If Your Mother Was Emotionally Absent

Under-mothered. Mother wound. Attachment issues. Emotionally absent. Childhood emotional neglect. Checked out. These are just some of the terms that can be associated with the kind of mothering that therapist Jasmin Lee Cori describes in her updated book.

As the publisher of The Emotionally Absent Mother, Updated and Expanded Second Edition: How to Recognize and Heal the Invisible Effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect (2017) asks:

Was your mother preoccupied, distant, or even demeaning? Have you struggled with relationships—or with your own self-worth? Often, the grown children of emotionally absent mothers can’t quite put a finger on what’s missing from their lives. The children of abusive mothers, by contrast, may recognize the abuse—but overlook its lasting, harmful effects.

Cori has many insights regarding emotional neglect by moms. A few pertinent quotes:

The hardest abandonment to face is when the other is right there.

It is not that people intend to be emotionally absent. They just are, for a great variety of reasons.

A child will cling to an abusive parent rather than be abandoned. What a young child can least tolerate is being left alone or feeling invisible.

In Cori’s updated edition of The Emotionally Absent Mother is a new chapter called “What’s Wrong with Mother?” From her site: “It answers questions like Why is Mother so distant? Why does she give to everyone but me? Is she ‘crazy’ or just immature? Why is she always so angry?”

Some of the long-term effects of a mother’s emotional neglect, according to Cori, are listed below.

1. Holes in your sense of value and self-esteem.

2. Feeling undernourished and emotionally starved.

3. Feeling as if you don’t have enough support. 

4. Difficulty accepting and advocating for your needs.

5. Feeling Disempowered.

6. Loneliness and feelings of not belonging. 

7. Not knowing how to process feelings. 

8. A pervasive sense of scarcity. 

9. Depression.

10. Addictive behaviors. 

How as an adult do you grasp what this means and heal from it? Cori’s intro to what you can expect regarding the process is provided below.

Healing is different for everyone but may involve:

  • identifying and grieving what you missed
  • coming into a caring relationship with the child inside of you and learning to mother yourself
  • meeting some of your earlier unmet needs with partners
  • in-depth work with a psychotherapist
  • opening to the archetype of the Good Mother, possibly taking a spiritual form
  • proactively going after the support, mirroring, guidance and other mothering functions that were not sufficiently provided

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