Primal Touch and the Mother-Shaped Hole

A few weeks ago I lost some time. Turns out a child part, Anna, went to session. I didn’t come out until the final few minutes, after the therapist asked for me by name. I had lost a lot of time. I was confused and terrified. I remember standing there, holding tightly to myself, looking around the room in panic. The therapist softly asked me, “Is there anything I can do to help you right now?”

I didn’t respond. I just shook my head and made unintelligible sounds. But I was actually thinking:

Yes! Please hug me! Please hold me so that I don’t explode from the inside out. Please remind me I am real and alive. Please help me!

I did not say that. I didn’t even hint at it. I just took a few deep breaths and left. But I have been thinking about that moment ever since; how scary it was and how frighteningly close I came to verbalizing that need for physical contact. 

Which is a surprising need, really. When I am in distress like that, I tend to want the opposite. I want space. I want room to expand. Physical touch is unbearable. 

So not only was this need alarming to me, but it was intensely shameful as well. And I have been holding onto the emotion surrounding that moment ever since it happened. I didn’t know how to bring it up. 

But today I read her my post from yesterday. As we processed it and talked about needs and expectations and how scary it can be to experience vulnerability, I thought of that moment. So I explained what happened and shared my desire to be held and physically contained in that moment.

She said that, interestingly, she had been trying to do the same, but with words. She said she is working on how to use the space and resources we have available to us in sessions to create that same sense of feeling held. I appreciated the way she talked about it. It felt safe and protective. 

Then we talked more about hugs. She said that she envisioned me having a very primal need to be held – something often seen in survivors of child abuse. 

I explained that I was not lacking in affection throughout my childhood. I was often hugged, held, rocked, kissed, and told I was loved. But I was also violated and hurt by the same people, so it was very confusing. Physical touch was a source of tremendous anxiety for me. 

I have spent my entire life searching for someome to replace that need for primal touch; for the safe, nurturing hug of a mother.  I have it now in as much as I possibly can. The woman I now call “Mom” always hugs me when I see her. She holds me and rubs my back. She tells me how absolutely loved and cherished I am. She soothes me. She says, “You are my daughter and I am your Mom.” She says she loves me like her own children. 

And I believe her, in as much as that can be true. As I was explaining this in session, the therapist said, “But you don’t have the same history with her as a mother and child…”

Exactly. She is not my mother. And although I have wished for a mother since I was a small child (and specifically for this person to be my mother since I was 16) I know now that I will never be able to replace mine. I spent so much time chasing an idea of Mother. But when I finally got what I wanted, it felt nothing like I’d imagined. The reality does not match the ideal. 

Which is not my fault. Or hers. She is lovely and our bond is special. But it will never be able to replace the bond between my biological mother and I. Nothing will.

The therapist acknowledged the heaviness of my grief and said that although the “mother-shaped hole” may never be filled, it is not hopeless. She believes that the ideal I search for is within myself. By reframing the distortions and lies I was fed, I can begin to unravel some of the self-loathing and fill in the space around that hole with self-love. 

I need to be the mother I always wished for. need to love myself wholeheartedly and unconditionally. need to protect and defend myself. need to nurture and soothe myself. 

And I need to forgive myself for not being loved by my own mother.  


28 thoughts on “Primal Touch and the Mother-Shaped Hole

  1. jenasauruswake says:

    I so hear you. I love my adopted mum and my sisters, and they love me. But……they aren’t mine, not really. I want my poisonous, toxic, quite frankly evil, biological family. I want roots and history. I want my own mother. Not as she was and is, but as a proper, good, normal parent. I can’t explain it any better than that

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rachel says:

    This one hurts to read. A bit too much for me to emotionally go there with, given I am seeing ‘mine’ on Friday. Well-written and such clarity and insight. Proud of you for going there with the therapist.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. alicewithptsd says:

    This hurts. I am really sad for Anna right now. I do want to just reach out and give her one of the big mama hugs I give to my own daughter. I hope it is okay to say that.

    My mom loved me/ loves me to the best of her ability but it has always felt like i had to be perfect to be loved. I don’t know how to explain it. But it is different than the love I have in my heart for my daughter, and it makes me sad and does create this hole, this need for feeling that kind of love— wanting to be loved for being me, not for being perfect. I don’t know if that makes sesne. Bea talks a lot about physical touch, hugs and even just handholding, and she is always saying that is something she feels I am missing in my life because I rarely will even allow hubby to hug me. I’m glad you allow people in your life to give you hugs and soothing, safe physical contact.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      That is definitely okay to say. And I appreciate your kindness.

      I can see how difficult it would be to feel as though your mom loves you, but only under the condition that you’re (her version of) perfect. I don’t have children, but I cannot imagine putting conditions on my love for them, or even on my outward expression of love for them. Seems so unnecessarily cruel.


  4. ambivalencegirl says:

    That lost feeling and silence I know all too well. Trapped in thoughts of knowing what we need but unable to speak it out loud. Most every childlike thought I have seems utterly embarrassing to my adult self. And that anxiety related to being touched and hurt by the same people is so terrifying.
    I used to pretend I had a different mom. TV show characters, neighbors, really anyone who showed me affection. I used to lie and and say other women were my mom or just make one up in my head so no one would know the truth.
    Now I don’t care to do so. I’m so over needing a mom and I don’t want one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      I’m so sorry that you know this feeling. No one should have to feel that lost, silent helplessness. I used to do the same things – I’d see Moms on TV or in movies and fantasize that they would come save me.


  5. Cat says:

    I love how your T is never afraid to show she is still learning how to serve you best. I doubt we can ever completely fill the gap, although some people might come close to fulfilling that mother role. I haven’t thought of this theory of filling the gap with self-love, interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Thanks, Cat, I like that about her, too. Yeah, I find it hard to imagine being able to fully fill that gap, but I think it’s worth a try to mend some of the emptiness and hurt. Which might just have to come from me after all…

      Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      You know, in a way, I think my mother did the very best she could, too. It was just so so bad. I’m sorry yours wasn’t any better. We deserved better.


  6. silentlistener2510 says:


    This is one of the saddest legacies of child abuse.
    It’s wonderful that you have chosen an adopted mom but no nothing can ever replace how screwed up our bio families really are.
    and yes, to all of it.
    Thank you for talking about this incredible viceroy need and explaining that you too weren’t touch deprived.
    My own mom had issues and it is truly confusing when they love you one minute and lose control the next.
    That part helped me feel less crazy/dramatic!
    I’m sorry you know the pain.
    Maybe if it comes from within it can make the relationships without more meaningful. 🙂

    It’s horrible that we have to give these things to ourselves.
    Maybe you can come up with some ideas or have inside help.
    I would so hold your little too. All of you are special and deserve safe warm touch.

    Liked by 1 person

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