Everyone has a mother.
Mother’s Day elevates the importance of this role and can be especially painful for anyone experiencing the death or absence of a mother in their life.
While cards are bought, flowers delivered and gifts given, there are those who grieve for something they do not feel or experience, or maybe never had-a bond with their mother.
Those in loving close relationships with their mothers, especially within the same family, find it difficult to understand that the opposite can be true.
In fact, they may alienate, or be mad at, a sibling estranged from their mother. They cannot comprehend the hurt, secrecy and shame of being on the outside of the family unit and that collective bond. They may also feel the favoritism but not know how to change it. They can’t. No one can.
There is no grasp on the deep scars and hurt from being rejected by their shared mother.
It simply doesn’t mirror their own personal experience. Nor, does it fit the universal mother myth–that all mothers love their children.
Researchers have long studied parental absence, neglect and abandonment on the family dynamic. Considerable research also exists on what happens to a family structure when a mother dies, at any age.
For those whose mothers have died, solace may be found in reading Hope Edelman’s book of comfort, help and understanding when a mother dies- “Motherless Daughters.” Motherless Daughters | Hope Edelman
This piece focuses only on mother’s who are emotionally absent from their daughters’ lives, subsequent effects of that and ways to heal from the rejection.
It does not cover neglectful mothers who, themselves, were raised by loving, supportive mothers. This subject will be covered in a future post.
What is an Emotionally Absent Mother?
Emotional Intelligence: Ability to use our feelings to inform our thoughts.
Emotionally Absent Mothers: Unaware and insensitive to emotional experience of their children.
Who is She?
An emotionally absent mother is too busy, stressed out or self-absorbed to see who a daughter really is. This sort of mother doesn’t even realize being emotionally present is a critical role she should play.
Instead, she treats all of her children the same, never seeing each for their unique interests and characteristics.
She provides for the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter but emotional needs such as acceptance, validation and unconditional love aren’t given.
Feelings are never acknowledged or spoken about. And, if the daughter dares express an emotion or feeling, she may hear harsh responses from her mother like, “Get over yourself.” Or, “So and so has it much more difficult than you do,” and “Stop being so weak, needy and sensitive.”
In managing her daily family life, an emotionally absent mother may have neglected or been absent from the lives of her child(ren) whom she saw as stronger. She may not have even realized they still needed her to listen to and understand them.
At the time, it’s sort of a compliment to the “strong” child but it has lifelong emotional consequences.
Jasmine Lee Cori, author of The Emotionally Absent Mother, explains many of these mothers were severely unmothered themselves; therefore, they are emotionally underdeveloped and have no idea what a close healthy parent-child relationship looks like. The Emotionally Absent Mother: A Guide to Self-Healing and Getting the Love You Missed by Jasmin Lee Cori (goodreads.com)
In her book Running on Empty, Dr. Jonice Webb offers help in identifying feelings and suggests healthy ways for expressing emotions to those who were never taught this as children. Running On Empty By Dr. Jonice Webb | Dr. Jonice Webb
She shares that daughters of emotionally absent mothers often believe, and act, like their feelings don’t matter; therefore, “I don’t matter.” These daughters learn, at an early age, to bottle up, or stuff, their feelings and have no tools or experience to tap into them as an adult.
Dr. Webb writes, “When your emotions are blocked off, your body feels it. Something vital is missing. You sense this deeply, and it does not feel good. You are emotionally numb.”
When feelings are discounted, we get discounted.
- Many learn it’s not safe to share their inner world, so they numb themselves with alcohol, food, drugs and work to distract themselves from unwanted emotions. They put on a suit of emotionless armor every day so they are protected from hurt and rejection.
- Daughters of emotionally absent mothers find it extremely challenging to build healthy adult relationships, especially with other females. There is a lack of trust and fear of abandonment. They become armored, wary and defensive. They feel too ashamed to share why they act and react like they do.
- Not feeling seen, accepted and loved unconditionally results in daughters feeling unsure of themselves and doubting if they deserve to be valued for who they are.
- There is consistent self-worth doubt and anxiety around internal issues. “Am I lovable?”
- A longing to feel loved, which was denied as a child, often results in looking to form intense bonds quickly, which can scare off intimate partners who do not understand the origin of this needy behavior.
- Many daughters feel like orphans. They fear abandonment and lack trust in others. She can’t reach out to the mother or her siblings for comfort and support. This may result in acceptance of loneliness and complete self-reliance in one’s life.
The emotional pain of rejection from either parent, or both, has considerable long-lasting effects on a child’s personality. Unlike physical pain, this pain is relived repeatedly for years.
It may show up in the child at any age with low self-esteem and high self-doubt feeling, for example:
- Closed Off
10 Ways to Heal from an Emotionally Absent Mother
Motherless daughters feel persistent grief for many years, some forever. But this loss peaks when the daughter experiences milestones in her own life where she’d benefit from mothering herself. Moments like child delivery, child rearing, health crises and marital challenges.
There are ways to heal from a mother’s emotional neglect through knowledge, understanding and action. These include:
- Find a substitute mother role model. There are many excellent examples of emotionally available mothers, perhaps within one’s own extended family. Seek someone who is emotionally responsive, nurturing, unselfish and emotionally open. Make sure you can go to her with any emotion, not just the happy ones.
- Practice acceptance and forgiveness. Understand your mother’s limitations. She may not have had the tools and experience to mother you based on her own history. Accepting this paucity will give you peace as you seek counsel and comfort from someone else. Avoid turning back to her for emotional support, which she is likely incapable of giving you. Find peace by letting go of the need for your mother’s validation. Stop waiting for her to admit she failed you and caused you suffering. Move forward.
- Set realistic expectations. Quit waiting for your emotionally absent mother to take an interest in you and your life, or even to love you. People are consistent. She will act as a grandparent as she did as a parent. Don’t be disappointed when she has no curiosity about your children, her grandchildren, either. Don’t speak bad about her in front of your children. Instead, be fully present and show that change is possible without trying to change others.
- Accept that your mother will favor, and be more comfortable with, your siblings who didn’t, and don’t, require her to be emotionally present. Be aware and okay with the fact that she may not want to spend time alone with you. She most likely knows that she lacks the ability to give you the intimacy you so desire and is very uncomfortable, perhaps even making herself sick, when you’re present.
- Distance yourself from your mother and put limitations on your interactions by finding a way that honors you. For instance, a 30-minute call one time a month or visiting her only when others are present. Accept that your strong wish to have a close mother-daughter relationship will never happen. Be at peace and focus on your own career, family and life.
- Approve of yourself. Make yourself a priority. Believe you are worthy of the effort to get to know yourself. Be okay with self-care. Give yourself permission to feel. Don’t deny your own feelings or be afraid to express them as you were taught as a child. Advocate for yourself as you would for your child. Get plenty of rest, exercise and eat healthy. Journal. Quiet your mind. Read. Meditate. Be present with yourself. Do your best. Forgive yourself.
- Establish reciprocal friendships that are fun but yet deep and meaningful and where your feelings are heard, understood and valued. Learn to identify and express your needs and wants. Be patient. Accept that you are still in the process of learning what you want, more less asking for it.
- Focus on your own family (or family of friends). If you have children, start a new pattern by being a safe place for your children’s emotions. Help them name the feeling and seek ways to deal with them. Listen. Be comfortable even with their uncomfortable feelings like anger, frustration, fear and sadness. Try to stay present and focus on the many blessings in your life, including your children, not the love and attention you missed from your mother.
- Seek therapy with a professional trained in estrangement and abandonment. Or, talk to yourself by writing out your experiences and feelings to get clarification and contentment. Finding another woman with a similar experience to share your thoughts and feelings with is also helpful.
- Work on building your confidence and self-esteem by setting goals, working hard to achieve them, and celebrating when you do. Your self-confidence will grow when you “impress yourself.” Become an authority on your own life.
As great spiritual teacher and life coach Iyanla Vanzant Home – Iyanla Vanzant | New York Times Best-Selling Author says, “You don’t get to tell people how to love you or how to love. You get to choose whether or not to participate in the way they are loving you.”
Finally, recognize that this journey of understanding and acceptance of an emotionally absent mother is not easy nor straight-lined. Be patient and kind to yourself, knowing you have value, are loved and deserving of inner peace.
This subject matter is quite difficult because it is rarely spoken of and there are so many layers to it. It’s sort of taboo. Yet, it exists.
I’m not writing about it to be controversial. Rather, since it’s near Mother’s Day and we always have clients struggling with this issue, I wanted to share our perspective and experience with this touchy, very complicated, subject.
As you read the post, maybe you even thought to yourself, “Oh, my goodness! This is how I grew up.” Perhaps you even thought this was ‘normal.’
It isn’t. And, it becomes very challenging when an emotionally absent mother has declining health and the daughter feels obligated to care for her.
This is where Craft LifeStyle Management steps in with our 3+ decades of experience to assist in ensuring your mother receives the care she needs while protecting your soul as well. If you’re in need of help, contact us. Contact – Craft Lifestyle Management (craftlifestylemgt.com)
On a personal note, when I grow up, I want to be just like my daughter who has two children of her own.
I recently asked her if she learned to be such a great mother by watching me and learning what not to do. She responded with, “NO!”
Thank you for that, sweet Summer!
It’s not a secret I personally grew up with an emotionally absent mother. We lost her to Alzheimer’s, starting 10 years prior to her death April 2020. The last six years she was here on earth but her mind was not. It truly was a blessing when she passed.
I understand this subject matter. I am here to support you!
©May 2021 Craft LifeStyle Management.
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