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When Mom Makes You Feel Invisible


Invisible- Timon StudierUnloved daughters share many common experiences but there are also meaningful differences. How a mother treats her daughter directly shapes her sense of self—her mother’s face is a daughter’s first mirror—and molds both her reactions and behaviors

16 thoughts on “When Mom Makes You Feel Invisible

  • February 23, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    My jaw dropped when I read this passage…” Some daughters embark on proving themselves worthy by becoming high-achievers, only to be put down and marginalized by their mothers, no matter what, as Adele recounted: “I decided that I’d have to be a star to get my mother’s attention, and so I became one at school. I got every honor in grade school, junior high, and high school, and then went on to a prestigious college. My mother’s response was always the same: She’d say things like ‘Well, the competition must not have been too tough’ or ‘Being good at school doesn’t do much for anyone in the real world.’ And I believed her. I felt like nothing…”

    Wow! This was me! For myself, between the ages of about 15 -22, no matter what I did, be it getting good grades, being an exchange student, playing the violin with competition medals, lettering in soccer, learning foreign languages, being in a number of school clubs, not to mention working part-time…nothing was acknowledged. Worse, much of what I enjoyed was outright mocked and belittled…By the time I got to college, my good grades continued at a very highly ranked university…and so did the mocking and belittling, mostly done by my father. My mother mostly tuned out and refused to confront anything substantive head on. Her life was being a house wife and that didn’t really include engaging that much with her kids, unless emotional control country as engaging.

    My brothers in all truth were the models of mediocrity in school and yet somehow, this translated into being heard and treated as golden. I am now 47 years old and to this day I look back and say WTF?! So, here I am now living some 4000 miles away from my family and most definitely the least financially successful one of the three of us. I have permanent and perpetual self doubt.

    I have said for some time now that my brothers were nourished on self-esteem and validation, even despite their mediocrity in school…whereas I have had to fight tooth and nail for every scrap of self respect that I have. Unfortunately, this has translated into poor choices in men, depression and financial difficulty, not because I don’t work hard or enjoy what I do ( Professor and trainer), but because I think I project some kind of weakness…

    I tend to believe that my father just could not accept the fact that his daughter was the achiever and not his sons. So, he had to put me down to put me in my female place. He was jealous and petty and yes, unloving in this way. He died when I was 26 and I just can not bring myself to forgive him. I struggle to this day with it all.

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  • February 23, 2016 at 5:43 pm

    My mothers methods were and are much more subtle then those in the article but had the same impact on my self esteem and self worth. My mother is very careful to cultivate an image of a loving and caring mother all the while casting me as the fussy, picky, hard to please, ungrateful and “independent” daughter. Apparently I was an independent baby – not sure how that works. A typical conversation with my mother goes something like this
    Her: So how are you?
    Me: Good, I have been busy with study.
    Her: Busy – goodness, I have been busy….. 10-15 mins of why she has been busier then me.
    Her: So what else have you been up to?
    Me: Not much else have been trying to plan a holiday away.
    Her: Yes my next holiday is going to….. 10-20 mins of her talking about her holiday plans and hopes etc
    And so it goes. I end up feeling unheard, dismissed and certainly negated and invisible. I can truly say my mother does not know me – she has a picture of who I am that she has created but not an actual proper knowing. While she did all the right things with regard to meeting my physical needs my emotional needs were constantly unmet. I remember writing her a letter when I was about 14 and having a really hard time telling her how I felt miserable and wished I was not alive – her response – “How could you do this to me!”. Even in times of crisis as an adult (during my divorce from my first husband) I received no support or emotional comfort from my mother – in fact she continued to nurture and have a strong friendship with my exes parents – visiting them – inviting them to stay (even though they lived 400 km away and they had barely spent any time together previous to my seperation) and then telling me all about their time together. If I had voiced a opinion I would have been made into the bad guy. These days I keep my distance and I am slowly healing the damage done – I had an eating disorder for over 15 years which I overcame, I healed from sexual abuse, I have learned how to nurture and mother my inner child and am slowly restoring my sense of self worth – based on me and my loves instead of ridiculous achievements that I thought would please but never did.

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    • February 23, 2016 at 7:06 pm

      Yes, I completely understand. Society points to the basic needs being met–housed,clothed, fed–which are actually legal obligations. Not emotional needs which for a mammal, and we are the highest order of mammalia, are key to thriving and surviving. I am glad you have found a path out of the darkness. The things you describe, including disordered eating, are not unusual for unloved daughters. Best, Peg

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  • February 23, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    You can substitute the word “son” for “daughter” in this article and it will strike home for many of us men.

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    • February 23, 2016 at 6:21 pm

      Yes, absolutely. This blog is devoted to the mother-daughter relationship and while I sometimes write about sons and mothers, the truth is that my default setting is daughters for no better reason than I was one and have one. But your point is well-taken and the reality is that these behaviors are even more damaging for sons because our culture teaches boys to deny emotions (other than anger) and to contain them and that as a result, men are less likely to discuss their deepest feelings and fears, and seek help. See the brilliant book, REAL BOYS by William Pollack if you have any doubt. hank you for your comment.

      Reply
  • February 23, 2016 at 6:57 pm

    I have been trying to leave a reply to elsa2016 but it won’t allow me to do so. I hear you Elsa and I definitely appreciate your sharing – it illuminates the diversity and the commonality of our experiences.
    Also I just think when people have the courage to post in these forums their voice should be acknowledged yet it often isn’t so the same old pattern of not being heard is reinforced. I definitely appreciate your story.

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  • February 23, 2016 at 7:52 pm

    This was disturbing. Mostly because it took me until I was in the hospital on bed rest for after hemorrhaging with a complete placental previa. My mom decided that was the best time to verbally attack me over the fact that my house was a mess because I had been told to be on restricted activity and had been for 2 months. I was allowed to do the laundry and make dinner… that was it. Plus I had two other children, a preschooler and a toddler.

    Or how about the fact that I am wasting my time going back to school to get a degree in a career in a field that I love and am super passionate about. But my eldest sister did a similar career years ago.

    My mom also still tries to over-medicate me as an adult. She is convinced that I need this or that med because I’m all kinds of depressed and God knows what else.

    My father was very different (despite the fact that my mom and siblings are convinced that he is horrible). He spent all of his time trying to show his daughters (my bother wasn’t his), that we could do what we put our minds to. He was disappointed over the fact I wasn’t continuing school to be an engineer but he was excited for the choice I did make.

    I am very lucky that I found my husband, he is extremely supportive.

    I am making it my goal to make sure that all 3 of my children feel worthy of love.

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  • February 24, 2016 at 6:14 pm

    Agree totally with NAPEL.
    I married one.

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  • February 24, 2016 at 7:37 pm

    I to was that daughter. I was the oldest of 4 and my mother had no real connection to me or my brother the oldest son.My step-father actually said once it is said but your mother only cares about 2 of her children. My younger sister and brother were both sickly children and I had to be the caretaker because my mother was a single parent. I married young to a man who was very verbally abusive to me.I have 4 daughters who grew up listening to him and seeing my mother in action. My daughters are all grown now and have nothing to do with me at all. It has been almost 4 years since I have talked to them and have not seen any of my grandchildren. I loved my daughters more than life itself, I attended everything they were involved in at school, fed them breakfast in bed,bought them any and everything they wanted and made birthdays and holidays special. They have NO respect for me and talk and treat me horribly, not inviting me to weddings, births or holidays. They have slandered me on social media and destroyed my reputation in town. I guess I must be a pretty horrible person to get no love or support from anyone. No they were not abused or mistreated anyway. No where to turn.

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  • February 25, 2016 at 12:25 am

    I enter a conversation expecting derision and backlash and surprisingly find support or acceptance instead. Postmenopausal mother is almost an entirely different mother than the one that raised me. However I find her competing with my 4 yr old daughter for my attention when we are all together. My brothers are just exactly who they should be, but I should never make a poor or unplanned decision, ever, nevermind mistakes, I am always responsible. In some ways I can see it as being powerful, but mostly it makes me feel stupid.

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  • February 25, 2016 at 4:52 am

    Thank you Dawn! I appreciate your words.
    (Same problem here, i tried to use “reply” but
    it did not work…)

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  • February 25, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    It’s hard to pinpoint which of the three maternal influences I had in the first 19 years of my life was the one that really influenced me and fits the whole “dismissive mother” bill. All of them were and still are pretty negative people, and I dread taking my children to see them because I don’t want them to be influenced by that toxic nature. They have enough bad influences at school with kids who tell them their interests aren’t good enough and completely invalidate their feelings – and my two are only 5 and 3! But I have to keep all of this in mind because it is so easy to follow in my family’s footsteps.

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  • February 26, 2016 at 1:23 am

    I wish I had read this 20, 30 or even 40 years ago. It is so horribly true. I do understand on an intellectual level the reasons for why my mother behaved as she did, exactly as you describe, with the one difference that it was the youngest daughter (born 18 years after me) that received all the admiration and attention. From a working-class home, I won an 11+ scholarship to a high-achievers’ academic girls’ school, back in 1952 when I was 10. My father would say things like ‘you and your posh school’ and my mother would sneer ‘you look down on us don’t you!’. My mother had lost her own father to divorce back in the 1930s and felt vulnerable, caught between a masterful, rude and violent husband and a bossy, wealthy and assertive mother. So she seemed to lose herself in the gap and marginalise her children, not only me but my middle sister and my brother. By 15 I was failing O-levels, by 18 I tried suicide. My youngest sister was born when I fell in unrequited love with my first ever boyfriend. Luckily I found a supportive, devoted man to take care of me; this in the 60s when feminism was only on the horizon. My mother died seven years ago and I’m now a great-grandmother but your essay resonated so much I had write to you. Thank you.

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  • February 26, 2016 at 9:43 am

    I can relate to this article a lot because my mother was very emotionally neglectful. No hugs, No I love you’s, etc. She has gone out of her way to minimize my feelings and tell me how much I can’t do something. My sister has even joined in with her on occasion. We have limited contact now after I got my son back full time. He was living with her for over 2 years due to emotional issues stemming from my childhood. My son likes to be around her so I only talk to her regarding him but it’s only to tell her he wants to see her. She doesn’t call me or him to see how we are doing nor does she ask to see him. The sad part about it is I was dismissed and invalidated by my father as well. Which has left me feeling worthless, ugly, stupid, fearful and angry. I can barely leave the house because I feel everyone is judging me. I’ve been no contact with my dad for 2 years. Best thing I could’ve done. But, due to PTSD flashbacks he’s in my head everyday. It’s just a sad situation. I’m raising a son and seem to be following my parents footsteps in terms of being emotional unavailable.

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  • October 5, 2019 at 7:17 pm

    So Glad I can read your comments. I wish I could divorce my mom, not really a mom, just a female that gave birth to a girl.

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  • May 17, 2020 at 4:06 pm

    Atleast all mothers hear to what daughter says.

    My mom doesn’t hear. She ignores. Each and every time. It’s like talking to a wall. Sometimes I get to hear not to disturb her. I didn’t speak anything for few days and she didn’t even notice such thing happened. If anything happens, it’s all my fault . If milk goes missing, I have thrown it away. In front of our neighbours, I am good for nothing. She has sacrificed so much for me that every valid argument that I try to prove is lesser than her past sacrifices in life. I will have the same job/position always and compared to few people I am nothing. I don’t have friends now, if I have one she will talk to my friend and I am afraid what discussions they will make. She mocks me for not having friends and is telling me that she has lots of friends. She is compelling me to get married soon creating mental tension almost everyday. I am 24 now. She is worried and sad because of me, frankly I didn’t do anything. Even if she gets hit by table, she will scold me. One day I was just having office call talking to a colleague and smiling over some office issues, she asked me who is that guy? Both of you are laughing? It’s so weird. Ever since my dad passed away when I was 23, I became invisible. He used to hear me, well most of the times. I shared my views and we had nice conversations. I miss him. I just.. I don’t want to care anymore. Let me be the invisible person. Whatever I think, let it be inside my mind. It’s useless to care anymore. I won’t talk to her anymore. Thanks for the information. I can totally relate it with my life.

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