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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

Im 16 and Im dealing with a

Im 16 and Im dealing with a lot of stuff right now. My mom has been emotionally absent all my life, she missed my presentations, speeches and more things that meant a lot for me. She has never talked to me about anything personal, not even the needed talks (when I got my period I had no idea what the hell was happening).
I really need a mom rith now. I am not good at trusting people with my feelings and problems so I just dont. Sometimes I get really depressed because I keep it all to myself and sometimes I need someones advice. I have tried talking to her but she just refuses to. she laughts at me saying its ridiculous that we dont need to talk. She honestly has no idea whats happening in my life and I feel she couldnt care less. I would love to have a good relationship with her more personal that just hello and goodbye. I have a boyfriend who always supports me and is there when i need someone but she dislikes him I believe because she thinks we are doing something wrong but we have never talked about him so I really dont know. I think having a emotionally unavailable mother has had impacts on the way I open up to people, my confidence and in many aspects in my life.
(please excuse me for any mistake, english is not my first language)

I am so sorry to hear what

I am so sorry to hear what you are going through. I hear that you are really missing having an emotionally available mother who is open, who will talk to you, and most importantly, who will listen. I hear that you are really wanting a mother you can talk to, and that you feel that not having this is impacting your life and the way that you relate to people.

I am sorry that you don't have that. From what you say, it sounds like your mother is not capable. For whatever reason, it sounds like she is shut down and not able to be open with you, probably because of her own experiences in life. This is not your fault, nor is it your responsibility. I hear that you really want her to be more open and more available to you, but it sounds like you have tried to initiate connection and she is not able to respond. I am so sorry. I imagine that you feel quite sad and lonely without this important connection.

I hear a lot of understanding from you, about your own life and about your relationship with your mother. It sounds like you actually have been able to emotionally develop quite a bit, even though your mother hasn't been able to be there for you.

I think that it is important for you to find a counselor or a therapist who you can talk to and who you can establish a bond of trust with. Believe me, I know how hard that can be. I am 40 years old and I had a similar dynamic with my mother. I was just thinking this morning that I wished I had been able to find a good therapist who I could talk with and establish a bond of trust with, because I still have trouble opening up.

Please try to find a counselor. I suggest that you first try a school counselor, because it is free and easy to access. However if that doesn't work for some reason, please ask your counselor's office for help finding an appropriate therapist. I think that if you sit down with a counselor and say just what you wrote above, it will be clear what your needs and issues are, and if the professional has an appropriate level of competence (hopefully they do), they should be able to help you. Please keep trying, if you have to. Keep looking. The value of establishing a bond of trust with a safe adult who knows how to listen will last you your whole life. I think you already know what you are missing and what you are needing. I hope that you trust yourself on this. You are right. I can hear in your words that you know yourself, and that you know what is happening in this situation. Please keep taking steps forward to help build this essential skill of emotional trust and relating. Please do not waste years, decades trying to fix the relationship with your mother, or blaming yourself, like I did.

It is helpful to write to you because it is like writing to my own 16-year old self. The words I wish I could have said, the words that I wish had been heard and valued, by my own self and by others. I was not able to articulate the problem as well as you are. I think you are well on your way to finding the help that you are wanting.

Sending encouragement and hope to you. :) You can do it!

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.

cold -critical moms --also sons and dads

my mom was cold and critical...while dating my husband,he "seemed" so loving etc......yet he is cold and critical towards our is almost as if he is jealous of my son (that I love him more)...I also believe that my mom was jealous of me (regarding my dad)as I did everything to please my dad who was so caring...however dad was quiet and mom ruled the roost , hence I was not able to make lasting friendships...I would seem to only prefer one friend at a time ,,yet they would have many friends...I couldn't handle this so I would end the friendship quietly. they never pursued me.
I must also mention that my younger sister was the apple of mom's eye and did everything mom wanted in the social sphere to move up the ladder..i would hear mom say things like "don't be like your sister and she never let us play or bond . being 5 yrs older than sis mom said I was too old to associate with I think it was the fact that mom wanted sis all to herself to mold her and again the 2 pple relationship only...very intriguing how early "stuff " follows us thru worries, I have a super therapist and the past is way behind me now...

Glad to hear that you are in

Glad to hear that you are in good hands. Yes, the "tattered script" of childhood, as one therapist called it, tends to stay in place throughout adulthood unless we actively address it...


Hypercritical, cold mother and distant father? Of course it resonates.
Recast the article to deal with "children". It might then be more in line with the non-gendered, non-sexist, inclusive kind of reporting we (men) have been asked to use since, oh, maybe the mid-1960s.

In fact (as you might infer) another female writing this about females only can easily trigger in this male exactly the kind of reactions you describe.

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.

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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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