The Great Taboo: Patriarchy Begins at Home
There’s a reason why it’s been really hard for us to find solutions to our current global challenges. There’s a reason why feminism, with all its gains, has made only limited sustainable momentum for women. There’s a reason why we’re seeing regressive movements and a rise in authoritarianism around the world. It’s due to a huge taboo that we haven’t been willing to face as a collective.
We have a short window of time to make significant changes before we’re on an irreversible course of climate change, which will impact the earth and humanity in staggering and unforeseen ways. Species are dying off at an unprecedented rate. All things female or representing “femaleness” are under attack: women and our right to reproductive choice, female children, our oceans, animal species, air quality, loss of farmable agricultural land, just to name a few. The violence perpetrated by men and groups of men is being revealed to be more brazen and psychopathic than we had imagined.
Patriarchy and the Mother Wound: An Urgent Call to Look Within
One could say that our global situation is a projection of the devastation of our inner landscapes, mirroring something that we must urgently look at within ourselves.
A major hurdle to confronting our taboo is that there’s a strong bias against victims in our culture. No one wants to feel like a victim. No one wants to appear as a victim to others. The problem is that this anti-victim bias is precisely what keeps us perpetually stuck in a victimhood.
Not wanting to be a victim keeps us stuck in victimhood.
We all bear a mark of victimhood that we are deeply defended against acknowledging because we’ve learned to equate being victim with weakness and defend against it. There’s a deep memory of powerlessness of early childhood that we want to avoid. Our avoidance keeps us in a cycle of replicating the wound over and over again personally and collectively.
The Family is Patriarchy’s Chief Institution
The family is patriarchy’s chief institution, as Kate Millet said back in the 70’s. We can name all the atrocities we see out in the world, feel outraged, start initiatives, create organizations, etc. We may become “activists.” But if we haven’t grappled with how we personally have been force-fed patriarchy’s anti-life, anti-female, anti-feeling philosophy as small, helpless children, we can’t move beyond it. As a species, we may not even make it. We have to get to the root first.
The Mother Wound is the social condition, rooted in patriarchy, which manifests on the personal, cultural, spiritual and planetary level.
The Mother Wound is the result of patriarchy’s damaging impact on human development, by way of the systematic oppression of women through hundreds of generations, thus crippling humanity and leading to unprecedented death and destruction on our planet.
Do you want to learn more about the Mother Wound and how it may be impacting you? Click here to learn more.
We Know Patriarchy is an Issue. Why Hasn’t More Been Done?
Patriarchy values competition, domination, maleness, and a mode of “winning at all costs.” This isn’t just a cultural atmosphere that we get a whiff of every now and then. It’s flowing through our veins and is present in our brain’s neural-circuitry. It got locked into place by the time we were 7 years old.
Humanity is locked in survival mode, a place of reactivity, flight, fight, freeze or fawn. We are a traumatized species creating more trauma around us.
The beliefs, patterns and behaviors we internalized in order to survive in patriarchy are all inside us, and because our families were ground zero for this cultural transfer to take place, they got mixed with our basic human needs of love, safety and belonging. This has compromised our trajectory. Like an invisible fence, we unconsciously stay within certain confines of thinking, feeling and behaving and stay away from others, all while heading off a cliff of collective destruction.
Childhood Trauma is Normalized
The majority of us grew up in emotional war zones that were our childhood homes. We have to confront the emotional magnitude of how we suffered as children as a result of the passing along of patriarchal values and norms. None of us have fully escaped this. The reason we keep avoiding this is because this requires emotional resilience and openness to pain, empathy and care, the very things that patriarchy has deemed taboo. As children we were alone with our pain. It’s like a black hole we avoid but subconsiously it’s controlling our choices and keeping us stuck. We like to think that as adults, we’ve moved beyond childhood simply because we’re older, but in reality we are stuck there emotionally.
Being with our pain isn’t victimhood. It’s the epitome of personal responsibility and a mark of emotional maturity.
Moving through this pain can only happen through being with the pain, through having a loving, empathic inner witness alongside it, what I call an “Inner Mother”. This shift in consciousness is a bridge we must cross psychologically if we are to evolve as a species.
False Narratives Keep Us in Denial: “It wasn’t that bad.”
I’ll never forget watching helplessly as my father tormented my little brother. Any time he cried, my father would tell him to “take the pain” and sadistically not allow him to cry. Often he would come home and start hitting him for no reason. I would scream to get him to stop. When I got older, I recall hearing about how my grandfather would beat my father as young as 2 years old, sometimes throwing him against a wall, beating him almost to the point of passing out.
Our standards for humanity are really low when progress looks like each subsequent generation is slightly less suicidal and desperate than the next.
I recall how terrifying it was as a little girl, to long to hold my mother for comfort, but instead I sensed her emotional desperation and had no choice but to endure her focus on me as a kind of surrogate mother to the motherless child within her. I disassociated, thought about suicide at 11 years old, and withdrew into spirituality as a cocoon from the pain of emotional neglect. I found out later that my mother had been threatening suicide to my brother when he was a teen. A big secret in her family was that her mother was drunk for much of her childhood and threatened to commit suicide to her as well.
Our everyday problems are constantly showing us symptoms of the deeper wounds that are potential entry points for insight and healing.
These may sound like extreme examples to some, but my family looked like a perfect family from the outside. Up until college, I idealized my family and was in complete denial of any pain I went through. What I learned is that the everyday surface problems that we experience are “cover stories” for the real story beneath. We are in deep denial of the old narrative running in the background. We don’t have to go “digging” in our past, it’s all present just beneath the surface.
The Taboo of the Mother Wound
The great taboo is that Patriarchy is a traumatizing culture and we all suffer from the Mother Wound to some degree as a result. We’ve been traumatized personally in our families, in the culture at large, spiritually through a sense of being subject to a judgmental male god, and on planetary level by feeling disconnected from the earth.
We are at an existential crisis point in which our survival depends on integrating the female/mother aspect of humanity we’ve been denying.
This unresolved trauma we experienced privately at home was doubly reinforced by our experiences with education, the state, media, entertainment, religion, etc. The Mother Wound is the “center of the wheel of suffering” that impacts every area of our lives, from our relationships, to careers, to parenting, to relationships to our bodies and more. Admitting this is not being a victim or powerless; it’s a sign of intelligence and hope for our species. The most potent access points to healing is looking at how the Mother Wound shows up in our personal lives. When enough of us doing this our culture can be transformed. As we heal, we evolve and humanity moves forward.
White Male Privilege and Spiritual Bypassing
Our collective denial is so strong that most doctors, many therapists, and scores of spiritual teachers and coaches, are active purveyors of this great denial of childhood trauma. It’s as though there’s an overlay that blinds us to it and also blinds us to the reality that we’re blind to it.
I was watching a talk recently between Gabor Mate and Adyashanti, two authors I admire. Towards the end of the talk, the topics of trauma and spiritual bypassing were finally broached. Both agreed that trauma is extremely prevalent in their students and how in recent years dozens of highly regarded spiritual teachers were exposed for sexual assault and improprieties. Adyashanti said, “You should not expect your spiritual teacher to be an expert on trauma.” My question is why not? If the vast majority of your students and followers suffer from some form of trauma (as they mentioned) then why not make your teachings and resources inclusive of that?
True integrity demands that every spiritual teacher or leader of any kind be experts on their own trauma at the very least. And they should consider themselves to be ongoing students of trauma, deepening their understanding of how it affects human potential. One can’t have grounded spirituality without acknowledging how trauma shapes us and blocks us from knowing our true nature.
Any legitimate form of activism, spirituality or healing should always go hand in hand with an understanding that our personal trauma is always playing a role in how we show up.
Without this acknowledgement, our initiatives and movements will continue to be superficial, unsustainable, prone to conflict or unethical. In other words, some virulent thread of patriarchy will always remain and our efforts will be deeply limited.
We need to be experts on how we were traumatized in our families and how it impacts our lives. This should no longer be a taboo. We need to make healing the Mother Wound a badge of honor and integrity. This isn’t blame, it’s generational responsibility. Patriarchy, and the trauma it creates, has blinded us to the depth and complexity of ourselves and each other. It’s time to raise the standard.
At another point in the talk, Gabor expressed surprise that Adyashanti’s zen teacher was not some great man, but rather, an active mother of 5 children. I found it interesting that there was a marked lack of curiosity about her life or how she reached such heights of wisdom; no curiosity about how the fact of her being a mother may have factored into her spiritual advancement.
Through objectification and commodification of female human life, our collective human potential is stunted.
Racism, homophobia, and sexism appear more rampant and escalated than ever. Our “othering” of certain humans based on race or sex is an echo of how we learned to “other” the traumatized child within us. It all emanates from there.
Women are Closer to the Truth (and the Pain)
Through my teaching and coaching women, I’ve seen that working through your own Mother Wound begins to inoculate you from feeling like a victim and replicating those early wounds with others. The sense of victimhood greatly diminishes as it’s no longer a default setting running in the background. With the foggy glaze of denial dissolving around your own vision, you are better able to see reality as it is and able to be more honest with yourself.
You are likely to feel more empowered and at choice in situations where you may have felt trapped in reactivity in the past.
You feel more like an adult and less like a victimized child. Thus, you elevate the people and spaces around you by simply being who you are, unapologetically and undefensively. Part of our collective healing is supporting one another on this path.
Both Men and Women Have Anti-Female Feelings
We have to confront our anti-female feelings. We learned “anti-femaleness” through the cognitive dissonance of early childhood, in which our mothers were the most important, significant person in our lives. Yet, they were also the most denigrated, disempowered and disrespected in our own homes and in every aspect of the world.
Ultimately, both men and women are suffering from a form of self-abandonment that occurred early in life, a splitting off from feelings, empathy, care, process, depth, presence; things that “Mother” represented and was defiled for.
All kinds of dysfunction, pain and trauma flowed from there, for all of us, to varying degrees. These are the very qualities we have to birth in ourselves to move beyond patriarchy.
Reckoning With the Taboo of the Mother Wound
Reckoning with this great taboo is the ground zero for creating a new earth, a new era for humanity. Healing the Mother Wound widens the gap between stimulus and response so that we’re less often in a state of reactivity and fight, flight, freeze or fawn. Through that widened space, more human potential can be realized and solutions to our most pressing global problems can be found.
Here’s a sample of what we recover through healing the Mother Wound:
1. Resensitize Yourself to Life:
Life gets re-animated. Instead of seeing things through a lens of deadening labels and an overlay of trauma, we can more easily perceive the visceral beauty, depth and the preciousness of life all around us.
2. Integrate Instead of Compartmentalize:
We are more able to see life as an integrated whole and our self-awareness increases. We see connections more than differences. The differences feel less threatening. We are more open to feedback.
3. Redefine Triggers as Opportunities:
Our reactivity is a teacher showing us what is next for us to heal from our past. Each trigger is an opportunity to make new choices that we couldn’t as kids.
4. Reclaim Embodied Ways of Knowing:
Felt experience becomes a source of wisdom and information. We act on our own self-knowledge and learn to trust it. Reclaiming ourselves as the authority of our experience. Learning to trust our observations and intuitions.
5. Anoint Being Over Doing:
Trusting our need for rest, silence, for space, for time without feeling like something terrible is going to happen unless we’re productive.
6. De-Objectify the World Around You:
As we become emotionally available for the traumatized child within us, we become emotionally available for other people, we feel empathy more deeply, we feel more connected to non-human species and the earth itself.
7. Value the Vulnerable:
As we get in touch with the scope and magnitude of how much we suffered emotionally as children, we see value in things like grief, sadness, disappointment, welcoming them rather than judging or shaming ourselves for them. We look forward to the renewal and regeneration they offer and the clarity that always follows in their wake.
Questions for Reflection: Patriarchy as a Culture of Trauma that begins in our childhood homes
- How did patriarchy play out in your family of origin?
- How were patriarchal values transmitted and reinforced?
- What was that like for you emotionally?
- How did you adapt or cope with that environment?
- What challenges do you have in your current life that are rooted in those early experiences?
- What are some ways you can be present to that child within you?
- What resources or support do you need in our daily life to make this happen?
Healing the Mother Wound is not a quick, glamorous or easy path. But it is the authentic path to inter-generational healing and transformation that we must undertake. Through this work, we create a better world for ourselves, our families, our children, and the earth.
Art Credit: “Innocent 2” by Patricia Derks