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Mother and Daughter Forgiveness: A Psycho-Spiritual Perspective

A Personal Perspective: How I forgave my mother for the mistakes she made.

Over the last two years, my friend Mona has told me about the heartbreaking conflict she has had with her daughter, Nicole. Now in her early 40s, Nicole is a single mom with three beautiful, young daughters. During long talks with her therapist, Nicole recalled a traumatic event from over 25 years ago. While recalling the event, it became clear to Nicole that her mother had acted unskillfully during a teenage time of crisis. Consequently, Nicole felt unresolved anger and resentment toward her mother.

Each time I talked to Mona during the two years after Nicole’s trauma was unearthed in therapy, I heard more about the devolving family situation. Alienation and distance grew between mother and daughter until every last bit of tenderness was squeezed out of their relationship. Nicole’s children were confused and bewildered by this development.

Recently, I've heard an increasing number of accounts of mother-daughter alienation, especially after memories of hurt and misunderstandings were uncovered in therapy. Every story is different and needs to be understood on its own terms, and it is clear that we need to fully express our hurts. However, the fallout of these well-meant therapeutic processes often seems to cause young women to lose connection to their female elders. The idea of confused grandkids, children who may already be confused by a chaotic world, is especially disturbing. I wonder if, in some cases, there may be a different path forward.

While reflecting on this trend, memories of my own mother and the many years I barely spoke with her came up. This was after I expressed anger during my own process in therapy, during which I had become aware of the after-effects of considerable trauma during my childhood.

My upbringing in post-World War II in Germany was complicated. My mother had served as a field nurse on the Eastern front, where she barely survived. After the war, she became a physician, working 12-hour days and many nights. When I was born, my mother, who had come from a judgmental Catholic family, was not married.

After I was born, my mother concealed me for two years in a children’s home. When she finally brought me home, she presented me to her strict family as an adopted child. I imagine that she tried to save face and avoid judgment as well as rejection. Being left in an institution without a mother during those formative years of my life came at a great personal cost. It is understandable that I felt outraged, even furious when my therapist helped me understand the psychological implications of my mother’s actions.

During 20-some years of therapy, I labored to unearth, express, and work through such a difficult beginning. I saw a number of wonderful and empathic therapists, who were aghast at what had happened to me. Gradually, as I have healed from my childhood wounds, I have been lucky enough to enjoy marriage and the family that I did not have growing up.

It was during my regular meditations, especially during longer retreats, that my perspective toward my mother began to change. What finally moved the needle and allowed for a new relationship with her to blossom was finding a calm place inside myself. I discovered a sense of refuge and inner security that had always been there, and that could be found when I gave it time and space. Gradually and naturally the capacity for understanding and compassion for my mother emerged. I was slowly able to let go of burdensome resentments. Resting in the spaciousness of awake awareness gave me a sense of fullness and ease that allowed healing to occur, as if I had been wounded and placed into a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to heal my injuries.

As contemplative practices such as meditation and psychotherapy are aligning and forming a psycho-spiritual healing container, I wonder if they can help me, and others, learn to forgive. Our mothers raised us through their own unresolved traumas, through their own struggles, worries, pain, and fears. Perhaps they did the best they could and were merely following the cultural norms that surrounded them.

My mother died 15 years ago in our garden cottage. My three children were there to say goodbye, and I was able to hold her during the last night of her life. Looking back, I’m grateful that our relationship ended better than it had started. I am also thankful that our trans-generational experience has had a positive effect on her grandchildren and their outlook on life.

My proposal is not to let mothers off the hook for their own sake. We need our relationships to heal so we can creatively build mutual support and an experience of healthy interdependence for every generation. After the necessary task of working through our family traumas, when it's possible, let’s find ways to reconnect with each other. Then we can build a healthy and life-giving future for all of us in a challenging and often perplexing world.


Radhule Weininger, 2017, Heartwork: The Path of Self-compassion, Shambala

Radhule Weininger, 2021, Heart Medicine: How to stop Painful Patterns and Find Peace and Freedom-at last,

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