While the details of childhood and the makeup of each household are different, when unloved daughters tell their stories, patterns emerge. Culled from literally hundreds of stories that have been shared with me over years, here are some feelings all daughters of unloving mothers share.
1. That she is unlovable
Because maternal love is so essential to a daughter’s ability to thrive, even the love and care shown by others don’t assuage her belief that there’s something about her that stops her mother from loving her. Daughters report feeling this way as young as the age of three or four.
2.That she is isolated and alone
Virtually all daughters believe they are the only unloved girls on the planet when they are children and beyond. In adolescence, the need to fit in usually trumps her need to confide in someone. In adulthood, few people will understand her story because of the cultural myths about maternal love; she’ll hear people say, “You’re fine now” or “It couldn’t have been so bad,” which only underscores her aloneness. The size of the family doesn’t seem to matter; an only child has no point of comparison but a child with siblings who are treated differently by their mother is just as isolated. I’ve come to believe that the feeling of “being the only one” is as scarring and damaging as the lack of maternal love itself.
3. That it’s her fault
Some unloving mothers, through their criticism and hostility, will actually blame the child for their misbehavior (“You are impossible and difficult. It’s no wonder I can’t stand looking at you”). Children assume, given how little they understand of the dynamic, that they must be lacking somehow or deserving of their mother’s treatment. The blame is internalized, a terrible burden for the young self to carry and manage. It often takes a daughter years to recognize that she did nothing to warrant her mother’s treatment.
4. That she might be “crazy”
As the daughter gets older, her perception and understanding of the relationship become clearer. But any effort to question her mother will be batted down, denied or ridiculed, and often, she will—as I did by the age of ten or eleven—come to the conclusion that one of them had to be right and the other wrong. Or even worse, “crazy.” I worried terribly about being crazy when I was young—if I were, then no one would ever love me—and it turns out that, in this too, I was not alone.
5. Deeply fearful and insecure
An unloving mother robs her daughter of a sense of belonging. Worse, if the mother is combative, dismissive, or hypercritical, her daughter’s vision of the world will be of a hostile place, where every misstep will be judged. Her neediness for connection coexists with the terrible fear that no one will ever like or love her.
All of these feelings are part of the emotional legacy of an unloving mother.
Copyright© 2016 Peg Streep
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