Inner Convos: Healing From A Traumatic Relationship With My Mother

By J. Chavae. Photography By Deun Ivory.

My mother doesn’t realize that I am her mirror.

This is a fact that has long tormented me as I have continued on my life’s journey. I realized that I was my mother’s mirror around the age of 13, and I knew that was the main reason why my mother didn’t really like me, why we didn’t get along.

There were many situations and occurrences that further pushed my mother away from me, that increased my inability to trust her. She wanted to be my mother, my friend, and I had no idea how she thought that was going to work. I thought she was mad for even saying these words.

A few days after her birthday (Christmas eve), I saw a photo of her and the deepest wave of sorrow came over me. I saw a picture of a beautiful Black woman and not a single fiber in my being associated her with being my actual mother...she was just a woman on my screen and that hurt me so much. I cried about it, actually, because I had a mother that was alive, but I didn’t feel like I had a mother. On January 2, I called her and through tears and what felt like a million lumps in my throat, I demanded her to listen to me, and I told her exactly how I felt and how I wanted our relationship to look. She actually listened to me, for once, and by the end of the conversation, we agreed that we would get to know each other, as strangers, and we promised that we would both participate in building our relationship.

We often talk about “daddy issues” but rarely do we talk about the “mama issues” that we deal with. Like many women I know, there has been or still is trauma that resides deep and embedded in the relationship with our mothers. Whether it be physical abuse, verbal abuse, mental abuse, separation, heated arguments, abandonment issues, etc., most of us have some kind of overlap in our story, there was always a “Me too!” moment.

What I have come to realize is that many women have experienced a traumatic, or even “toxic”, relationship with our mothers at some point. I know we want to cast all blame on our mothers unhealthy lives, patterns, verbiage, etc., but doing that never helps us heal, it only allows us to deflect and increase anger.

This year I decided to center my life’s work on helping other women heal this relationship, heal this bond because it is detrimental to our journey. We do not have to like our mothers or have the best relationship with her, but we do need to heal this pain because it will fester and spill into other areas of our lives. Not healing this wound can even cause physical dis-ease in the body, particularly in the brain, the heart center, and the womb space. Healing the bond that exists between us and our mothers, whether she is in our lives or not, deceased or not, allows us to heal a very deep and critical part of ourselves.

In love, I offer a few words of advice to those who would like to heal from a traumatic relationship with their mother:

1. Always connect to your breath. Whenever you think about her, before you talk to her or about her, use your breath to center yourself.

2. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you forget what has transpired between you two, it does not “right” any “wrongs”, and it does not pardon her from any pain she ever consciously or unconsciously inflicted upon you. Forgiveness is for your healing, not for hers.

3. Let your mother know how you really feel in the most loving, yet direct way. Let her know how certain words or actions affect you. Be honest and vulnerable with her. You can write her a letter or a message, you can read what you wrote to her, or you can have a conversation. If you need a mediator (even a therapist), know that requesting to do so is okay.

4. See the humanness in your mother. She, too, is also having a whole human experience now and even before you were born. Your mother also has experiences, loss, hurt, grief, and traumas. Seeing our mothers as humans and extending forgiveness does not invalidate our experiences or feelings. It allows us to see her in a different light, other than a “monster (or whatever word you use to describe your mother)”. When we look at our mother in a negative light, we, to an extent, look at ourselves in the same light because she is a part of us. We are literally ½ of our mother. Her DNA is ½ of our own. Her bodies were once our home. We came to this earth through her. She was our portal. Humanizing our mothers humanizes ourselves.

5. Be soft, gentle, and patient with yourself as well as your mother in the process. Resolve, healing, acceptance, and peace does not happen overnight. It does take active work (especially within yourself), it takes radical honesty, a crapload of vulnerability, and the most bravery you have ever had to muster up. Sometimes you are going to want to quit, but trust the process.

Doing all of this allows for more free and clear space to heal.

As I experience more days on this earth, I see how much of my mother is really in me. I see her features, her mannerisms, her abilities manifest in me. I once rejected the parts of my mother that showed up in me, but I have come to love them the more I allowed myself to love her. As the relationship between us strengthens and blossoms, I allow her closer to me because I have allowed that piece of her to live in me.

If you want to dive deeper into this work, you can always follow me on Instagram @jchavae, subscribe to my newsletters, or invest in the Healing the Bond | Mothers & Daughters workbook or course found on my website, jchavae.com.