Don’t get me wrong: Anyone can fall for a narcissist’s easy charm and seductive ways, and, alas, an absolutely terrific childhood probably won’t help you much in those first moments of infatuation. But a woman who’s securely attached and has good instincts about what relationships should and can look like is likely to be onto the narcissist’s modus operandi faster and sooner. Once she has his number, she is out of there.
Among the wounds left by an unloving mother is feeling as though you don’t have a reliable inner compass. Unloved daughters often don’t have enough confidence to trust their instincts or thoughts. They worry terribly about making the wrong choices and failing, which would prove their mothers right.
It usually comes as an enormous surprise to unloved daughters that there are other girls and women out there who had similar experiences, who were also ignored, dismissed, put down or marginalized by the very individual who was supposed to love them unconditionally.
Even in loving adult daughter-mother relationships, there’s often a certain amount of tension. While it’s rarely talked about—it’s adolescence that gets all the press—the relationship has to undergo a transition when the daughter reaches adulthood.
It’s so counter-intuitive: Isn’t everyone looking for love? The answer is actually maybe and no. Unloved daughters who spend their childhood on tenterhooks with mothers who are sometimes attentive and available and sometimes not— asking whether the Good Mommy or the Bad Mommy will show up today—become anxious and always on the prowl for validation and reassurance. That’s not true for the daughters of consistently unavailable, hostile or intrusive mothers. The experts call this type of attachment avoidant.
At 35, Gwen is a successful businesswoman—an executive in advertising— and well-regarded but her personal life is another story. As the daughter of a highly controlling mother whom she tries desperately to please but who makes her feel like a failure because nothing she does is ever good enough, she still struggles with relationships: “ I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a girlfriend or a lover—I anticipate rejection all the time. It’s driving my current boyfriend crazy, in fact. I think he’s tired of reassuring me.”
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.
Before unloved daughters can begin to heal, they need not only to be able to recognize that they are wounded but also to see how the wounds shape their behaviors. It may seem counterintuitive but this is a process that can take years, not a single epiphany.