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What are “mommy issues,” and how can they be resolved?

What are “mommy issues,” and how can they be resolved?

Parent-child relationships aren’t always easy to navigate, and they can become fraught with tension when past conflict goes unresolved. When someone has issues with their mother, it can be difficult to know how to change things.

When managing conflict in any relationship including with one’s mother, it’s important to prioritize clear communication and boundaries. If direct dialogue isn’t possible, it may be time to speak with a mental health professional for support.

What Are “Mommy Issues”?

The term “mommy issues” is often used colloquially in reference to psychological or emotional challenges stemming from unresolved conflicts or negative experiences with one’s mother during childhood or adolescence. 

These issues can manifest in various ways, such as: 

  • Difficulty forming healthy relationships with women 
  • Feelings of inadequacy or insecurity
  • Seeking validation from maternal figures
  • Experiencing anxiety or anger in response to authority figures, particularly female ones

While popularly associated with men, women can also experience “mommy issues.” These challenges may arise from negative experiences with neglect, overprotection, manipulation, criticism, or inconsistent parenting styles. Therapy and self-reflection are often beneficial in addressing and resolving “mommy issues,” empowering individuals to develop healthier relationships and a stronger sense of self.

What Are “Mommy Issues” Like for Guys?

“Mommy issues” generally look similar for men and women, though the impact they have on each person will be different. 

For some men, this kind of maternal conflict may stem from feelings of abandonment, neglect, or over-dependence on their mothers, leading to challenges in forming healthy attachments with romantic partners or struggling with intimacy. Others might exhibit patterns of seeking validation or approval from women that mirror their maternal relationships, or harbor resentment or anger towards women due to unresolved conflicts with their mothers. 

These dynamics can influence an individual’s self-esteem, communication patterns, and overall emotional well-being, impacting not only romantic relationships but also other areas of their lives.

How Do You Deal With a Clingy Mother?

Dealing with a clingy mother can be a delicate matter that requires empathy, clear communication, and boundary-setting. 

It is important to acknowledge your mother’s feelings and intentions, recognizing that her clinginess likely stems from a place of love and concern. However, it’s crucial to establish boundaries to maintain your own independence and mental well-being. 

Start by having an open and honest conversation with your mother, expressing your feelings calmly and respectfully. Clearly communicate your need for space and autonomy while reassuring her of your love and appreciation. Encourage her to do things to fill her time and build her confidence outside of your relationship, such as pursuing her own interests and hobbies. 

Consistency is key — it is very important to maintain the boundaries you’ve set and gently remind her when she crosses them. Additionally, encourage her to seek support from friends, family, or a therapist to address any underlying insecurities or dependency issues. Remember to offer reassurance and affection regularly, reinforcing your love for her while maintaining healthy boundaries.

If your mother is not capable of respecting the boundaries you set, it might be necessary to create some distance and seek support from a mental health professional. They can help you process past experiences, provide strategies for managing your relationship with your mother, and come up with a plan for moving forward.

Common Signs and Symptoms of “Mommy Issues”

“Mommy issues,” also known as having a mother complex or maternal issues, can manifest in various ways, and symptoms will often vary from person to person. Some common signs and symptoms of “mommy issues” may include:

  • Difficulty forming healthy relationships: Individuals with unresolved issues with their mothers may struggle to form healthy relationships, particularly with women. 
  • Seeking approval: Constantly seeking approval from women or authority figures, reminiscent of seeking maternal approval, can be a sign of mother-child conflict.
  • Dependency: Developing overly dependent or codependent relationships, where one relies heavily on another person for emotional support or validation, may stem from unmet emotional needs from childhood.
  • Fear of abandonment: Fear of abandonment or rejection, particularly in romantic relationships, can be a result of unresolved issues with a mother figure.
  • Difficulty with authority: Difficulty with authority figures, especially female authority figures, can stem from unresolved conflicts with one’s mother.
  • Idealization or devaluation: Fluctuating between idealizing and devaluing women or mother figures is common in individuals with “mommy issues.” An individual may put women on a pedestal or resent them for unmet needs.
  • Emotional dysregulation: Difficulty regulating emotions, such as frequent mood swings, anger outbursts, or emotional numbness, can be linked to unresolved issues with one’s mother.
  • Attachment issues: Insecure attachment styles, such as anxious-preoccupied or dismissive-avoidant attachment, may develop due to unresolved maternal issues.
  • Low self-esteem: Feelings of inadequacy, low self-worth, or self-doubt can result from a lack of validation or support from the mother during childhood.
  • Difficulty with intimacy: Struggles with intimacy, both emotional and physical, can arise from unresolved “mommy issues,” as individuals may fear vulnerability or rejection.

Experiencing some of these signs and symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean someone has “mommy issues,” as they can also stem from other factors. Seeking therapy or counseling can be beneficial for addressing and resolving these issues, regardless of their origin.

How Can I Tell if I Have “Mommy Issues?”

Many of the above signs may indicate issues and negative patterns with your own mother. Additionally, here are more signs you may have “mommy issues:”

  • Avoidance or resentment: Avoiding spending time with your mother or feeling resentment towards her can indicate unresolved issues.
  • Over-dependence or independence: Issues with one’s mother can manifest as either an over-dependence on maternal figures for emotional support or a strong desire for independence and a reluctance to rely on others.
  • Patterns of behavior: Recurring patterns of behavior (often negative) in relationships or life decisions that mirror your relationship with your mother can indicate unresolved issues.
  • Difficulty expressing emotions: If you struggle to express your emotions or have difficulty connecting emotionally with others, it may be related to unresolved issues with your mother.
  • Anxiety or depression: Feelings of anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues could be linked to unresolved maternal issues.

If you identify with several of these signs, it might be helpful to explore these feelings further through self-reflection, therapy, or discussing them with a trusted friend or family member. Acknowledging and addressing “mommy issues” can lead to personal growth and healthier relationships in the future.

Exploring the Dynamics of Maternal Relationships and Recognizing the Impact on Mental Health

“Mommy issues,” a colloquial term often used to describe unresolved psychological conflicts stemming from early relationships with one’s mother, can profoundly affect an individual’s mental health. These issues may manifest in various ways, such as difficulty forming healthy attachments, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, or challenges in intimate relationships. 

Individuals with “mommy issues” may struggle with trust, fear of abandonment, or feelings of inadequacy. Early experiences with a mother figure significantly shape an individual’s sense of security, self-worth, and emotional regulation, influencing their overall mental well-being. 

Untreated and unresolved conflict between a mother and child can perpetuate negative patterns in relationships, hinder personal growth, and contribute to ongoing emotional distress. Therapy, self-awareness, and introspection can help in addressing and resolving these underlying issues by promoting healthier coping mechanisms and emotional stability.

How Do You Comfort Someone With “Mommy Issues?”

Comforting someone with “mommy issues” requires empathy, patience, and understanding. Firstly, it’s crucial to create a safe and non-judgmental space for them to express their feelings. Listen actively, allowing them to share their experiences, fears, and emotions without interruption. 

Validate their feelings by acknowledging the pain and complexity of their situation. Offer reassurance that it’s okay to feel the way they do and that they are not alone in their struggles. Encourage them to seek professional help if needed, emphasizing that therapy can provide valuable support and tools for healing. 

Additionally, remind them that healing takes time and it’s okay to take small steps. Offer your support and presence as they navigate their journey towards healing and self-discovery.

Building Healthy Maternal Relationships: Practical Strategies for Therapy

Treating “mommy issues” typically involves a combination of therapeutic approaches aimed at addressing underlying psychological factors, improving coping mechanisms, and fostering healthier relationships. Here are some therapeutic approaches commonly used:

  • Psychodynamic therapy: This approach focuses on exploring unconscious thoughts and emotions rooted in childhood experiences, including the mother-child relationship. By understanding how past experiences influence present behaviors and relationships, individuals can gain insight and work through unresolved issues.
  • Attachment-based therapy: Attachment theory suggests that early relationships, particularly with caregivers like mothers, shape an individual’s attachment style and affect future relationships. Therapists use this framework to help clients understand their attachment patterns and develop more secure attachments.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT helps individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns and beliefs associated with mother-child conflicts. It also teaches coping skills and strategies to manage distressing emotions and improve self-esteem.
  • Family therapy: “Mommy issues” often impact family dynamics and relationships. Family therapy involves working with the individual and their family members to address communication patterns, resolve conflicts, and create healthier interactions.
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR is a therapy technique often used to treat trauma-related issues, including those stemming from childhood experiences with mothers. It involves bilateral stimulation (such as eye movements) while recalling distressing memories in order to process, reframe, and move on from them.
  • Mindfulness-based therapies: Practices like mindfulness meditation can help individuals develop greater self-awareness, regulate emotions, and cultivate compassion toward themselves and others, which can be beneficial in addressing maternal issues.
  • Group therapy and support groups: Connecting with others who have similar experiences can provide validation, support, and a sense of belonging. Group therapy or support groups specifically for individuals dealing with “mommy issues” can offer opportunities for shared understanding and learning.
  • Expressive therapies: Art therapy, music therapy, or other forms of expressive therapy can provide alternative ways for individuals to explore and express their feelings and experiences related to their relationship with their mother.

Therapy should be tailored to the individual’s specific needs and preferences. A skilled therapist can help determine which combination of approaches will be most effective in addressing maternal issues and promoting healing and personal growth.

Resources and Support for Maternal Relationship Growth

Developing and nurturing a healthy maternal relationship is vital for both the parent and child’s well-being. Here are some resources and support avenues that can assist in maternal relationship growth:

  • Therapy: Individual therapy or family therapy sessions can be incredibly beneficial for mothers who want to explore their own emotions, challenges, and past experiences that may affect their relationship with their child. A therapist can offer guidance, support, and tools for improving communication and connection.
  • Support groups: Joining a support group can provide a sense of community and solidarity with others who may be experiencing similar challenges with their mothers. These groups often offer opportunities to share experiences, receive advice, and gain insights from others.
  • Online forums and communities: There are numerous online forums and communities dedicated to mother-child relationships where people can connect with others, seek advice, and share their experiences. 
  • Mindfulness and self-care practices: Engaging in mindfulness practices such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises can help you manage stress, regulate emotions, and cultivate a sense of presence. Prioritizing self-care activities is also essential for well-being.
  • Community programs: Many communities offer programs and resources specifically designed to support parents and strengthen family relationships. These may include parent-child activities, early childhood education programs, and community centers that offer parenting support services.

The most helpful way to implement these is to choose the strategies and resources that work best for you. However, nothing can substitute the support you can receive from talking with a mental health professional. They will be able to give you individualized tools and treatment tailored to your unique experiences.

It’s also important to note that, though healing a maternal relationship can greatly impact someone’s well-being, it’s not always possible. However, it’s still possible to reach healing and growth on your own. 

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  • Editorial writer
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Theresa Lupcho, LPCLicensed Professional Counselor
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Theresa Lupcho is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a passion for providing the utmost quality of services to individuals and couples struggling with relationship issues, depression, anxiety, abuse, ADHD, stress, family conflict, life transitions, grief, and more.

Kate Hanselman, PMHNP in New Haven, CT
Kate Hanselman, PMHNP-BCBoard-Certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
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Kate Hanselman is a board-certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP-BC). She specializes in family conflict, transgender issues, grief, sexual orientation issues, trauma, PTSD, anxiety, behavioral issues, and women’s issues.

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Hannah DeWittMental Health Writer

Hannah is a Junior Copywriter at Thriveworks. She received her bachelor’s degree in English: Creative Writing with a minor in Spanish from Seattle Pacific University. Previously, Hannah has worked in copywriting positions in the car insurance and trucking sectors doing blog-style and journalistic writing and editing.

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  • Tambelli, R., Cimino, S., Cerniglia, L., & Ballarotto, G. (2015). Early maternal relational traumatic experiences and psychopathological symptoms: a longitudinal study on mother-infant and father-infant interactions. Scientific Reports, 5(1).

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