Like a mother like a daughter

The relationship I had with my mother was always an intense one. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, it fluctuated as I was growing up and realising my own identity and life directions. Although I felt loved and supported by my mother throughout my life, I have learnt how often I was controlled and conditioned to certain behaviours, but this realisation came later in life. 


When I decided to retrain and became a psychotherapist, I naturally began to pay more attention to my relationship with my mother as I was going through a deeply consuming therapeutic process myself, as part of the imperative requirements imposed by the profession.

I couldn’t agree more with this rigorous requirement of an extensive therapeutic process for therapists prior to commencing work with others. But at the time when I started, 8 years ago, I was not impressed. It was hard, painful and bitterly uncomfortable.

Working retrospectively in any kind of capacity brings to the surface the awkward and often uneasy-to-confront past experiences, yet, it’s necessary for sustainable results. 

Only when we meet with the discomfort of our darkness, and face it again and again and accept the things we cannot change happened, will the darkness illuminate. Only then will we realise that the darkness, in fact, wasn’t as dark as it previously appeared to us. Only then will we begin to see the way out.

Just like when you step out from a well-lit house and run into total blackness at night. At first, you cannot see a thing, but wait and give yourself a few moments and your eyes are adjusted to the gloominess and you are able to see the shapes and eventually the path back to the house. 

I like using this metaphor when describing the fear of facing the unknown. This could refer to the uncertainty of emotions we may need to face once we revisit the so-called ‘unfinished business’, or some situations that are the consequences of what we are facing right now at this very moment.

The retrospective journey helps us to reconsider and reevaluate the experience in the past that is still attached to residuals that keep triggering us today.

I am so passionate about this topic that I have digressed again. Yet, this is so correlated!

Getting back to my mother-daughter process. When I started exploring my own relationship with my mother and my grandmother in therapy, I was not even aware that there were any complex issues that were holding me back or simply preventing me from reaching for something I could have benefited from.

It was an intriguing journey. Each time I explored more, more became clear and made sense to the decisions or choices I made and to the way I live my life. 

The past is so deeply intertwined with our present. When we abstain from travelling to the past or decide to take ‘short cuts’ through using various ways of not attending to the discomfort we once were part of, we will get caught by it when we least expect and desire it. 

I know this now, but I didn’t then. 

The mother-daughter relationship is so very different from any other relations; like the mother-son, or the father-daughter or father-son. Because we are both females, we inherited something that all the generations before have left for us.

And depending on the family, culture, race, religious beliefs, education, socio-economic background, we will have a very unique experience of our mother-daughter relation. This inevitably will impact our relationship with self and potentially our own daughter/step-daughter/daughter-in-law.

So here we have the chance that has never been available before, to create a shift and change. To create a massive difference to our future and the future of those who come after us. Never before did our grandmothers, mothers and other significant females have so much availability to open resources of help and support as we do today. 

We can decide to walk through the path to the past and meet with our mother (either in person or metaphorically), or perhaps this may be initiated by our mother who wishes to take the journey back.

Give yourself permission to understand what created the fraction; what made you fall apart. Give yourself permission to heal and move on. 

Without going back to the past addresses, and collecting your belongings left behind, you will never be fully moved out of these old places.

Then it will be up to you, what you would like to do with the luggage you claimed after the years or decades of keeping them stored at the ‘past addresses’.

When clarity and brightness of the mind appears eventually, you will take a deep breath and feel liberated from the heaviness of the burden that has been part of your life for so very long.

You will be able to move on lightly and perhaps even jump up with joy and a gentle smile on your face, as you have made peace with all these uncomfortable puzzles in the past that were holding you back.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Exeter, Devon, EX4
Written by Agatha Penney, MBACP (Accred), COSRT, Psychosexual Therapy, Supervision
Exeter, Devon, EX4

Agatha works as a psychotherapist in her private practice and online. Her interest lies in helping people affected by challenging family relations. Following research on this subject, she is involved in creating a platform for people struggling with loneliness and family conflict.

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