Mommy Issues In Women: Meaning, Types, Signs, And Treatment

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We’ve heard about women having “daddy issues” and men having “mommy issues,” but what about women who have mother issues?

That’s a topic that isn’t touched upon often, but it is an incredibly common (and difficult) situation to contend with.

If you’re reading this, then it’s possible that you either have a tumultuous relationship with your mother, or there’s someone in your life who’s dealing with that kind of hardship. Whether you’re dealing with this first- or secondhand, know that this is an incredibly difficult situation to navigate.

The relationship a person has with their mother is the first, and usually the most important, one in their life. When that relationship is damaging or fraught with hardship, the repercussions can echo throughout the person’s life.

These types of issues have quite a large spectrum, and they can reveal themselves in a variety of different ways, depending on what caused them in the first place.

Let’s take a look at what causes this type of maelstrom, how it manifests, and how to heal from it.

What does it mean for someone to have “mommy issues?”

As mentioned, mommy issues in women can manifest in a wide range of ways, depending on the individual, the issues themselves, and how they were caused.

Mother-daughter dynamics can be incredibly challenging, and no two relationships will ever be the same. One woman might consider her mother to be the best friend that she can’t live without, while another will despise her mother to the marrow. Both of these scenarios would fall under the umbrella of “mommy issues,” because neither dynamic is a healthy one.

These types of issues can also manifest in romantic relationships, as we’ll discuss further on.

Ultimately, if a woman has these issues, it usually means that she has a strained, unhealthy relationship with her mother in some way. This will extend to her relationships with other women, as well as in her relationships with her partner and children, if she has them.

What are some common signs of mommy issues in women?

The signs that women may exhibit will depend on what type of mommy issues they have. People can have several different types of dynamics with their parents, and the issues a woman exhibits as far as her mother is concerned will reflect the type of relationship she has with her.

Below are some of the most common signs that a woman has “mommy issues.” This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, as mother-daughter difficulties can manifest in countless ways. These are just some of the most common and easily recognized ones.

Signs of overly attached mommy issues.

A woman who has overly attached mommy issues might not be able to function independently as an adult. For example, she might avoid serious romantic partnerships because she can’t bear to live apart from her mother or doesn’t want to neglect her mama by spending too much time with someone else.

Alternatively, if she does get intimately involved with someone, she might only continue the relationship if her mother approves. She may even insist on her mother living with her and her partner, whether in the mom’s home or in a new place they all choose together.

Someone who’s overly attached to her mom might exhibit some of the following traits:

  • Arrested emotional development due to infantilization by the parent: she might seem far younger than her biological age
  • Inability to take care of simple tasks without asking for help
  • Is in constant contact with their mother; texts or calls her several times a day OR still lives with her
  • Constantly turns to her mother for comfort and reassurance, unless the mother is deceased
  • Considers her mom her “best friend” and can’t imagine life without her
  • Excessive caretaking: shows a great need to “take care of” friends and partners
  • People-pleasing tendencies
  • Constant need for approval
  • Over-attachment and over-protectiveness with her own children

This kind of over-attachment can develop due to a number of different reasons. One of the most common is when a mother used her young child as an emotional support animal, creating a hyper-attached bond between them. It often happens with single mothers who are emotionally shaken from divorce or when a child has (and overcomes) a severe illness.

Sometimes, the two of them can create a strong bond if they’ve experienced hardship together, but another way this kind of connection can happen is through “trauma bonding.” The mother might be abusive, and the daughter turns to fawning and intense emotional attachment in an attempt to win her mother’s approval. 

Alternatively, the mother might have prevented the woman from solving any problems on her own when she was younger and personally took care of all her needs, wants, and responsibilities. As a result, she might not know how to do anything on her own and will need (or expect) others to step in and do them for her.

The opposite side of this would be if the woman grew up to mirror her mother’s behaviors and is thus overprotective and pandering toward her partner and her own children. She might not let her own kids do any of their own chores, choosing to do them for them in order to be considered a “good mother.” By doing so, she does the kids a great disservice, as they don’t learn to do anything by themselves.

Sadly, this kind of behavior might be applauded by her mother, who will praise her for her self-sacrifice toward her partner and children. Instead of acknowledging that her daughter needs help, she reinforces the idea that this kind of behavior is not just admirable, but correct and expected.

Needless to say, this can result in issues ranging from nervous breakdowns to alienation from her family due to resentment and burnout. This is often the catalyst that pushes a woman to pick up and leave her family in the middle of the night.

Signs of absent/neglectful mommy issues.

This often happens to women whose mothers were absent, whether physically or emotionally. When they were children, their mothers never provided them with the emotional reassurance and security they needed to feel safe and secure.

As a result, they find it difficult to soothe or comfort themselves. They often have difficulty being alone and are thus considered “needy” in their intimate relationships. This is especially true if the mother died when they were young, particularly between the ages of six and 12.

Of course, this can also manifest in a completely opposite fashion. In contrast to the overly needy types who need constant reassurance, women who were neglected or abandoned by their mothers might keep everyone around them at a distance.

They may have a wide circle of acquaintances but few close friends, as an example. Or they might prefer to have one-night-stands or “friends with benefits” rather than actual relationships. In simplest terms, they’ll do whatever they need to in order to feel secure, whether that’s clinging with every ounce of their being or pushing away with just as much force.

These are just a few signs of this type of mommy issue:

  • Overly clingy, terrified of potential abandonment
  • Shows a need for constant reassurance about emotional connection and the health of the relationship
  • Alternatively, might avoid close emotional relationships so as to avoid the possibility of being abandoned and hurt (also known as “avoidant attachment”)
  • Difficulty with expressing or receiving affection or being vulnerable at all
  • May not be able to identify various emotions, let alone recognize when she’s experiencing them
  • Constantly on high alert for any potential threats from a partner or their friends (especially female ones)
  • Trust issues: might read texts or emails to check if there’s any cheating or inappropriate behavior going on
  • Uncomfortable when alone: might not give their partner enough/any alone time and might need to constantly have a TV or radio on because they can’t handle silence

Women whose mothers either neglected or abandoned them can be quite emotionally fragile. Some may develop conditions such as bipolar[1] or borderline personality disorder (BPD)[2,3] due to never having felt emotionally safe in their childhood or adolescence. They often make huge demands on their partners to keep reassuring them that they’re loved and safe, which can put tremendous pressure on the relationship.

As mentioned earlier, the opposite may be true. These women may struggle with interoception or interoceptive awareness (i.e. recognizing your internal state), which can make it difficult for them to identify or regulate their emotions. This can cause all manner of issues in relationships.

For example, if their partner is trying to get them to open up about how they’re feeling, but they have no idea what they’re feeling, that can cause some intense rifts. The partner might feel as though they’re being evasive, when in reality they honestly have no idea what’s going on inside them.

As a result, it’s often emotionally and psychologically easier for these women to keep relationships quite superficial or temporary. This way, they don’t have to deal with the stress or pressure to either pretend to feel something they don’t or feel things that they’re unable to handle.

Some might also end up fairly narcissistic as well, placing emphasis and priority on getting their own needs met, since they never got what they needed in their youth. One common behavior in people (not just women) with this type of mommy issue is a particular type of relationship cycle.

They’ll get engaged quite quickly and easily, but never marry. Rather, they get engaged in order to feel secure in their relationship, but don’t want to be locked into a marriage. As such, they’ll find a reason to end said relationship when it gets too serious, usually after finding a new love interest to latch onto.

Signs of hostile mommy issues.

If a woman has (or had) a difficult relationship with her mother, then she might be hostile toward both her mother and older women in general. She may be uncomfortable even talking with her mother, and she will likely avoid spending any time with her. Furthermore, she may have difficulty forming bonds with other women.

This type of mommy issue often stems from abuse in childhood or adolescence. The abuse might have been emotional, physical, psychological, or even sexual in nature, and it can result in a massive rift between mother and daughter.

The issues can also stem from other types of inappropriate or unwanted behavior from mother to daughter. A good example of this would be a mother who wasn’t respectful of personal boundaries and wanted to be her daughter’s friend, rather than a mother.

She might have tried to push her way into her daughter’s friend groups or insist on sharing personal information, like wanting to know details about the daughter’s sex life or sharing info about her own.

This abuse is likely to extend well into adulthood, although it may change form. For example, instead of walking into her daughter’s bedroom without knocking, the mother might show up at her home unexpectedly in order to show dominance.

Similarly, she may criticize the daughter’s parenting techniques or insult her at family gatherings. Then, if the daughter tries to call her out on her poor behavior, the mother will gaslight her or brush her off as being oversensitive, having no sense of humor, and so on. She may even rope other family members into mocking the daughter for her “overreactions” as well.

As you can imagine, this can result in an extreme amount of mistrust and resentment on the daughter’s part. It’s especially true if she tried to establish boundaries only to have them ignored or overstepped.

If these are the kinds of issues she’s dealing with, she might exhibit some of the following signs:

  • Strong, sometimes unreasonable boundaries followed by extreme anger if they’re crossed
  • Won’t have many female friends: prefers to spend her time with men
  • May have difficulty trusting women, particularly older ones
  • Might refuse to have female doctors or, if forced to have one, will be argumentative and noncompliant with them
  • Likely to be belligerent and insubordinate toward female superiors at school or work
  • Has difficulty trusting people in general
  • Rails against any advice or recommendations from female peers or elders
  • Defiant and argumentative toward people in general
  • Not-so-subtle misogyny in general, possibly even toward herself
  • Contempt toward those who choose motherhood/homemaking as a life path
  • Rejection of femininity in general

Some women who have hostile mommy issues reject femininity at its most core level. They’ve been so traumatized by the mother-daughter dynamic they were raised with that they don’t want to even be associated with anything female. Some might end up as tomboyish and athletic.

In other cases, they might still be quite feminine but will try to be as different from their mother as humanly possible. If the mother was prim and fashionable, they might get full-body tattoos and extreme piercings.

Or, if their mother was a homemaker, they might strive for great academic achievement or a prestigious career. In a case like this, they’ll seek out accolades and recognition from their peers, thus reinforcing how good they are at being absolutely nothing like Mom.

We really do recommend that you seek professional help from one of the therapists at BetterHelp.com as professional therapy can be highly effective in helping you to deal with the effects of your relationship with your mother.

Competitive mommy issues.

Are you familiar with the Electra complex? It’s a Jungian fixation that refers to a girl who competes with her mother for her father’s love and affection. These issues can begin when the girl is as young as three or four and may continue throughout her life.

The father is often the instigator in these kinds of situations, placing “daddy’s little girl” as the highest priority in family dynamics. He might make a point of choosing the daughter’s preferences over her mother’s or make jokes about the two of them competing for his attention. This can often make the mother feel “replaced,” and as such she develops resentment toward the daughter.

As a result, she might start to be competitive, such as reminding the daughter that the father loved HER first. She might get very critical and demanding of her daughter and even sabotage the girl’s efforts.

For example, a mother may be competitive in terms of physical beauty, telling the girl that she loves her even if she isn’t as pretty as her mum. She may buy her daughter unflattering clothes so she looks better in comparison. In some cases, the mother might even do things like add high-calorie protein powder to her daughter’s food so she gains weight unintentionally.

In simplest terms, the mother does all she can to establish superiority over what she interprets as her younger competition. This type of behavior is incredibly damaging, especially when and if the daughter is too young to leave home. She’s essentially a prisoner in her own home, subjected to never-ceasing competition and criticism.

Women who have mommy issues due to competition may exhibit some of the following signs:

  • Extreme fixation with physical appearance, particularly obsessing over beauty and staying young and desirable
  • Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, or exercise obsession
  • Demanding in relationships, expecting to be pandered to and lavished with presents and surprises so she feels valued
  • Competitive with all other women, both in physical appearance and accomplishments
  • Is critical of other women, such as being judgmental about their body shape and fashion sense
  • If she’s still in contact with her mother/family, she’ll make a point of being the center of attention, even if that means causing unnecessary drama
  • Might show contempt for women who dare to age gracefully, condemning them for “letting themselves go”
  • Has something unpleasant or critical to say about everyone, especially her mom

These are learned and self-protective behaviors caused by an incredibly unhealthy mother-daughter dynamic. When the person who’s supposed to love, protect, and nurture you is the one to constantly put you down and sabotage your efforts, that can result in severe trust issues and a skewed sense of self-worth.

Women with these kinds of mommy issues are often fiercely competitive with any woman she comes across. In fact, they’ll frequently pursue men who are already married or in long-term relationships solely so they can “win” them away from their current mate.

When and if they succeed in seducing him away, they’ll lose interest. The entire point was to prove their worth and value by having him choose them over their partners. Then they’ll need to repeat the process in order to continue feeling like they have worth as a human being.

Note that it isn’t always the father who instigates this behavior. A mother might be incredibly proud of her daughter when she’s young, but then develop jealousy and resentment as her daughter gets older. This is especially true if the daughter looks like she did when she was younger or is more attractive than she was.

The mom—who might be dealing with insecurities and lowered self-esteem because she’s aging—suddenly sees the daughter as a threat. Here is a younger, more vibrant, fitter version of herself who’s suddenly taking the spotlight, while she’s being pushed aside.

The mother is often torn between being proud of her daughter and hating her. As a result, the daughter grows up with the mixed message that she should be beautiful and successful to make her family proud, but not so beautiful and successful that the mother will be threatened or outshone by her. You can well imagine what that must do to her psyche.

How do mommy issues manifest differently in women than in men?

They can be startlingly similar, actually. For example, a man who has attachment-related mommy issues might be overly bonded to his mother and will need to be in constant contact, as mentioned earlier as one of the common signs. Furthermore, he might end up dating (or marrying) a woman who reminds him of his mother.

Women who are attracted to other women might also follow a similar pattern. If they’re overly attached to their mother, then they might seek out older partners who share similar physical features or personality traits. They’re looking for substitute mother figures and caregivers, as this is the most comforting and secure relationship they know.

In contrast to this are women who had hostile relationships with their moms. These women might be incredibly hostile toward those who remind them of their mothers in any way. This might be in the dating circuit or in school and/or work environments. It’s similar to men who have hostile relationships with their mothers, in that they might get aggressive or insubordinate with work superiors who remind them of their maternal figures.

People tend to follow the same patterns of behavior regardless of their gender. We like to think that men and women are different, but on a fundamental emotional level, we’re actually quite similar. We’ve just been trained to behave differently, expressing emotions in ways that others deem acceptable. This is why many women cry when they’re angry instead of yelling or why many men punch walls instead of weeping.

The major difference between men and women when it comes to mommy issues is the dynamics that occur in heterosexual versus same-sex relationships.

A hetero woman with mommy issues isn’t likely to project those issues onto her male spouse/partner, because he’s likely quite physically different from her mom. She might need reassurance and emotional stability from him, but she can recognize that he isn’t a stand-in for her mama.

In contrast, a hetero man may well replay his relationship with his mother with a female spouse/partner.

Other than that, the issues can manifest almost identically.

How to heal from mother-related traumas if you’re dealing with these issues personally.

Healing from these kinds of issues can be incredibly difficult because of how they affect a person on a fundamental level. Traumas caused by unhealthy or damaging mother-daughter dynamics early in life is akin to food sensitivities caused by exposure to toxins or allergens. Your body and mind have been exposed to incredible hardship—possibly for years, even decades—and you’ll need time and effort to heal from all of it.

Recognize your own patterns.

You may have already taken some steps to protect and heal yourself from the damage you’ve been through. For instance, you may have gone low-contact (LC) or no-contact (NC) with your abusive mother and are allowing time and space to heal old wounds. Similarly, you might have recognized certain behavioral patterns within yourself and have striven to change and repair them.

As an example, many women with mommy issues often try to recreate the types of situations they had with their moms in order to have control over the outcome. Basically, they’re attempting to have closure with a particular scenario, and they will attempt to relive it so they have control over it, but this time they will emerge the victor.

This can play out with teachers, supervisors, or even with their partner’s mother. In fact, they might replay this type of situation several times over so they keep feeling the satisfaction of overcoming that trauma.

This doesn’t fix the deep-seated wound they’re carrying around with them, though. Sure, they’re the winner in these little roleplaying scenarios, but it’s akin to winning a fight with a bully in your own mind, hours or days after they’ve beaten the crap out of you. You can’t actually go back in time to live out those situations differently, and replaying them to your satisfaction is just a sticking plaster solution.

Do you find yourself repeating these kinds of behaviors? If so, be more aware of why you’re doing it, and acknowledge the fact that trying to control these outcomes won’t fix the damage that’s happened in the past. In fact, the only thing that’s going to happen is that you’ll alienate those closest to you who truly care.  

Similarly, try to recognize when and if you’re turning to your partner or friends for constant reassurance or approval. It can be difficult to step outside of yourself to analyze this kind of behavior, especially when you’re in the throes of a panic attack or similar. It may be helpful to keep a journal in which you keep track of things that you say and do over the course of a couple of weeks that may be detrimental to your relationship.

For example, note down how many times a day you call your mother/friend/partner to ask for help or advice. Then determine whether you could have taken care of this issue yourself, rather than immediately asking for assistance.

Quite often, awareness of this type of dependency can help reduce it dramatically. Furthermore, you’ll feel more self-confident and empowered when you realize that you can do these things yourself, rather than feeling like you need help with everything.

Take steps to stop the cycle.

If you haven’t cut off (or limited) contact with your mother, then there’s a strong possibility that the damage is continuing. You may have tried to establish boundaries or mend certain behavioral patterns, only to have your attempts undermined or sabotaged.

For example, if you tried to curb your mother’s inappropriate behavior toward you, she may have gone full victim and gotten family members and friends to punish you for “hurting” her.

Similarly, if you’ve tried to get distance because you want to free yourself from codependency, she may be trying to guilt trip you for abandoning her. Your mother might even suddenly come down with an illness or sustain an injury that would “force” you to spend more time with her.

Distance from scenarios like this is important, but so is self-awareness when it comes to your own life choices.

For example, let’s say that you live with your mother because the two of you have a close (possibly even codependent) bond. You might be trying to eat healthier and get into shape, but your mother—who takes care of the grocery shopping and cooking—isn’t being supportive of this endeavor. In fact, she might even try to sabotage it by encouraging you to snack with her or stop you from going to the gym because she wants you at home with her.

Your response might be anger and resentment toward “mama” for stopping you from doing what you want. In reality, if you tolerate her controlling behaviors, the only person who is stopping you from achieving anything is you. If you don’t like what she’s cooking, then shop and cook for yourself. If she tries to stop you from going out because she’s suddenly “not feeling well,” offer to call an ambulance or drop her off at the ER before you go.

Call her bluff, and take responsibility for your own life. While you’re at it, take responsibility for your own emotions and actions. Nobody can “make” you feel or do anything: you’re not a tree. You can voice your objections, establish boundaries, or even pick up and move to a different location.

If you’re conflict avoidant and tend to take people’s abuse because you’re afraid to cause waves or “get in trouble,” then you might need some extra help in order to get where you need to be. But that’s also an action that you have to take: nobody can do that for you. It might be a scary prospect, but ultimately it’ll lead to a much healthier and happier life for you in the long run.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

When it comes to healing from mother-related traumas, your best bet is to find a really good therapist. This is because it’s almost impossible to heal from these kinds of soul-deep wounds without help. Sure, you can read a ton of self-help books and try to work through these issues yourself, but you may not even be aware of how you’re being affected.

Like any other healer, a therapist can see signs and symptoms that others might not, as well as how to delve into the corners that we may not know how to access ourselves. Best of all, they have different approaches for healing these wounds. What works for one person might not work for another, much like food plans and exercise routines.

Just like a nutritionist or personal trainer, your therapist can tailor a healing program that’s just right for you and your individual needs.

You don’t have to do this alone, and your healing journey will likely be much healthier and easier if you allow others to help you through it.

That said, it’s understandable if you’re hesitant to seek out and open up to a therapist because of trust issues. This is why it’s important to find one that you feel is best for you. For example, if you have a lot of mistrust and hostility toward older women because of your mother’s abuse, then it’s best if you choose a male or non-binary therapist.

Additionally, try to find a therapist who has experience with maternal abuse, especially if it was incestuous in nature. There are some therapists who would summarily dismiss those kinds of behaviors because “mothers just don’t do that,” which can be severely damaging to those who have experienced these abuses.

A good place to get professional help is the website BetterHelp.com – here, you’ll be able to connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.

Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome issues that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.

Click here if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.

You’ve already taken the first step just by searching for and reading this article. The worst thing you can do right now is nothing. The best thing is to speak to a therapist. The next best thing is to implement everything you’ve learned in this article by yourself. The choice is yours.

How to deal with mommy issues in others (e.g., partners, friends, family members).

If it’s your partner, friend, or sibling who’s struggling with these issues, please try to be patient and understanding. These are people who are suffering greatly from deep, soul-rending wounds that affect their lives on every level.

In fact, studies show that people who experienced mistreatment in childhood are more likely to develop chronic illnesses such as generalized pain, migraines, depression, and even certain cancers.[4,5]

If it’s your sibling who has these issues, remember that siblings have different familial experiences from one another. Just because two people share the same parents doesn’t mean that they have the same type of relationship with them. Sibling A might get along well with one parent but have a tumultuous relationship with the other, while sibling B may be adored by both and reciprocate that adoration.

If you have a sibling with mommy issues, please try not to invalidate their experience by implying that they’re being irrational or wrong. Their upbringing may have run parallel to your own, but they were quite different. As a result, they will see your mother in a different way than you do.

In situations like these, you can offer support by listening without trying to change their perspective. Quite often, just having someone understand and validate their experiences is enough to catalyze intense healing.

If you’re frustrated with your partner and are having relationship difficulties because of their mommy issues, consider going to therapy together. She might get defensive if you suggest certain actions toward her mother, but she may likely be open to that same advice from a therapist or counsellor. Remember that on a fundamental level, she has difficulty with the push-pull of love-hate with people who are closest to her. This isn’t just hard to overcome: it’s confusing and excruciating.

Patience, compassion, and understanding are the best gifts you can offer those who are suffering from these mother-related traumas. While they may be frustrating, please know that they aren’t intentional: no more than lactose intolerance or arthritis from old injuries. They can be eased and healed over time, usually with help, and your bond with them can be stronger than ever as a result.

Please don’t ever invalidate them by implying that mothers would “never behave like that,” or imply that their reactions are inappropriate because you’ve never seen their mom act badly toward them. You likely cannot imagine what they’ve been through, and just because you can’t relate to these experiences firsthand doesn’t mean they weren’t horrific.

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References

  1. Agnew-Blais J, Danese A. Childhood maltreatment and unfavourable clinical outcomes in bipolar disorder: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Psychiatry 2016 Apr;3(4):342–9. doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(15)00544-1. Epub 2016 Feb 10. PMID: 26873185.
  2. Bierer LM, Yehuda R, Schmeidler J, et al. Abuse and neglect in childhood: relationship to personality disorder diagnoses. CNS Spectro 2003 Oct;8(10):737–54. doi: 10.1017/s1092852900019118. PMID: 14712172.
  3. Kors, S., Macfie, J., Mahan, R., & Kurdziel-Adams, G. (2020). The borderline feature of negative relationships and the intergenerational transmission of child maltreatment between mothers and adolescents. Personal Discords 2020;11(5):321–7.
  4. Sachs-Ericsson N, Kendall-Tackett K, Hernandez A. Childhood abuse, chronic pain, and depression in the National Comorbidity Survey. Child Abuse Negl. 2007 May;31(5):531-47. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2006.12.007. PMID: 17537506.
  5. Ports KA, Holman DM, Guinn AS, et al. Adverse childhood experiences and the presence of cancer risk factors in adulthood: a scoping review of the literature from 2005 to 2015. J Pediatr Nurs 2019 Jan-Feb;44:81–96. doi: 10.1016/j.pedn.2018.10.009. Epub 2018 Nov 7. PMID: 30683285; PMCID: PMC6355255.

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About Author

Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist based in Quebec's Outaouais region. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.