Exploring the mother-daughter relationship

The relationship that we, as daughters, have with our mothers is perhaps the most significant we have as girls and women. Daughters who have felt supported and encouraged to become the unique person they were meant to be can face the world with confidence grounded in a secure sense of self. By contrast, daughters who, for whatever reason, have received insufficient maternal warmth and validation from their mothers can suffer from low self-esteem and a fragile sense of self that can cause them to be wary of close emotional connection and can shape them in other seen and unseen ways.

Some common mother behavioural patterns

My work as a psychotherapist has consistently brought me into contact with a wide range of dynamics between mothers and daughters, many of which can have undesirable consequences. There is the ‘dismissive’ mother, for example, whose constant undercutting of her daughter’s achievements can lead to the daughter doubting the validity of her own emotional needs, feeling unworthy of attention but also intensely longing for love and validation.

Other classic examples include: the ‘controlling’ mother, whose micromanagement of her daughter instils a sense of insecurity and helplessness in the child; the ‘unavailable’ mother, who may withdraw emotionally at the approach of her daughter; the ‘combative’ mother who is actively denigrating, and the ‘self-involved’ or narcissistic mother.

Then there are those who have grown up with an ‘enmeshed’ mother, the kind of mother who, far from being emotionally distant fails to acknowledge any boundary between herself and her daughter, and lives through her daughter’s achievements. The ‘unreliable’ mother, meanwhile, may be the most difficult type of mother for daughters to grow up with given the mixed messages that she communicates, and the potentially precarious and fraught nature of the relationship as a result.

Talk to me about your concerns

If any of the above patterns sounds familiar to you or you feel you have unresolved issues related to parental relationships that you would like to work through, come and talk to me; I will discuss your concerns  with you and, by exploring together resources you may not have known you possess, I can help you to move forward. Contact me now to arrange a consultation.

I leave you with a poem that speaks to my own sense of the essence of the mother-daughter relationship. It plays on the French for mother (la mère) and is titled La Mer (the sea).


La Mer

Tamar Posner

One by one delicately touching my toes, counting them in. Oh so gently encircling an ankle in each hand, reaching for my fingertips, pulling me towards her, encouraging me to walk.

But when I was stronger and wanted to walk on my own, her mood changed. White-haired by then, she would rush towards me, angrily knocking me down, anxiously overwhelming me in her embrace. I fought to maintain my balance but that only made her more frantic; I resigned myself.

She softened, stroked my back and whispered in my ear:
“I love you and I’m proud of you. You are a part of me; you always have been and you always will be – but you are you and you need to understand that.”
I allowed myself to feel her supportive presence at my back, let down my guard, relax – and then we crashed, the two of us together washed up on to the shore.

That was when I understood that the dance of the mother-daughter relationship is not a progression from baby steps, through angry teenage strides to the more measured movements of maturity; it is an intricately choreographed work of art in which every step appears not once, but often, and will do so always, and forever.

Published 10 December 2012 in:
Contemporary Psychotherapy – Volume 4, Issue 2 (Winter 2012)

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