“Do I Have Mommy Issues?” Ask a Therapist

Published on: 30 Mar 2022
Clinically Reviewed by Bisma Anwar, LMHC
man and woman arguing in kitchen

As a child, was your relationship with your mother (or mother figure) awkward, painful, or difficult? Do you still have a strained relationship or complicated relationship with her? If so, you might have “mommy issues” and thus, experience difficulties maintaining healthy romantic and personal relationships as an adult. 

While there’s no precise definition of mommy issues, the concept is well-described as: adult psychological challenges that stem from a strained maternal relationship during the formative years.

Unlike daddy issues, mommy issues aren’t as well-discussed. Read on to learn more about mommy issues. We’ll discuss their causes and signs, the impacts they can have on your life and adult relationship with other people today, and most importantly, how you can cope more effectively so they don’t detract from your overall quality of life and wellbeing.

What Are Mommy Issues?

In general, mommy issues are the psychological challenges you deal with as an adult that result from your childhood relationship with your mother or another adult female figure in your life. If you’re experiencing mommy issues in one way or another, your relationship with your mother was likely lacking.

Most people agree that the mother-child relationship is one of the most important dynamics in life. It’s logical that if you had an unhealthy relationship with your mother, especially during your childhood, it could easily have an impact on your adult relationships.

It could be that your mother was too controlling or that she was loving but failed to provide essential emotional support. Maybe she manipulated you in a harsh way or she abused or neglected you. Mommy issues can result from many different maternal behaviors, and you might be surprised to learn that some of them are seemingly innocent or even appear to be well-meaning on the surface. Not all mommy issues are the result of abuse or neglectful behavior.

Mommy issues can result from both overly permissive and overprotective mothers. Some mothers are more focused on being their child’s best friend rather than providing solid, structured maternal leadership. While a proud, doting mother certainly seems admirable, sometimes these are the exact types of relationships that can become toxic and cause long-term detriment.

The psychology behind mommy issues

To fully understand mommy issues, it’s important to look at some of the behaviors and relationships in childhood that might contribute to — or flat-out cause — a young person to develop mommy issues in their future.

“Relationships are the place for unmet expectations to surface and mommy issues are no less intrusive until they are projected towards a partner. We can’t be omniscient about where our vulnerabilities will land, but it’s a good idea to practice self awareness rather than displacing unfulfilled expectations onto a partner.”

Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, LICSW, LCSW.

What causes mommy issues?

Long-lasting psychological effects can come from any substandard parent-child relationship. Children may develop either mommy issues, daddy issues, or a combination of both. 

Every household, child, mother, and father — every aspect of a family dynamic — is completely unique. Thus, it can feel impossible to gauge the precise effects of any given situation or relationship. That said, there are some accepted standards and beliefs regarding what might cause mommy issues. 

These might include a mother who:

  • Was physically, emotionally, or sexually abusive
  • Was completely or mostly absent
  • Treated a father poorly
  • Was extremely overbearing
  • Was unloving or non-nurturing

Remember that these are just some of the potential causes of mommy issues. All mother and child relationships are complex, and with so many aspects to the relationship, it can be difficult to ever fully understand the true cause for someone’s mommy issues.

5 Signs of Mommy Issues

Before we go into the signs of mommy issues, remember that the entire concept is rather loosely defined.

Each case depends on multiple factors that are specific to your childhood conditions. The unique characteristics of your mother and your own personal take on your childhood experience (including how you interpret and recall events) come into play.

The following are some examples of maternal behaviors that could easily contribute to the development of mommy issues:

Inability to experience deep connections

Did your mother have attachment issues? Was your mother unable to get close with people and maintain close friendships? Was your mother unable to sustain a romantic relationship? If so, and if you feel that you struggle to connect with others, you might be emulating your mom’s behavior. You may have inadvertently developed those same traits and as a result, now have trouble with intimacy, affection, or even just basic friendship.

Clingy

Always feeling the need to physically hold your partner or feeling extreme discomfort when you don’t have a direct connection to them can indicate an adult attachment condition that comes from your mommy issues. This insecure attachment issue applies to other types of excessive neediness as well.

Unaffectionate

If you struggle with intimacy, avoid sexual contact with your partner, or have another form of difficulty expressing affection, it could be that your mother was closed off to you emotionally.

Over criticizing

If your mother was controlling, demanding, and critical, it’s not uncommon if you’ve taken on similar traits in adulthood. Are you overly critical of those around you, especially your romantic partner? Your relationship with your mother might explain why. 

Dependency

Did your mom always do everything for you? You may have learned to be overly dependent on her. Mommy issues can sometimes result in a need for others to do everything for you well into adulthood, even if it’s things you could (and probably should) do for yourself.

Mommy Issues in Women vs. Men

“At its core, mommy issues can authentically stem from an emotionally unavailable mother, often leading to difficulty forming bonds or friendships, unrecognized resentments, and also poor boundaries, for both men and women.”

Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, LICSW, LCSW

Mommy issues in women

Mommy issues in women typically involve:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Having very few female friends
  • Feeling like you must do everything perfectly
  • Avoiding anything having to do with your mother
  • Finding it difficult to set boundaries or make others respect you

Now, let’s look at what mommy issues in men might look like.

Mommy issues in men

Men with mommy issues may display a variety of signs, including:

  • Always needing to stay in contact with their mother
  • Never wanting anything to do with their mother
  • Generally being disrespectful towards women
  • Feeling insecure and often suspicious
  • Always doubting others’ love
  • Having a sense of entitlement
  • Cheating on partners (often repeatedly)  

Keep in mind that these are all just possible signs, and they’re not typically all seen at once. Each case is individual, and each man can display mommy issues uniquely, just like women.

The Impact of Having Mommy Issues

Mommy issues affect everyone differently. Issues can be mild or severe. Your mommy issues might cause you to polish every dish to perfection and then place it precisely in the cabinet. They might also cause you to resent other women. They might result in you having unhealthy romantic partners or distant relationships with your children.   

There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to how your mommy issues will impact your adult life. However, in general, you might be less effective at maintaining mutually beneficial romantic and personal relationships. This in and of itself is reason enough for you to learn how to overcome the issues you have due to your unhealthy relationship with your mom. 

How to Work Through Mommy Issues

You don’t have to let the relationship you had with your mom dictate those you have now. Through hard work, determination, and maybe even some therapy, you can learn new behaviors and thought processes that will allow you to overcome any issues interfering in your relationships as an adult. Therapy can even help you develop a healthy relationship with your mother and sort out other unresolved issues.

“No partner can emulate perfection or fulfill an emotional void, but respecting the core of our issues can help release any attached guilt or shame. We are not doomed by what we learned from our parents, as it’s wholly possible to grow within our relationships and as an individual. Connecting with the right therapist can be instrumental to learning and applying healthy relating and communication moving forward.”

Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, LICSW, LCSW.

Talkspace’s online therapy platform makes getting the help and emotional support you need for your mommy issues easier than ever. You can seek therapy in the comfort of your own home when it’s convenient for you. 

You don’t have to let early childhood trauma surface in your day to day life. You can heal from the complicated relationship you had with your mother. Talkspace can help you learn how. 

Sources:

1. Gilligan M, Suitor J, Pillemer K. Estrangement Between Mothers and Adult Children: The Role of Norms and Values. Journal of Marriage and Family. 2015;77(4):908-920. doi:10.1111/jomf.12207. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4507819/. Accessed March 5, 2022.

2. Simpson J, Rholes W. Adult attachment, stress, and romantic relationships. Curr Opin Psychol. 2017;13:19-24. doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2016.04.006. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4845754/. Accessed March 5, 2022.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

You May Also Like