The Foundational Mother WoundJul 23, 2021
“We are all wounded but we can connect through the wound that’s alienated us from others. When the wound forms a cicatrize, the scar can become a bridge linking people split apart. What happened may not have been in our individual control, but how we react to it and what we do about it is” (Anzaldúa, 2002, p. 18).
As more of us awaken to the harm of our separation from nature—to ourselves, our communities, and our planet—we’re also awakening to the rupture we’ve experienced from our foundational attachment to nature. Our rupture from a secure attachment with our living system and knowledge of ourselves as a part of nature (rather than apart from it), is what I call the “foundational mother wound”. It is through this wound that we can start to shift towards a life affirming way of relating to ourselves and the many others who share our natural environments.
The foundational mother wound is a result of an underdeveloped and broken attachment to our “ecological selves” (Naess & Rothenberg, 1995), or our ability to experience ourselves as a part of the larger whole of our living Earth. Through the last few generations, we’ve been disconnecting from the mothering we’ve historically experienced within our natural environment as we’ve become an increasingly indoor species. With worldviews shaped by human exceptionalism, we’ve been undermothered. The way nature helps us recover after stressful experiences (Tsunetsugu et al., 2007), feel less pain when we’re hurt (Wang et al., 2019), and shift challenging mood states has been a part of humanity’s lived experiences of our evolutionary environment as long as we’ve existed (Morita et al., 2007). We’ve denied and rejected nature’s “maternal thinking” and caregiving labor (Ruddick, 1980)—the mother work of the Earth—that produces a “sense of place, comfort, and connection to living on this planet and feeling at home in one’s own bioregion” (Talomo, n.d., p. 1).
Mother wounds form when a child's needs are not fulfilled. In human-centered understandings of attachment wounding, a child either does not receive what she/he/they needs because of chaotic care responses or the child's needs are ignored. It is the same with the foundational mother wound. Experiences of psychological and emotional safety, unconditional acceptance, felt connection, and reciprocal love common to humans experiencing time in nature are either inconsistent or absent in our modern childhoods and lives (Louv, 2010). The foundational mother wound, caused by human-created separation (inner and outer) from our living system, has enormous implications for our individual and collective health and wellbeing.
The trust that mothering instills, or doesn’t instill, in childhood affects the child throughout the early developmental period into adulthood. Without the safety net of a secure attachment relationship, children can grow up to become adults who struggle with feelings of low self-worth and have challenges with emotional regulation. They can continue to have an increased risk of developing depression and anxiety because they have difficulties regulating emotions and interacting well with peers. They can even develop an opportunistic style of interacting with others as relationships become transactional since reciprocity was never modeled and learned. We see all of these effects of the foundational mother wound in our collective as expressed in our ecocidal relationship with the natural world
Working with adults over the last decade opening to their ecological selves and therefore the foundational mother wound, I’ve heard numerous stories of traumatic nature disconnection they experienced as children. Whether it was a single experience of seeing an intimate tree cut down or the more chronic loss from having one’s outdoor explorations fade into indoor learning environments, when I invite clients to explore the possibility of a ruptured attachment to the natural world, they often immediately know its presence and are flooded by feelings of grief at this recognition. This pain is the evidence of the wounding, as it honors our birthright of a well-developed relationship to our environment.
We heal the foundational mother wound the same way we would other attachment ruptures. We reattach by working through the experiences in one’s life that caused this painful rupture, but this time revisiting childhood wounding through an ecological lens. What happened when we learned nature was “dead” as we saw role models act violently towards it in a way that split us from our own felt experiences? What resulted when we were segregated from more-than-human community and placed in human-built learning environments that produced a slow forgetting and distrust in our relational connection to nature? How did we reshape ourselves when we chose separation from relationships that require time and sensory sensitivity in order to chase recognition in fast-paced and word-centered systems? By identifying and understanding this wounding, we begin to acknowledge and meet our foundational need for connection to our ecosystem community.
Healing the foundational mother wound requires us to remember how to relate in reciprocal ways with the natural world, opening ourselves back up to trust, bonding, and intimacy with more-than-human beings. This healing process may even be experienced by some as a more straightforward path to restoration than when addressing human-centered attachment ruptures because nature (even in its wounded state) is present, consistent, and responsive in ways humans struggle to be in relationship. Witnessing the ripple effects on repairing this wound, personally and as a counselor, has led me to believe that many of the human-centered attachment wounds our collective faces are due in a significant way to the lack of a more expansive attachment that promotes safety, stress regulation, adaptability, and resilience in the face of human fallibility during development.
As we see the presence of the foundational mother wound in ourselves, we are more able to recognize its effects in others as something we all share. Rather than be another force of separation, as Anzaldúa says in the epigraph above, we can connect through the wound that’s alienated us from others and our true selves. The future of our planet depends on each of us remembering our place within our shared living system and honoring all parts of our ecosystem from the ecological self that relates to every living thing as an important part of a dynamic whole—the body of the living Earth. As we heal our foundational mother wounds by opening back up to nature’s mother work, our wounds can become scars—bridges we can walk together to new forms of relatedness and new ways of living in accountability to those relationships.
Anzaldúa, G. (2015). Let Us Be the Healing of the Wound: The Coyolxauhqui imperative—La sombra y el sueño. In A. Keating (Eds.), Light in the dark / Luz en lo oscuro: Rewriting identity, spirituality, reality. (pp. 9-22). Durham: Duke University Press.
Louv, R. (2010). Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. London: Atlantic.
Morita, E., Fukuda, S., Nagano, j., Hamajima, N., Yamamoto, H., Iwai, Y., Nakashima, T., Ohira, & H., Shirakawa, T. (2007). Psychological effects of forest environments on healthy adults: Shinrin-yoku (forest-air bathing, walking) as a possible method of stress reduction. Public Health, 121(1): 54-63. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.puhe.2006.05.024
Naess, A., & Rothenberg, D. (1995). Ecology, community, and lifestyle: Outline of an ecosophy. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Ruddick, S. (1980). Maternal Thinking. Feminist Studies, 6(2), 342-367. doi:10.2307/3177749
Taloma, D. (n.d.). This is Planet Pandora: Introduction to Ecotherapy. Wilderness Reflections.
Tsunetsugu, Y., Park. B., Ishii, H., Hirano, H., Kagawa, T., & Miyazaki, Y. (2007). Physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the atmosphere of the forest) in an old-growth broadleaf forest in Yamagata Prefecture, Japan Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 26(2): 135-42. https://doi.org/10.2114/jpa2.26.135
Wang, C., Keo, N., & Anthony, K. (2019) Impact of window views on recovery—an example of post-cesarean section women, International Journal for Quality in Health Care, 31(10): 798–803. https://doi.org/10.1093/intqhc/mzz046
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