Nothing I ever did pleased my mother and it made me feel nothing I did was ever good enough. In simple terms, they explain that lack of love has both neurological and psychological consequences: Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation: The unloved daughter grows up not trusting her own experience of events and interactions; she may be confused by the very nature of emotional interactions and her neediness—caused by the shattering injury to which Lewis and his co-authors refer—may make it impossible for her to navigate boundaries in relationships.
These events create an internal wellspring of doubt which often yields to an incorrect but seemingly inevitable conclusion: Alas, the journey to recovery may be even more complicated for the daughter who seeks comfort in behaviors that ultimately are dangerous blind alleys.
In her groundbreaking book, The Hungry Self. Kim Chernin detailed and explored the primal connections between food and female identity, as well as mothering and emotional hunger. These connections are both subtle and obvious. Some daughters will develop clinically disordered eating while others will simply carry their complicated relationships with food and its connection to self-image into adulthood.
When Food is Love, Geneen Roth the daughter of a physically abusive mother and an emotionally distant father explains that disordered eating may be an act of self-protection, a way of armoring the self against pain. Recent studies exploring the connection between insecure childhood attachment and disordered eating more closely have made some interesting discoveries.
For example, Jenna Elgin and Mary Pritchard found that while it was true enough that secure attachment was negatively correlated with disordered eating, not every type of insecure attachment was positively correlated. Only the fearful attachment style which includes both a negative view of self and a negative view of others was positively correlated with bulimia but neither the dismissive or preoccupied styles were associated with disordered eating.
What they found was that among those engaging in self-injury, their descriptions of childhood included portraits of parents who failed to protect them and abdicated their roles as parents, of parents from whom they felt alienated, as well as those who were over-controlling.
These parents were generally seen as less caring, untrustworthy, and more difficult to communicate with. Generally, research has confirmed the link between self-harm and emotionally distant or abusive parenting and insecure attachment. Compulsive behaviors Substance abuse , compulsive shopping , and even sexual promiscuity have been understood as ways of filling the hole in the heart.
Unloved daughters may turn to the instantaneous self-soothing and oblivion offered up by alcohol or drugs. In her book, Mothering Ourselves, psychotherapist Evelyn S. Hurtful relationships Research shows that all of us are more likely to choose partners who are more like our parents than not—which is fine if you were raised by loving and attuned parents and not so wonderful if you were not.
They offer no real solace, and, for many unloved daughters, finding ourselves in a relationship like this may prove to be the turning point that propels us to seek help in the form of therapy.
Clear Paths The hole in the heart can be filled productively with new experiences and voices that tell the unloved daughter that she is worthy, valuable, and lovable. While the experiences of childhood shape us, they need not hobble us and many unloved daughters, by confronting and articulating their past, move into the present and future as loving and loved partners, friends, and mothers.
Self-understanding is the basis for new interactions and healthy and healing connections to others as various as teachers, mentors, therapists, friends, or lovers.
She was the first person in whom I confided my story and by telling her, I broke the silence my mother had imposed me. I heard my voice for the very first time in my conversations with her.
In an important study, Glenn I. Roisman and his co-authors looked at individuals with earned secure attachment in an effort to determine whether or not they were, however, more at risk for depressive symptoms.
What they found was that not only were those with earned status by making coherent sense of their past involved in romantic relationships of a quality comparable to those with happy childhoods, parented as effectively as those raised in secure environments, but also were at no greater risk for internalizing distress than other secure groups. More than anything, this is an important act of reinvention, which can take the form of a close-knit circle of friends or getting married and having a child or children herself.
In my early twenties, when I was estranged from my mother and single, I made Thanksgiving dinner every year for friends who had nowhere to go or whose families lived far away. Those dinners were one of the first steps I took to claiming earned secure attachment for myself.
As one daughter commented: But I always know I am cared for, no matter what. A therapist can be of enormous help at this juncture. Giving voice to what actually happened in your childhood is part of self-mothering because it gets you out from under the code of denial imposed on you and allows you to develop an inner voice that is truthful, strong, and reliable.
Permitting yourself to acknowledge your pain, frustration, and anger with your mother and her treatment of you is a necessary part of the process—both in terms of stilling the critical or dismissive maternal voice and growing your own inner voice. Grieving may be part of the process as well as mourning the loss of what you needed and never had.
Acknowledge the process, applaud the steps forward, and accept the steps backwards. Fellow travelers, good luck and Godspeed!