Maternal Trauma: The Cycle of Daughters
By Kaitlyn Levine
Image via the Museum of Fine Arts Boston
Trauma: a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury
Women are humans. They’re mothers, daughters, lovers, doctors. Yet, there is a disruptive culture within the identity of womanhood. The generational trauma of women exists within the cycle of motherhood and daughterhood; a symbol of the emotionally unstable relationships accepted as normal. The preconception that words and actions are harmless if they have positive intent combined with verbal degradation and narcissistic behavior: this is the cycle of daughters.
Established as early as gender roles, verbal abuse and degradation from maternal figures often revolve around the beliefs of what a woman should be and the traditional aspects of womanhood. This not only diminishes her self-worth but also how she may present herself and alters her persona. A woman may feel less than what she is, and subject herself to a harmful mindset. She may change the way she interacts with people by appearing more “feminine” and conservative.
The bond between a woman and her child, more specifically daughter, is said to be second to none. From this establishment as a nurturing hand or loving figure, the ideology that “mother knows best” stems. From cooking to beauty, young women are consistently subject to cynical comments in the name of “love”. The ideologies of womanhood are thrust onto young girls not only by society but also by mothers. The snide comments eventually develop into ideas regarding what a woman should be. As a woman grows, she follows the expectations and opinions of her mother. But what is to be expected when a mother has only evaluated the negative qualities of her?
“Being shamed becomes confused with being loved. A constantly critical mother is not teaching her daughter how to establish interpersonal integrity within an intimate space. Rather she is accustoming her daughter to humiliation at the hands of another woman.”
Woman’s Inhumanity to Women, Phyllis Chesler
Constant criticism by a maternal figure opens doors to toxic female relationships throughout life. By consistently degrading and belittling her, she is training her to accept the same from female friendships. Not only does maternal trauma fail to lay expectations for relationships and establish boundaries, but also fails to outline womanhood. Although, there is no clear definition of what womanhood is defined as, there are experiences and situations which many women will encounter. Due to the failure to positively experience childhood with a maternal figure, daughters enter womanhood with no concept of the meaning of being a woman.
As women are closely intertwined spiritually and mentally, the development of self-worth can be stunted by internalized misogyny. Women are already subject to male intolerance and sexism, yet the same criticism is received from other women. This is best demonstrated in modern times by “pick me” girls and gender roles being enforced by women.
A “pick me” is a girl who caters to male fantasies and expectations and enables the demise of other women. Through degrading women for their behavior, they place themselves on a “holier than thou” platform and thus continue the cycle. Although this most likely is the result of expectations from society and pressure from female family members, these girls fail to recognize exactly why they are wrong and what they are continuing to perpetuate.
Gender roles do not pose an issue when an individual person decides to engage in them. However, the expectations of young girls to follow gender roles creates a ‘trauma of femininity’. The ideology that girls must look, act, and speak a certain way is harmful to young girls who are new to the ways of life and do not have the individuality to form their own opinions. This criticism is typically given in a “tender” or “motherly” manner, of which is assumed to be for their best interest. Yet, as many girls go through the stages of adolescence, they find themselves combatting the female expectations of society, and those at home
Though men and women are both expected to align with societal standards, there is a hidden system on the behalf of mothers. In households of brother-sister dynamics, it is often observed that more is expected of sisters, regardless of their age. Whilst boys are treated as they should be served, girls are treated as though they are servants. The preconception of mothers to treat their sons better than daughters only continues the cycle of trauma.
Have you ever planned an outfit in your head, but looked in horror when you saw it in the mirror? This is the difference between intention and outcome. Whilst a person can say or do something with positive intent, it does not always translate to a positive outcome. The same applies to mothers and their intentions. Whilst a mother may only intend well for her daughter, the boundary of respect and love should not be crossed. If a person would not accept such behavior from anyone else, then why compromise their position on the assumption that the mother meant best?
When confronting mothers on their problematic actions and words, they will often fail to take responsibility for their actions. Moreover, they may deflect responsibility and place the blame on the daughter under the clause that it is their fault. In addition to this, some mothers may involve family members to establish their position as the victim. In no way shape or form is this acceptable nor should it be tolerated. When taking a stance, an individual should stand their ground, and express their perspective. With high hopes, the person may succeed and gradually build a better relationship. As humans, we hope for the best in making repairs on relationships, but in some cases, they simply cannot be repaired, and it may be best for individuals to cut ties.
The cycle of daughters continues today, from the interactions between mother and daughter to blatant mental abuse. Establish boundaries in every relationship entered, regardless of familial relations. On a wide-scope lens of society, every individual is entitled to respect, even in mother-daughter relations.
Written by writer Kaitlyn Levine