Ms. Meyers took anti-depressants and went to therapy. She finally found relief when realizing her mom had been emotionally absent.
Realizing Your Mom Was Emotionally Absent
When they have children, many women discover a deeper connection to their own moms. We may feel tremendous gratitude for all they did for us and a newfound appreciation for the patience, effort, and loving care it took to nurse us, potty train us, help us with our math homework, guide us through the awkward preteen years, and let us make our own stupid mistakes as young adults.
For many of us, though, motherhood makes us realize how much we missed out on during our own childhoods. We may finally become aware of the many ways our lives were negatively affected by the absence of that profound emotional bond between mom and daughter.
What Is an Emotionally Absent Mother?
An emotionally absent mother is not fully present and especially not to the emotional life of the child. She may be depressed, stretched too thin and exhausted, or perhaps a bit numb. Many of these mothers were severely undermothered themselves and have no idea what a close parent-child relationship looks like. They are doing the outer things they think a mother should do, but have no clue how very big the job of mothering is.
— Jasmin Lee Cori, author of "The Emotionally Absent Mother"
The Lasting Effects of an Emotionally Unavailable Mother
When my husband and I were going through the long and painful process of getting our 3-year-old son diagnosed with autism, I started to have flashbacks of my growing-up years. Before, I had placed those dreadful days in a dark corner of my mental closet and moved on with my life. But my mother's lack of compassion and understanding about my son stirred up unpleasant memories from—and realizations about—my past.
Not only was she unsympathetic to the heartache I was going through, but she was actually downright hostile and dismissive of my feelings. She couldn't relate on any level to the intense emotions I was experiencing. More than any other time in my life I needed a mommy, but she steadfastly refused to act like one...or, perhaps, she just didn't have it in her and never had.
When I began fully feeling the absence of my mother's love, I was overwhelmed by my son's diagnosis and a new baby. I didn't have time or money to attend therapy. Thank goodness my friend told me about Jasmin Lee Cori's The Emotionally Absent Mother. This book led me to reflect upon my childhood instead of just blocking it from my mind like I had been doing. I read it at a snail's pace—needing to thoroughly digest one page at a time, ponder its content, and journal about it.
Cori explains that many daughters of emotionally absent mothers spend their entire childhood trying to win their mom's love and approval instead of focusing on themselves. As a result, they grow up not knowing who they are, what they want from life, or even what they enjoy doing. They might feel empty, alone, and aimless, which often leads to anxiety or depression.
This perfectly described my own situation. Every page of Cori's book spoke to my experiences growing up with a mother who performed all the outward behaviors of a "good mom"—cooking our meals, cleaning the house, and driving us to school—yet doing nothing to care for our inner universes (responding to our emotions, empathizing with our struggles, or comforting us when we were blue). As I read, I often needed to put the book down for days or even weeks because it made me so emotional. When I finally finished reading and absorbing it all, I set five goals for myself that proved immensely helpful on my road to understanding, healing, and forgiving.
Here are the five things I did to heal.
5 Ways for Daughters to Heal From an Emotionally Absent Mother
- Find a mother figure.
- Mother yourself.
- Examine and forgive.
- Make your home child-centered.
- Give yourself permission to feel everything.
Each of these routes towards healing is explained and described fully below.
1. Find a Mother Figure
We wound ourselves when we only look for mothering from one person—our biological moms. The mother archetype is a universal role, someone who's nurturing, caring, unselfish, and emotionally open. If our own moms don't fulfill that description, it's essential we find someone who does: female or male, older or younger, a person who'll be there for the long haul or just for the immediate situation.
My son's occupational therapist, Nora, became my maternal figure. Although she isn't much older than I am, she was a wiser and more experienced figure who gently guided me through the autism maze. Because her teenage son had Asperger's, she spoke not only from a professional perspective but from a personal one and always with genuine kindness and concern.
While her primary job was to help my son, she never left me out of the equation. She made sure I was taking good care of myself—going to a support group for parents of children on the spectrum and having fun with my husband and baby. She reminded me to enjoy my son as a wonderful, unique kid and not just one with autism. I'm no longer in touch with Nora but remain grateful that she mothered me during this difficult period.
A Word of Caution: In my search for a mother figure, I took a number of missteps. In Why We Repeatedly Choose the Wrong Relationships, Julia Flood, a licensed psychotherapist, cautions that we tend to be drawn to the familiar and go toward the devil we know. I kept trying to form friendships with women who were closed-off like my mother. I was trying to win them over and change them, just like I'd done with my mom as a child. Once I identified this pattern, I was able to stop it and start pursuing relationships with people who were emotionally available and desiring of an open, honest, and reciprocal connection.
2. Mother Yourself
I didn't treat myself well, and it was catching up to me. I didn't eat right, make time for exercise, spend time with friends, or have hobbies. I didn't feel like I deserved good treatment—not from others, and not from myself. I knew changing that belief was central to improving my life.
In elementary school, I was the ragamuffin girl whose hair needed a good brushing. In middle school, I was the one with the frumpy clothes who needed someone to teach her about style. In high school, I was the pimply teen who needed to visit a dermatologist. I never had anyone mentor me, advocate for me, champion me, be my cheerleader, or mother me. I finally decided to do all those things for myself.
Today, I don't let malicious voices in my head tear me down until I can barely function. I'm kind and gentle to myself, making time for activities that bring me peace and joy. I talk to myself like a mother talks to a child: "You've worked long enough. You're tired now and need to sleep...You need to slow down and eat a healthy meal. Nothing is more important than that."
I begin many mornings by writing a note to myself from my ideal imaginary mother. She tells me how much she loves me and how proud she is of what I've accomplished. She encourages me to treat myself with kindness throughout the day.
I remember hearing Iyanla Vanzant, the life coach and television personality, tell women to put themselves first and to "keep your cup full." I had heard nothing of that sort while growing up, but found out quickly how right Vanzant was. It's empowering to finally have someone looking out for me...especially when it's me. I no longer feel so completely drained. I look forward to every day and have so much more to offer.
3. Examine and Forgive
Socrates said “the unexamined life is not worth living.” But for those of us with painful memories, it's often difficult to re-visit our traumatic pasts. When I started to look at how my mom's childhood related to my own, though, the puzzle pieces started to fit and a clear, cohesive image appeared. I realized that not only did I need to forgive my mother, but that she deserved my forgiveness.
My grandparents conceived my mother to save their unhappy marriage. When their first daughter died, they contemplated divorce. They ultimately chose, however, to have another child, my mother, in the hopes of saving their union. It didn't work. My grandmother began to drink, eventually dying from cirrhosis of the liver. My mom got sent away to boarding school. She never had a mother figure in her life again and never experienced what it was like to live in a family until she had kids of her own.
It's no wonder that she struggled to connect to her children on an emotional level. She was still preoccupied with the suffering of her own childhood (and still is today, well into her 70s). She saw her mom's alcoholism as an act of rejection. She commented, “she chose booze over me.”
My mom never took the time to learn about alcohol addiction, attend an Al-Anon meeting, or find answers in therapy. She didn't have a mother. She didn't mother herself. So how could she mother her children? With that insight, it was easy to forgive.
4. Make Your Home Child-Centered
According to Jasmin Lee Cori, many children who grew up with emotionally absent mothers didn't have child-centered homes. She says, “These parents didn’t supervise kids, they didn’t talk to their kids, they didn’t touch their kids, and they weren’t there when their kids came to them for help.”
In my family, our mother always had more important things to do than mothering. Her career (ironically as an elementary school teacher) was always put ahead of us kids. We'd sit at the dinner table, and she'd tell story after story about the students in her class but never asked about our days.
As a parent, I've made a conscious effort to create a child-centered home. I don't burden them with adult issues like my mother did with me. She confided in me all her marital problems, work struggles, and financial concerns. I would never even think of doing that with my own kids.
A Note About Play: I hated playing with my sons at first and even resented it. My mother had never reduced herself to our level when my siblings and I were young. Therefore, I didn't know how to immerse myself into a child's imaginative world and felt ridiculous trying. Yet, the more I did it, the more fun it became and the more I delighted in living for the moment, escaping to a fantasy world, and connecting with my sons. As such, playing with them became surprisingly helpful in my healing process.
5. Give Yourself Permission to Feel Everything
As a child, my mother denied my feelings again and again. If I said, “I feel sad,” she'd lecture me on why that couldn't possibly be true. Because she had an alcoholic mother who had died, she thought my life was perfect and I had no right to feel anything but sheer contentment. That's when I started to stuff my emotions with food. As an adult, I concealed my feelings with anti-depressants, leading to a robotic existence.
Running on Empty by Dr. Jonice Webb is another book that I recommend for daughters of emotionally absent mothers, especially those who struggle with identifying and expressing their emotions. Dr. Webb says that mothers who discount a daughter's emotions during childhood create enormous problems for their daughters in adulthood.
The daughter thinks: My feelings don't matter so I must not matter. She learns at an impressionable age to bottle up her emotions. Then, as an adult, she cannot tap into those feelings when she needs them. 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."
After getting off anti-depressants, I decided to feel every emotion for the first time in my life. It was scary because I thought my husband and kids would turn their backs on me. I thought they would tell me that my feelings were wrong just like my mom had, but they didn't. They accepted them and, therefore, accepted me.
I also started writing down my feelings and experiences as the daughter of an emotionally absent mother. Through the process of putting pen to paper, I made sense of what happened to me and how it shaped my life. Writing things down helped me organize my thoughts. I realized that I didn't always need other people to understand my history and validate my emotions; I could find peace just by putting the words on the page and that discovery was truly transformative.
In this video, Dr. Jonice Webb offers a hopeful message for those who grew up with emotionally absent mothers.
Emotional neglect is a relationship pattern in which one person's emotional needs are repeatedly ignored, invalidated, belittled, or even mocked by a significant other. It occurs when a person fails to provide the emotional support they should, given their relationship to the other. The term encompasses, among other things, a spouse's failure to attend to their partner's emotional needs and parent's failure to provide the attention and affection their child needs to thrive.
What is parental emotional neglect?
Parental emotional neglect is when a parent fails to recognize, understand, or empathize with their child's emotions. It is one of the four types of neglect: physical, medical, educational, and emotional.
Is emotional neglect a form of child abuse?
Although they sometimes go hand in hand, emotional neglect is not exactly the same thing as emotional abuse. Emotional neglect is an act of omission—of failing to see, recognize, or validate a child's emotions and omitting to do things to nurture a child's emotional health—while emotional abuse involves actively doing things that are hurtful or traumatizing (like taunting, name-calling, or gaslighting).
Emotional neglect can hurt a child just as much as physical or emotional abuse can, however. Although there are no bruises or scars, even if a child's physical needs (food, medicine, clothing, shelter) are provided for, a lack of emotional affection, attention, and validation will have many psychological effects that carry over to adulthood.
How do you know if you suffered emotional neglect as a child?
Because there are no bruises or scars, recognizing the signs of emotional neglect is not easy. Not only will the neglect be invisible to others, but it might also be hidden from the person who suffered the neglect, and sometimes the truth and full repercussions of emotional neglect won't be felt until much later. Symptoms may only begin to appear in adulthood. For example, I didn't begin to understand the damage that had been done to me emotionally until I had children of my own.
Not only will emotional neglect be invisible to others, but it might also be hidden from the person who endured it. Sometimes, the truth and repercussions of emotional neglect won't be felt until much later.
Signs You Were Emotionally Neglected in Childhood
- You feel numb or cut off from your emotions. You might not know how you really feel at all. You often don't have a strong sense of who you are, what you like, or what you want.
- Instead of knowing how you feel, you just feel hollow, empty, or numb.
- You often feel disconnected and cut off from others, like you are all alone in the world. You may feel lonely even when surrounded by others.
- You may feel emotionally depleted, like you have nothing left to give.
- You have a hard time objectively assessing your own strengths and weaknesses. You especially don't recognize your own best qualities.
- You don't feel like you're worthy of love, attention, or care—from yourself or from others.
- You feel like you don’t belong, even with your closest friends and family.
- You feel lost, unseen, invisible, and alienated. You often feel like like you are on the outside of life, looking in.
- You may have difficulty trusting in or relying upon others.
- You are extremely sensitive to rejection.
- You can't pinpoint any abuse that happened in your childhood, but you still feel like something was missing. Maybe you tell yourself that your childhood was "normal" and berate yourself for not feeling stronger and happier now.
- You are a perfectionist, and nothing you do is ever good enough. You judge yourself harshly and often feel disappointed with or angry at yourself.
- You have a hard time saying how you feel or putting your feelings into words. Even your happy feelings may be hard to define.
- You may believe that you are deeply and irredeemably flawed. You think that if you let others see the truth inside, it will repel them, so you have to hide.
- When you get upset, it's hard to self-soothe. Your emotions feel too big, too violent, too scary, and too out-of-control.
- You have a hard time asking for or receiving help.
- You might feel like you are different from other people, like something is deeply wrong with you...you don't know what it is, but you think it's all your fault.
If these statements sound familiar, it's possible you experienced emotional neglect in childhood. The emotionally neglected often can't pinpoint any childhood incident or memory that helps them identify what was really happening under the surface of things, so they blame themselves. If it was your father who was emotionally distant, you might like to read Fatherless Daughters: How Growing Up Without a Dad Affects Women. If you'd like to know more about the lasting effects of emotional neglect on a daughter, read How an Emotionally Absent Mother Impacts Her Daughter's Life.
Did you have an emotionally absent mother?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: My mom was emotionally absent, and I didn't want to be like her when I became a mom. I've done really well with my kids, but I get frustrated dealing with their emotions. How can I do better?
Answer: It's understandable that you, the daughter of an emotionally absent mother, would struggle to deal with your children's feelings despite your best intentions. Growing up without a role model to show you how to do things correctly, you're left to your own devices. When you were a child, your emotional world was not attended to, and now you may perceive your children's intense feelings as scary and threatening. You may wrongly interpret their anger or sadness as saying: “Mom, you're doing a lousy job and I'm unhappy about it.”
It's so wonderful, though, that you recognize your weakness in this area and want to improve. Now you need to cut yourself some slack and become more methodical in your approach. I, too, found myself reacting without patience and empathy when my sons were expressing their emotions. Sometimes it was simply because I was tired but other times it was because of the emotional neglect I experienced as a kid.
I found myself wanting to fix my children's problems and move forward as quickly as possible with no emotional messiness. That was my legacy as the daughter of an emotionally absent mother. Therefore, I decided to become more deliberate, slow down, and follow these three critical steps:
1. Let them have their feelings.
Feelings are neither good nor bad; they are. Help your children identify their feelings and name them (sad, frustrated, angry). Help them figure out why they're having these feelings (I'm angry because I lost at Monopoly...I'm frustrated because we didn't have pizza for dinner...I'm sad because I didn't get invited to the birthday party). Be their guide as they explore their feelings. Let them cry if they need to cry. Don't try to suppress their emotions. Help them find ways to deal with their feelings in a constructive way: punching a pillow, going outside, waling the dog, exercising, talking to a friend, writing in a journal, taking a bath, etc.
2. Don't get defensive.
Keep in mind that their feelings are their own. Get your ego out of the equation and don't make it about you. Step back from the situation. Don't take their strong emotions as a condemnation of your mothering. This is about them getting to know more about their emotions and themselves. It's normal, natural, and healthy.
3. Listen and don't try to fix things.
What one of the biggest complaints wives have about their husbands is that they immediately jump into solving the problem rather than listening and empathizing. As daughters of emotionally absent mothers, we can be guilty of this as well. We're uncomfortable with the raw emotions. We want them to go away and everything to return to normal. When we do this, however, we give our kids the wrong message. We communicate that feelings are undesirable, so it's best to bottle them up inside and then suffer all the negative physical and emotional consequences of doing so. As a daughter of emotionally absent mothers, this is the last message we want to pass along to our kids!
Our moms didn't listen to us when we were children and didn't pick up on our feelings. There was no emotional bond. Now it's our opportunity to do better with our kids and not pass the emotional neglect to the next generation. It may not come naturally to us, but we can do it because we're aware and highly motivated.
Question: Do you have any more book recommendations? I finished the one mentioned in your article, and I need to read more on the subject as part of my healing process.
Answer: After I read "The Emotionally Absent Mother," I was eager to move forward like you probably are. I didn't want to get stuck in the victim role, constantly re-hashing my childhood. I had spent enough time doing that, so I read books that helped me make my life better in the here and now. I read Jasmin Lee Cori's follow-up, "The Emotionally Absent Mother: A Guide to Self-Healing and Getting the Love You Missed," and "Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers" by Dr. Karyl McBride.
Both books helped me understand how growing up with an emotionally distant mom shaped my childhood, causing me so much shame and self-doubt. I had blamed myself for my terrible childhood, thinking I was a failure as a kid and teen. These books helped me realize that I was not to blame, and I could finally start to nurture and love that wounded little girl inside of me. I began taking good care of myself for the first time in my life: losing weight, exercising, and eating well. Before that, I just didn't like myself enough to bother.
Question: I want to start by thanking you for sharing your story. I felt I was reading about myself and it's nice to know i'm not crazy. I'd like to know if you had any trouble when you first had your child. I am scared of becoming a mom for fear of being a bad one. Did you have other resources to share on that aspect of your experience?
Answer: You're so fortunate to be aware of this now while contemplating motherhood. As I said in my article, I didn't know I was the daughter of an emotionally absent mother until after having my son and struggling through his autism diagnosis. If I had known sooner, I would have saved myself so much heartache and frustration. I never would have expected my mom to act any differently than she always had in emotionally rife situations--cold, angry, and detached--and I would have moved away from her long before starting a family of my own.
Don't think for one minute that your mother will act differently as a grandmother to your kids than she did as a mother to you. I was hoping my mom would connect to my sons on an emotional level and be a special someone in their lives: giving them hugs and kisses, playing board games with them, taking them to the park, talking with them, doing cooking and art projects with them. But, it was insane of me to think that because she had never done those things with my siblings and me. Hope springs eternal, though, and I wanted so badly to have a second chance with her through my sons. People are consistent, though, and my mom acted as a grandmother just as she had as a parent. I didn't want to go through that pain again so I distanced myself from her (emotionally and geographically). Without a doubt, it was the best decision for me, my marriage, and my kids.
I'm so glad I sheltered my sons from my mom because they haven't been damaged by her. That just see her as a passive-aggressive old lady. My two nieces, though, are now young adults and grew up with their grandmother near them. They have no bond with her and hate how she nitpicks their appearance—their hair color, their clothes, their skin, their weight—just as she had done to me and their mom while growing up. Unlike me and my sister, though, they fight back and don't let her crush their spirit!
I think you would be an awesome mom if you deal with these issues before becoming pregnant. Without a doubt, parenting has been a challenge for me because of my son's autism but also because of my childhood. Yet, being a mother has given me a chance to build the family of my dreams in which there's a lot of fun, laughter, and camaraderie.
"Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect" by Jonice Webb helped me realize why I was feeling so tired and drained as a parent. I thought it was only because I was doing too much as a mom, wife, and teacher (which was true), but it was also caused by being the daughter of an emotionally absent mother. Understanding that allowed me to bring more joy and vitality into my life through meditating, volunteering, exercising, having hobbies, and allowing myself downtime. Now I always have things to look forward to that keep me living in the present and not dwelling on the past. My life is a lot more fun now than it has ever been.
Good luck to you on that life-altering decision. It's a big one!
Question: What is hard for me to understand is the lack of empathy my mother had and why I'm the complete opposite and have too much empathy for others to the point of self-destruction. My mom had no empathy because her mom had no empathy, so why am I filled with pain and love for others?
Answer: Empathy is shaped by many factors: our genetics, our family history, our personalities, and our environment. It's also molded by the experiences we have with other people and whether or not we choose to put ourselves in their shoes and feel their feelings. Some people resist doing this because they've been so badly damaged themselves and don't want to take on more heartache. However, by doing this, they're shutting down their very humanity.
This was the case with my own mom who was rejected as a child by her alcoholic mother. When growing up, I was a sensitive kid who felt things intensely, but my mom never provided a safe spot for my emotions. In fact, she didn't know how to deal with them at all and typically reacted with anger and frustration.
Some people (perhaps, your mother and grandmother) make a conscious or unconscious decision to be unsympathetic. They even mistakenly see it as a sign of strength. After my son was diagnosed with autism, I decided to just focus on my immediate family and walled myself off from other people's problems. I thought if I took on another person's pain it would crush me. When I was ready to open myself up again, I had to re-train myself to be empathetic. There's no doubt it takes practice and patience. If we're too busy and overwhelmed with life, our empathy declines dramatically.
People in helping professions such as social workers, teachers, nurses, and therapists often become victims of “compassion fatigue.” To prevent this from happening, they must learn to recognize the pain of others but not let it become their own. They need to differentiate themselves from the person who's suffering. They must put themselves first and have personal lives in which they exercise, eat right, and have hobbies, friends, and fun times so they don't become burned out in their careers.
If you're experiencing empathy to the point of self-destruction, you need to take a step back and realize the negative impact it's having on your body and your brain. Don't lose yourself in other people's problems. Take time for yourself and surround yourself with positive folks.
You're an impressive person who's not allowed your mother's coldness to make you detached. You should be very proud of that but remember to put yourself first.
Question: I often get frustrated because my friends don't empathize with me when I talk about my emotionally absent mom. It makes me feel lonely and unsupported. What can I do?
Answer: It's understandable that you'd feel lonely because of this. However, unless your friends have emotionally absent mothers as well, they probably can't relate to your situation. They may think that you're just griping about your mom again, not appreciating how truly difficult your relationship with her is. After all, most women get annoyed with their moms from time to time, but they have a deep emotional bond that sustains them through any bumpy patches. They simply can't comprehend not having that strong mother-daughter connection.
Through the years, I've become friends with a handful of women who are daughters of emotionally absent mothers like me. We're different ages and different ethnic backgrounds but have formed a sisterhood based on having similar experiences with our detached moms. We reach out to one another when we need support from someone who “gets it.”
One of them, Charlotte, called me the other day to talk about the coronavirus as she's quarantined at home with her three young children. She told me how she was speaking with her mom on the phone, telling her how stressed out she was at the prospect of staying at home with the kids for weeks to come. Without missing a beat, her mom began scolding her for feeling that way and lecturing her about being grateful for her kids.
Having received a lifetime of similar reactions from my own mother, I immediately knew how Charlotte was feeling. We talked for a long time, and she shared her anxieties about the virus and the anguish that she felt about her mom. By the end, we were both laughing at the absurd number of times we've looked for comfort from our moms and only got grief. We've accepted that our moms are emotionally absent on a intellectual level but, deep down, are still wanting them to be warm, loving mommies.
I suggest you read Jasmin Lee Cori's “The Emotionally Absent Mother.” After doing so, you'll no longer feel alone. Talking with a therapist is also a huge benefit, especially one who's worked extensively with daughters of emotionally absent moms. We need people in our lives who “get it” whether they're online, in person, or in a book. Take care and know that you're not alone!
Question: I get so mad at myself for going to my mom for emotional support. Why do I keep doing this?
Answer: Don't be so hard on yourself. It's perfectly normal that you would turn to your mom for emotional support like many daughters do. It's just like going to a faucet in your kitchen every time you need water. Eventually, however, you figure out that there's nothing there and you need to accept it even though every fiber of your being wants it to be different.
When we don't practice acceptance, we hurt ourselves and risk our mental well-being. Perhaps, it would help if you adopted the mantra: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Saying this helped me when I finally realized that my mom lacked empathy and that her coldness was, in fact, causing me even greater pain.
Your kitchen faucet may not work, but you still need water for your very survival. The same can be said of emotional support. You need to find other sources, whether they are romantic partners, friends, roommates, co-workers, or neighbors. We all need people with whom we can talk, confide, and share our most private thoughts, feelings, and concerns.
We daughters of emotionally absent mothers, though, often don't look for these folks. We're so damaged from the lack of connection with our moms that we've abandoned the search—much to our detriment. We're afraid that we'll be rejected once again and, the truth is, we may be. Yet, we need to take that risk and keep reaching out for connection because that's what humans need.
We must believe in ourselves that we're strong enough to handle being turned away and will keep looking elsewhere. One of my favorite quotes is from the writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who said: “As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.” I've found those words to be so true and empowering in my life.
When you accept your mother for the person she is and all her limitations, you'll find tremendous peace. You'll no longer turn to her for emotional support, only to be hurt and disappointed. You'll finally let go of that habit and find comfort in others.
Question: When do you know it's time to end a relationship with your mother?
Answer: Only you can answer that question. Fortunately, most of us never reach that point when we must totally disconnect from our emotionally absent mothers. If you're contemplating this, you must appreciate that it's a dramatic, life-altering decision and deserves time and deliberation. Talking it over with a therapist would certainly be wise when deciding whether or not to proceed.
My cousin recently severed ties with her mother after a lifetime of verbal abuse: criticizing her appearance, lambasting her weight, and blaming her solely for a failed marriage. I'm confident it was the right move because it was done with the guidance of a trusted therapist. My cousin had been putting up with my aunt's destructive, demoralizing, and disruptive behaviors for six decades. She had made it clear on many occasions that the verbal abuse needed to stop, but it never did. She asked to be treated with respect and consideration but never was. She, therefore, asked herself: What is my cost for staying in this relationship? Her answer was “too high” as it negatively impacted her psychological and physical well-being.
Fortunately, most daughters of emotionally absent mothers just need to distance ourselves and put limits on the relationship (I'll call once a week and talk for 15 minutes... I'll go to a movie with her but not an all-day shopping trip... I'll see her with relatives on the holidays but not one-on-one). In most cases, this distancing process is inevitable, healthy, and necessary as we shift focus to our own lives, careers, and families. We finally accept that our dream of having a close mother-daughter bond will not become a reality. We let go of the stress and anxiety that comes from wanting something we can't have and finally experience peace.
Because you're asking the question, I get the sense you want to stay connected to your mom but in a very limited way. If it's not working for you now, structure the relationship in a new way that honors you. Think about your mom's behaviors and separate those that are destructive from those that are just annoying. Decide what you'll accept or what you won't and communicate this to your mom.
I hope it all works out for you. Hopefully, you can salvage a relationship, respectful of your needs but cognizant of your mother's limitations. However, if her behavior is soul-crushing, I hope it doesn't take you six decades to end it like it did my cousin. Take care!
Question: My 15-year-old (step)daughter finally got to move in with us. Her mother has been plain cruel. Along with therapy, are there any books you think a mature 15-year-old could read and benefit from?
Answer: First, let me commend you for being so sensitive and compassionate about your stepdaughter's situation. Her therapist would be a much better source for book recommendations than I would. The books I recommend to daughters of emotionally absent mothers are for adult women and explore heavy-duty themes that aren't appropriate for teens. When I read those books, they wiped me out emotionally.
I would suggest, though, that you consider family therapy as you make this big transition. It would be valuable for all of you to have a skilled facilitator in the room as you maneuver this new living arrangement. When a teen is in therapy by herself, she gets the message that she's alone in dealing with these issues. Family therapy gives her the support she needs and shows her how powerful the group dynamic is.
I would imagine that you, her father, and other siblings need support in this new arrangement as well. Discussing these issues now can prevent problems in the future. If her mother would come into the therapy as well, it could be extremely beneficial. Even if the two of them can no longer live together, perhaps they could salvage something of their mother-daughter bond.
My 17-year-old niece recently read “Express Yourself: A Teen Girl's Guide to Speaking Up and Being Who You Are” by Emily Roberts, a psychotherapist. Her mother (my sister) was the daughter of an emotionally absent mother, so my niece is coping with that legacy. She was struggling with depression and anxiety and was cutting herself. Like her mother and me when we were teens, she had bottled up her feelings and didn't have the skills to articulate her thoughts. She said this book (along with therapy) helped her find her voice and get some much-needed relief from her emotional pain.
Question: You described my mother, no cuddling or bonding so I didn't know myself. I tried hard to nurture my girls, yet how can I know myself now at 60?
Answer: I'm 53 and struggle with that as well. It astonishes me to this day how little insight I have about myself due to my childhood with an emotionally absent mother. Because our moms ignored or discounted our inner world while we were growing up, we didn't get the feedback we needed to know ourselves. In many instances, this led us to make wildly inappropriate choices for our lives.
My mother, for instance, wanted a popular, outgoing child so she insisted I was an extrovert. Despite my feelings, behaviors, opinions, and preferences that strongly indicated I was an introvert, she told me again and again that I was gregarious. For many years, I tried desperately to be just that but, not surprisingly, wound up failing miserably and feeling like a fraud. I worked hard to became a teacher, which proved to be a horrible fit since introverts get drained by interacting with people all day. It felt like everyone around me knew who they were and what they should be doing with their lives, but I didn't have a clue.
The emotional invalidation we received from our mothers still impacts us today. We were told at a young age that our feelings didn't matter, that they were bad, and that they were a bother to our moms. When our feelings got discounted, we got discounted. We learned that it wasn't safe to share our inner world so we numbed ourselves (perhaps, with food, drugs, or alcohol). We put on a suit of armor each day so we were protected from being hurt and rejected.
To get to know ourselves now, we must finally embrace our inner world that's been neglected for too long. By celebrating our feelings, we validate ourselves. I write in a journal every day about my emotions with absolutely no self-censorship. I accept they're neither good nor bad; they just are. I let myself feel my feelings throughout the day and no longer squelch them.
By getting in touch with my inner world, I know myself better and I'm more powerful than ever. I'm no longer the confused little girl who got discounted every time she voiced an emotion to her mother. I'm able to figure out what brings me joy and pursue it with a new-found passion. I like myself now and enjoy spending time alone. I don't need to be so busy like I once did. You may want to read my article on this topic called “50 Ways for Daughters of Emotionally Absent Mothers to Nurture Themselves Each and Every Day.” https://remedygrove.com/wellness/50-Ways-for-Daugh...
You deserve this special time to get to know yourself. Embrace your feelings and the rest will come. Enjoy this journey of self-discovery!
Question: I'm just starting out in my life and although I know what I want to do, I lack self-confidence and self-assurance for it, possibly because of an emotionally absent mother. I want to become an emotionally independent person but how do I do that?
Answer: It's fantastic you have these goals for yourself at such a young age. It's not unusual for us daughters of emotionally absent mothers to lack self-confidence. Our moms didn't act as mirrors for us like most mothers do, showing us who we are, our strengths and weaknesses, and what we can offer the world. As a result, many of us know very little about ourselves and stumble around for direction. That's why it's so important we treat each day like a journey of self-discovery, getting to know ourselves better and treating ourselves with tender loving care.
You'll build self-esteem by setting goals for yourself and working hard to achieve them. Your self-confidence will grow when you impress yourself. Whether it's graduating from college, taking job training classes, accomplishing fitness goals, learning ballroom dancing, or putting yourself in new and uncomfortable social situations, you'll become stronger. When you struggle and fail (and you will like all of us), get up, dust yourself off, and continue. Studies show that it's perseverance (not talent or intelligence) that's the greatest indicator of success in life... so just keep going! Take risks and don't avoid failure.
We human beings thrive on connection but, unfortunately, we daughters of emotionally absent mothers often find it difficult to build strong friendships. Our unsatisfying relationship with our mothers looms large, making us think all relationships will be draining and one-sided like that one was. While you want to become strong, resilient, and emotionally healthy, you don't want to shun connection. After growing up with a mom who didn't show much feeling, you want to become at ease with your own emotions: understanding them, talking about them, sharing them, and writing about them. You want to find friends who are capable of a reciprocal relationship that's fun but also deep and meaningful.
The author, Joseph Campbell, wrote: “The privilege of a lifetime is to be who you are.” This is a terrific time in your life to find out about yourself before you have the commitments of a career, a husband, a home, kids, and bills. I suggest you read my article entitled “50 Ways for Daughters of Emotionally Absent Mothers to Nurture Themselves Each and Every Day.” We emotionally absent daughters often neglect our needs. Others watch us and take their cue on how to treat us by how we treat ourselves. If we don't do right by ourselves, others won't do right by us either. This is one of the hardest lessons I've had to learn!
Question: I've always gone through life looking for a mother figure to guide, nurture and validate me. I found a mother figure three years ago that gave me everything I was lacking, but she quickly changed and became cold and mean. I have been left feeling greater pain than ever and unable to recover. I've been to therapy, I'm on anti-depressants, and I'm trying so hard to mother myself. What else can I do?
Answer: I'm sorry you're struggling right now but glad you're motivated to get relief and then, hopefully, some much-deserved joy! The biggest mistake I made was stopping therapy and using anti-depressants for far too long without a plan to eventually get off them. I feel my doctor did me a great disservice by not urging me to continue working on my deep-seated issues in therapy and relying solely on the drugs. When I did finally wean off the anti-depressants after many years, I was right back where I started with the same feelings of sadness and emptiness that stemmed from having an emotionally absent mother (of course, you should only go off anti-depressants gradually and under your doctor's guidance)!
When you were in therapy, did you focus on your relationship with your mother? I was in therapy to deal with my son's autism diagnosis, and I hadn't yet identified myself as the daughter of an emotionally absent mother. Therefore, my therapist and I never got to the root of my problem. It was only years later that I came to understand that my mom's cold, detached reaction to my son's diagnosis had triggered memories of how she had behaved when I was growing up, causing me trauma and anguish.
I strongly recommend you read Jasmin Lee Cori's “The Emotionally Absent Mother” and write in a journal as you do so. Not only did every page of that book hit home with me but every paragraph did! I needed to think, reflect, and write about everything because it opened a floodgate of emotions. It was painful to read it at times, but it also helped me understand myself in new, profound ways and made me realize I wasn't alone in what I had experienced. It was a way to get back in touch with my feelings after numbing them up for so long.
I'm so glad you're mothering yourself. I begin each day by writing a letter to myself from my “ideal mother.” She gives me the unconditional love and support I never had, praises my efforts, and encourages me with my challenges. I also changed my diet dramatically (no sugar) and exercise vigorously every day. Spending time outside in nature has also been a saving grace and so has my dog!
It's a battle every day, though, to not fall back into darkness. I'm highly motivated because I don't want to go back on anti-depressants. Yes, when I was on them, I didn't experience tremendous sadness but I also didn't experience joy, excitement, and hope. Also, the use of anti-depressants can lead to anhedonia, which is a decreased pleasure in things that once brought happiness. I struggled with that as well, and it was a consequence my doctor had never mentioned.
Please go back into therapy, deal with your issues in a direct way, and come up with a plan to eventually get off the anti-depressants. I'm sure your therapist will have lots of good suggestions. You may also want to read my article, “Emotionally Absent Mothers: 10 Ways for Their Damaged Daughters to Build Female Friendships.”
Take care and know I'm rooting for you!
Question: Why doesn't my mother see me for the person I am?
Answer: I love this question because it speaks to what many of us daughters of emotionally absent mothers want but can't get: our mom's validation. Our moms weren't like other moms who acted as mirrors, reflecting what they saw in their daughters: their talents, their insecurities, their dreams, their fears, and their passions. Our moms were too self-absorbed, too overwhelmed, too damaged, or too closed off to even realize that this was a crucial role they should play. They weren't withholding it out of cruelty but because they were clueless. With that insight, we should forgive them and move forward.
Without moms to act as mirrors, we grew up not knowing ourselves. Sadly, many of us still struggle with our identities even as adults. If we truly knew and valued ourselves, though, we wouldn't be troubled by our mothers' inability to see us.
We would be able to step back, realize their limitations, and accept that reality. Instead, we continue to fight the truth, wanting our moms to be different. Our stubborn lack of acceptance causes us undue stress and tons of unhappiness. If we would let go of the need for our mother's validation, we would finally have peace.
This letting goes finally happened for me a number of years ago when staying at my mom's house. I was looking through old scrapbooks, reading notes, cards, and poems I'd written to her when I was a girl. In them, I acknowledged her achievements at work, complimented her ability to get along with her co-workers, and lauded her performance as a wife, mother, neighbor, cook, housekeeper, and community member.
The role reversal in our relationship was glaring as I tried to be her mirror and boost her self-confidence. Reading my writings transported me back to my childhood when flattering my mother was the only way to get her attention. She was always so frenetic and frazzled, but if I lauded her, she made time for me.
When I was in my 40's, a wife and mother myself, my mom sent me one of those “to my darling daughter” Hallmark cards. I was shocked to receive it and, even more so, when I saw that she had added a few handwritten lines. Yet, they didn't at all reflect who I was and all I'd overcome in life.
At first, I wept as her words confirmed how little she knew of me. Then, I began to chuckle. At that moment, I was able to stand back and look at the situation objectively, not emotionally, and thought: At least she tried!
Moreover, this episode didn't hurt my feelings or damage my self-image because I knew who I was at that point. It was irrelevant whether or not my mother saw me and approved of me because I saw me and approved of me. I knew that I was a person of integrity, perseverance, kindness, and compassion. I was no longer that insecure little girl who just wanted to be seen by her mother.
You may want to read my article entitled, “How an Emotionally Absent Mother Impacts a Daughter: From Infancy to Adulthood.”
Question: Have you ever wondered if your mother is in the ASD spectrum due to her lack of emotional language or empathy?
Answer: Yes. I think most of us who have children on the spectrum start to wonder if other family members have autism. We may even question it about ourselves (I certainly have). It's hard to know if our relatives genuinely are on the spectrum or if we've just lost all objectivity. When my son first got diagnosed, I started to think all little kids around me had autism!
I do, though, think my mother exists somewhere on the spectrum and would probably be diagnosed if she were a child today. Even though we were first-time parents, both my husband and I started to see signs early on with my son: flat affect, no eye contact, delayed speech, floppy body, low muscle tone, poor coordination, and so on. My mother, on the other hand, though there was absolutely nothing wrong with him. I thought that strange since she had reared four of us but seemed to know nothing about normal child development and meeting developmental milestones. I think my son was a lot like she had been as a kid, so she didn't perceive anything as being amiss.
It's ironic that my mother's lack of empathy regarding my son was what got me reading about emotionally absence mothers. I hope you have found some blessings in your son's diagnosis as I have with mine. I love my boy, and I can't imagine who I'd be now without having gone on this journey with him. I hope you and your son are doing well and you have some loving and supportive people in your lives.
Question: I experienced the same childhood as you did, and I am now struggling to be a loving mom for my 7 year old son. Could you tell me how to build an emotional bond with my son while I found it a disaster to face confrontation and his emotional breakdown?
Answer: I struggled like you when my young sons had emotional outbursts, starting when they were crying babies. While nobody enjoys the sounds of a wailing infant, I was traumatized by it and desperately wanted it to stop while my husband took it all in stride. As my sons got older, I continued to have that same reaction of just wanting to run and hide whenever they displayed strong emotions.
Instead of dealing with their feelings head-on, I'd say cliches that denied or minimized them: “Don't cry. It's not that bad. Buck up! Get over it! It's no big deal.” I didn't have the skills and empathy to connect with them on an emotional level, providing comfort and acceptance. I hadn't been shown how to do that when I was a child. Instead, my sons' sad, mad, and frustrated feelings triggered my deep insecurities and made me think I was a bad mom. I believed I was failing at parenting just as I had failed in so many other areas.
At that time, I didn't know anything about emotionally absent mothers and certainly didn't recognize myself as the daughter of one. You're fortunate to understand your past, know how it affects you now, and desire to be different. That's a huge advantage as you move forward on this parenting journey.
When my sons were pre-teens, I read a book that completely changed my approach to mothering and helped me deal directly with their messy emotions. It's called “The Conscious Parent” by Dr. Shefali Tsabary. Dr. Shefali, a clinical psychologist, made me think about parenting in a radically different way:
As conscious parents, our commitment is to be fully present when interacting with our children. We shouldn't run and hide when they show intense emotions but compassionately connect with them.
As conscious parents, we need to look in the mirror and fix ourselves, not try to fix our kids.
As conscious parents, we see our children as our teachers. They show us how we need to grow and become more aware.
As conscious parents, we know that the behaviors in our children that trigger us are the ones that tell us something significant about ourselves.
As conscious parents, we know our goal isn't to make our kids happy. It's to rear youngsters who are fully engaged in life with all its struggles, disappointments, and heartaches.
It's not surprising that we, as daughters of emotionally absent mothers, find it difficult to connect with our children emotionally. We fell into doing what our moms had done because that's all we knew. Fortunately, we detected the pattern and sought to change it. Instead of running from our youngsters' emotions, we need to embrace them just as we wanted our moms to do with us. If we stay fully present in the moment, listening and comforting, we can be the safe space our children need.
I wrote an article on conscious parenting that you may want to read. It includes some wonderful videos of Dr. Shefali talking to Oprah.
Question: How can I get my emotionally absent mother to be a better grandparent to my kids?
Answer: You can't. Moreover, you and your kids will be better off when you finally accept who your mother is. While it's wonderful for our children when they have loving and involved grandparents, they can do just fine in life without them. What they need to thrive are devoted parents and a support system made up of extended family and close friends. It's you who's pained by your mother's disinterest, not your kids. They're only negatively impacted if you make it a big deal. They feel hurt because you're hurt.
Expecting our emotionally absent mothers to be emotionally engaged grandmothers is unrealistic and sets us up for disappointment. It's a misguided attempt to re-do our childhoods and try to fix them, turning our detached moms into attentive ones. It won't work, though, because our moms are still the same people they've always been. We owe it to our kids to accept the situation as is, modeling for them that we can't change others, only ourselves. We need to be fully present for their childhoods and not stuck in the past trying to re-do ours.
Michael Singer writes about what he dubs our “inner thorns” in “The Untethered Soul.” When we have an intensely negative reaction, we're experiencing an inner thorn moment (typically, a hurt from childhood). When your mother reacts in a detached way with your kids, it triggers the anguish you felt as a youngster. Yet, if you calmly recognize that and say to yourself “my inner thorn has just been set off, “ you'll stay in control and have peace. Believe me, I do this all the time when my mother visits and it helps me stay sane!
Question: How can I aid my siblings who still live with my emotionally unaware and absent mother? I am 20 years old and I have three very young siblings and I want to be a supporter in their lives when my mother cannot be. Do you have any tips on how to possibly aid these younger characters in our lives that are presently going through the process of growing up with these mothers?
Answer: I admire you for recognizing this problem and wanting to help your younger siblings. Hopefully, your mother is taking good care of their outer world by feeding them, helping them with school work, and taking care of their medical needs. If that's the case, then you can focus on tending to their inner world: asking about their feelings, talking about your own emotions, and explaining how you manage anger, sadness, disappointment, and frustration in healthy ways.
You can let them know how important it is to their physical, mental, and emotional well-being to express their feelings. If they don't, they can become sick, depressed, or anxious. You can let them know that their mom “doesn't always get it” when it comes to emotions but that you're always available to listen.
Some things you could do are the following:
--validate their feelings. Make sure that they realize their emotions are neither good nor bad; they just are.
--Ask “How are you?” Be the person they can turn to when they need to talk about the hard stuff. Listen and don't judge.
--Give them each a journal for writing down their feelings or drawing pictures that represent what they're experiencing.
--Model healthy behaviors for dealing with challenging emotions such as exercising, being in nature, taking a bath, and talking with a friend.
--Speak with them about the importance of self-care. Teach them ways that they can look after themselves by building strong relationships, making time for quiet and meditation, eating healthy foods, and spending time outside.
Your siblings are lucky to have you. Take good care of them and yourself!
Question: My mother was emotionally unavailable and thought she knew me better than I know myself. Now I expect everyone to be my mother. How can I get to know myself?
Answer: “The privilege of a lifetime is to be who you are.” I have this quote by Joseph Campbell written on the chalkboard in my kitchen because, like you and many other daughters of emotionally absent mothers, I struggle with knowing who I am. Not understanding ourselves leads us down the wrong path in life, makes us unhappy, and leaves us yearning for a sense of belonging and purpose. It's like driving in an unfamiliar city without a map: confusing and frustrating.
We daughters of emotionally absent mothers grew up with moms who weren't mirrors. They didn't reflect who we were: our strengths and weaknesses, our likes and dislikes, our magnificence and our humanness. We weren't seen, accepted, and loved unconditionally. As adults, therefore, we often feel unsure of ourselves, doubting if we deserve to be valued for who we are.
My mother always insisted that I was an outgoing child even though I was an introvert. Her dream was to have a gregarious and popular daughter, not an introspective loner like I was. Today, I can finally embrace myself as an introvert, realizing all the positives of being one. From time to time, though, some feelings of shame still creep in, making me doubt myself, making me want to be different, and making me believe that I'm a disappointment.
Now you have a wonderful opportunity to get to know yourself. First, though, you have to believe that you're worthy of the effort. Set aside time to just be still and do nothing. Do things alone, enjoying time with yourself: meditating, keeping a journal, hiking in nature, and taking long walks. Get in touch with your feelings: writing about them, thinking about them, and talking about them. Growing up with emotionally absent mothers has left many of us unable to articulate our feelings. Learning how to do this well is important to improve our communication skills and advocate for our needs.
Most of all, make your well-being a priority. Learn to be at peace with yourself and enjoy your own company. Be still enough that you can hear your inner voice talking to you and letting you know what brings you joy. Start saying “yes” to the things you like to do.
This is an exciting time for you. Enjoy the journey of self-discovery and be grateful that you've reached this point!
Question: My mother is giving me the silent treatment because I sent her a card but not a gift this year. She will not answer any of my calls. This has torn me up emotionally and physically. Is the silent treatment something an emotionally absent mother would do? I grew up feeling she didn't care about me and now is this proof she doesn't?
Answer: You’re describing a mother who’s passive-aggressive, not emotionally absent. Giving the silent treatment is a common tactic of those who show hostility in an indirect way. Your mom is mad at you for not giving her a gift. Instead of communicating her hurt and disappointment, she’s punishing you with her silence. She’s not emotionally absent; she’s angry.
If you look at your history with her, you’ll probably detect a pattern of passive-aggressiveness. These folks have low self-esteem and lack the ability to communicate in a straightforward manner. Common passive-aggressive behaviors include sulking, pouting, being sarcastic, complaining, playing the martyr, and giving the silent treatment.
Passive aggressiveness is a stubborn trait and these folks are unlikely to change. You can choose to ignore her retaliation. You could also choose to show compassion, though, by acknowledging her hurt feelings. If you typically send her a Mother’s Day gift but didn’t this year, you should certainly appreciate why she’s disappointed.
I hope you two resolve this soon. Life is too short for this to keep you apart.
Question: My 86-year-old mother with whom I love denies ever doing anything to damage me. She won't acknowledge my feelings. It makes me feel like I'm truly crazy and don't remember my life correctly. On top of that, what kind of daughter could be angry at an 86 year old woman?
Answer: This is an unhealthy living situation that you've created and I'm concerned for both of you. In circumstances where an adult daughter is still struggling with her childhood like you are, I suggest minimizing contact with the parent and talking with a therapist. However, you've chosen to live with the person who's causing you so much emotional turmoil.
While I appreciate there may be financial constraints that led to this living arrangement and that you may be acting as your mother's caregiver, it's hard to imagine that there weren't other options. This situation is guaranteed to bring you a lot of heartache. When an adult takes such a drastic step as this, they're often unconsciously trying to reach back in time to fix their childhood. However, even if your mom admitted that she damaged you and apologized (which is extremely unlikely), it would seem empty to you. It wouldn't provide a miraculous cure that would make you feel better.
At this point in your life, you should be practicing acceptance in regards to your mom. Instead, though, you're still expecting an emotionally absent mother to acknowledge your feelings. This is just irrational thinking and is creating undue stress. The spiritual writer, Bryon Katie, sums it up perfectly: “If you argue against reality, you will suffer.”
If you have no alternatives to this living arrangement, please make it as peaceful as possible for both you and your mom. Even if you and her had a fabulous history together, it would still be extremely difficult to live with one's elderly parent. It requires so much patience and understanding. Therefore, make sure you take good care of yourself by getting out of the house, engaging with people your own age, spending time in nature, and finding outlets to decompress (exercise, meditation, and yoga are all terrific).
As we live longer, there are many folks like you who are caring for aging parents. These caregivers are under enormous stress and often feel isolated. As a result, many support groups have sprung up to help—both online and in-person. The Eldercare Locator, maintained by the US Administration on Aging, is a good resource to get help in your area. https://eldercare.acl.gov/Public/Index.aspx
Please reach out for support. You're in a difficult situation and shouldn't be trying to handle it all alone. I wish you and your mother well.
Question: I was this mother as was my mother. So don’t you think forgiveness is part of the equation? My mother came from a very strong religious family, the oldest of 11 children. I am working on healing with my own daughter and have forgiven my own mother. I think we need to remember that each of our mothers had a mother and likely their own trauma. I don’t think without forgiveness in the equation we can truly heal as we remain victim mode waiting to be rescued.
Answer: You have a lot of wisdom born from experience. Like you, I was both the daughter of an emotionally absent mother and an emotionally absent mother myself. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was parent like my mother but, sadly, I did just that for many years. Like so many of us, I fell into familiar patterns of behavior and wasn't aware enough to break them.
Albert Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” It wasn't until I started looking for answers about my troubled family that I read about emotionally absent mothers. I immediately had an aha moment, recognizing it as the infliction that had negatively impacted the women in my family for generations.
Understanding, compassion, and forgiveness for our moms as well as for ourselves come about when we examine our histories with an open heart. My mother became an emotionally absent because her mom was an alcoholic who died from cirrhosis of the liver when she was just a child. I became an emotionally absent mother because I didn't learn how to deal with my feelings when I was a kid. Then, when my son got diagnosed with autism, I bottled up my anger, got depressed, and was put on anti-depressants.
Today, I feel all the feels. I see my internal world as an asset, not a liability, and encourage my sons to do the same. I empathize with what my mother experienced as a youngster, understand her limitations, and have a good relationship with her.
It sounds like you've come a long way and have discovered how forgiveness enhances our well-being and lightens our load. I wish the best for you and your daughter in your healing.
Question: My mother told me that she never wanted girls because they are whores, why did she treat me that way and was never there for me emotionally?
Answer: One of the most empowering things we can do for ourselves is become an authority on our life. When we step back from our personal pain and become a detached detective, we can put the pieces together of our family history and start to make sense of something that had once seemed random.
We can find the purpose in our pain. We can forgive family members when we appreciate what they endured. Moreover, we can gain valuable insight into how we became the person we are. When we become an authority on our life, we are empowered and can move forward with a new-found consciousness. We can finally understand what Michael Singer, the author of “The Untethered Soul,” calls our “inner thorns,” those comments and behaviors from others that trigger an intense emotional reaction in us.
It's time for you to get curious and delve into your mother's past to discover why she became so cold. You may want to read my article entitled, “How to Move on From Your Dysfunctional Family and Find Peace.” https://wehavekids.com/family-relationships/-You-D...
In it, I discuss how to become a “transitional character” and break the negative patterns that have plagued your family for generations. A transitional character is someone who sees a destructive behavior in the family history (alcoholism, emotional neglect, name-calling, sexual abuse, etc.) and decides it will stop with them.
Terry Real, a family therapist, says this, “Family dysfunction rolls down from generation to generation like a fire in the woods, taking down everything in its path until one person in one generation has the courage to turn and face the flames. That person brings peace to their ancestors and spares the children that follow.”
Ironically, looking at the past can help you move forward. It can help you not repeat your mother's mistakes. It can help you find acceptance—acceptance that your mom won't change, acceptance that you must find emotional support from other people, and acceptance that it's time to stop blaming your mom and build a beautiful life of your own. I wish you the best!
Question: I really am trying to understand why I am emotionally detached from my mother. I just feel like I have this block that doesn't let me fully love her. What can I do to better connect with my mother?
Answer: Writing in a journal about your feelings is a good place to start. Consider it a journey of self-discovery as you search for clues to this mystery. Once you figure out what has led to this emotional detachment from your mother, you may want to talk with a therapist about what you discovered and how to move forward from it.
However, only you can do the groundwork. If you went to therapy without some idea of what caused this indifference, you'd be wasting your time and money. The goal is to become the authority on your own life, history, relationships, and feelings.
You may want to explore the years between birth and age 5 to find answers there. When an early attachment isn't formed between parent and child, a close relationship may never materialize. Was your mom present during those years? If present, was she going through a trauma (a divorce, the death of a parent, the loss of a job, drug or alcohol addiction) that would make her feel depressed, overwhelmed, or too preoccupied to be a loving, involved mom to you as a young child?
If you read my article about emotionally absent mothers because you believe your mom is one, you may have unrealistic expectations. If she has never been a warm, affectionate mommy, it's normal that you wouldn't have those feelings for her. You may be trying to force something that just isn't there.
As the daughter of an emotionally absent mother, I came to practice acceptance. I was creating undue stress for myself by struggling to make things better between my mom and me. Over time, I found peace by accepting the relationship as it was with all its limitations. I now appreciate that she did the best that she could as a parent, especially since she had no role models.
I highly recommend that you read Jasmin Lee Cori's outstanding book, “The Emotionally Absent Mother.” It's said that the person who has created the most psychic pain for us is our greatest teacher. If your mom has caused distress for you over the years, you can take the lessons that you learned and use them to be a better, stronger, and more compassionate human being. Instead of focusing on the relationship with her, you may be better off using your time and energies to foster healthier bonds elsewhere.
Question: My mom often tugs on my stomach, says it’s bulgy, and then suggests I’m pregnant. I decided to show her a pregnancy test the other day as proof that I’m not but, now whenever I show any body insecurities, she dismisses my feelings as if my feelings are inconvenient for her. She makes me out to be irrational, but she is the one who gave me these insecurities. What must I do?
Answer: Since you're reading my article about emotionally absent mothers, you must realize how unhealthy this relationship is. Now, you need to take a hard look at the role you play in this disturbed dynamic and alter your behavior. Your mother won't change and is probably satisfied with the status quo because she holds the power. Therefore, the motivation for things to be different is yours alone.
Your mom knows how to push your buttons, making you feel insecure and doubt yourself. Behaviors such as tugging at your stomach are attention-getting as she realizes that they'll elicit an intense response. She doesn't care if your reaction is negative or positive as long as she's in control. By getting a pregnancy test and showing her the results, you played right into her hands and made her feel empowered. Next time she attempts to tug your tummy, seize her wrist and firmly say: “No!”
You're dealing with patterns of behavior that began when you were a child and impact the person you are today. That's why it would be useful to talk with a therapist to unravel this long history and find out how to best proceed. If you're planning on starting a family, you want to be stronger so your mom isn't permitted to damage your child's self-image like she's damaged yours.
Start practicing acceptance from this day forward. Realize your mother's limitations and know that she'll never be the loving, supportive mom you've always wanted. When you let go of the expectation that she'll be different, you'll have peace. Iyanla Vanzant, the spiritual teacher, said: “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.”
You may want to read my article, “How an Emotionally Absent Mother Impacts a Daughter's Well-Being.” Take care!
© 2016 McKenna Meyers
McKenna Meyers (author) on August 14, 2020:
Debbi, you did exactly what I recommend by exploring your ancestry and pinpointing the dysfunction. Now, I suggest that you talk with your daughters and granddaughters about your discoveries. Apologize for the mistakes that you’ve made. Discuss the things that you wished you had done differently. Then, forgive yourself by keeping in mind Maya Angelou’s quote: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Take care!
Debbi on August 12, 2020:
Thank you so much for your article.
I've been working on myself and dealing with being raised by an emotionally absent mother for quite a while now. I have stumbled across some interesting information while studying my Ancestry. I have discovered that my 3rd great grandmother died within weeks of my 2nd great grandmother's birth. She then died when my great grandmother was 15 years old. I'm unsure of my great grandmother and my grandmother's relationship but I do know that my grandmother abandoned my mother and aunt when they were children to escape my alcoholic grandfather. This leaves to suspect that this is a generational dysfunction and was wondering if you could give me some insight on how you would suggest that I prevent this from affecting my own daughters and granddaughters. I know this has affected the way my daughters were raised and I'd like to learn how to break the cycle.
McKenna Meyers (author) on May 30, 2020:
RK, you’re so ahead of most and have a bright future in front of you. Once you start embracing your emotions, you’ll be more alive and feel more like yourself. This is your time to form deep, meaningful relationships with people who care about your inner world and you care about theirs. Now that you know your parents can’t be there for you in the emotional realm, you can start practicing acceptance and find peace. Remember to stay focusing on the future and not dwelling on the past. I wish you much happiness as you graduate.
RK on May 30, 2020:
Thank you so much for this article. I'm 17 yrs old, just about to graduate in two days. I've always grown up thinking I was guilty, depressed, inferior, weak, and unworthy of basic happiness. My parents, though providing (kind of) in material terms, barely hugged me, never asked me how my day was or how I'm doing, and never complimented me either. If i felt sad/mad or had wants of my own, they belittled my emotions and made me feel like I shouldnt be feeling those things and guilty for doing so. I grew up hating myself (I am working on it) and feeling numb and pointless. I hate how I am just now realizing this but at the same time thankful, since it seems many others do so much later in life. This article explained the root cause of my many problems and I hope to move on and improve myself starting by reading wonderful books and articles like you. Again, thank you!
McKenna Meyers (author) on May 07, 2020:
Red, talking with your emotionally absent mother and expecting her to be understanding, compassionate, and contrite was a futile undertaking. It was a continuation of the pattern that you engaged in all your life, seeking to connect with her on a deeper level only to be rebuffed. You’re still behaving like a wounded child who wants a loving mommy to validate her and her experiences. While your desire is understandable, it’s causing you undue heartache. Your actions remind me of Albert Einstein’s famous quote: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”
Accepting who your mother is, her limitations, and the limitations of your relationship with her is the way to move forward and find peace. Focusing on things beyond your control will only make you feel powerless and unhappy. You don’t need her to admit her failings as a mother and the suffering it caused you. You need to work on yourself and the thoughts that keep you stuck in the past. A cognitive therapist could help. Take care!
Red on May 06, 2020:
Hi, I was so relieved to find this article and the book. It was difficult and confronting. I have since attempted to speak to my mother (whose mother died when I was a baby and then she and my dad subsequently divorced, all at a very young age). I did so by sandwiching my feedback/my experience between statements of understanding, empathy and forgiveness. I thought it went well, but after she went away and thought about the *couple* of things we touched on, she attacked me like she did when I was younger, goading me be saying I was accusing her of being a ‘vile’ mother and then belittling any suggesting that her behaviour may have been traumatic for me. I am prepared to try but I don’t want to keep going there is she’s not prepared to understand that she’s not the victim, I’m not attacking her, I’m just seeking acknowledgement and understanding? Is that the wrong approach? I was not a hard child, both her and my step-father have acknowledged this, but I have suffered as an adult in many of the ways described in the book.
McKenna Meyers (author) on March 18, 2020:
Elise, I'm so glad that you're working with a therapist. You sound motivated to change and are willing to put in the time and effort. You're so wise to take care of this now before becoming a wife and mother. It's unfair to our husbands and kids to saddle them with our unresolved mother issues. They need us to be emotionally well and living in the present with them, not stuck in the past. I wish you a wonderful life!
Elise KHOURY on March 18, 2020:
Thank you for your articles.
I am also the daughter of an emotionally absent mother.
Through out my childhood up until now (30 years old) I am still suffering of the behavior of my mom.
I couldn't have any healthy relationships with boys, I was running away each time I felt admired or loved by a man.
I always thought I wasn't good enough, that somehow I could be more perfect...
I started going to therapy this year and I had promised myself to change the way I see things.
I really want to have a healthy relationship with someone and be able to be a compassionate loving mother to my future kids.
It's super hard to heal from an emotional absent mother, it needs time and there's a lot of ups and downs.
I wished I had started therapy in my 20's but instead I ran away and started moving from a country to another.
Now I am 30 and I really want to find true love and start a family, I really wish to become a loving caring mom and to have a close relationship with my future kids.
McKenna Meyers (author) on December 15, 2019:
You're so welcome, Wheezie. I'm pleased that you found my article useful and that you shared your story. As our parents live longer (like your mother at 97!), they present us with many challenges. We never felt nurtured by them during our childhoods, but we now face years (and even decades) looking after them. That's why it's crucial that we care for ourselves--emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually--and not turn our lives over to our aging moms. I hope you'll read Jasmin Lee Cori's book. It marked the beginning of my understanding and my healing and made me feel part of a sisterhood. Best to you!
Wheezie on December 15, 2019:
Wow. So glad I stumbled on this. I'm 69 years old and lately grappling with my relationship to my 97 year old mother! She lives in an assisted living facility and my sister and I are on call for doctor appointments, shopping, taking her to lunch, visiting and listening to her talk endlessly about herself and her past. Every conversation turns into one about her. I've been researching as to whether she is narcissistic, but she doesn't quite fit that category. You see my mom was very beautiful, but not outgoing. She was a trophy wife for my dad. She let him do all the social work. He took her all over the world and she just hung on his arm and looked beautiful. It was enough for her and for him, I guess. She says he never told her he loved her. That's just plain sad. There was fallout on the two daughters. I have almost no childhood memories of her talking, hugging, or showing love to me, just vague memories of her in the background. When I was 10 and 12 she had more children. I became the nanny. My sister says her first memories are of me, not my mother, bathing and dressing her. She is like a phantom in our childhood memories. I do remember, however, how beautiful she was, especially while dressing up for a military ball. She put cotton balls soaked in "my sin" perfume in her décolletage. I was in awe of her chiffon dresses and satin heels. I did her hair for her when I was in Junior High School. Fast forward to now. My sister and I are her principal family attendants. (The sons are AWOL). She still dresses immaculately for dinner and wears fancy jewelry. He conversation centers on her dissatisfaction with her living arrangements, and how lonely and bored she is. Dad is long gone, the party is over and she is angry about it. She is demanding and still never asks about our lives, how we or our families are doing. The other day she left a message on my phone angry because "she hadn't seen us in two weeks." This was an exaggeration. For the first time in my life I'm examining our relationship closely. At 69 I still long for a mother, one who brushes MY hair and tells me she loves me, or believes in me. My sister feels the same. It never occurred to me that I could find a mother figure, or mother myself. I was trained to be a servant not a beloved daughter. Fortunately, I am a Christian and I truly know I'm loved by God. I think my mother had an emotionally absent mother as well, so I can give her some grace. But there are still scars and pain, and grieving for what might have been. I have three grown daughters who told me a few years ago that I'm not available enough to them emotionally. It drew me up short! I've since really stepped up the communication and verbal encouragement, but it makes perfect sense that this could be a generational legacy if we don't own it and make an effort to change it. I know my relationship with my daughters is way healthier than the one I have with my mom, and I try to always be affirming and available. But who affirms me? Thankfully I have my sister and we can mother one another. Thank you for the very insightful information on how to heal. Knowledge is power for sure.
McKenna Meyers (author) on October 25, 2019:
Laura, I'm glad that you're in therapy to work through the relationship with your mother. Hopefully, with your therapist's help, you can accept your mom as she is, find peace, and no longer fear her. By comparing you to her mother, a woman whom she claims to have hated and found selfish, she is causing you undue heartache. She may be using you to re-construct the relationship with her mother because it's a familiar one. She may also be trying to re-do that relationship through you, hoping this time it will turn out better. When being sarcastic, she's using a passive-aggressive behavior to avoid direct communication. It's easy for you to feel dismissed when she does this because it precludes an honest, open, and emotionally vulnerable dialogue.
Laura on October 24, 2019:
Thank you for writing this article. Today in therapy I was recounting recent interactions with my mother and she said, "Your mother is a mean person, she is jealous of you."
Having a hard time accepting that she is jealous of me (partly because I have no self esteem) but I'm wondering is she falls into dismissive. She is extremely sarcastic and one thing I remember her always telling me was that I was too over dramatic. She took issue with my weight, my dreams of being a writer and pretty much most of my life choices, unless they were her suggestions.
The kicker is that she hated her mother and constantly, especially when I became an adult, how her mother was completely selfish and didn't care. I don't doubt that my grandmother was not emotionally available, but my grandmother wasn't a horrible person. And yet, my mother says now "You're just like you're grandmother."
Even as I type this, I know it sounds bad. For so many years I considered her my best friend, would tell her everything. But there was always the fear I had of revealing too much because she would judge me. Jesus, I'm almost 50 years old and I'm afraid of my mother. Is this all more than just dismissive?
McKenna Meyers (author) on September 23, 2019:
Vita, I'm so sorry for all the anguish you're experiencing now and the emotional neglect you suffered as a child. Even when going no contact is the right decision, it's extremely difficult and will trigger intense emotions. I hope that you're not doing it alone but have a therapist who's supporting you. You've been dealing with this your entire life and need professional help to let go of the inappropriate shame and guilt. I wish you some much-needed serenity as you move forward.
Vita on September 21, 2019:
When I was 10 years old, I broke my foot and as I stood there screaming in pain, my mother yelled and swore at me for getting injured. This memory is so traumatic and I can't possibly see how any one who loves their child could not empathize with them. I do not forgive her and im in the process of going no contact. I understand she didn't have great parents herself, but that doesn't give her an excuse to ruin my life, and she ruined it in everyway possible to the point I will never have kids of my own. the sad part is, I love her so much and I am guilting and shaming myself that im cutting her out. The guilt and shame always lands on me.
McKenna Meyers (author) on September 25, 2018:
Gabby, I feel your anguish and I'm worried about you. Do you need to speak with a counselor about your sadness? If you open up to someone, you'll find relief. Please get the support you need if you continue to feel so hopeless.
For decades, I struggled with depression and anxiety and never knew why. I saw therapists and took anti-depressants but felt so sad and alone. When I stumbled upon a book about emotionally absent mothers, I finally found the answers to a lifetime of emptiness. My mom did all the external things that good moms do—making our meals, driving us to school, taking us to the doctor and dentist. She, however, never connected with our inner world. Growing up that way, I always felt flat, lifeless, and barely had enough energy to make it through each day. I slept a lot.
It's still a daily struggle for me to connect with my emotions and not be robotic. I have found many things to do, though, that make it better and give me life: meditating, exercising, praying, writing in my journal, spending time with my dog, and being in nature.
Gabby, I don't know if you'll ever find someone to love you. I do know, though, that you can have a beautiful life even if you don't. You can find contentment in your work, your hobbies, your friendships, and in helping others.
Keep persevering, Gabby, and get the help you need. Take care!
Gabby on September 24, 2018:
Gosh, it could have been me writing this -- down to the mom who's an elementary school teacher and sits on the table to talk alllll about her students, including how they write letters and notes to her saying that they wish she was their mom or something (as if me pretty much obliterating myself for her affection wasn't wishing she was my mom or something)... At least you have a partner, kids, because honestly no one has ever wanted me. I am eternally single, and I don't think there's a point in living this life anymore. I just keep going on because I still feel some hope -- which never really materializes in me actually finding someone or being loved... I hate it so much.
McKenna Meyers (author) on August 29, 2018:
Tiffany, I'm glad you no longer feel alone. That's how I felt after reading “The Emotionally Absent Mother.” I was amazed how each page spoke to my experiences growing up with a mom who neglected my inner world. It helped so much in understanding the adult I became. I was numb for so many years, but now I've opened myself up to all kinds of emotions and it feels great. I had always been overweight. Once I got in touch with my feelings and learned to express them, I no longer needed to stuff myself with food. We can definitely use our past to launch us forward, not stay stuck. Best to you!
Tiffany on August 28, 2018:
I am so relieved to have found this site and hear your stories. I relate to these feelings deeply and am grateful for finally - not feeling alone.
McKenna Meyers (author) on May 12, 2018:
One of my favorites quotes is: "Don't hog your journey. It's not just for you" so I'm so glad my thoughts and experiences helped you. When I read Jasmin Lee Cori's book, I saw myself on every page and it was such a relief to know I wasn't alone as the daughter of an emotionally absent mother.
I had been trying to be "strong" for so long, but that strength only meant that I was closed off, unfeeling, and cold. I hated who I had become. Now I feel everything so intensely and I love it. Writing has been immensely helpful in helping me deal with my emotions in a way that makes sense and moves me forward.
As daughters of emotionally absent mothers, we have every right to feel sad about it, but we also have every right to have a beautiful life now. I hope you have that and I wish you well.
Hi on May 11, 2018:
In reading about your life I felt as if i was reading about myself. I've learned so much simply from reading the article. Thank you so much for sharing your life.
McKenna Meyers (author) on April 09, 2018:
Marjorie, first let me congratulate you. You sound like you're in a really healthy place in your life and with your mother. By asking how to show her love, you show great maturity on your journey toward understanding, forgiving, and healing. Maybe, you should write that book!
With my own mother, I show love and concern with "compassionate listening." I listened to a Buddhist monk and Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh, talk to Oprah about it on "Super Soul Sunday," and it made a huge impression on me. Compassionate listening is a supreme act of kindness as you let go of your ego and needs and let the speaker vent. You listen with little or no interruptions.
This is the gift I give my mother. I leave all the hurt and pain in the past, and I just let her talk. I no longer reach back in our history to try to fix things but just live in the here and now. I give her a call when I feel in the right frame of mind--patient, calm, and relaxed. She seems to really appreciate it. A year ago, I couldn't do this, but now I'm in a better place, too. Best of everything to you, Marjorie!
Marjorie on April 09, 2018:
Hi! I'm seeing alot about the book and realizing so MUCH about why I am the way I am and identifying that my mother is the way she is. I'm wondering if you know of any resources that would help me with LOVING her and how she might accept it.
As an adult now, I'm fine if she wants to not be engaged. I have a great extended family and in-laws, so I'm done getting my feelings her by her absence. But as long as she is still here, I do want to continue to show her love. She may never accept it, I think part of her trauma and absence is that she does not feel deserving of our love due to things of the past. And I can't talk to her or make a thing about it or I'll just get more awkward obligatory phone calls. But I do still want to show her love. Is there a "how to love an emotionally absent mother anyway" guide? Does this book discussed cover that?
McKenna Meyers (author) on March 15, 2018:
Yes, hellodaughter, you should read the book. It was painful for me to do so, but I'm glad I did. Now, I know I'm not alone in my experiences and that's comforting. I wrote in my journal while reading the book, and it was cathartic. I purged a lot of my pent-up sadness, anger, and resentment. Putting my thoughts on paper helped me understand them in a cognitive way (not just emotional) and helped me make sense of what happened to me, find peace, and move forward. It was messy at first but well worth it. You deserve it, hellodaughter, and I'm cheering you on from here!
hellodaughter on March 15, 2018:
I guess it's time for me to actually read a so called "self-help" book. My husband lovingly tells me it's time to "let it go". Yes, it is. But to be so conditioned from childhood that you don't deserve to be heard that you hesitate to attempt real conversations, expecting to be ignored or interrupted, it's hard to simply let it go. I need to learrn "letting go" tools and I need to somehow find real friendships in my tiny, tiny town.
McKenna Meyers (author) on March 13, 2018:
You're welcome, Valerie Anne. I'm glad you found it useful. I believe that expression "an unexamined life is not worth living." Our childhoods affect so much of who we are today. But, I also think we need to always keep moving forward and making ourselves stronger and better. It's too easy to live in the past and make ourselves victims. I wish you the best.
Valerie Anne on March 13, 2018:
Thank you so much. I am a Christian and I have coped with quite a lot, essentially being grown up first and feeling that lack in the middle!
It was not unkind parents but the result of their war trauma and they were very northern, Its your own fault, rather than, well we did not instruct you on that issue!
McKenna Meyers (author) on March 12, 2018:
hellodaughter, I love the idea of a matchmaking website for daughters of emotionally absent mothers. I think you should pitch that idea to "Shark Tank." Quite seriously, I think you'd be surprised at how many of us would join.
We daughters of emotionally absent mothers have so much in common that it never ceases to amaze me. My mother, too, always interrupted me when I was a kid and still does. That certainly contributed to my low self-esteem. I shut down, thinking no one wanted to hear my thoughts and feelings. I still struggle with that now all these decades later but am getting better. I feel like I'm finally finding my voice in my fifties.
While we may never find a mother substitute at this point in our lives, there are those who enter our lives and briefly play that role. When I'm connecting with you now, I feel you're mothering me. When I read Jasmin Lee Cori's book, I felt the same.
Good luck with your visit. Twelve days is a long time! Take care of yourself.
hellodaughter on March 12, 2018:
I'm 12 days into my annual "visit with mom" and once again I haven't finished one sentence without being interrupted. This has been my whole life and why I've always felt that no one wants to hear one thing I have to say and why I feel no one could possibly care about what I'm going through so I've learned to keep things to myself and deal with them alone. As the visit goes on my exhaustion increases and my chronic physical pain gets worse. It makes me sad that in order to have what feels like a mother I need to go out and find myself a mother figure, but when I saw that in your article I realized that is what I need. Of course, at age 57, and well practiced in thinking no one would want that role I have to figure out how to find someone to fill it. It's good to know that I'm not the only one out here that feels messed up even though I was never beaten or molested in childhood. Thank goodness for my dad. My dad made me feel loved, heard and honored. Thank you for writing this. I'll get the book and start the search for my new mom. I wish there was a match making website for daughters like us looking for that mom they need when they realize that they need something that they didn't get.
McKenna Meyers (author) on February 11, 2018:
Brana, my heart goes out to you. As much as we love parenting our children, it can make us terribly sad at times, knowing we missed out on that love and attention. When I pick up my son from his activities at high school, I can't help but cry at times, remembering what a difficult period that was in my life when I suffered from depression and had nobody to help me. I'm thrilled that my son is having so much fun at high school, but I feel sad for the teenage me who suffered through it.
I'm glad you're thinking about these issues and working through them. I fell into a terrible depression when my son got diagnosed with autism and was put on anti-depressants. I was like a zombie for much of my sons' growing up years. I now think a lot of that sadness stemmed from my childhood and my emotionally absent mother, not so much from my son's diagnosis.
Even though it's hard (almost impossible) to have time to nurture yourself when you have three young children, please take the time to do this. When you take care of yourself, you're being a positive role model for them. Take time to exercise, meditate, and write in a journal. Keep expressing your feelings and don't keep them bottled up inside of you.
I'm a lot older than you are and I still want a mommy very much and always will. That's normal and not childish. Perhaps, you won't find one person to serve in that role but many. It may be a combination of friends, neighbors, teachers -- anyone who shares kindness, wisdom, and a helping hand.
You may also want to consider seeing a cognitive therapist. In a short amount of time, she could give you concrete ways to think differently about your situation and move forward. Cognitive therapy is very goal-oriented.
I wish you the very best. I know you will make a beautiful life for your daughters. Take care of yourself.
Brana8806 on February 11, 2018:
I'm glad I found this article.I wasnt born in the best of families. When I was 8 years old, my mother passed. She wasnt necessarily a good mom and the memories I do have of her werent good. But she left us with our grandmother who was also her mother. Her mother was a narcissist in it's truest form. We were never allowed to talk about our mother or speak of her. Ofcourse we never were allowed to grieve her either. I say "we" because I have two sisters as well. We grew up very abused and very lonely. I will be 30 in a few months and I now have a husband and 3 children of my own. Daughters ironically...
When reading this article, I get so sad. Because I want a mom. I just feel so bad saying that and I know it sounds childish. But I really wish I had a mom. Over the years I have met 2 different women whom I looked up to as maternal figures, and each of them in a way has pushed me away. I just have a void in me. I never had an aunt or anyone to help fill that void. And I feel like it's made me a mess in the process... I just wish I knew how to move forward and make peace so that I can be the best mom possible to my daughters.
McKenna Meyers (author) on February 11, 2018:
PepperRed, it sounds like you and the high school girl with endometriosis were destined to meet and learn from each other. Although it triggered a painful memory for you, it was probably something you needed to re-visit, figure out, get clarity, and find some peace.
Through the years, I've spoken with many women who had emotionally absent mothers while growing up. It's amazing how many of them have a story to tell about their periods--about how their mom didn't explain what it was, didn't sympathize with their cramps and moods, and didn't connect with them in the normal way women bond over this topic. My own mom never told me anything about menstrual cycles. After mine started, I hated it so much. I began dieting and exercising to such an extent that my period stopped for many years. I hated how my body was changing and that was my way to stop it.
Your mom may not want to spend time alone with you because she's aware that she lacks emotional intelligence. You're wanting an intimacy that she's unable to give. My mother is like that so, when we're together, we stay on "safe" topics, usually having the same conversation again and again. I get nothing out of you, but she seems fine with it.
It sounds like you're a real asset at the high school and they're lucky to have you. As a former teacher, I know there are so many issues kids are dealing with that have nothing to do with academics. It's easy to become callous about that, but you are not. Best of everything to you on your journey.
PepperRed on February 11, 2018:
Thank you for this article... something came up recently that made me reflect on my childhood and wonder why I was feeling upset and hurt...
I recently started a new job as a teaching assistant in a high school: I love my job and am building some good relationships with the children I help (struggling with school work, special needs, disabilities etc). There’s one girl I can’t get out of my mind - she was in agony in her lesson, in tears and asking to leave the room to go to the bathroom. I escorted her out of the room, where she told me she has endometriosis. My heart broke for this poor girl, as I do too. I helped her as best I could at the time and liaised with other staff who were fully aware of the students condition, passing on some suggestions for mum to mention to the girls doctor.
There is help and support for this girl, but I can’t help but feel so emotional about when I was in her shoes as a young girl, suffering horrendously painful periods, blacking out and missing several days of school/college/university.
But at the time, I didn’t know what I was suffering from. My mother told me that periods are ‘meant to hurt’ if I ever complained. I learned about periods from an out of date book she gave me and she never spoke about them: I certainly couldn’t approach her about them, therefore I carried on believing that what I suffered was ‘normal’, so I shut up and put up. It was my lovely stepdad that would collect me from school and make up hot water bottles to help ease the pain.
I know I can’t change the past, but I can’t help but wish that she had taken me more seriously, got me the help that I so desperately needed at the time... I can’t help but wonder if she was more emotionally available I could’ve said exactly how I felt each month..?
Even as an adult, she’s keen to help in practical ways (offers to do bits of shopping when I can’t [which I rarely accept], mind the house when I’m away [which I do accept]) and will spend time with me in a group setting, but any suggestions to actually spend time with her alone are ignored: if I ever bring it up, she just passes it off saying she thought I’d be too busy or makes an excuse.
I think I know deep down I just have to accept that overall, the way she treats me is miles better than her mother treated her, so I should get over this...
...maybe once I’m feeling less hormonal though...
McKenna Meyers (author) on February 06, 2018:
Karli, I wish I could give you a hug right now and take away all the pain you're feeling. What you wrote is so raw and real. Even though you've made sense of the situation in your head, it still hurts in your heart. I'm much older than you but still long for a loving mom and probably will until the day I die. It sounds like your mother was overwhelmed with life and saw you as the stronger, more competent one so she turned her attention to the others. While that was a compliment to you, it didn't feel that way because you still needed her to listen to you and understand you.
Fortunately, you have another chance in life to create a family and do things differently. It sounds like you're already looking forward to that. You'll make a life less frenetic than your mother's so you have time to slow down, listen to your child, and validate her feelings.
As a daughter of an emotionally absent mother, you are part of our sisterhood. We don't want to embrace victimhood but move forward in life, nurturing ourselves and the ones we love. It took me too long in my journey to love myself and take care of myself. But I'm finally doing it now. Writing about my experiences like you did here has helped me immensely. I also keep a gratitude journal and write down 5 things each day for which I'm thankful. This keeps me positive because I'm prone to depression. I also do a lot of exercise and that lifts my spirit.
I wish you the best out of life, Karli. Remember, you are the architect of your life now. I'm sure you'll build something beautiful. Take care.
Karli on February 05, 2018:
All I have to say is thank you for this.
When I was little, I loved my mommy and she loved me. When I was sad she would pick me up and cuddle me and everything was better. My parents divorced when I was 7 and my father moved away to Ohio and we for the most part have no relationship. Birthday cards here and there and maybe a visit every few years. But that was a loss for me, because my biological father never tried to be around. It was about 7th or 8th grade when my mom started to disappear on me. Not physically, but emotionally. We would constantly butt heads and get into easy arguments that ended up with me feeling shamed. I have an older sister, an older brother, a younger sister and a younger brother. I was always smack in middle. My older sister, had a lot of anger problems where she would fight with my mom constantly to no end. So my mom was always involved with her issues and trying to get her to cooperate and go to school but she ended up dropping out anyway. Today, they are best friends because my sister had children. Then, my younger brother has mild cerebral palsy so she was always busy with him trying to get him in physical therapy and this and that she always babied him and now he is 19 and has never had a job in his life and isn’t forced to pay rent after graduation like I was. My mom forced me to get a job the week after I turned 16 to pay my phone bill and the day after I graduated college the rent demand started. My baby sister was really only a toddler when I was going through my puberty days she was about (2-3years) so of course my mom was running around with my little sister for doctors appointments and this and that. She always did try hard for them or us....but it was just that, whenever I was in need of help she would always be too distracted to listen to me. I would constantly feel like I was being pushed aside to deal with later. Always put on the back burner. She was a good mother in the sense of my siblings and keeping us all fed. She also remarried to a man who I consider my dad because he raised me since I was 7. I love him, and I know he loves me. He just always let my mom have the control. And he wasn’t a very emotional type of person you could comfortably vent to especially with girl issues.——anyway, my mother was emotionally absent through my preteen and teenage years, even still now—I am 24. And I know a lot of people had it worse than me. But I feel things so deeply. And for years I have carried this resentment in me because of how she would never take the time to listen and love me. She was always busy with trying to pay the bills on time and verbally telling me house we might lose the house this month and Thisbe and that. I believe that should not be something you tell your children to scare them. She was just always making sure my siblings were alright. But never did she ever notice my sadness or ask why. I would come home from school every day (as I didn’t have many friends-only two) I would drop my backPack and go straight upstairs to my room to listen to depressing music and draw/write in a journal, because that’s the only way I could vent without critism. Not leaving my room unless I was thirsty or had to use the restroom. She never would come up and ask to hang out, or go for a walk or to talk. She just never noticed I was gone. Eventually I began spending night after night at my friends house because my mom didn’t care if I slept out on school nights. My friend was sad a lot too and so was I. I hate to think about this but I used to find release in cutting, scratching or pinching my skin. I would obviously hide it by wearing lots of bracelets. Eventually my friends mom found out and told my mom. My mom reacted in a way that I would have least expected. I was afraid. She didn’t ask me if I wanted to go see someone for help, she never asked why I did this. All she said was “if you don’t knock this shit off then I’m going to take you to the mental hospital.” I was really broken. And I never went to get help. I just told her I’d stop and so she swept it under the carpet and we never talked about it again.
I guess the point is is that my mom was there for me when I was little and that is important she did that. But in this time it is crucial to be an ear and shoulder for your child who is transitioning into a young woman or man. That is truly the most stressful time for a person. Giving up their childhood and going into a different kind of journey is a scary thing to do alone. The brain of a teenager is just as delicate as a child’s because it is in the midst of transitioning.
My mom wasn’t an alcoholic, and she wasn’t a drug addict. She just wasn’t there for all of her kids. She left me in the dark, while guiding my siblings to the light. I know some people may think that I’m a brat for feeling like I didn’t get “attention”. But it is truly damaging and I wish I could relive those days and try to change it more.....the feelings that sprout at a young and confusing age such as 15 can carry and haunt you into adulthood, like it did me. My emotional stress towards my mother still exists. She never calls me. And I never call her. I’m the only one of my siblings who is in college (for dental hygiene). I thought she’d be proud. But yet she never asks me how school is. When I see her she talk my ears off without letting me talk. And when I do get the chance to talk she’s quick to change the subject to something more interesting to her like “her kids at school” she is an aid at an elementary school.
I guess everyone’s experience is different. Mine is just opposite because the emotional stress and trauma came from my early preteen-teenage and into adulthood (still now). And it kills me because I see my other friends being best friends with their mothers. It is hard because I compare my mother to other mothers I meet and then I feel guilty about it. And no matter what, even when I do find someone so motherly and loving towards me (like my boyfriends mother in law I’ve known for 8 years) my body finds it agonizing because I remember my mommy from so long ago who would coddle me and whisper that things are okay. But to have that mother you remember morph into someone so different is absolutely tragic and it brings tears to my eyes when I think about it. She isn’t a horrible mother because shes proved so much with my siblings. It was just me who she couldn’t share it with. But I am happy and grateful for my siblings, to have had the chance to her heart. I guess she just thought I was ok without her. I also find that having this tough and awkward relationship with my mom has taught me exactly how I want to treat my daughter or son in the future. I never for a second was my kid to suffer in silence. I want him or her to know that I am here no matter what it is I will open my ears and my heart and I will embrace them with all the love that I had lost. And I will try my best to fill all of their gaps that I never had the chance to fill my own.
McKenna Meyers (author) on January 29, 2018:
You're certainly not alone, H, and my mother used to say the same thing to me that your mother said to you. In reality, though, I have two wonderful teenage sons who treat me with tremendous love and respect. I was very conscious of wanting to parent differently than my mother and I did. It was challenging because I didn't have a role model--just knew what I didn't want to do.
It took me a long time to get over the sadness I had about my mother, and I still get sad every now and then but it passes quickly. Dealing with the reality of the situation has brought me great peace. Reading about emotionally absent mothers has helped, too, but I've also needed to move forward with my life and find gratitude in all that I have. You are part of the sisterhood, H, and I wish you the very best.
H on January 29, 2018:
Thank you for this post, it is insightful, compassionate, and provides clear strategies for healing. It is inspiring to know someone has struggled with the same thing as me but has found her way to a better place. And makes me hopeful that I can be a good mother in the future (my mother has always told me that because I treat her badly, my fate is having children that will treat me badly). There is a profound sadness that comes with these types of relationships with mothers, that my friends don’t understand, but here I have found people who have experienced that sadness, and in some way, it justifies my sadness instead of making it feel like an overreaction.
McKenna Meyers (author) on January 07, 2018:
I'm so happy for you and your kids, Stefanie. I know how difficult it is to parent well as the daughter of an emotionally absent mom. You have the desire to do it differently but not necessarily the skills. I think blogging is a brilliant way for you to help others and yourself. Best to you!
Stefanie Anson from Ireland on January 07, 2018:
Interesting and thought-provoking. Despite my own mother being emotionally aloof, and somewhat 'love-neglectful', I used my experiences to become a better mother myself. I would rather die than let my amazing kids feel the way she makes me feel. I'm sure I overcompensate, and that probably means I haven't completely dealt with the issue. I am not ready to build bridges with her yet but I am working on it. I am also using my experiences to blog so I might somehow help someone else.
McKenna Meyers (author) on December 14, 2017:
If this gave you comfort and inspiration to seek help, Hazel, I feel very honored. You sound highly motivated so I think a good therapist could help you in a relatively short amount of time. I wish I had stuck with talk therapy instead of switching to anti-depressants. Those are not a long-term solution because they don't help you get to the root of the problem. I can relate to what you wrote about reliving your childhood pain through your kids. My younger son started high school this year and I often pick him up from his activities. During my high school years, I suffered from depression and anxiety, but my parents never got me help. When I'm in the school's parking lot, I feel so sad for all the needless suffering I endured. I wish I could just feel happiness for the fun times my son is having at high school now. I wish you the very best on your journey. Good for you for taking care of yourself and your daughters and for ending the cycle!
Hazel on December 14, 2017:
Both my parents are and have always been emotionally detached and I have two amazing daughters that I love deeply but I relive my childhood pain through every stage of their lives. I was bulimic for a number of years and now I struggle with alcohol. This is not something you grow out of but something that can continue to damage you and everyone around you. This has helped me realize that I need help and lots of it.
My Mother lost her Dad in a terribly traumatic way at a very vulnerable age and my father had extremely selfish parents. The cycle must stop though!
McKenna Meyers (author) on October 04, 2017:
J, it's so good to hear from you again. Congratulations on your successful treatment and good luck with your scans this week. I'm glad you had good friends to help you get through that trying period. When we have an emotionally absent mother, it's so important to have friends who we can turn to in difficult times. I'm sorry your parents weren't supportive about the cancer but not surprised. When I was a teenager, I suffered from severe depression and anxiety and my mother never took me to a doctor. I look back on that now as the mother of two teenage sons and am horrified. But, she was too focused on her own life to see my pain let alone deal with the situation. As I wrote in my article, she denied my son had autism. That made me nuts at the time, but now I see that's her pattern. We're always going to feel the pain of having this kind of mom, but it challenges us every day to take better care of ourselves because we so deserve it and need it. There's so much heartbreak in the world, but there's also so much beauty. The greatest gift I give myself these days is time. Just before writing this, I spent 10 minutes watching two gorgeous birds fly from branch to branch in the tree outside my window. I'm also taking time to meditate, read, and paint. I'll keep you in my thoughts and prayers, J, as we continue to reach for the light.
J on October 03, 2017:
Arrived back here, 7 months later still seeking tips and advice on self kindness and care.
Thank you for this. I have finished active treatment for cancer and have routine scans this week. Scanxiety. My parents in their typical form pretends cancer never happened.
I lived alone and took care of myself with a strong support network of friends and my husband working in another country as I chose to return to my home country for treatment.
Thank you for this post, it means so much ❤️
Love and lights xx
McKenna Meyers (author) on February 28, 2017:
J, I wish I could give you a hug for all you're dealing with and reassure you that you're doing the right thing. I'm sorry about your breast cancer and hope you're doing well. Like you, it was a health crisis that forced me to change my relationship with my mother. For the first time in my life, I started to treat myself with compassion and tenderness, instead of loathing. I now start each day by writing a letter to myself from my ideal mother figure who I named "Mona." Mona writes loving things to me, encourages my endeavors, and forgives my faults. This gets my day going in a positive way and gives me a bit of the mothering I missed. Limit contact. Stay strong and take good care of yourself, J.
J on February 27, 2017:
Thank you for sharing. I am working through my issues, i have been in therapy for over ten years and i think worked too hard on trying to fix myself instead of feeling, and its only when I got diagnosed with breast cancer last October that open the jar of darkness.
I realised my cruel emotionally absent mother would never change. She told me i deserved cancer and that it was my karma to suffer.
I am trying to accept and forgive for my own sanity and health. I found keeping contact to a minimum has been the safest most secure way I have found to deal with it.
But being in an Asian family, permanent severence doesn't really work for me.