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Emotionally Absent Mothers

(18 Posts)
MrsOscarPistorius Tue 23-Oct-12 15:42:38

I am having counselling at the moment (poster on the EA thread) and unresolved issues with my mother have come up. My mum was not really there for me at times as a child due to mental health/possible alcohol issues and I have come to realise that I felt unloved by her, and felt that I had to look after her. I think it may have contributed to other problems I have had in relationships but wondered if anyone else has identified their mother as "emotionally absent" when they were a child, and how you dealt with it as an adult?

Lottapianos Tue 23-Oct-12 15:49:36

Well done for starting counselling OP - it's a really positive thing to do for yourself. As you say, it does bring up some difficult issues - that's just part of coming to terms with your childhood and your feelings about what happened.

My parents were emotionally abusive in that they always put their emotional needs first, and I was not allowed to have feelings or opinions that were different to theirs. I only realised this through conversations with my therapist. The effect of their EA was that I had extreme difficulty recognising my feelings, and then enormous amounts of guilt for having them in the first place. To a certain extent, I still feel invisible and unworthy of anyone's time and attention unless I'm doing what they feel I 'should' be doing. I'm trying hard to let go of 'should' and focus on what I need and what I would like to happen. I find that putting myself first is a skill I have to develop, just like any other. It's hard work but really paying off and getting easier all the time.

Dahlen Tue 23-Oct-12 16:24:55

I cared for a child whose mother was (and still is TBH) emotionally unavailable. This was largely due to alcohol abuse and manifested itself mainly in being ignored or constantly criticised. This was from birth and that child has just become a teenager. I can give you some input from that perspective if you like?

I'd say the biggest problem is that it's resulted in her having difficulty expressing her emotions authentically. She's already learned to disguise her real emotions. Any negative emotions (fear, sadness, hurt) are expressed as anger, perhaps because it makes her feel less vulnerable and more in control. Any positive emotions are damped down into a kind of blasé "I'm too cool to really get into this", almost like she's afraid to allow herself to feel it fully in case it's taken away from her at any moment. Unfortunately, it's a very counter-productive way of dealing with the world.

The effect on her self-esteem seems less obvious, but my biggest fear for her (because she is stunningly beautiful) is that she will end up falling for the first charmer who really manages to make her feel good about herself. sad She has all the cynicism of experience but none of the boundaries that could protect her.

jacktarot Tue 23-Oct-12 22:20:56

Hi Mrsoscar, my mum was / is quite emotionally unavailable - not through alcohol or anything but (my armchair diagnosis) from her own damaged relationship with her horrid mum.
I think she was simply not capable of giving enough emotionally to me and my siblings as kids, although in practical ways she was a fantastic parent.

She has become much softer/ more emotionally accessible with age and even more so since her mum passed away. weirdly enough I think in some ways, I have 'taught' her to be more emotional for example she never said 'I love you' to me until at 16 I decided I was going to start saying it to her - after a few years she caught on and now sometimes says it without any prompting grin

But I do find it terribly sad that she would really rather I told her about my garden, or what the kids are doing, than talk deeply about emotional stuff. When I do occasionally tell her I'm feeling down (not very often as I'm the 'well' one in the family) she gets so nervous I end up feeling sorry for her and curtail the conversation sad

ponygirlcurtis Tue 23-Oct-12 22:43:10

Hey MrsOP!! [waves]

I have the same ishoos, probably more similar to horror - for whatever reason (maybe the fact that her own mum died when she was in her late teens), my mum wasn't really an emotional or 'feelings' person. She too has become more available as she's gotten older - just not to me, but she's very loving and cuddly with her grandchildren.

I'm only just starting to explore these issues in counselling too, although I imagine yours will be a bit different if you have the added problem of feeling like you were the one looking after her, that must have been quite a burden for a child. Are you still in touch with your mum?

I'd agree that I have difficulty expressing emotions, or even identifying what emotions I'm feeling, and an intense need to be in control of myself (I didn't drink until I was well into my 20s because I didn't like the out-of-control feeling. then I did it precisely because it was the only time I let go). And I absolutely agree (as does my counsellor) that these issues are linked in to my current situation of being married to an abusive man. For me, it's a lot to to do with boundaries, and feeling that someone else's views and opinions and wishes were more important than mine. I'm trying to be strong and hold up boundaries both with my husband while we're separated, and with my family as well. It's hard doing it on two fronts at once!

jacktarot Tue 23-Oct-12 23:05:18

For me, it's a lot to to do with boundaries, and feeling that someone else's views and opinions and wishes were more important than mine.

Ponygirl I totally do this too - with the result that give far too much of myself and then get resentful that the other person is taking too much from me confused

Although in terms of drink / drugs I started experimenting v early - as a way of escaping my mothers mind control. grin

I think that having a cold / unemotional mother means you have to learn to mother yourself and that is the really hard bit - how can you show compassion / generosity / empathy towards yourself if your own mother couldn't do that? It's really hard and something I struggle with hugely - sorry that's not v constructive!

madda Tue 23-Oct-12 23:18:10

I think memories of how you were mothered also come floodingback once you have given birth...so in my case, I spent 30 odd years thinking my family/mother was fine, then had my own 2 kids and I have struggled with awful flashbacks of my elder sister getting beaten daily by my mother - the noise and stress in the home was dreadful.

She was emotionally numb/yet practical, yet absent if that makes sense. She may not have left us might after night, but she chose to make her home an emotionally bereft place, it was unpredictable, her moods were out of control, so while this may have meant she was an 'emotional' person, she didnt connect with her daughters on that precious emotional level which gives the relationship trust and empathy etc

so i now struggle hugely with female relationships...trusting other females is hard, even if they are wonderful people. I question myself and my decisions constantly. The only good thing is my home is a place of peace and calm, my kids being raised much much differently to how I was raised.

It is an interesting topic OP, just sad that it has affected so many of us, but being kind to yourself, day by day, doing things for you, simple things, putting your needs first, does help in a way

sorry long post x

HotDAMNlifeisgood Tue 23-Oct-12 23:19:39

Hi MrsOP. Sadly, yours is a standard discovery among those who have been through abusive relationships: our emotionally absent (sometimes outright abusive) mothers (sometimes fathers) shape our notions of self-worth, our notions of "love", provide our relationship model, and train us to accept unacceptable behaviour and to seek to placate draining people rather than set boundaries with them.

There is strong cross-over on MN between the EA support thread, and the Stately Homes thread.

How do you get over it? Time, and distance. Go through grief and anger to ultimately reach acceptance. And choose whether you are going to go low contact or no contact with your family of origin, and what strategies you will use to remain emotionally detached from their words and actions.

There are plenty of good book recommendations on the first page of the Stately Homes thread.

ponygirlcurtis Wed 24-Oct-12 09:44:09

That's interesting madda, I have also sometimes struggled to make connections with other women, I never thought of it as being linked. I do have lots of female friends - the ones I have tend to be really good ones, ones that I've really bonded with, but I also had a lot of male friends, and often felt more at home in their company.

HotDamn, that's it exactly, about placating draining people rather than setting boundaries. I've never been on the Stately Homes thread, but have increasingly been wondering about it as all this has come out through my counselling.

I am currently still very much in contact with my family (my sister is also 'implicated' in all this). But I have decided to withdraw a little from them and practice having boundaries up, and am trying to let some things that are said glide over the top of my head.

Salbertina Wed 24-Oct-12 12:08:15

Madda & Pony, me too re female friendships - domineering women make me want to run a mile!
Sadly wonder whether am so damaged myself that my dcs home is also "emotionally bereft". Find one dc a real struggle- has moderate ADHD and dyslexia- but am trying not to label/treat him negatively. Alarm bells rang in both directions for me on that one sad still at least I'm aware so can do something.

Salbertina Wed 24-Oct-12 12:10:16

And MrsOP, my sympathies. How do i cope? Currently, NC but v much depends on individual circs. Not easy. sad

MrsOscarPistorius Wed 24-Oct-12 15:59:24

Wow, thanks everyone and hi Ponygirl (waves back). Lots of things striking chords here. My mum was mostly ok, but the wheels fell off every now and then which was very disturbing. I think she had toxic parents herself and never dealt with it, her own problems then surfaced and I suffered the fallout. She is a lot better now but only in last 3 years since she's been in AA. As a family feelings were never discussed and I felt I was not allowed to ask for anything for myself. I also felt that Mum preferred my younger sister, eg she would always get more/better Xmas presents or even things I wanted! I have trouble making female friends, always assume I must be wrong if I disagree with someone, feel that putting myself first = being selfish. It's all beginning to make a bit of sense now...

miski Wed 24-Oct-12 17:34:55

reading your threads makes me feel so much better! Growing up I always thought our family was normal, then later I thought I was the only one with a mum like that. I think I am finally (at 27) realising I'm not alone! Thanks for your comments madda, they make a lot of sense to me.
My mother wasn't physically abusive, but emotionally she was all over the place. I would dread coming home from school or whatever, as I never knew if she would be in a good mood (in which she was lovely) or a bad mood (in which case she was domineering and constantly critical). I wanted to leave home from the time I was about 12 because I hated the mood swings and shouting. I didn't want to have kids because I was scared of being like her. Its so strange though, because in some ways she is a brilliant mum. How do I take the good bits of her mothering but leave the bad ones behind?

MouMouCow Thu 25-Oct-12 12:58:56

miski, I have to admit that I find that very difficult. I absolutely hated my mums mood swings, her constant shouting and hysterics and low and behold, this is the main feature I've replicated as an adult. Thank god not with DS but poor DP is getting the slacks. He knows about it so points it out and tells me when I'm acting like my mum. I dislike it at the time but it helps me try and take control of that aspect of my character. At least I've not replicated the hitting part.
Do you have a partner in whom you have or can confide? Give them clues to look out for and over a week let them tell you if you've replicated any unknowingly?

weegiemum Thu 25-Oct-12 13:05:28

My mother was emotionally absent. I know she'd disagree, but she was interested in her children as babies and mini-me's, not as people. She was the same with grandchildren, she stopped being interested after a year or so.

This contributed to my mh issues and we've now been estranged for almost 8 years. Thank fuck! My life is so much easier without her in it (she and my dad separated when I was 12, I have an excellent relationship with my dad).

Lottapianos Thu 25-Oct-12 13:11:31

'I know she'd disagree, but she was interested in her children as babies and mini-me's, not as people'

Yes yes, my mum is the same. Although actually she can be very harsh with babies too. I've noticed it since my best mate had a baby recently - when she feeds her baby, she reads her cues and doesn't just shove the bottle in her mouth to stop her crying. I have seen my mum bottlefeed a baby and when the baby starts crying/fussing, she will bark 'stop it!' and shove the bottle in again. Horrible sad I was a young child the first time I saw this, and couldn't have dared to voice what i was thinking, but I think I always knew it was wrong.

I don't have children and don't plan to have any - my parents are a factor in that decision - but my sister would like to be a mum. I think it will be interesting what will happen when my parents have grandchildren. I think it will go one of two ways - either they will be hugely overbearing and treat the baby as if he/she is theirs, or they will be totally uninterested from the beginning. They are so inconsistent that it's hard to predict.

HotDAMNlifeisgood Thu 25-Oct-12 13:28:32

'she was interested in her children as babies and mini-me's, not as people'

YY to this as well, from both my parents.
Father (bullied) adores small children and animals. Avoids relating to thinking, talking human beings.
Mother (bully) seeks to crush other human beings when they show signs of having their own thoughts and personalities.

Lottapianos Thu 25-Oct-12 13:33:23

'Mother (bully) seeks to crush other human beings when they show signs of having their own thoughts and personalities'

Yep, ditto! She tries to crush people by freezing them out, as well as bitching relentlessly behind their backs to anyone who will listen.

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