10 Basic Good Mother Messages

This is a reprint from another one of my blogs.  I thought I would move this one over here, since it incorporates art journaling.

I’ve been a mother for 1o.5 years now.  And I need constant reminders about what is good fertilizer to grow children.  I know, so sad, right?  But it’s true.

I have read in so many places regarding healing from childhood trauma that it takes a lifetime to heal.

I’ve spent a LOT of time on this blog talking about some of my own childhood and how it’s impacted my mothering journey.  It’s not been very fun talking about my painful past and current interactions with my family of origin that re-open old wounds.   But I needed to and I wanted to share resources that help me.

My family, like many families of my generation (I’m in my 40s now so this means the 60’s and 70’s), didn’t prize intellectual ability.  Being smart wasn’t an asset, but a liability.   In addition to being in a very dysfunctional, psychologically and sometimes physically abusive home, my intelligence was frequently ridiculed.

I couldn’t help being smart.  It’s not like I picked my genes…OR my family.

I grew up, had my own highly sensitive and smart daughters and while I am not like my family, I still am farther from the ideal I want to be.  I have had to study how to be a good mother, because I don’t intuitively know how.  And I’ve had intense emotions I’ve needed to work on.

I constantly have to balance my girls’ needs for guidance with my own needs for intellectual stimulation and creative expression.   I used to work in the biotech field…and loved the stimulation I got from work and the friendships I’ve made at work, some of which have endured for 15 years, even though I do not see my former work mates except once or twice a year.

So now, if I’m not careful, I’ll get too absorbed in my various passions:

I read, I write, I art journal, I take photographs and almost constantly work on my ‘stuff’ – how to heal from my own traumatic childhood wounds (from alcoholism, divorce, physical abuse and neglect), how to heal from co-dependence (my husband had a bit of a drinking problem he’s been in recovery from and we’ve come close to divorce a couple of times in the past two years) and how to raise my highly sensitive smart daughters so they don’t have to grow up with deep childhood wounds.  They will have some wounds, no doubt, but not nearly as many as I had.

I started re-reading The Emotionally Absent Mother: A Guide to Self Healing and Getting the Love You Missed, by Jasmie Lee Cori.

There is a beautiful little list of 10 Basic Good Mother Messages children need to hear from their mothers. I know, for those of you who had great, loving mothers, you already know these things and probably already do a great job of reassuring your children.  But, believe it or not, I didn’t know.

And I made an art journal page out of it…and plan to print this out and post it on my fridge.  So that in the hustle and bustle of everyday life (which, in a highly sensitive household, is pretty chaotic), I make these a priority.


Ten Basic Good Mother Messages:

1.  I am glad that you are here.

2.  I see you.

3.  You are special to me.

4.   I respect you.

5.   I love you.

6.  Your needs are important to me.  You can turn to me for help.

7.  I’ll make time for you.

8.  I’ll keep you safe.

9.  You can rest in me.

10.  I enjoy you, you brighten my heart.

And without these messages, children might be challenged with many difficulties.

Common Challenges of the Undermothered:

1.  Holes in your sense of value and self-esteem.

2.  Feeling as if you don’t have enough support.

3.  Difficulty accepting and advocating for your needs.

4.  Feeling undernourished and emotionally starved.

5.  Difficulty taking in love and establishing intimate relationships.

6.  Loneliness and feelings of not belonging.

7.  Not knowing how to process feelings.

8 .  A pervasive sense of scarcity.

9.  Sense of struggle.

10.  Depression.

11.  Addictive behaviors.

12.  Feeling disempowered.

13.  Not feeling safe.

14.  Perfectionism and self criticism

15.  Difficulty finding your authentic voice and following your passion.

I struggled with these in one way or another all my life.  Many times as a child, I wished I was dead.  I started feeling suicidal about the age of 13.  I was bullied in school for my intelligence, and I was degraded at home by my mother, my stepfather and two of my sisters for my intelligence.  Of the 10 Basic Good Mother Messages, I received none.

I am 42 years old this month…and I am still, at times, struggling to be here.   My sensitivity is taking it’s toll.  Mistakes I’ve made have added up.  Friends I’ve lost due to death or moving on hurt more than anything.  I can’t share with my siblings or my mother the struggles I go through.  Not only would they not understand, they have criticized me for having problems in the first place. They have no idea that it was because of them.

I write to help myself, let my husband in on my mind, and share with my readers.  I hope some good comes out of what I write.  I know of a few very gifted and talented adults who have had crappy childhoods, and while it is true that we can take our pain and make something beautiful out of it…it often comes at a very high price – mood swings, depression and anxiety top the list.   I hope the things I share help someone else.  I know it helps me to write this stuff out.

About Casey

“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’ ~ Jack Kerouac, On The Road Again
This entry was posted in Art Journaling, Complex-PTSD, Emotionally Absent Mother, Healing Through the Arts, Inner Excavation, Moods, Motherhood, Narcissistic Mothers, Personal growth, Self-affirming, Soul, Soul wounds. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to 10 Basic Good Mother Messages

  1. Rob says:

    Suicidal feelings can start even earlier. What I’ve seen and heard from a child being abused by a parent using religion included comments about “all that matters is God” and the child expressing loudly and repeatedly the wish to die. This child was in kindergarten at the time. That this child is someone I care greatly for makes it all the more painful to see and hear.

    I had similar experiences in school to you regarding being picked on over test scores, grades, and other signs of intelligence. I didn’t let it get to me much, but it certainly did at times leave me feeling like nobody understood me or liked me. But I also had parents who stood up for me and did not abuse me, so I felt like I had a safe home and I am sure this helped me cope with the challenges in school.

    There are a lot of people out there who can understand your plight from having gone through it themselves or because of seeing others go through it.

    It sounds to me like you have realized you should write off your siblings and mother as they will never see how things were for you and how they contributed to your pain and suffering. There is probably nothing at all you can do to change your mother. I suspect the same may apply to your siblings.

  2. Rob –

    That’s so sad, but I can believe it. I stopped going to church a while back. For a while it was because I didn’t intellectually believe it anymore, and then it was because even though I didn’t intellectually believe, I still was brought to tears more times than not. I could not live up to the standards and felt worthless. It didn’t help that the messages were OFTEN about how helpless we are and can’t do ANYTHING without God.

    I’m so sorry for this child. That’s a terrible thing to instill in a child.

    I wrote a post about childhood sadness and depression.


    I recall very few memories of my childhood before about the age of 8 or so. The only memories I have are either the accidents I’d have (I was very accident prone and I had about 4 hospital visits before the age of 6), or the one time I swore and got my mouth washed out…or the time I had a bathroom accident and tried to clean it up before my mother found out. I think I was about 4.

    I had nightmares starting about 9 or 10. I’d have the same two or three ones repeat themselves. I do recall actually wanting to die around then too, but it was this: I tried to make a bargain with God – that I’d sacrifice myself if everyone else in the world would be saved. From what I don’t know, the cold war was going on…so I think I was worried about nuclear war.

    But it was about 13 or so that I started suicidal ideation in earnest.

    My oldest sister was physically abusive to me (smacks, hair pulling, kicks) and psychologically abusive (had me convinced once my mother was going to take me to an insane asylum and give me 21 shots because I was crazy).

    The last physical fight she started was when I was 21 and she was 24. She lived next door to my mother, and would often come by to instigate trouble. I forgot what the fight was about but she yanked a huge clump of hair out.

    The thing about my siblings is that if I write them all off, then my girls would not know their cousins. So far, there has been no trickle-down damage to them that I can see in the younger kids (in my older sister’s kids I do see some entitlement going on). I hate to say it, but the tie to my family right now is just for giving my daughters a sense of family, occasionally because I need a babysitter, and because my husband and I are not working (having so much trouble finding employment) and my mother and siblings have helped out by buying them clothes when they needed them, and to swim in their pools. My mother took them for 2 hours one day, gave them all haircuts, and I was able to spend some time by myself.

    The thing I can’t stand the most is the judgment about my mothering skills and sees any of my daughter’s quirks as my fault and tells me how her way is so much better. And even though intellectually I know it’s not, and I know she’s often projecting things onto me, emotionally, it’s still hard to bear.

    At one gathering, my second oldest sister got a little tipsy and because I wouldn’t buy something from her son’s fundraiser (because we had the same fundraiser each of our girls were selling), she got upset with me and said, “that’s the last time I’ll ever buy anything from your girls”. When I went to explain why we weren’t, she just got mad and I got madder. Basically I left the party and she followed me out of the house, still with a large glass of wine in her hand, screaming that I needed an exorcism. I told her in some really vulgar terms what she could go do with a priest. This was last fall.

    I don’t think the ties are worth keeping…but as long as my daughters aren’t harmed…whatever I go through is a small price to pay. Of course, I know as long as I keep having to deal with this stuff…it never allows me to move on from the past.

  3. Rob says:

    Wanting your kids to have extended family is a good thing. If as you say the good part of that outweights the bad, keep doing it. Maybe is is working as well as it is because their significant others (your kids’ cousins parents besides your siblings) counterbalance their personality problems and this helps protect their kids?

    But I understand it must be really hard on you. Having to interact with people who have been and continue to be abusive towards you is very draining. In your case, you do have the option to shut them out to protect yourself. I don’t have that option without also giving up on my kids which is not fair to them.

    I have found that often the best response to people acting like you describe is to ignore them and stay away from them. They often have the ability to spin it around to make it look like you are the one with the problem, especially if you show the least bit of criticism or anger back their direction, no matter how justified it is. But at the same time, not being able to be critical means you are going to be being unable to enforce boundaries unless you simply stay away from them and stop communicating with them entirely.

  4. Yes, so far, the good outweighs the bad. My girls are fairly good judges of character. They know my mother has too many rules that don’t make sense, which is why I think they’ve only spent the night at my mother’s house only twice in the past 10 years, and never before the age when they could report problems to me.

    There’s an old adage – Sun-Tzu in The Art of War said, “keep your friends close but your enemies closer”. There’s also another one I like by good old Teddy Roosevelt “speak softly and carry a big stick”. Oh yeah, and Nietszche who said, “that which does not kill us makes us stronger”. Believe it or not, I used those as mantras and it helped some.

    Yes, my oldest sister’s husband is really a sweet man. They have a son together (and she has three from a previous marriage) who is also very sweet, fortunately taking after his father than my sister.

    I totally know how things get spun around. I never understood how I could make a rock solid argument and yet feel like I lost the case. In some ways, they trained me to think well on my feet, which came in handy when I was working in the lab and in the courtroom.

    The really sad thing is when they make disparaging remarks about my mothering skills (from infancy onward they were against attachment parenting) and how over-sensitive my girls are…but at the same time, the same traits in my children are seen as positive qualities by teachers and other adults – how empathetic and kind they are. My sister makes her daughter her BFF…yet told me “parents shouldn’t be their kids friends”.

    My sister-in-law always tells me how my daughters go out of their way to be kind to her toddler daughter and infant son. Like she just raves about them. And it does help knowing that someone says nice things about their personalities. It does help counter some of the other things said to me.

    Yeah, boundary setting has always been a difficult thing. Walking away doesn’t always work…they tend to follow. Really bad arguments could get nutz when they start the email or telephone campaign. And when that got to be too much, I’d start hanging up mid-scream. Then they’d call and call and call. One time I just stayed on the line but held the phone out away from my ear to let my sister have her peace. When she stopped screaming, I was able to deal with her, and I didn’t hear the insults to get my feelings hurt or my blood boiling.

    There’s been a lot of graduations/parties for the family lately. Just had one last night. It turned out to be nice because I saw some family friends I hadn’t seen in years and the girls got to swim with their cousins.

    So yea, as long as the good outweigh the bad…

  5. Rob says:

    One of our kids seems to be very good at playing with younger children and being tolerant of their quirks and misbehaviors. Seeing this gives me some hope that the avoidant behaviors won’t affect all their relationships.

    I think a lot of the kids in abusive homes become very emotionally sensitive. And this is perhaps in part what drives some of them to develop a personality disorder such as BPD. After all, BPD is often noted as a disorder involving abnormal emotional sensitivity and response. There may be a genetic component, too, making these kinds of things more likely to run in families, even without abusive behavior, because of genetic or epigenetic inheritance.

    I agree walking away often does not work with Cluster B types of people. In my past marriage, my ex would torment me for weeks for “disrespecting her” by my walking away from her attacks. So I became conditioned to feel like I had to stay and subject myself to 30 or more minutes of her rages and screaming and chasing me around, blocking my movements to trap me, physically harming me (biting, grabbing, hitting, and pushing), etc. If I dared to leave then she would make my life hell for weeks afterwards, so it seemed better to be terrorized for an hour than to be tormented for weeks.

    In my experience, almost everybody else I have ever spent time with gets upset like she did for no longer than a few minutes at most and nobody else but kids become physically violent without some serious provocation. Afterwards, there often tends to be tense silence and disengagement for a while maybe a few hours or even a day. But then most people get back to normal and get over it.

    But with her, everything is so extreme and often seems to be based upon stuff she is imagining that is not real. It was like a switch flips in her brain and all incoming communications to her shut off and are replaced by some imagined stream of things that I never said or did. I think it is cognitive dissociation at work. When she becomes angry and irate and out of control, she therefore assumes that somebody must be abusing her like her birth family did, even when in reality she is the abuser and nobody else is doing anything unreasonable to her. I am not the only one to experience this with her, either. My parents have seen it, too, and the most normal of her siblings also reported this kind of behavior from her.

    The fact is, even an adult cannot easily tolerate being screamed at and attacked like that for half or hour or more without it causing a lot of anxiety, fear, and sometimes even approaching panic from wanting to escape the abuse.

    I did well in school and my career, but was totally naive about abusive personalities and this made me an easy target for her. Looking back I can see so many examples of her abusive personality that should have warned me to get out and run away as fast as possible. But stupid me, I thought that marriage meant something and that she might mature out of her problems.

    Instead, her behaviors have simply gotten worse as I have experienced after years of her abuse against our kids (the increasing alienation and parentification) and against me (false DV reports, false child sexual abuse allegations, being held at gunpoint by cops she lied to, being handcuffed after she physically injured me [because cops are trained with the lie that “men are abusers and women are victims” and act as such despite the evidence of her assault on me and no injuries to her whatsoever], staged attacks at child custody exchanges often involving other parties to whom she has lied, defamation in my former workplace, and on and on. And I have seen her go after other people with similar lies and attacks, too, including my parents, my wife, and people to whom I am not even related.

    The classes she has been ordered to take by the courts just result in her talking like she knows the material and then doing the exact opposite, just like you are saying about your sister and her BFF attitude towards her daughter while she says the opposite. I truly believe that there is nothing that can be done to reform her short of a psychiatric hospital or prison. And even those may not work.

  6. It may be helpful to read How to Improve Your Marriage without Talking About It. Yes, I KNOW you aren’t married to your ex…however, it does explain why a man or a woman would stay in an abusive relationship.

    In some ways, I think it might be good for you to understand your wife became the way she is because of HER upbringing and why you responded the way you did. This stuff is passed down and two basic emotions – fear and shame keep us stuck in unhealthy relationship behaviors. [I’m curious as to what her parents/grandparents were like].

    It might help to think of her not as a monster…but as a victim re-enacting her trauma. It’s easy for me to sit back and say this stuff…though I know it’s hard for me to believe it when I’m getting yelled at by my sisters because MY emotional brain (my limbic system) overrides everything else.

    But part of MY healing journey is seeing the wider experience. The world can NOT keep going the way it is. The way we live as a nation is NOT sustainable. It will right itself…and even those on top of the food chain will not be spared.

    I’m not big into religion, but I kind of do believe “what goes around comes around”. Do what you can to bring love and joy into your everyday life…with your kids…with your current wife…with yourself.

    You can not change others…but you can change yourself. You can strengthen your own capacity for love and compassion, resilience. You can model for your children what you’d like them to see. In the end…ALL children learn from observing ACTIONS of the adults around them, not as much what is said to them.

    I don’t think the term “abnormal” emotional response is correct. They are actually exhibiting NORMAL emotional responses to ABNORMAL stressors. The abnormal emotional response is when we are force to deny our feelings….to stuff them…to dissociate from them…

    One thing I didn’t know…but I discovered from reading that book is that anger is analgesic and has amphetamine like qualities and I think this is why NPD and BPD individuals seem to ‘get off’ on being angry…because they DO get addicted to that state.


    (interestingly enough, this site was also written by one of the authors of the above book).

    “The biochemicals secreted in the brain during the experience of anger — most notably the hor­mone, epinephrine and the neuro­transmitter, norepinephrine — are experienced much like an amphetamine and an analgesic. They give a surge of energy while they numb pain.

    Epinephrine is an especially powerful chemical that is sometimes injected directly into the stilled hearts of heart-attack victims to get them to beat again. As with any amphetamine, once the surge of anger burns out, you crash. (That surge of energy is borrowed from the future.) The experience of anger is always followed, to some de­gree, by depression. “

    I can attest to both the surge of energy and pain-numbing properties of anger as well as the crashing afterward. It can set up a bad cycle.

    yet, there is a hidden treasure in some kinds of anger


    “In many ways, human anger is a treasure. The Greeks called it the “moral emotion” because they noted that animals did not possess it; animals, the Greeks observed, got aggressive and showed fight or flight reactivity. They did not get angry. Humans, on the other hand, could experience and express anger with its inherent reflective component: “I can see/know/feel that someone or something has wronged me.”

    As a response to being wronged, anger is a boundary-setter that says, “Stop! I can’t tolerate this,” or, “This isn’t working for me.” It is not blaming the other or shaming the self. Often experienced first as a contraction in the throat, chest, stomach, or abdomen and a clenching of the fist, anger may be associated with the words “I can’t go on like this” seared into the mind.

    Anger—sparked by injustice—is at the root of all protest movements, all major processes of change. In our most intimate relationships, when we or our loved ones experience or express anger, it is an opportunity to get to know one another better, to get closer and clearer, and to work with ourselves in a new way. It is an opportunity to ask ourselves, “Why am I feeling this?” “What needs to change here?” and “What do I need to do about it?”

    Because anger is expressed at a moment of need, the person expressing it is vulnerable. If, when our partner is angry, we inquire into his need to be seen, treated, known, or held more wholly, dearly, or fairly, we have a chance of accepting our beloved more fully. In our closest relationships, our fate is bound up with the fate of the other. In Buddhist terms, our karma is interwoven and we cannot easily escape feeling the consequences of the beloved’s actions. It is a natural desire for us to want to keep our partner safe or happy, for both selfish and unselfish reasons. But, as a result, we have a tendency to want to control our beloved—and that often creates a sense of being unfairly treated.

    Our closest relationships are the most challenging in our lives when it comes to practicing fairness, equality, and kindness. That is because in these intimate relationships, we always begin to get to know the other person (even if that person is an infant) through a process of psychological projection: seeing/feeling/experiencing the other through already familiar views, desires, and ideals. This is especially true in romantic love, where we “fall” in love through an idealizing projection and assume that the other is ideal for us and meets our needs in some particular or general way. When the other person does not do or become what we want, which is always the case, we can easily turn against him with hatred, rejection, or pain. Working with anger skillfully can actually be very helpful in our not doing this.

    Anger has unfortunately been confused or conflated with aggression, hatred, or rage—some of its more destructive siblings. Many people make the mistake of pushing away anger, being afraid that it will be destructive if expressed. Some may hyper-value silence as though it were its own virtue. Others may express aggression, blame, anxiety, or rage instead of anger. But if you have the skill to feel your feelings with a gentle acceptance of them), you are less likely to dissociate from your feelings or distance yourself from another in times of anger. You won’t have to hide your anger from yourself and you can learn about speaking it honestly and kindly—and about inquiring into your beloved’s anger at you.”

    I think this is where understanding the role of emotions in humans might be helpful. This is why your children, if/when they seemingly over-react (or under-react), that it’s important that the adults that can help them identify emotions that they may not understand or express, and then teach them effective coping strategies so they don’t have to employ defense mechanisms to avoid pain or shame.

    It’s also why learning emotional self-regulation through physical activity (yoga), mindfulness, and sensory based activities will ground them and help them from over-reacting, or squelching normal responses.

  7. Here are a few other resources that might be helpful

    Changing abusers


    Why They Deny and Minimize
    Why is it hard for abusers to admit that they abuse power?
    They feel powerless most of the time. They see us as merely perpetuating the assaults of an unfair world, as we confront them with our superior values.

    The secret of successful intervention is to help perpetrators see that abuse of their loved ones violates their own deepest values.

    What They Never Deny
    Their own deepest values require them to treat those they love with respect and compassion. When they fail, their own emotions go to war against them. Aggression against loved ones results inevitably in self-loathing.

    The only way to feel powerful, beyond a short-lived adrenalin rush, is to increase self-value and, simultaneously, the value of those they love.

    The intervention and its theoretical and empirical support are laid out in: Treating Attachment Abuse, by Steven Stosny, Ph.D.

    What Motivates Power and Control?

    Failure of compassion
    The inability to hold onto self-value when experiencing emotional discomfort

    The abuser’s constant warning to victims is: “Don’t make me feel something I can’t handle.”


    Raising the Emotional Intelligence of Parents and Children

    Have better relationships with your children; enjoy them, guide them, and learn from them. The regular practice of Compassionate Parenting will increase cooperation, self-esteem, and self-discipline, while simultaneously reducing anger, resentment, and hostility in children and parents. The manual for this 10-week course is filled with parenting advice, tips, information about family issues, effective parenting skills, and parent resources, as well as information that can help with your marriage.

    Compassionate Parenting raises emotional intelligence through heavy emphasis on before-the-fact emotional motivation of behavior, rather than after-the-fact consequences. The result is much more effective discipline that does nothing to detract from the crucial relationship between parents and children.

    Children will want to know about other kids acting out and adults doing cruel things. Emphasize that misbehaving children and cruel adults are not devoid of Good Hearts. Rather, they are merely out of touch with them. This same thought, incorporated into normal safety precautions for children, can be expressed as:

    “Because some people are out of touch with their Good Hearts, you need to be careful not to talk to strangers.” [I’d say that some parents are out of touch with their Good Hearts Too]

    Basic Humanity: How Your Emotions Guide Your Core Value

    This 46-page booklet asks a series of questions that help adolescents develop a sense of their innate core value, which is the ultimate guide for their behavior and the foundation of their morality. For ages 12-18.

    I might actually pay the $15 to get the 3 part program.

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