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When Love Hurts: Healing Broken Mother-Daughter Relationships

It has been theorized that each of us holds three to five core lies about ourselves or God. Unchallenged, these lies can hold us in hurtful and negative patterns.

By Debbie Alsdorf and Joan Edwards Kay, MA, LMFT, Authors of It’s Momplicated

The mother-daughter relationship is complicated. Whether intentional or unintentional, there may be a variety of ways in which you feel your mother did not meet your needs. But once you identify these areas, you can begin to pursue healing.

There are two levels of healing with our mothers: One is external, and one is internal. While we may long for external healing—to resolve our conflicts, to have our mothers show us love, to be close to them and nurtured by them—reality determines whether or not this is possible. Much depends on whether your mother is still living and whether she is willing to do her part to heal the relationship.

On the other hand, internal healing is something you do on your own, and it is always possible. The first step to repair any relationship is to stop pointing fingers at the other person and focus on ourselves. You are the only person you ultimately have the power to change.

The goal is to live out of our true adult selves, rather than out of our childhood wounds or patterns.

There’s no real formula for healing—it is supernatural, the work of the Holy Spirit. But, there are a few things you can do to put you on the right path.

Pray. You can read books, process your pain, and invest hours talking to a therapist, life coach, pastor, or friend, but in the end, help and healing come from the Spirit of the living God. He moves in the deepest places of your heart—places you cannot get to on your own. Remember: You have a God who understands you. God cares about your pain, misbeliefs, and weaknesses. God has walked through life in human form, so he empathizes with your struggles and has much to teach you. You are invited to come to him to receive mercy and grace. Talk to him. Ask him to heal your pain, bind up your broken heart, bring you freedom, and help you grow. Invite him to use whatever means he desires to change your deepest imprints. Let him lead you and show you what specific steps toward healing he wants you to take. Trust him to use your wounds as openings through which his Spirit can enter and give you joy and peace.

Identify Core Lies. It has been theorized that each of us holds three to five core lies about ourselves or God. Unchallenged, these lies can hold us in hurtful and negative patterns. Do you struggle with any of the following false beliefs?

I am alone.
I can only rely on myself.
I do not belong.
I can’t do things well enough.
I don’t measure up.
I must always protect myself.
It is never safe to trust others.
I don’t have what it takes.
I am always wrong.
It’s always my fault.
I’m responsible for keeping everyone else safe.
I don’t matter.
I’m invisible.
I am not enough.
I am not pretty.
I am not okay.
I am inadequate.
I am worthless.

Keep in mind that these beliefs are not always conscious, and they are rarely divulged to others. But these core lies often seem true at a gut level. While our minds may tell us they are not true—that they are contrary to what the Bible teaches—our throats, chests, and stomachs tell us something else. We react instinctively to people and events, behaving as if these lies were true. It requires prayer and focused effort to step outside these beliefs, to see that they exist in us, and to identify them as lies. Why is it so important that we identify these lies? Because we can’t change them unless we first acknowledge them.

Explore Their impact. In addition to identifying the lies that have taken root in our hearts, it is important to discover how they have affected us.

For instance, if a woman holds a belief that she is inherently flawed, unloved, or unworthy, she may become like a chameleon, putting on a persona to be acceptable to others but losing herself in the process.

When they can’t stand the pain caused by the lies in their heads, many women turn to substances or activities to escape. Some may use drugs or alcohol. Some may overeat. Others may become workaholics or overindulge in romance novels, shopping, or television. Still others use busyness, social media, ministry work, or constant social activity to keep their feelings in check. While these types of solutions work in the short term, they can lead to bigger problems, such as addiction, broken relationships, or diversion from the life of purpose we were meant to live.

Some women haven’t developed the ability to take responsibility for themselves. Instead, they helplessly wait for someone to rescue them. This can be a response to being raised by a neglectful mom, who did not teach and guide them, or a helicopter mom, who did too much for them. It can also develop from having a critical or performance-oriented mother who caused the daughter to give up trying. Some women have been repeatedly hurt or disappointed by their mothers, and they come to expect that everyone else will also disappoint them. They fear that if they are vulnerable, they might be hurt, so they ultimately rely only on themselves. These women may find ways to distract themselves (work, addictions, fantasy) so they won’t feel the loneliness that results from the lack of deep connection. They may choose similarly avoidant friends and spouses. Or they may have difficulty in their relationships because they hold others at arm’s length.

Finally, when we develop imprints that whisper to us that we are in danger of being left alone, criticized, or hurt, we may become controlling as a tactic to prevent those things from happening. We may think that if we can control our husbands, we can stop them from hurting us. If we can keep our homes and families in perfect order, we can calm the anxious voices inside us that suggest our world is chaotic. Control can be overt, like that of a drill sergeant, or it can be subtle and manipulative, like the woman who uses the “silent treatment” on others who don’t do what she wants.

Underneath each of these coping mechanisms is an unmet need, a need that God longs to meet. He is always pouring forth his love and his truth, but our own faulty thinking—the lies that have cluttered the pages of our souls, making the truth illegible—causes us to rely on our own ways of managing life and relationships.

God understands that we were just children when we established our own ways of coping with loneliness, fear, or hurt. But now that we are grown, God wants us to rely on him to provide us with the living water we need.


It’s Momplicated by Debbie Alsdorf and Joan Edwards Kay

Let’s face it: when it comes to mothers and their daughters, things can get a little . . . complicated. Momplicated, you might say.

Whether your relationship with your mom has been wonderful or stressful, redeemed or broken, close or nonexistent, it’s one of your life’s most important and defining connections. Its effects have probably followed you into adulthood.

If you have conflicting feelings toward mom—or if you wish you could get past some of the baggage that holds you back—this is your book. Combining spiritual disciplines and the best of current therapeutic practice, It’s Momplicated will help you discover

1. How your early connection with your mother may have impacted your sense of self and your other important relationships—and what you can do to break the cycle

2. Why you and your mother have the relationship you have—the underlying reasons that may be contributing to strain and unease

3. Tools and exercises to help you cope with some of the most common effects of a broken relationship, including anxiety, depression, lack of confidence, and trust issues

4. How to be the daughter and mother God wants you to be even if your mom wasn’t who you needed her to be.

It’s never too late to love, never too late to heal, and never too late to trust God to turn the pain in your story into a redemption song. As you read It’s Momplicated, you’ll realize that while God doesn’t promise to fix all your circumstances, He does promise to uphold you and lead you to a healing place of knowing you are truly precious and loved, no matter how your past has affected you.

Learn More HERE>>

Abbi grew up in the Chicago suburbs and has not left. She works with the team to develop and post content and sales throughout the Tyndale website. She recently married her husband, Stanley, and they are raising their two "fur babies", Bagheera and Mushi. When she isn't at work, she enjoys spending time outdoors, hanging out with friends, and taking trips to new places.

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