A growing child’s relationship with their mother is as essential to their overall growth as good nutrition and exercise. But what happens when this relationship is toxic or at least lacking in what is good for a growing child? Unfortunately, the child enters adult life with a mother wound, more popularly known as ‘mommy issues.’ Men with mommy issues differ greatly from women in how these issues manifest in their adult relationships.
However, one thing remains common: these issues plague every aspect of their life, including their love life. Research suggests that infant-parent attachment has a deep impact on an individual’s adult relationships. Men with mom issues struggle to build healthy, wholesome relationships. In this article, we talk about why that is and how mommy issues manifest in men, with insights from relationship and intimacy coach Shivanya Yogmayaa (internationally certified in the therapeutic modalities of EFT, NLP, CBT, REBT), who specializes in different forms of couples counseling.
What Are Mommy Issues And How Do They Manifest In Men
In a nutshell, psychological mommy issues in men stem from early childhood trauma involving mother figures. Many assume that this trauma manifests in the form of Sigmund Freud’s controversial ‘Oedipus Complex’ concept, but this has been largely debunked for lack of evidence.
Shivanya says, “The Oedipus Complex is not relevant to mommy issues in the literal sense. I have come across only one case in which I had a small suspicion of some kind of physical relationship between mother and son. But I was unable to confirm this to be true.”
However, there is evidence that a mother complex can give rise to unresolved mental health issues later in life. These include low self-esteem, trust issues, angry outbursts, and more. This imbalance in the mother-child relationship could result from an overprotective mother that doesn’t create healthy boundaries with her son. It could also stem from a neglectful or abusive mother who doesn’t provide essential emotional support.
On this, Shivanya says, “In some cases, the mother creates an unhealthy attachment with her son likely because of her own unresolved trauma. In other cases, the mother neglects or abuses the son or is emotionally unavailable. Both situations have the same outcome – an adult man stuck in childhood, overcompensating for validation from a female partner.”
Related Reading: 8 Relationship Problems You Can Face If You Had Toxic Parents
15 Signs Of Men With Mommy Issues
But how can you be sure that your man has mommy issues? He might just have a close and healthy relationship with his mother and you might be projecting your own insecurities. Here are 15 signs of mommy issues in men to watch out for:
1. He has a fear of intimacy
This is probably one of the biggest signs of mommy issues in men. A healthy relationship involves things like having a sense of humor during trivial arguments, communicating assertively, and the ability to spend time apart. Men with mom issues will develop a fearful avoidant attachment style meaning a hampered ability to have healthy adult relationships. He may not take a silly joke well, he may be afraid to communicate his needs assertively for fear of offending you, or he may be anxious when you’re not around.
Self-esteem issues are likely to add to these, making it very difficult to form a healthy adult attachment. Men with mom issues tend to learn some of the same traits their mothers displayed while raising them. It is very likely that the father also had an avoidant attachment style.
Related Reading: Fear Of Intimacy: Signs, Causes & Ways To Overcome It
2. He has a constant need for validation
Boys who grow up with overprotective mothers or an absent mother figure can also develop an anxious attachment style. This is because they were never sure if their needs were being met or if they were even important to their mother. This troubled relationship creates a jaded perspective of the world being a hostile or uncaring place.
Attachment theory suggests that this manifests as a clingy or needy partner who is always trying to make sure that everything is okay in the relationship. According to Shivanya, “Men with this issue have a hard time relaxing and feeling secure in their relationships. They expect constant reassurance. It is a tragic sign of low self-esteem rooted in a complicated relationship with their mother.”
3. He is always seeking approval
Similar to the previous point, this extends beyond romantic relationships into other personal relationships. Men with mommy issues are always seeking approval from everyone in their life – parents, romantic partners, friends, colleagues and bosses, and even their kids.
“This need for approval stems from low self-esteem and poor self-worth rooted in the emotional wounds inflicted by an overbearing or absent mother. Men raised by such mothers never quite learn to cut the cord and be on their own. They always require a crutch of external approval to get through life, not just from their mothers but from just about every important person in their lives,” says Shivanya.
4. He hasn’t succeeded in becoming independent from his mother
Many men with mommy issues struggle to establish independence from their mother figure. He might live with her well into his 30s or 40s, he might ask her advice on every single decision he has to make, small or big, or he might be stuck in some kind of toxic relationship with her.
Shivanya shares a case study to explain how this tendency plays out in relationships. “I had a client who was in her second marriage with a man who was also in his second marriage. This man was so controlled by his mother that they hadn’t had a child yet because his mother would not allow the couple to sleep together,” she says. And the kicker is that this man – in his early 40s – was happy to comply with his mother’s wishes! This is a classic, albeit extreme, example of attachment issues brought on by an overbearing mother who raised her son to require constant reassurance.
All of this is a reflection of the poor boundaries that she set with her son at an early age, involving constant encroachments on his personal space. Even if he does seem to be independent of her in these ways, he might still be preoccupied with her potential feelings about his life choices. Either way, this is a strong sign that he is emotionally stuck in his traumatic childhood, because of childhood abuse, constantly reliving his inner child’s life, and has commitment issues.
Related Reading: Mommy Issues In Women – Meaning, Psychology, And Signs
5. He hasn’t picked up all the necessary life skills of an adult
In some cases, an anxious mother will dote on her son well into his adolescence and early adulthood by always doing everything for him, including basic chores like laundry, dishes, or cleaning his room, feeding the harmful “mama’s boy” stereotype. This creates an overly unreasonable expectation in his mind that his future partner will do the same for him, leaving his partner feeling like they’re dating a man-child. It also robs him of even the notion that he could have an independent adult life regardless of whether he is single or in a relationship.
6. He has more insecurities than the typical adult
When a mother is overly critical, it creates insecurities in a boy during his developmental years – in fact, being raised by an overbearing parent is one of the most common causes of insecurity in an adult. These insecurities become hardwired into his brain as a debilitating mother complex. Here are a few ways they may manifest in a man:
- He makes way too many self-deprecating jokes
- He focuses on his own mistakes far more than is considered ‘normal’
- He has an unusually high need for validation
- He takes constructive criticism as a personal attack
- He is as critical of others as he is of himself
- He has an unusually pessimistic or fatalistic view of the world
Related Reading: Dealing With An Insecure Boyfriend? Here Are 16 Coping Tips
7. He is jealous of other people’s successes in life
A man with mommy issues may grapple with intense feelings of jealousy. This is not restricted to men their partners may speak to but is a more generalized feeling of jealousy toward everyone and their accomplishments, including that of their significant others.
Other people’s success reinforces his perceptions of his failings and further strengthens his feeling that the world is an unfair place. This unhealthily jealous behavior stems from a lack of emotional support during childhood, not to mention his low self-esteem, and it affects all of his personal relationships.
8. He believes the world is an unfair place
Men who develop mommy issues often develop strong feelings of resentment toward the world. While it is an unpleasant thing to experience as his partner, it comes from a childhood trauma that isn’t even recognized in society. Trauma is largely understood as a person’s reaction to a horrifying event like war or extreme abuse. But the definition is slowly opening up to include less obvious traumatic events such as emotional abuse from well-meaning parents.
So although it is true that the world is an unfair place, a man with a mother wound might believe that it is more unfair to him than to everyone else. This view is suggestive of this sense of victimhood, which is the recipe for an unhealthy relationship.
9. He has trouble holding himself accountable
More common in the case of an anxious mother that smothers her son with love, this happens when the mother fails to teach her son to own up for his mistakes. In her traumatized mind, she sees that as abuse and so never shows him how to be accountable for his actions. When he grows up, he finds it very hard to admit his mistakes because it makes him feel like a complete failure and hence unworthy of love or recognition.
Related Reading: 13 Ways To Make Him Realize Your Worth
10. He can indulge in impulsive behavior
The feeling of not being enough results in a range of impulsive behaviors, ranging from impulse shopping and instigating silly arguments to drug addiction and promiscuity. These feed into his need for constant validation and could bring with them some unhealthy attachments.
And every time he engages in this kind of behavior, he feels intense guilt, creating a vicious cycle that further damages his mental health. Younger guys are even more susceptible to falling prey to these unhealthy patterns, thanks to the glorification of sex and drugs in entertainment.
11. He has trouble setting boundaries with people
Setting healthy boundaries as an adult is very difficult for men with mommy issues. The experience of being smothered with anxiety-based love or of being neglected or abused sets a boy up for relationship disaster in adulthood.
In general, he will not set boundaries with people close to him, especially his romantic partners, for fear of losing these relationships. And on the flip side, he will put up walls with everyone else, effectively shutting himself from other relationships and unable to form deep connections.
Related Reading: 19 Examples Of Healthy Boundaries In Relationships
12. He does not handle criticism very well
A man who has issues with his mother will likely be hypersensitive to any and all criticism, even if it’s constructive. Even if you mean to encourage him to grow, he will take it as a personal attack. It will trigger a childhood memory of feeling alone or unseen due to his mother’s failure to provide emotional support.
13. He may have anger issues
Anger issues is another one of the important signs of mommy issues. All of us are taught from an early age to suppress negative emotions if we want to be accepted. Anger is one of these emotions. In the case of boys, they are often made to feel guilty for feeling angry with their mothers. The natural response in the boy’s brain is to learn to suppress this emotion for the sake of the most important woman in his life.
But this anger doesn’t go anywhere. When he grows up, it eventually boils to the surface and manifests as a rage event. And the most likely trigger for this will inevitably be the new most important woman in his life – his romantic partner. If your partner has frequent angry outbursts, you need to seek professional help ASAP to help him deal with these unresolved issues.
14. He tends to be codependent in relationships
Shivanya says, “A man who did not receive the love of a healthy sort growing up will carry a feeling of emptiness into adulthood. This results in him being codependent in his romantic relationships or looking at your love as a kind of validation for his existence.” This approach to relationships leads to all kinds of complications like the ones mentioned in this article. This is one of the biggest mommy issues in men signs.
15. He compares his girlfriend/wife to his mother
Shivanya explains, “Whether he loves his mother or has a strained relationship with her, a man with mommy issues may constantly compare you to her. In the former case, he will say things like, “But my mom would have done it this way.” In the latter, he may say, “You don’t listen to me. You’re just like my mom”.”
How To Deal With A Man With Mommy Issues
So what can you do if you spot these mommy issues in men signs? It is easy to criticize, especially when the popular terminology –mommy issues – sounds so juvenile. Society tends to ridicule men with these issues by calling them “mama’s boy” or “mommy’s boy”. But it is important to remember that this problem comes from deep-seated childhood trauma. And if the goal is to grow, then criticism and shaming are not the way to go.
1. Be patient with him
It is not easy to spot a problem like this in oneself. Growing up with these issues can create a “fish in water” type of situation. How can you know something is a problem when it’s been your reality all along? Having said that, even upon becoming aware of it, it is no easy task to fix it. Decades of emotional trauma will not go away with the snap of a finger. In fact, it will not go away at all. The idea of “fixing” one’s emotional baggage is incorrect in itself. The way forward for a man with mommy issues is to learn to endure it mindfully and learn the appropriate responses to situations.
Related Reading: 11 Ways To Be Patient In A Relationship
2. Show him compassion
In addition to self-awareness, or lack thereof, no one chooses their trauma. It is something he has to live with whether you’re in the picture or not. If he’s doing the work to better his mental health, a little compassion from you could go a long way in his journey.
“Help him to understand that he can trust in his own judgment and abilities, that he does not need to lean on his mom or wife for everything. Help him learn to say no to his mother sometimes and to figure out when to involve his mom and when not to. But do so gently or he may feel attacked on behalf of his mom,” says Shivanya.
3. Set healthy boundaries
Needless to say, you must maintain your own healthy boundaries for your well-being. This includes boundaries between you and your partner, as well as boundaries between you as a couple and his mother.
Discuss these with him at length for a healthy relationship. Seek professional help if you need to. And who knows? Maybe he’ll learn this skill from you. Shivanya says, “Men with mommy issues need therapy to help them figure out how to free themselves from this unhealthy pattern. This will help him learn to own himself and his masculinity.”
Related Reading: What Is An Enmeshed Relationship? Signs And How To Set Boundaries
4. Don’t take on more than you can handle
If he clearly has mommy issues but refuses to do anything about it, then you have a choice to make. If you decide to stay with him, you might need to make a major compromise in your life to accommodate a mommy’s boy and be prepared for a difficult relationship. On the other hand, if you don’t want to feel like a third wheel with your partner and his mother, you could consider walking away.
5. Assess your own biases
But before you make such a big decision, you may want to ask yourself one question. Does he really have mommy issues? Or is it you that has issues with his mother? It could simply be that you don’t get along with her. A man’s relationship with his mother might not sit well with you for reasons that might elude even you. That does not necessarily make him a mommy’s boy.
In this case, you have to consider many other things. Like your expectations of family time involving his mother. If you end up making him choose between you and his mother at no fault of theirs, then you may be the problem here.
- Mommy issues arise when men grow up in toxic relationships with their mothers. This could mean too much love, as in no boundaries, or abuse/neglect, for example, an emotionally absent mother
- Signs of psychological mommy issues in men include a fear of intimacy, being codependent, being insecure, trust issues, and feeling resentful about their lot in life
- If you believe your boyfriend/husband has issues stemming from mother-related trauma, you can help but not to the detriment of your well-being. It takes two to make a relationship work
- If he doesn’t want to change, you have a choice to make – either stick around but make a huge change to your life or leave the relationship and hope he finds his way through
It is a tragic thing for a boy to grow up with a mother wound. It affects every aspect of his life, especially his romantic relationship. Fortunately, society is becoming more open to the concept of psychological healing, so there is hope for those that are struggling with it now. Therapy can go a long way in helping a man overcome mommy issues. So, if you both want to work on having a good relationship, that’s a great place to start.