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What Are Mommy Issues? Answers From a Therapist

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As an adult, lingering emotional issues from childhood can affect your ability to form healthy relationships with yourself and others.

Children form their first real connection with their mothers, and any disruption in that incredibly important bond can result in chronic mental health issues and emotional problems. The specific set of problems resulting from an unordinary mother-child relationship is often colloquially referred to as “mommy issues”.

Keep reading to discover the ways in which mommy issues can affect your adult life, from troubled relationships, self-confidence issues, parenting struggles, and much more.

Mommy Issues Explained

Mommy issues can be loosely defined as the struggles and psychological challenges that people deal with as adults that stem from the relationship they had with their mother or another mother figure as a child.

Just like the more often discussed daddy issues, mommy issues can materialize in both men and women depending on the relationships they’ve had with their mothers from a young age.

From infancy through the formative years of childhood, a person’s relationship with their mother sets the stage for an entire lifetime of healthy, successful relationships that are based on trust and love.

According to the attachment theory, infants are born with an innate need to form an attachment to their mother or mother figures who take care of them.

When a mother or primary caregiver provides consistent care, love, and stability for an infant, the child is much more likely to maintain healthy relationships all throughout their life.

On the other hand, if a child experiences neglect or abuse from their maternal figure from a young age, it can impact the child’s self-esteem, self-worth, emotional control, communication skills, and much more.

Maybe your mother was overly involved in your life as a teenager or set unrealistic expectations of you when you were young. Maybe she was overly critical and shamed or punished you for your mistakes. If your mother failed to set boundaries or never let you make your own decisions as you grew up, this can lead to unresolved issues that can affect your well-being as an adult.

Just like daddy issues, as an adult, unresolved mommy issues can make it difficult to maintain later romantic relationships and can ultimately impact the relationships you have with your own children. For this reason, it’s important to recognize any strains in the relationship between you and your mother, so that you can develop secure attachments with other women in your life and avoid passing on any issues to your children.

The Causes of Mommy Issues

Because every household and every individual is so different, the specific causes of mommy issues can vary greatly between each family and each childhood relationship.

That being said, across the board, many people experience similar relationship difficulties with their mothers. In many cases, mommy issues stem from a lack of a healthy attachment to the mother in infancy or early childhood due to parental neglect or abuse. If your mother failed to provide essential emotional support for you as a child, it’s possible you experienced other issues and mistreatment from your mother as well. These may include:

  • Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse from your mother
  • Lack of presence entirely or mostly absent from your life
  • An abusive relationship with your father or your mother’s other partners
  • An overly critical, overly protective, or overbearing mother
  • Lack of affection or nurturing from your mother during childhood

Parenting styles vary greatly, but childhood abuse or neglect from a mother can have long-lasting effects on an individual’s mental health and development. Ultimately, it is important to seek help for those affected by childhood abuse so that they can begin their healing process and build healthier lives moving forward.

These are just a few of the common scenarios that could have occurred in an individual’s childhood that may have caused someone to develop mommy issues or maintain a strained relationship with their mother.

Signs of Mommy Issues

While having “mommy issues” is not an official diagnosis, there are many psychological, emotional, and even some physical signs of a poor relationship with your mother. Additionally, childhood abuse can lead to formal mental health issues and diagnoses in adult children of abusive mothers.

Mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety can manifest themselves in dangerous or risky behaviors such as self-harm, substance abuse, or promiscuity. Children who experience neglect, abuse, or trauma from their mothers are also at risk of developing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which is characterized by intrusive memories, severe anxiety, hypervigilance, and flashbacks. Mood disorders such as borderline personality disorder (BPD) may also stem from certain “mommy issues”.

Ultimately, characteristics associated with mommy issues vary from person to person but may include things such as anger or hostility towards the mother, feelings of inadequacy in other relationships, difficulty setting boundaries or asserting oneself, and negative self-talk. A person with mommy issues may also fear rejection or abandonment. Additionally, unresolved trauma from childhood can cause low self-esteem and difficulty coping with stress.

Insecure Attachment Styles

A person with mommy issues may struggle to develop the skills necessary to form a healthy, functional relationship with their mother, and also have difficulties forming close relationships with other people as an adult as a result. These issues often materialize in various attachment styles based on the attachment theory we mentioned earlier.

Insecure attachment styles vary depending on what a person has experienced, the behaviors of the mother, relationships with other caregivers, and even how you recall the events of your childhood.

Here are the insecure attachments you may encounter from having mommy issues:

Anxious Attachment Style

Anxious attachment typically stems from a child’s needs consistently not being met by their mother.

When a person has an anxious attachment style, they are often clingy and become heavily reliant on their partner for reassurance.

Here are a few other signs of anxious attachment:

  • Codependency on a romantic partner or loved ones
  • Discomfort and fear of being alone
  • Fear of rejection in relationships
  • Fear of abandonment and being overly dependent
  • Lack of or difficulty setting boundaries
  • A constant need for validation of feelings, emotions, and actions
  • People pleasing in romantic relationships and friendships
  • Negative self-image and self-esteem
  • A constant worry and preoccupation with what others think of you

Someone with an anxious attachment may do the following:

  • Call or text a partner or friends repeatedly until they receive an answer
  • Struggle to say no in relationships or with work responsibilities
  • Staying in an unhealthy relationship rather than being alone
  • Doing what your friends want to do rather than voicing your opinion

Avoidant Attachment Style

When mothers treat their children harshly or neglect them, avoidant attachments can develop. If a mother is critical and overbearing to her child, this adult attachment style often develops later in life.

Typically, people with avoidant attachments are dismissive and disinterested in conflict, can be uncomfortable with intimate relationships, and have trouble showing emotion.

Here are some signs of avoidant attachment:

  • Fear of intimacy
  • Avoid sexual contact and difficulty expressing affection
  • Trust issues in romantic and other important relationships
  • Struggle to open up to anyone
  • Emotionally distant in most conflicts and stressful situations
  • Avoid getting close to people in friendships or with romantic partners
  • Anger issues
  • Impulsive behavior

Someone with an avoidant attachment may do the following:

  • Avoid eye contact or physical touch
  • Avoid asking for help when they need it
  • Accuse a partner of being too clingy or attached
  • Demand personal freedom and independence
  • Avoid relying on a partner in stressful situations

Disorganized Attachment Style

Disorganized attachment stems from the lack of a safe place provided by a mother or caretaker. Children with safe, secure places established by parents are more confident about exploring the world, going to school, and leaving the home because they are confident in what they will return home to.

Those with disorganized attachment don’t have a consistent home life with stable, loving relationships with caretakers. In turn, these children may love their parents but also fear them; this complicated feeling creates a disorganized attachment.

Here are some signs of disorganized attachment:

  • Poor emotional regulation
  • Inconsistent romantic relationships
  • Fear of intimacy and abandonment
  • Low self-esteem
  • Trust issues with others

A disorganized attachment style can also be linked to anxiety, depression, and borderline personality disorder in adults.

Secure Attachment Style

On the contrary, when a mother is able to meet a child’s physical, psychological, and emotional needs, most children grow up securely attached.

Learning from birth that you can trust and rely on someone directly correlates with your self-esteem as an adult, helps you seek a healthy relationship, advocate for your own needs, and maintain realistic expectations for all relationships in your life.

How Can Therapy Treat Mommy Issues?

Although a therapist won’t be able to give you an official diagnosis, they will help you evaluate the psychology behind mommy issues and how they reflect on your relationships and struggles.

Therapy can help you understand how the damaging effects of a strained or complicated relationship with your mother can impact romantic relationships, friendships, and other important adult relationships in your life.

Additionally, therapy can help to:

  • Discover the flaws of your unhealthy relationship with your mother
  • Develop coping skills for any attachment issues
  • Discover how mommy issues may affect your parenting and relationships with your own children
  • Learn to set healthy boundaries with your parents and other adult relationships
  • Uncover other potential mental health issues, including anxiety and depression
  • Learn how to repair a relationship with your mother, if you want to

How to Get Help With Trauma, Attachments, and Repair Your Relationships

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a loving, caring, and kind mother. Mommy issues refer to a set of psychological issues where a person struggles to develop a healthy, functional relationship with others as a result of unresolved childhood issues with their mother. The mother-child relationship is one that can have lasting effects on your livelihood, mental health, interpersonal relationships, and much more.

But, that doesn’t mean you aren’t in control of your life. It may feel like you can’t fix your attachment issues, especially after failed relationships, but the team of professionals at Clear Behavioral Health can help treat your trauma. We offer a completely virtual intensive outpatient program that treats patients with trauma, grief, depression, and much more.

We’re here to help you gain understanding and reassurance about any unhealthy relationships in your life. We can help you overcome mommy issues to improve personal relationships and live a happy, fulfilling life. Learn more about our virtual outpatient program here.

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