Why should you start with your mother?

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Why is it so important to break free from your mother?

In 1943 a delightful book was published by Margaret Wise Brown, called The Runaway Bunny.

A little bunny tells his mother he was going to run away from her. He threatens to become, amongst other things, a fish, a rock, a bird, a sailboat …

Every time when he says he will change into something else to get away from her, she counters it with her own plan.

For instance, when he says he will become a sailboat, she says she will become the wind and blow him where she wants him to go.

There is just no getting away from her.

In the end he says: “Shucks, I might just as well stay where I am.”

The book was about the unconditional love of a mother, which is underlined by the last sentence, when the mother says: “Have a carrot.”

Perhaps your memories of your mother are not memories of unconditional love. But you probably share the little bunny’s frustration that you can’t get away from her.

Is your mother still that small voice in your head? The one telling you you’re not good enough. The voice saying you’re messing up again. The one whispering no one will love you.

Is your mother that same voice in your head that tells you you're not good enough?

Is your mother still that small voice in your head? The one telling you you’re not good enough, that you’re messing up again, that no one will love you.

And it can indeed feel as if she is the wind blowing the sailboat of your life where she wants it to go.

If you want to transform your life and have the ability to get the life you want, you must run away from your mother. Not necessarily in a physical sense, but in an emotional one.

Why is it so important that you break free from your mother?

The 3 big reasons why you must fix the relationship with your mother

  1. To become your own person, you have to remove the filter to the world she gave you when you were little.
  2. By letting go of the expectation she is still the one who has to hand out the carrots, you learn to take full responsibility for your own life. Your get your own carrots, so to speak.
  3. When you tell yourself her treatment of you has scarred you for life, you make it impossible to change. Learning to retell your origin story, the one about you and your mother, will truly set you free. In your other relationships too.
Let’s look at each one of the three big reasons in more detail.

Reason 1: the filter she gave you

My mom, me and the cucumber

When I was little my mother had a funny habit of always rubbing the chopped-off ends of the cucumber over the main part. Then she threw away the ends. She used to say that the rubbing prevented the cucumber from tasting bitter.

I believed her and mimicked her when I chopped cucumbers. It was the only way I knew.

Years later, married and living in my own home, I one day caught myself rubbing the ends over the cucumber without thinking about it. I stopped myself.

Wait a minute. This rubbing makes no sense. How could it possibly keep the cucumber from turning bitter?

In a sense that was the day when I first became a grown-up. I questioned this one little thing my mother taught me.

By questioning one little belief of my mom, I could start questioning what she believed about me too.

In a sense that was the day when I first became a grown-up. I questioned this one little thing my mother taught me.

It is said that change always happens at the edges first. An ice cube doesn’t melt in its center in the beginning, the melting starts at the edges.

By rejecting her idea about cucumbers, I started to think about some of her other ideas. Especially the bigger ones about the kind of person I was, how I should live my life and how I should act towards her.

If she was wrong in something small like the way to cut a cucumber, could she be wrong about some of the bigger things too?

Your mother is your first impression of the world

She is also your first impression of yourself. She made you look at the world through a filter, her filter.

As a child you saw the world as your mother saw it. It was inevitable, as she was your gateway to language and life.

If you can pull down that filter you can look at the world in a completely different way.

To detach emotionally from your mother, you have to see you can decide for yourself what is right and wrong. 

This does not mean that you throw out everything she has taught you. You just decide deliberately what your beliefs and behavior should be.

To be an adult, especially in an emotional sense, means that you understand you have the right of being the judge of your own life. I must judge your own behavior and feelings.

Bonding with your mother when you were a helpless baby was necessary for you to survive

But now that you’re an adult, you don’t need your mother to survive any longer. It is okay to let go of her world view.

There is a part of your brain that can process whatever is happening so fast it doesn’t even need language. That same part is trying to convince you that letting go of the way your mother taught you, is dangerous.

It’s the primitive part of your brain. All it can think of is food, sex, water, warmth and shelter. To become an adult and be free of your mother, you have to learn to override this part of your brain.

Luckily for you, you also have a prefrontal cortex, the real CEO of your life. In this cortex lies all of your power to plan and decide on things and to actually do them. Your prefrontal cortex is geared towards stories and language. It is the most sophisticated piece of equipment on earth, and you should be so thankful for this part of your brain.

A super-skill came pre-installed with your prefrontal cortex

It has a fancy name, because it can do fancy things for you. Your prefrontal cortex also gives you meta-cognition.

It means you can think about how you think.

That’s great, because you can see when it is your childlike brain doing its thing. And when it is your calm CEO prefrontal cortex who is in charge.

Although, your childlike brain can be very valuable and is doing its best to keep you alive, you want the prefrontal cortex to run the show most of the time.

What does your childlike brain have to do with your mother?

Everything! And its influence will show up in all three the big reasons you have to fix the relationship with your mother.

Your child-like brain wants you to do things your mom taught you, because it is still convinced that without her you are going to die.

By nature, your primitive brain is also very negative and scared of its own shadow. It will thus always try to tell you to just stay safe and not try out new things.

It is also very efficient, so it likes to think the same things over and over and resist new patterns and new thoughts.

Reason 2: Letting go of expectations

There is a funny video of a baby bird doing the rounds on the internet. It is hopping after a worm, but it wants the worm to get into its beak by itself. The baby bird is still so used to its mother feeding it.

Unless the little bird learns to make a grab at the worm, it wouldn’t survive.

In the same way, if you are in any way still waiting for your mother to make you feel a certain way or to take care of you emotionally, you will never be able to build the life you truly want. You have to get your own carrots and catch your own worms. Especially in an emotional sense!

Are you still trying to get your mother’s approval and validation

Often, daughters whose mothers never took care of them well emotionally, are trying and trying to get Mom to approve of them at last or the validate them as a person.

If you do that you will stay in a mode of blaming, victimhood and passivity.

Could you perhaps just for a minute try on this new way of thinking?

What if your mother’s only job was to bring you into the world and to make sure you survived till adulthood?

What if your mother’s only job was to bring you into the world and to make sure you survived till adulthood?

She did her job, because here you are.

It can feel painful, but what if you were to drop all other expectations you have of her taking care of you?

What would happen if you could see that you can love yourself, accept yourself and validate yourself?  

Reason 3: Retelling your origin story

Harry Harlow’s controversial experiments with monkeys are well-known. He investigated whether baby monkeys would prefer a bare-wire mother to a cloth-covered one. The monkeys usually wanted the soft cloth mother. If they could only get food from the wire mother, they would quickly snatch it and run back to the cloth mother.

He concluded that there was much more to the mother–infant relationship than milk. 

What was upsetting to many people was that these baby monkeys, who were separated from their mothers at birth, never recovered. They stayed anxious and fearful for the rest of their lives. Harlow’s experiments were one of the reasons for the animal rights movement.

But his work showed how important the child-mother-bond was in all social mammals, including humans. I remember when I first learned about his work in my psychology classes at college.

I identified 100% with those poor monkeys

Just like them I felt I was scarred for life because of my mother’s inadequate love and emotional care. I convinced myself that all of my anxiety, fear and emotional overwhelm was my mother’s fault.

If only I had been brought up differently, I could have had a better shot at success in life, was what I told myself.

For me one of the breakthroughs in the restoration of my relationship with my mother came when I read about innate personality traits. It is now believed that the tendency to experience negative emotion very intensely, is just the way some people are born.

When I could see my being overwhelmed so easily by my own emotions as a given, as the hand of cards I was dealt, I stopped blaming my mother for everything that went wrong in my life and realized my temperament is just something I have to cope with.

That was a turning point for me

Remember, we are humans, we have a prefrontal cortex. We can think about what we think. We have that superpower of metacognition, mostly because we have complicated language available to us.

Harlow’s poor monkeys didn’t have the luxury of language. We humans do.

Accessing that prefrontal cortex more often and in a deliberate way, is one of the superpowers we have as humans.

We can change the stories we tell ourselves. Also, about our mothers and how we are scarred for life.

When we retell our origin story in a more positive and empowering way, we also transfer that skill to our other relationships.

Because, isn’t it true that while we still blame our mother for everything that is, that way of thinking is having a rippling effect on all our other relationships?

If we feel rejected by our mothers, every other person who reject us becomes our mother. The pain of their rejection is our mother’s rejection over and over. When we can detach from our mother and deal with her rejection, we are enabled to deal with any other rejection.

You can rewrite your past

Once you accept that you can rewrite your past by retelling your stories from the past, you will truly understand what power lies within your own mind and that you can decide what you want to think.

By being able to do that for this crucial relationship that feels as if it shaped you for keeps, provides you with the metaskill to do it for any other relationship or incident.

So, there you have it. Three very, very important reasons why you should work on your relationship with your mother right now.

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