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Relationships in the digital age

Daughters of Unloving Mothers: 7 Common Wounds

For some daughters, Mother's Day is difficult and painful. Taking stock of the mother-daughter relationship and the scars that remain can yield insight, self-knowledge and a measure of healing. Read More

Here! Here!

I certainly see myself in much of what is written here. Having been raised by a hyper-critical and unloving Mother has created long reaching problems.

Even after intensive therapy, with a very qualified therapist, I continue to stumble.

Add to this the fact that my stepfather sexually molested at the age of twelve, and basically, I'm a hot mess.

Having said all that, I'm not giving up. I continue to push myself to overcome the effects of my family of origin.

Here! Here!

Good for you, Anonymous, for getting the help you need and for continuing to move forward. The path is long and arduous ( I know that from personal experience) but you will get there. Stumbling is part of the journey....

same life?

in a very similar's hoping we get through this

Sons too

I read this with interest. Very wise observations. I am also noticing how well these issues relate to men with unloving mothers as well. My husband experienced a cold, unforgiving, critical mother and he exhibits ALL of these traits. So maybe this should be about children of unloving mothers rather than daughters. Thanks for writing this, it is an important subject.

I'm sure you're right about

I'm sure you're right about sons, although in my experience, the effect of a critical father is usually what men talk about. Again, this is beyond the scope of what I've researched and I'm both not a son or even the mother of one. It would be interesting to hear from other readers whether the list resonates.


pstreep wrote:
I'm sure you're right about sons, although in my experience, the effect of a critical father is usually what men talk about. Again, this is beyond the scope of what I've researched and I'm both not a son or even the mother of one. It would be interesting to hear from other readers whether the list resonates.

I am a man, and it does resonate. All of the traits you list, I have.

I think the culture drives

I think the culture drives what the science looks at. Daughters who are unloved by fathers are marginalized because of the cultural tropes. So too are unloved sons of mothers. I wrote about the latter in response to readers and got little response. We will see.

I'm so sorry this happened to

I'm so sorry this happened to you.

Daughters of unloving mother

This is all spot-on, so right, so true. Thank you for putting enlightenment on some of the feelings i have as a child and now as a 50 year old adult.

You're welcome. It troubles

You're welcome. It troubles me that this subject is still so taboo and off-limits; in the court of public opinion, it's always the daughter who's on trial, not her mother.



Great piece... It was just a

Great piece... It was just a month ago when I finally put myself first with my parents... I decided to keep myself safe and seperate from them... Mind you it has has taken me 45 years. The pain is vey much on the surface for me now ... it was always down deep turning itself into anger, and much much more.I started therapy about a year ago and it has been the hardest most rewarding thing I have ever done. My mothers mother suffered from schizophrenia ...Her mothering skills reflected this behahvior by being kind and then completely cruel. She once told me that my father got her pregnant on purpose so that he could keep her ... I heard her when she said this... she has told me her whole life that I was a mistake to her and that she never wanted me..(Not by words but by actions).. I was physically abused from the age of 6 months-13 by my father...I became more angry with my mother for letting it happen to me then with my father...( I later confronted my father as well..he quickly swept it all under the rug) In my early twenties I confronted her ...and she never got it... and unfortunately never will. I'm in and out of anger now .. I watch her treat my sistesr whom are four and thirteen younger than me much in the fashion i wish i would of been treated all of these years but even then I see my sisters suffer from similar wounds... After therapy i have found that trusting in others has been the first wound to heal...( I would question every compliment or every word said by eveyone even my own children... as if they didn't really mean it or they meant to hurt me) Self esteem seems to be the next wound to heal... ( I used to be completely self destructive of these even involved doing drugs that would give me a false sense of confidence) I am recently seeing myself take care of myself in painful situations ... Thankyou for this wonderful piece..

i am 45 too and am finally

i am 45 too and am finally taking a good look at myself and my life. i really need permission to separate myself from my mother, and feel guilty just thinking about it - but excited at the possibility of never having to be subjected to her insanity again..i live with a husband who is very similar to her, she still walks into my home without knocking and comments on my weight gain or weight loss and over sensitivity stating constantly that "your birthday is in june" and thats why i am the way i am - as if i am defective via the universe...
i just want to be free


I only recently (at age 57), realized what my mother's issue was. She fits the description of a psychopath! I feel like at my age my life is over for trying to make anything better. My husband of 31 years died nearly ten years ago. Even though we had our ups and downs, he was my best friend. My only friend. We had three sons that I tried my best to instill the confidence in that my own mother didn't in me. She was always putting me down and telling me that I would never be able to get a job talking to people as I was too shy. I have had quite a bit of dysfunctional friendships, and consequently, don't care to have have friends anymore as I'm tired of feeling for the knife in the back. I have had jobs talking to the public and jobs working in factories. Whereas I may appear on the surface to be handling myself well, it's quite the strain and drain to keep up the proper, expected protocol. People are exhausting! I used to be a 'pleaser', but now can't stand the stupid exchanges that people expect! And when I say just what I feel now, I get snarky remarks that just confirm for me that this individual wasn't worth the effort to get to know better anyway. I know one lady who still comes around in spite of this...I don't know what to make of her....if she is just lacking in self esteem or if she really cares. I'm beyond caring anymore. Tired of being hurt. Just curious though. The last of my three sons will be moving out of this crappy state (Arizona), and that's what their father always wanted to do before he died.....get out of here! I love my sons dearly and will miss them all....besides their father, my sons were my only friends. We were (and still are) able to talk about anything. I strived to make them grow up to be very confident and independent....not wrecks like me and my siblings. It was only in recent years that my oldest sister and I discovered why we hated each other. Our mother was feeding each of us information about the other that wasn't true. So we spent many a holiday and many years bitter over lies. Our mother was saying the same thing to each of us about the other. She was also doing this to the grand kids too! There was much heartache and many tears because of what our mother did throughout the years. Too much to detail here. But she was quite the 'innocent' little manipulator. She is now 87 and still mean as hell! Especially now that me and my sisters are now talking to each other like friends. Just yesterday she told my oldest sister that she had a big mouth and that I was a bitch. Nice mom. I told her that we still loved her and that we just wanted what was best for her, I gave her a hug and then left. As far as I'm concerned, my mother is dead to me in my heart already. She has been for years. We're just looking after this crusty old shell, until it dies. But she has already died to me. I am struggling with guilt about how I feel, trying to do the right thing respectfully. I want to meet God with clean hands. I pity my mother because I don't think she truly knows how to love. I'm not being sarcastic....I'm serious. But just the same, our lives have been very painful because of how she raised us so dysfunctional. All I can do is try to live the rest of my days being kind, honest, and loving, in spite of my screwed up boundaries. I do have trust issues. I don't react the way I used to when someone is untrue to me. I used to cry and try to figure out what went wrong and fix it. Oh hell no! Now I just leave! I don't waste my time on stupid, selfish, unfeeling people anymore. I have genuine love to give and want the same in return. Seems there isn't very many loyal people anymore. Not that there ever was.


Bravo! This is an excellent piece. Having grown up in a household with a mother whose pet name for me was harlot, or whore, I can 100% relate to this article. It just really frustrates me that my lot in life, and perhaps some others reading this blog, was to make her sane. I totally believe that when I was born, I was supposed to make everything "right". That's a lot of responsibility to place on a child and I never understood it. Whenever she would get mad she would come to me and want to talk about how this adult just said or did something to offend her, or just yell at me for whatever just happened. And my dad would force us to do stuff together even though I loathed being around her, which he knew, because she was unstable. One minute she's fine the next she is yelling hysterically and telling me (at the age of 9) to get out the car in the middle of the road because when she asked me how my day was I said "fine". I was the youngest and the only girl of two older brothers. Unfortunately every time she looked at me she saw everything she hated about herself and proceeded to project all her insecurities on me thereby making me hate myself and her in the process. Long story short it's good to know I'm not alone in the "I hate Mother's Day" boat. :) Again excellent piece!

I'm so surprised to know that I'm not alone!

I am a 23 year old female that always finds myself in "comfortable" friendships that all end in chaos. I have always avoided relationships all together because of the fear that my relationship will end the same way my friendships have. I realize all of these points you have listed above and genuinely want to put an end to all of them. How do I stop, what can I do? Should I force myself to engage in friendships that make me "uncomfortable"? Please help me out. Thank you for creating such an accurate article!

My wife suffered too

Explains quite a lot of our relationship. I suffered in another way with my mother, we both have healed.


Let's see...lack of trust,

Let's see...lack of trust, lack of female friendships, lack of intimate relationships, dismissively avoidant...yep, that's me!
Not the same for my brothers, though....boys good, girls bad.

In reality, I simply don't believe in intimate relationships. I don't think they're real. I think people delude themselves into believing them because they're terrified of being alone. The number of miserably married people would seem to confirm that.

I'm saddened that you feel

I'm saddened that you feel that way. Thanks to the help of some gifted therapists, I do believe in the possibility of intimate relationships and have experienced them, both in friendships and love.

All 7

I'm often redirected when I attempt to explain and explore how hurtful the fact that my mother was "unloving" has been to me. Thank you so much for this article.

The taboos surrounding the

The taboos surrounding the subject of the unloving mother are enormous and, yes, people are uncomfortable with this particular truth. I personally think that because life and love are so fragile, we would prefer to believe in a kind of love that is rock-solid and unwavering and completely unconditional, and we identify maternal love as being just that. Sometimes, it is. But sometimes it's not.

I agree with sons too

I was thinking the exact same thing, I see myself fitting perfectly into avoidant attachment and I am a guy. I grew up with a mother who was distant and who avoided me. She ended up being diagnosed as bipolar with very bad anxiety. My gut tells me that men are affected by the mother's actions during infancy and a couple years beyond and that the relationship with the father has more affect as you are growing up. That's just the way it seems to me, I don't have anything to back that up. What's interesting about me is that I have very satisfying, healthly friendships but when it comes to romantic relationships all have been a disaster and have come to the conclusion that I can only be happy when not in a commited relationship. I also have far more female friends than male, although my closest friends are male. Can you recommend any good books on healing from the kind of damage you wrote about?


What you are saying makes perfect sense since during the crucial years, the mother is most likely the consistent caretaker. Because I'm not a therapist, my book MEAN MOTHERS is light on how to self-help. Check out my friend Karyl McBride's blog on this site (her book is about healing in the context of a narcissistic mother and is also aimed at daughters but I believe it is applicable to sons as well) but I will also get back to you with some other suggestions.


I have ordered your 'Mean Mothers' book. I just recently learned how powerful the unconscious is while working on recovery from alcohol abuse. It is helpful to know that those negative thoughts aren't "real" and that you can deal with them through mindfulness.

Hi, Peggy. I see we wrote

Hi, Peggy. I see we wrote similar-themed articles about painful mothering experiences. It's more common than people know.

From some of the emails I've gotten off site, maybe your readers might like to read about the obit story I mention in my piece, 'Not All Mothers are Loving and Kind': [bitly: ].

Three women and two men said they wanted to write a similar obit, but didn't have the courage (at the time) and they hated the charade they played when their mothers died, knowing that their mother's death was truly a liberating loss.

Just sharing.


I'm going to respectfully disagree because your article covers quite different territory, especially true abuse. I'm not a therapist but having spoken to hundreds of unloved daughters over the years and judging from my own experience with my own mother, I'm not sure the punishing obit is really a good or healthy response. Needing to write such an obit is proof that you're still in the endless battle and no better off than you were when you lived under your mother's roof.

From a Scapegoat Daughter - Respectfully Siding with Dr. McCloud

I had the narcissistic mother from hell who scapegoated me, abused me physically during my childhood and emotionally all my life, and of course she deviously put on a phony front within our small town. I took care of her at the end. It was the last act of trauma bonding with the abuser, I realize now, because the verbal savagery I endured from her was horrific. I ended up writing the smarmy obit about her for the local newspaper, which was NOT a good or healthy response.

My healing did not start until I began to write about the TRUTH because I had to fight an inner battle after a lifetime of brainwashing that I came from a normal family and "asked for and deserved" the abuse I received - as my siblings and mother loved to tell me. So in that sense I totally sympathize with the writer of the punishing obit. When you finally wake up to and grasp the full depths of "family" dysfunction after "turning the other cheek" for decades, it is liberating and healthy to TELL IT LIKE IT IS.

I think you might have

I think you might have misunderstood me or perhaps my comment wasn't expansive enough. I was referring specifically to "settling the score" with an obituary.
Because a mother has so much power, it's vital that a daughter own her truth and work to heal herself. It's particularly important because the myths of motherhood protect the mother, and effectively put the "blame" on the daughter. In my book MEAN MOTHERS, I describe the various strategies daughters employ to heal which range from meaningful dialogue with their mothers to setting boundaries to going "no contact."


Okay, I have struggled with most of the list, however, I had, and still have, an extremely loving and supportive mother.

I've seen these same qualities listed attributed to many other causes. But also, what about just plain being who you are, reacting to many influences in the world (we don't only react to our parents) and learning that life isn't about your parents and therefore you start to respond to new ways of thinking, even if they are dysfunctional? Because most of my problems have stemmed not from parenting, but from my nature to over-trust the world, believing putdowns, etc. and just plain my own thought processes and the way I think. In other words, my nature as opposed to my nurture.

For example, my single most emotionally damaging school year was 2nd grade, where I had an extremely verbally abusive, cruel, teacher. My mother always comforted me, soothed me, tried to get the school to do something (albeit unsuccessfully) etc. No matter how much my mother tried to have her influence on me overpower the terrorizing qualities of that teacher, I left that year with the seeds of many emotional problems. Not the least of which, learning that I could likely never match how great my mom was when it came to loving support, and that other people were "bad" and that I was somehow at fault for an adult hating me so much (again, even though my mother loved me and I knew it.)

Is that kind of thing ever accounted for in these conclusions?

I know I'm a little late, but

I know I'm a little late, but I don't think that this article is about exceptions and alternative causes. Of course your own experiences differ from those who have endured an existence with an unloving mother.
Now I don't know your personal experiences, the way you grew up, or anything about the home you grew up in, but my guess is that the reason you feel similar to some of the things mentioned in the article is almost a direct result of your reactions to your environment. From what you have told about yourself, it sounds like you have repeatedly been taken advantage of and taken for granted which has lead you to believe that you are not good enough, or you aren't enough, something along those lines. It is not uncommon for most people to feel this way at least from time to time.

It seems to me that the difference here is that the author of the book has specifically researched mother daughter parental attachment styles and how they statistically reflect adult connections in relationships, and not your own life. Many if not most of the people reading the article have found that they identify with either the ambivalent or avoidant attachment style, as each of the numbered "wounds" separate the two and address each attachment style individually.

You also did not include much information about the state of your current mental well being and how it is directly correlated with your personal experience with your teacher, but the author is addressing the pervasive and almost debilitating pain experienced by the girls and women who have lived with unloving mothers their whole lives. In addition to this, the author's goal is to help the intended audience of the article and guide them to a path of healing.
Another difference is that even women with help from highly educated and experienced therapists, daughters of unloving mothers still struggle to overcome their feelings. Again, I am not familiar with your efforts to overcome issues with mental health professionals, but I for one am effected by my experience on a daily basis.

These feelings are not a past occurrence. It is a daily struggle to cope with the fact that no matter what I do or how hard I try, my mother will not feel any different than she did yesterday. No matter how much I want the support or the kind of relationship that you and your mother have, I can never and will never experience that. It is something that I struggle with everyday, when I am excited about my engagement or if I am sad or sick and in the hospital, I feel like picking up the phone to call my mom. I have to force myself for my own well being to not initiate contact.
I see other mothers and daughters together and it's like every bad feeling stemming from my mother washes over me and cripples me.

By explaining the cause and effect relationship of the attachment styles she is validating their feelings and letting them know that they aren't as alone as they thought.

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Peg Streep, author or coauthor of nine books, is a New York City based writer currently working on a book about the Millennial generation.


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