A mother who is emotionally distant, withholding, inconsistent, or even hypercritical or cruel, inflicts multiple wounds on her daughter, writes Peg Streep in her article in Psychology Today.
Author of the Daughter Detox: Recovering from an Unloving Mother and Reclaiming Your Life, and Mean Mothers: Overcoming the Legacy of Hurt, Streeps writes not as a therapist or psychologist, but “as a fellow traveller.”
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It is not surprising, Streep writes, that the most common wounds are those to the self and to the area of emotional connection. “The point of looking at these wounds isn’t to bemoan them or throw up our hands in despair at the mother-love cards we were dealt but to become conscious and aware of them. Consciousness is the first step in an unloved daughter’s healing. All too often, we simply accept these behaviors in ourselves without considering their point of origin.”
The following is a summary of the seven common wounds inflicted by unloving mothers:
1. Lack of confidence
The unloved daughter doesn’t know that she is lovable or worthy of attention; she may have grown up feeling ignored or unheard or criticized at every turn. The voice in her head is that of her mother’s, telling her what she isn’t — smart, beautiful, kind, loving, worthy. That internalized maternal voice will continue to undermine her accomplishments and talents, unless there is some kind of intervention.
2. Lack of trust
“Why would anyone want to be my friend or love me?” “How do I know she’s really my friend?”
Trust issues emanate from a sense that relationships are fundamentally unreliable, and this can flow over into both friendships and romantic relationships. For people who experienced love as involving obsession, demands for reciprocation, emotional highs and lows, criticism, extreme sexual attraction or jealousy, it is understandable that there is a need for constant validation that trust is warranted.
3. Difficulty setting boundaries
Many daughters, caught between their need for their mother’s attention and its absence, report that they become “pleasers” in adult relationships. Or they may develop difficulties in setting other boundaries which make for healthy and emotionally sustaining relationship.
Maintaining both romantic and close female friendships can be complicated due to the inability to say “No” (“Somehow, I always end up doing too much, and I end up feeling unappreciated or disappointed”); or wanting a relationship so desperately that the other person backs off.
4. Difficulty seeing the self accurately
When a young girl internalizes the messages she has heard over and over (that she is fat, unlovable, stupid, and so forth), she develops a distorted sense of self. Some daughters of unloving others report feeling surprised when they succeed at something, or hesitant to try something new so as to reduce the possibility of failure. This isn’t just a question of low self-esteem, but something more profound.
5. Making avoidance the default position
Lacking confidence or feeling fearful sometimes puts the unloved daughter in a defensive position. Triggered by fear, mistrust or self-loathing, many daughters of unloving mothers will unconsciously avoid deep and supportive connections so as to avoid being hurt again.
6. Being overly sensitive
An unloved daughter may be sensitive to slights, real and imagined; a random comment may carry the weight of her childhood experience without her even being aware of it. She may personalize simple banter as something more threatening, worrying it to death when nothing negative was intended at all. Daughters of unattained mothers tend to have trouble managing emotions; they tend to overthink and ruminate as well.
7. Replicating the mother bond in relationships
While securely attached individuals tend to go out into the world seeking that which is familiar — i.e., people who have similar histories of attachment, unluckily, so do the ambivalently and avoidantly attached. This sometimes has the effect of unwittingly replicating the maternal relationship, marrying someone who treats her as her mother did.
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Taking stock of the emotional wounds inflicted by a mother who is incapable of protective, supportive or unconditional love is the first step towards healing. This is an important step in the journey towards new self-awareness and possibility.