they send us.
But what happens when this natural rhythm and inner communication are completely disregarded? What if a child is forced to live according to externally imposed timing?
This is where we meet clients like Sheena, who grew up in an environment ruled by a strict schedule.
Sheena’s mother had a very difficult childhood herself, having lost her own parents at an early age and growing up in an orphanage. Sheena’s mother learned to cope with unbearable pain by adhering to strict rules, working hard, and avoiding anything that could risk opening a crack through which pain could break in.
Sheena’s mother had a strict schedule for everything, from waking up to meals to bedtime. There was no room for play, idleness, or free exploration. The day had to be busy and filled with tasks from the moment you opened your eyes to the moment you fell exhausted onto your bed.
There was no room for rest in between. No room to take a breath and look around. And, of course, there was not much room to feel whatever you were feeling inside.
Sheena’s natural rhythm and need for rest and play went absolutely unnoticed and were consistently suppressed as she had to follow the rigid schedule of the day. Her natural tendency to play, be spontaneous, and experience joy terrified her mother, as they were seen as a direct threat to the protective barriers she had built around herself.
As Sheena grew up, she became quite a serious and unapproachable woman. She held rigid beliefs and was extremely hard on herself, always busy, always working. At the same time, she felt completely disconnected from her own emotions and her own body.
Sheena did not even realise something was not right until the day she was diagnosed with cancer.
Her body finally found a way to slow her down. Within a few days, all of her ‘learnt for mum’ defences crumbled, and she knew she had to find a completely different way of living in the world and in her own body.
Embracing the Healing Power of the Inner Mother – From Wounds to Wholeness.
When Sarah, Emily, and Sheena made the decision to commit to therapy and our sessions began, it became clear that healing this first and essential relationship with their mothers was crucial. And one of the most beautiful and transformative ways that we started to rewrite their inner narrative was by helping them to rediscover and reconnect with their Inner Mothers.
No childhood is perfect, and no mother is ideal. Even if your childhood was relatively easy and happy, you may still have internalized beliefs and patterns that hinder your freedom, happiness, and inner peace. But you have the power to change that. Developing a strong sense of Inner Mother within yourself can be the key to overcoming these challenges.
Your Inner Mother is a deep aspect of yourself that can help you break free from and reframe the beliefs and patterns that no longer serve you well. She is there to give you the attention and support you need, even in the areas where you might not have received it as a child.
Take a moment to imagine what it would feel like if your Inner Mother provided you with everything you need in terms of acceptance of your emotions, comfort and reassurance, healthy discipline, clear communication, and stable structure. Picture her nurturing and guiding you, just as you longed for in your childhood.
Sarah’s, Emilie’s and Sheena’s Inner Mothers
Sarah’s discovery of her Inner Mother brought warmth, compassion, and unconditional love into her life. Her Inner Mother constantly reminded her, “You are perfectly okay just as you are.” As a result, Sarah gradually started to relax, appreciate herself more, and recognize her strengths and resources. Enveloped by this consistent caring message she gradually started to recognize and trust in her innate worth and value.
Emily’s Inner Mother instilled a profound sense of safety in her life. She repeatedly reassured Emily, “It’s safe to be curious; the world is such a fascinating place.” With her Inner Mother’s guidance, Emily began stepping outside her comfort zone, embracing challenges, and pursuing her passions. This newfound confidence eventually empowered her to leave the marriage that had held her hostage.
Sheena’s Inner Mother provided a nurturing space for her to feel all of her emotions without judgment. Her Inner Mother lovingly reassured her: “It’s okay to feel; all of your emotions are valid and welcome.” As Sheena allowed herself to experience her emotions, she found that her need for strict timetables and rigid rules began to fade away. Her Inner Mother encouraged her to rest, play, and engage in activities that brought her joy, such as the unexpected pleasure of learning to play the guitar.
These nurturing practices supported Sheena during her treatment and allowed her to build a completely different life once she recovered.
What do You Need From Your Inner Mum?
As a capable adult, you have the power to learn how to support yourself in the ways you yearned to be supported as a child. It may require seeking professional support, as we explore vulnerable parts of your being and touch emotional baggage from the past. But through the help of psychotherapy, you can safely and effectively cultivate a strong, loving, and appreciating Inner Mother within yourself.
And with Her by your side, your life will become a very different story – a tale filled with self-acceptance, growth, and fulfilment.
Ready to take the first step? Let’s talk. Book a free Discovery session and I’ll help you create your own unique roadmap to your Inner Mum- Click HERE TO BOOK.