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20 Ways for Women With Emotionally Absent Moms to Mother Themselves

After identifying herself as the daughter of an emotionally absent mother, Ms. Meyers began nurturing herself and feeling all her feelings.

Emotionally remote mothers can leave their daughters feeling lost and without a sense of self.

Emotionally remote mothers can leave their daughters feeling lost and without a sense of self.

Was Your Mother Emotionally Unavailable?

  • Do you admire women who prioritize themselves (finding time to exercise, apply their makeup, style their hair, read novels, and eat healthy foods) but wonder why you’re not one of them?
  • Are you envious of those with strong identities who know their life’s purpose while you’re still floundering to figure out who you are?
  • Do you covet their seemingly endless supply of energy while you feel exhausted and defeated doing your daily tasks?
  • Do you neglect your inner life by numbing yourself with food, drugs, and alcohol, scrolling for hours on Facebook, or watching endless amounts of television?
  • Do you find yourself getting easily frustrated by your children’s emotional needs, whether it’s a baby crying, a toddler whining, or a teenager kvetching?

Whether you answered yes to only one of these questions or to all five, you may be the daughter of an emotionally unavailable mother. You may be unfamiliar with this designation, but you’ve been living with its debilitating consequences and are weighed down because of it. Your mother didn't validate your feelings and, as such, you felt unseen. Today, though, you can overcome your painful past by focusing on the present and nurturing yourself every day.

Did You Go Unseen?

Some moms are too busy, too overwhelmed, too tired, and stretched too thin to address the emotional needs of their youngsters. They understand its importance to their children’s psychological well-being but just don’t have the time and energy to do it. They barely have the strength to make it through each day: keeping a roof over their kids’ heads, filling their empty bellies, and putting clothes on their backs. Some are single mothers. Some are high-powered career women. Some are part of the “sandwich generation,” caring for their aging parents while simultaneously looking after their own youngsters.

Others were under-mothered when they were growing up and, therefore, simply don’t understand the magnitude of parenting. Like their mothers before them, they present a picture-perfect image of family life to the outside world: taking their kids to church, volunteering at their schools, and sending out an annual holiday letter that details the trips they took, the goals they achieved, and the happy times they shared. However, they neglect their children’s inner world because they don’t see it as salient. As a result, their kids grow up feeling unseen. As adults, they often don’t know themselves and struggle to find purpose in their lives.

Do You Have a Sense of Self?

Jasmin Lee Cori’s The Emotionally Absent Mother is essential reading for any woman who’s wondering if her current struggles are caused by having grown up with a remote mom. In her book, Cori explains how having such a parent leaves a hole in a woman’s heart as well as a hole in her sense of self. She may feel lost and confused about her identity. She may lack self-confidence and find it difficult to trust people. She may struggle in relationships and treat herself poorly.

When a woman reads Cori’s book and identifies herself as the daughter of an emotionally absent mother, her transformational journey is just beginning. Understanding her past gives her the information she needs to change her present and make herself a priority. At long last, she can embrace her feelings instead of suppressing them. This elevates her spirit and increases her energy, so she's no longer emotionally flat and physically tired. By reconnecting with her inner world, she discovers the person she has neglected for far too long: herself.

In the video below, Iyanla Vanzant has a two-word message that daughters of emotionally absent mothers desperately need to hear: You matter!

Where to Go From Here?

Upon realizing that she's the daughter of an emotionally absent mother, a woman may embrace that label and refuse to let it go. She may use it as an excuse for anything that goes wrong in her life: failed romances, career missteps, and rocky relationships. An empowered woman, though, uses that designation to her advantage, confidently moving forward with the knowledge that she must now mother herself and feel all her feelings.

Those who attend 12-step programs may have seen a sign in the room that reads: "There are no justified resentments." Whether a person is battling alcohol, drugs, or a newfound awareness that their mother was emotionally unavailable, these words are a reminder to take responsibility for their lives and not blame others. Otherwise, they can become stuck in anger and self-pity.

Dr. Wayne Dyer was a popular motivational speaker and author of many self-help books, including Excuses Begone! How to Change Lifelong, Self-Defeating Thinking Habits. He warns of the dangers that come from holding on to grievances. He writes: "If you carry around resentments inside of you about anything or about anyone, those resentments will always end up harming you and creating in you a sense of despair that will end up destroying you."

What About Self-Care?

Sadly, some daughters of emotionally absent mothers never develop a self-care routine. Unlike those who grew up with moms who encouraged such a practice and modeled it as well, these women got the opposite message: you don’t matter. Your feelings don’t matter. Your thoughts and opinions don’t matter. Your dreams and aspirations don’t matter. Your health and well-being don’t matter.

Megan, a 41-year-old woman with a remote mom, has struggled to make herself a priority. She has always put her husband and children first, causing her to live in a constant state of depletion. To keep going despite feeling exhausted and depressed, she rewards herself with fast-food meals (eaten in the car while driving her kids to activities) and by sneaking off to a quiet place in the house to devour sugary, high calorie treats. When a doctor recently warned of her obesity, she was finally forced to confront her childhood with a mom who never validated her feelings. By mothering herself each day and expressing her feelings rather than stuffing them with food, she's losing weight and bringing joy to her life.

20 Empowering Ways to Heal

  1. Take time throughout the day to do an emotional check-in. Ask yourself: How am I feeling? Instead of judging your emotions, accept them as they are—neither good nor bad. Adopt the mantra: You can't heal what you don't feel.
  2. Practice acceptance when it comes to your mother. Understand that she will never be the kind of parent who validates your feelings. Remember that when we refuse to accept reality, we cause ourselves to suffer.
  3. Have a friend or two who encourages you to open up, be vulnerable, and express your emotions. Do the same for them.
  4. Develop a daily practice of gratitude. This can be as simple as announcing three things that you’re thankful for each day or emulating Oprah Winfrey’s habit of keeping a gratitude journal. She jots down three things that she appreciates each day. Adopt the mantra: It’s not joy that makes us grateful; it’s gratitude that makes us joyful.
  5. Minimize contact with negative people. They bring us down, sap our energy, and rob us of joy. The spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, said it best: “Negativity is a denial of life.”
  6. Don’t buy into the popular notion that life is meant to make us happy. Instead, adopt the attitude that life is meant to teach us. After trying experiences, ask yourself: What am I supposed to learn from that?
  7. Stop comparing yourself to anyone else. To make this happen, you may need to exit Facebook and other social media platforms. Adopt the mantra: Comparison is the thief of joy.
  8. Live in the present moment; don’t dwell in the past.
  9. Develop a spiritual life. Make time for what brings you serenity, hope, and joy, whether it’s attending a religious service, meditating, praying, or spending time in nature.
  10. Remember that the person in our lives who created the most pain for us is our greatest teacher. If that was your mother, learn from her mistakes and do better.
  11. Keep in mind that the person who created the most pain for us is our greatest teacher. If that was your mother, learn from her mistakes and do better.
  12. Honor the small things in life that give you pleasure: a cup of tea, a new novel, a flower in the park, the changing of the seasons.
  13. Forgive anyone who has hurt you. Holding on to resentment poisons you, not them. Forgive yourself as well.
  14. Banish thoughts from your mind that don’t serve you. Adopt the mantra: We are not our thoughts; we are the awareness of our thoughts.
  15. Make time for exercise every day. Find something that you enjoy, whether it’s walking, hiking, swimming, doing yoga, or playing tennis. Change it up so you don’t get bored.
  16. Don’t suppress your feelings with food, alcohol, drugs, TV, or Facebook. Keep in mind what Dr. Brene Brown said: “You cannot selectively numb emotions.” If you try to deaden your anger or stifle your sadness, you’ll also blunt your joy, excitement, and hope.
  17. Make time for stillness in your life. You’re worthy of slowing down. You don’t need to be constantly moving, achieving, and proving yourself.
  18. Engage in positive self-talk. Give yourself compliments, encouragement, and kindness throughout the day. Adopt the manta: As you think, so shall you be.
  19. Volunteer. Giving your time and talents to help others brings profound meaning to your life.
  20. Show compassion. What you put out in the world will come back to you.

In the video below, Oprah Winfrey talks about the power of gratitude to enrich our lives, give us energy, and bring us joy.

© 2018 McKenna Meyers