Pain of early separation from our mothers and its impact on relationships

Pain of early separations from our mother can haunt us for a long time and we may not always know what the pain is about. It’s an issue that Mark Wolynn, San Francisco based therapist on multigenerational trauma addresses at length in his book It Didn’t Start With You : How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle.  The separation may not have been physical alone, it could be just that our mother was undergoing a depression, grieving a loss or being unseen and unnurtured by her own mother did not know how to be fully present for us.  (According to Wolynn the original problem or disruption often lies a generation or two back and we may be unaware of it).  We feel the loss and absence keenly and such feelings can cause us to actually turn away when our mother tries to connect with us another time.

Wolynn shares just such a story on page 175 about a baby Myrna whose mother leaves for three weeks.  On her return as she waits and longs for her daughter to run to her Mryna’s mother experiences instead a daughter who turns away becoming even more distant.  Rather than understand her daughter’s reactions and look for a way to restore the bond Myrna’s mother instead encourages her independence.  The mother loses sight of her child’s vulnerability, so where did it go for Myrna?  Answer in short.  Into the unconscious.

Of course later when Myrna fell in love, love was experienced as a minefield and its something I can relate to as will anyone with insecure, avoidant or anxious attachment.  Vulnerability of needing another opens up a pit of loss we do not fully understand and we can relate by sabotaging things further should we choose to deny or repress our true need feelings and vulnerability.

Mark Wolynn talks of interruptions to the flow of love and energy between parent and child a lot in his book.  He knows a lot about it as he pursued a path of so called ‘spiritual bypassing’ seeking a healing he could not find in ashrams and through meditation (though he does use visionary meditations with a clients ancestors in order to effect healing of past wounds carried on).  Wolynn did not heal his early trauma with his mother until years later understanding how its roots lay far back in his own mother and grandmother’s history and eventually becoming a therapist himself.

When our early experience with our mother is disrupted by a significant break in the bond, shards of pain and emptiness can shred our well being and disconnect us from the fundamental flow of life.  Where the mother-child relationship remains severed, empty or fraught with indifference, a stream of negative images can lock the child in a pattern of frustration and self doubt.  In extreme cases, when the negative images are continuous and unrelenting, frustration, rage, numbness, and insensitivity to others can emerge.

Psychopathic behaviour can be the result but the key result if often a form of pathological narcissism – an inability to truly connect and take in love.

According to Wolynn the majority of us have experienced some kind of break in the bond with our mothers.  Many though, got enough of what was needed to be able to maintain healthy relationships later in life.  Many of us were not so lucky.  Ideally disruptions to attunement need to be healed in the context of any relationship.  How we deal with them are important as are the beliefs about our inherent lovability.  According to Janet Woititz adult children of addiction and trauma believed they will only be loved if they act in a pleasing happy way.  No relationship can survive like this and neither can we.

Knowing what happened in the bond with our mother and the impact it had on our attachment style as well as inherent negative self beliefs and development of what Wolynn calls ‘core sentences of separation’ is vitally important if we wish to heal.  We can become conscious of these, work to understand how they may be influencing our present and do inner work to change negative core beliefs we may have absorbed unconsciously so they do not continue to play our in our relationships.  I have found so much help myself reading Wolynn’s book which I shared from extensively in my blog last year.  It is well worth a look if you struggle to maintain healthy loving relationships in your own life and are working to understand how the flow of love between you and a parent (not only your mother) is impacting you in later life.

(Examples of core beliefs which negatively impact our capacity to love and be loved are :  I’ll be left:  I’ll be abandoned. I’ll be rejected.  I’ll have nobody.  I’ll lose control.   I’ll be helpless.  I don’t matter.  I’m too much.  I am not enough.  I’ll be annihilated.  I’ll be destroyed.  I will push love away.)

2 thoughts on “Pain of early separation from our mothers and its impact on relationships

  1. Thanks so much for this. Thanks especially for saying that a separation does not have to be physical (although it was in my case too, as I spent the first three months of my life in hospital). My mother probably has some PTSD symptoms from havig had me prematurely and having endured several pregnancy losses before that. It also makes sense that the Original trauma may’ve happened before her too.

    1. Did you ever get an opportunity to speak to her about her own childhood? It may be helpful to do so. Its difficult when its just circumstantial like this rather than another kind of deliberate rejection. As babies we sense the presence of our mother and a lot goes on according to whether we were touched and had that sense of love communicated through skin. I should imagine spending so long in hospital would have had a very big unconscious impact. Mark’s book is well worth a read and he may have website. Sending you love.

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