The Unmothered Child


I have just finished listening to the audiobook, “Warming the Stone Child” by Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes and I am blown away.

It is a collection of myths and reflections on the feelings of abandonment in the unmothered child and how this affects them as adults.

I have been thinking deeply about being unmothered for the past few weeks as it has come up in my therapy sessions. For a long time, I was dealing with the feelings around being sexually abused by my father i.e shame, guilt and revulsion. However, another layer of the onion has recently been revealed.

In therapy, I talked about a gnawing hunger I have (that’s the only way I could describe it) for love. An insatiable need to be loved and find romantic love again. This has all become even more clear with the obssession I have developed for a man I hardly know. He is a colleague I worked with who I hardly spoke to outside of work and did not even get a chance to form an emotional connection with. Despite this reality, I created and directed a drama in my head and cast him as the lead character without informing him.

When we recently started emailing each other I discovered that our versions of reality were totally different!

So why this urgent need to have love so badly against all reason and rationality? I started to think about why I needed to have this man so desperately and why I was becoming obssessed with him. I would read his emails and messages over and over, combing them for clues of his love. I would also check my phone compulsively to see when he was online etc. My moods were dictated by his responses and I would go into a state of angusih when he didn’t reply.

Estes talks about this insatiable need for love that the unmothered child within the adult craves. There is a belief that if we are loved enough that it will all be better. But the love is never enough and that craving can lead us into bad relationships. My life is indeed testament to that! If we slavishly love a child without guidance and direction they are likely to become “Inflated beasts” and similarly we will never be satisfied with the love we crave. Even if this man I have such a ridiculous crush on turned around and decided that he loved me, it would not be enough for me. I could lay in his arms for years and still that hunger would not be satiated.  We need to restrain that infantile hunger that demands fulfillment and instant gratification through love.

According to Estes, we need to grow our own internal mothers. Our external mothers failed us and are very likely to do so repeatedly in reality while our internal mothers have the best intentions, yet they lack the maturity, guidance and direction they need.

With the profound loneliness of being an unmothered child comes the gifts of tremendous courage, intuition, creativity and healing. Estes uses the metaphor of a partly burned piece of wood; there is always a small red ember at its centre that will burn brightly with a small wind. In the same way, despite all the abuse and neglect suffered by the unmothered child, there is a light that will never go out. It only needs to be fanned into a burning flame with self-love, self-acceptance and acknowledgement of our strengths, weaknesses and capabilities.

We need to fan that flame into a sturdy, unwavering guiding force that is unaffected by the disapproving looks and negativity of others. We have to grow skins and learn not to take everything we receive to heart so deeply. Estes says we should be proud of our scars which have made us who we are; they are the “treasure map to the deep self.”

Her descriptions of the unmothered child resonate deeply with me because I have that same gnawing and insatiable thirst for love, I am very sensitive to negativity in others and I too grasp things; pushing myself to achieve and acquire! Estes says we need to learn that our psyches are trying to achieve wholeness and that we don’t need to grasp anything, that there is enough in the universe and it will all happen in good time just as it does in nature. I have always wondered about my deep impatience and need to grab things in case there is none left (opportunities, people etc).

Her advice is to pay special attention to your dreams and favourite childhood fairy tales as these will lead you to the significant parts of your psyche that want to be healed.

At the heart of the unmothered child’s fear, is the fear of death. When I was a child I feared that I was unloved and would be abandoned by my parents. Abandonment equates to death for a five year old child and so I built a life around this premise. I had to fight death by becoming a perfectionist, a people-pleaser and hyper-sensitive. Like other unmothered women, I have been fighting a tremendous battle and it’s now time to thrive. To build a good life with good relationships a life in which I can become all that I want to be by being kind and loving to myself and strengthening my internal mother and allowing her to grow and mature.

I hope you can gain as much as I have from her wonderful stories. I haven’t shared all the details of the myths here, only the interpretations and reflections of these stories.

Go on, fan that flame and grow your own internal mother!

16 thoughts on “The Unmothered Child

  1. I have to say that my mother’s behavior and her allowing my sexual abuse to happen for 10 years is far more painful to me than the abuse. He was just a monster but she was my mother. Who does that? Who allows that? Who invites that into their home and then says it’s not there? Someone who clearly does not love and value herself. Keep up the good work! I enjoy your process and dedication to yourself.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. “Like other unmothered women, I have been fighting a tremendous battle.” I can certainly relate to this. Being unloved or I mothered by your mother is a very difficult hurdle to get over, but there is hope. Thank you for sharing this post and Estes’ book.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you so much for this article. I am so thankful to read about people breaking the cycle. I find myself yet again in a scary relationship. It has always been that this feels more normal. So much so that I can’t even describe a healthy relationship and I often question whether or not nice, loving people really exist or if they just act like that in public.

    Again, thanks for the article. When I read it a few days ago after awaking in the middle of the night trembling with awareness and suffocating for change, I felt comforted by it.

    Possibility exists. I at least believe that much now and that seems like a giant hurdle I’ve overcome.

    Can you please send me the audiobook? I have thought about it nonstop since I read them article. I don’t want to order it because I don’t want any record of it because I don’t want to be in trouble. This train of thought is how I think and live and I don’t want to anymore.

    Thank you,

    Liked by 1 person

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