Some mothers and daughters sit in a room with awkward silence, engulfed in a strong sense of estrangement. They may say the occasional “love yous” and “take cares”, but otherwise the relationship remains cold and deafeningly silent. It can leave the daughter with a mother wound, or mommy issues. Mommy issues in women often develop quietly over the years.
But, what does it mean for a girl to have mommy issues? How do they develop and what are the signs? To answer our many curious questions on mommy issues in women, I have roped in counseling psychologist Kavita Panyam (Masters in Psychology and international affiliate with the American Psychological Association), who has been helping couples work through their relationship issues for over two decades.
What Are Mommy Issues?
Mothers sculpt a child – physically in the womb and emotionally through their interactions. The bond is so strong that the sense of self in an individual is built based on their formative interactions with their primary caregiver, which is usually the mother, according to British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott .
What happens if the mother is unavailable emotionally during this period? Mommy issues develop. They stem from a lack of deep understanding of one another. The superficial bond often washes away with years, revealing the surface beneath – a huge void that screams toxic mommy issues. And, mommy issues in women are not uncommon.
What Is The Psychology Of Mommy Issues On Women
As mentioned before, a mother is the most important figure for a child. However, when this relationship goes awry – if the mother was toxic, manipulative, estranged, or even overly doting – mommy issues could manifest well into adulthood.
“Mommy issues in a woman can develop if the mother was toxic or overprotective. If the mother was not present during her daughter’s emotional dependency days, she can form insecure attachment styles in her future relationships,” says Kavita.
Insecure attachment styles include being avoidant, ambivalent, or disorganized, according to Kavita. “Further insecurities develop when your mother was there for your basic needs but not emotionally,” she adds.
7 Signs Of Mommy Issues In Women
“Among the first signs of mommy issues is that the daughter tries to replicate her bond with her mother in other relationships. She thinks of herself as an extension of your mother. She cannot set boundaries,” says Kavita, adding, “It will affect your attachment to friends, partners, and children. It might affect your ability to have a satisfying relationship.”
Mommy issues in a woman also often stem from nitpicking. If a mother was unkind or continuously critiqued her daughter, it can compromise a kid’s self-worth. Further, if the mother was mean to her child from the beginning, the child may begin imitating the behavior, resulting in a range of mommy issues in women, from insecure attachment to toxic tendencies.
Here are a few signs of toxic mommy issues:
1. Low self-esteem
Alina, a corporate analyst, got a handsome bonus at work earlier this year. “I was being modest and honest when I had – slightly timidly – asked my boss if I had deserved it. My boss had wittily replied saying he was the boss and he did not have to explain himself.”
This line resonated quite badly with Alina, who was taken down the memory lane when her mother had blurted similar words to her.
“‘I am your mother, I do not have to explain myself to you, she had said to me after one of our arguments when I was 18,” Alina said, adding, “I have dealt with lack of affection all my life – she has told me that she loves me perhaps five times in 25 years of my existence.”
Alina and her mother stopped talking when she was 22. At that time, Alina claimed that her mother told her she did not care if they never spoke again. They did not speak for months and later only exchanged polite hellos.
This kind of emotional disconnect can give rise to mommy issues among women. The arguments of the past can become the phantoms of the future, like in Alina’s case. A mother’s hurtful dialogue made her doubt her self-worth – she did not understand if she had worked enough, despite her boss’s assurance.
She and several women like her, because of toxic mommy issues, have been scared of not doing enough in many aspects of life. The internalized mother’s voice drills in them a sense of inadequacy about their own abilities.
“There is no sense of self. A woman with mommy issues lives on her mother’s ideals. She does not know that she is a person in her own right. The daughter can be overly sensitive if the mother was unavailable or pushing victimhood,” said Kavita.
2. Trust issues
Perhaps, there was a time in your childhood, when you innately trusted your mother with something and she forgot. It happened repeatedly till you could not trust her. The inability to depend on the person who was meant to care for your physical and emotional well-being can lead to deep-seated trust issues.
“Babies are completely dependent on their mother. If the baby was left crying for a long time, they will not trust her,” Kavita said.
This lack of trust is among the many causes of mommy issues in women. You may find it difficult to trust anybody with your responsibilities. You would refrain from lending anything to friends with the fear of them not returning or damaging the object or asset.
You may even wonder why a friend is confiding in you because you may suspect them of having a hidden agenda behind the confession.
3. ‘I will avoid’
If you avoid getting into relationships or refrain from forming good friendships out of the fear of getting hurt, it could be because of long-festering mommy issues. “A woman with mommy issues will have an avoidant style where she does not want to get too close to anybody,” says Kavita.
A woman with mommy issues will prefer to stay alone than make an effort to form bonds. Plenty of solitude makes a person oversensitive to things real or imagined – a random comment by someone may actually be viewed as something too personal.
This happens among daughters who have tried to excessively please their mothers, according to Kavita.
“In such cases, your mother would be your best friend. Where you should have had healthy connections at your age, when you should have been going out with friends and discussing things, you ended up doing all that with your mom. She replaced friends and even personal space,” says Kavita.
Related Reading: Avoidant Attachment: Causes And How it Affects Relationships
4. The burden of perfection and insecurities
Fear of failing is also a sign of mommy issues among women. This is because over-protective mothers have set absurd standards for you since your childhood. Something similar happened with 19-year-old Sofia.
As a college-going student, she claims she had become timid and afraid to speak up on the smallest of the issues, fearing she may say something wrong. Sofia had been a young model and for the most part, home-schooled. Her mother would constantly check her diet and her weight. “My mother thought I was a prodigy, so she accelerated my coursework. I could not focus on my goals,” says Sofia.
By the time she started college, Sofia could not focus on either modeling or academics. “I was stressed because I felt I was not good enough to pursue both. When I chose to complete my degree, my mother said I was a failure. Now, I cannot stand to be around her,” she adds.
5. Difficulty setting boundaries
A woman with mommy issues could turn out to be an overbearing friend, an overprotective sister, or even a clingy or obsessive lover. She would want to be a crucial part of someone’s life to fill the void left behind by the absence of her mother. Such daughters find it difficult to create boundaries in many adult relationships.
Patricia, a college student with English majors, recounted a phase in her life involving her friend Alicia. They were close – with Alicia often being overprotective. Alicia, Patricia claimed, would always want to be around. When wasn’t, she would often be consumed by the fear of missing out.
“Alicia would text me at least 50 times if I was at a party or out with other friends,” she says, adding, “When I did not respond to her texts, she would often throw a temper tantrum.”
Alicia’s parents had divorced when she was a teenager. Her custody was given to her father and her mother was only allowed to visit on certain days. That too reduced after some time as Alicia’s mother pursued new dreams and a new partner. “On many occasions, Alicia told me that she missed having her mother around,” says Patricia.
6. It is hard to be a mother
A woman may treat her child the way she was treated by her mother. They could be distant or unavailable, simply absent or even too nurturing. A mother’s role in early childhood could affect her daughter’s parenting style in the future. “A woman learns how to raise her children by watching her mother. A daughter will try to emulate mother’s parenting style,” says Kavita.
It could also happen that if your mother simply nurtured you and skipped honing your emotional well-being, you would do the same thing with your child. In such a scenario, the daughter will innately internalize her mother’s behavior, and when she has kids, there is a high chance she will subconsciously do just the basics and forget the emotional nurturing.
In such cases, partners can help offer a perspective. It is prudent to observe the partner’s behavior toward the child to fill in the emotional gaps. Women who are mothers can rely on their partners to discuss, identify and work through their feelings.
Related Reading: Expert Suggests 7 Ways To Help Someone With Trust Issues
7. Fewer female bonds
Lack of female friends is also a sign of mommy issues in a woman, according to Kavita. “You don’t trust women or you are jealous. Likewise, being a tomboy could also be a sign of a woman having mommy issues. They are not very feminine, not very masculine, the woman can carry both gender traits,” she explains.
Such feelings can be generated in a woman if her mother has constantly told the daughter that she is ugly, useless, and worthless. Such allegations perhaps made her feel less feminine. “Such daughters are avoidant, they need their space. They don’t go deep in relationships. Moreover, they might lack a sense of self,” adds Kavita.
How Do Mommy Issues Manifest In Relationship
A daughter can be clingy or resentful in a relationship while trying to fill the large void left behind by the mother. They will ply their partners with demands and even throw a tantrum if these are unfulfilled, generating a list of problems between the couple to be debated in every conversation.
“A woman can be clingy in a relationship if her mother was not available during childhood. She could be secretive toward her partners and doubt their feelings. She might demand that her partner treat her like a queen if she was too pampered by her mother. She wants to be the priority in the partner’s life,” says Kavita.
Such women can also ruin a relationship by constantly feeling low. Further, if a woman spent her childhood always wanting to make her mother happy, she will become submissive in her future romantic relationship or marriage.
“So, when she gets into a relationship or gets married, she will either revolt against it or be a submissive person. She might want to punish her partners. In some cases, the woman may not want to marry at all,” says Kavita.
Georgina claimed that her mother was manipulative – she would threaten to leave the house over small disagreements, making children cower before her. Georgina said that she had learned to keep quiet to avoid arguments, a trait she exercises in all her relationships.
“I took abuse from my boyfriends. I never replied to their retorts out of the fear of abandonment,” she said.
There are many other ways in which mommy issues can manifest in relationships. Daughters with toxic mommy issues may have a difficult time showing vulnerability to partners.
Mommy issues in women may also prompt them to demand affection but they may have difficulty in being affectionate with their partner. And when it is time for the commitment, the woman might just become a runaway bride.
But do women who have mommy issues mean they had bad mothers? Well, that is not always the case. It is always prudent to realize that unloving or emotionally unavailable mothers might carry scars of their own. In a way, it answers the question asked in the beginning: What does it mean for a girl to have mommy issues? The mommy in this scenario perhaps imbibed issues from her mother.
The term, mommy issues, is also problematic in its own way. Most of the problems that we label as mommy issues stem from lack of care or nurturing. Society has often viewed mothers as nurturers or primary caregivers. So, when this equation flounders, it is the mother who suddenly becomes the mistress of evil.
In some cases, the early death of a mother or a physically handicapped mother may not have been able to nurture the daughter as per expectations. In such cases, a woman must seek help to address the absence. It is imperative to look beyond issues and resolve them before they create a mother wound.
A woman with mommy issues will look for a partner who has her mother’s traits.
Even if you had a dysfunctional relationship with your mother, you would check your partner for her characteristics because that is what you are comfortable with.
If you are avoidant, you might play mind games with your partners, give the silent treatment or not commit. You might emotionally push and pull the partner – give too much space or too little space.
Men also have mommy issues. Its primary sign includes a constant connection with the mother. They might talk to her every day. Their mother will know your entire day’s schedule and she may even call the shots even for her married son.
In the extreme opposite case – if the mother was absent – a man will avoid questions about her, he will get angry and upset. He may have problems trusting women thinking that all of them are like his mother. It can foster disrespect – he will get into a constant cycle of getting into relationships and dumping the partner to fulfill his rage.
Men with mommy issues are likely to cheat in relationships. They may expect their partners to pick up the lion’s share of responsibility – earn, cook, and look after the children. These men might also prefer one-night stands to a fulfilling relationship.