My Possessive Mother

I love my mother like most people. But she has not always been good for my love-life. I now realize that ‘mothers’ are often the primary cause of difficulties in the love-lives of their adult children. How and why?

The evolution of a person’s love-life from childhood into adulthood requires both attachments and separations. To evolve into a mature and developed adult who is able to give and receive love, you have to master both attaching to and separating from people you love. If either one of these emotional activities gets messed up in any way, your love-life will suffer.

The most common difficulty is an adult child’s inability to separate from an over-attachment to his or her own mother. When mothers are ‘possessive’ they hold onto their children beyond the point when separation is required to mature them as people.

Possessiveness is basically a form of ‘personalized control.’ Short and simple, the unverbalized feeling is “you’re mine and nobody else’s, I don’t care how old you get.” The possessive mother is thinking only of her own needs for continued attachment to her child, now in adulthood.

The so-called ‘normal’ mother generates separation experiences for her child throughout his upbringing. Like ‘letting him’ have a separate relationship with his or her father, ‘letting him’ have separate relationships with friends and other people beyond the family, and ultimately, ‘letting him’ have a separate love relationship with a young lover while still under his or her mother’s care.

The possessive mother discourages most if not all of her child’s efforts to separate from her. At first the child is too immature to generate his or her own separation experiences independent of the mother’s influence. If you look at the relationship close enough, you’ll find all kinds of stuff. In some cases, possessive mothers become jealous, and in some extreme cases, they might have a ‘sexualized’ interest in their developing child.

The interesting thing about this particular love-life problem is it takes two people to make it happen. What I mean is, it takes a needy mother (narcissistic dependent mother) and a dependent child-adult. Possessive mothers cannot do this alone. They need the cooperation of a co-dependent adult-child.

So we have a possessive mother who was deprived of the kinds of growth experiences needed in her own life to be able to stimulate the growth of her child. The adult-child is trying to get what he or she did not get growing up by hanging onto his or her mother too long.

The adult-child’s unspoken philosophy is, I can’t get what I want from my mother but I’m hopeful. I’ll hang onto her as long as I can and believe that some day she (mother) will give me what I want, eventually.

What do you want? If it’s your mother’s love, what you should have gotten growing up, and you want it now as an adult, you’re out of luck. The bad news is, there is only one chronological childhood. The good news is, as an adult you can learn to let go of this ‘want’ and get what you ‘need.’

What you need is to get comfortable with the love you can realistically give and receive in adulthood, with another compatible adult, as a separate and independent person. Letting go of your possessive mother may make you temporarily sad and nostalgic, but in the long-run you’ll get free enough to have your own love-life.

Have you ever heard of the ‘parentified child?’ It’s a one type of codependent child. That’s a child who expresses his or her need for love by taking care of (emotionally and/or physically) the possessive needy parent. He or she dedicates his or her life to putting his or her mother’s needs first before his or her own. Always.

This condition is called ‘parentified’ because the child is now the parent to the child long before he or she is ready to be a parent and long before his or her mother is elderly and needing supervision and care-taking.  ‘Parentified’ children turned adult are notorious for sacrificing their love-lives to their possessive child-like mothers well into adulthood.

If a possessive mother is not generating a willingness to separate her growing child when the times are right, he or she will surely be discouraging any child-generated interest in separating. There will always be a problem with it. According to her you’ll never be ready for the responsibility you’re asking for.

Possessiveness thinly disguises a discomfort, maybe fear, of no longer being needed. If you persist in wanting more autonomy, manipulation and guilt are her next available options.

She could try to change your circumstances such that you’ll be less prepared to be on your own. She could mess around with your money, your time, or even involve other people in persuading you not to separate. “Why are you doing this to me?” This statement puts the responsibility for her distress squarely on your shoulders. “How could you do this to your mother?” Need I say more?

By the way. if you are planning to separate from a possessive mother expect to feel some anxiety. Get used to it, anxiety accompanies all the good things in life anyway. The sooner you accept the fact of temporary discomfort (for a good cause), the sooner you’ll be able to make the change from a love-life retarded by your mother’s fears and dependency, to a more satisfying love-life that you create for yourself.

In most cases she gets over it. Some mothers even learn to accept and respect their children for taking over and ‘forcing’ maturity. But of course, there are always holdouts. Mothers who resent the change so much they stay angry and bitter for a life time.

I don’t want to sound cold but, these are her feelings not yours. You have to decide whether her feelings should be strong enough to interfere with your love-life.

After you’ve separated, there are a few things you need to think about. One is, you don’t want to transfer some form of possessiveness into your adult love relationships. For example, you could runaway from love for the rest of your life assuming that it will always lead to possession. This little misinterpretation will definitely keep you alone.

On the other hand, you don’t want to do the equally toxic ‘become possessive like your mother’ thing. Trying to possess your lovers will surely drive them away, and history will repeat itself, this time in your love-life.

So your ‘cure’ involves, breaking the possessive bond with determination mixed with a measure of understanding. Let your mother have her feelings. They belong to her. Your feelings belong to you. Enough said.

Next step is, you have to learn how to love without controlling your lover with possession or the fear of possession. Either one, they are both the byproduct of living with possessiveness earlier in life.

As a ‘parentified child’ on somebody’s couch a lot of years ago, I learned that it was better for my love-life if I stopped trying to ‘fix’ my mother. Through the eyes of countless patients over the years, I learned that a love-life gets better when you’ve learned to take care of yourself as a separate independent person. Both of these insights have served me well over the years.

As for those of you wondering, how do you know if you’ve succeeded in separating yourself in a healthy way from parental possession. Ask yourself, despite your mother’s limitations and the disappointments you’ve felt, do you still love her? If the answer is yes, you’ve arrived.

Comments? Welcome. Dr. Tom Jordan


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12 Responses to My Possessive Mother

  1. There is a wonderful book called: A Bittersweet Season Caring for our aging parents and ourselves. By Janet Gross It was very helpful to provide some insights from someone who has been there.

    • Jasmaine

      Thank you. I’ll be looking out for this book!

    • lynn

      My possessive mother is dangerous when patients have mental health problems e.g. Borderline PD as these patients commonly have
      Interpersonal relationships with those close to them (especially mother) and often NOT the mothers fault its the usual trait of BP.
      The article should point this out so not to confuse damage those with BPD, which is known to be the most complex disorder to deal with

  2. katherine b

    Wow, this is really friggin good

  3. Pinky Sen

    this is a true story of my husband.

  4. Hannah C

    Excellent on description of my MIL & ex-husband.Arranged marriage but MIL hated us being together,she verbally abused me & convinced her son to divorce me within 5 months of marriage & he did.very painful

  5. Sasha

    “you’re mine and nobody else’s, I don’t care how old you get” is my mother in he nutshell.

    I am 52, I have my own life, my wife I love…but that does not mean anything to my mom.My mom goes to police, to the lawyer laying that I beat her, throwing things onto her, call her on the phone and threaten her…

    Long time ago I separated her from my self, everything I find a filling that “belong to her and live with me”…I say my self: Oh no, no you will not (I do that with a smile).

    But she won’t let me go. No matter where I go, she find a way to come into my life. She destroyed my brother (he overdose), my sister is on insulin because of her, and I chose my fathers tactic-to drink.

    I do not expect quick solutions, I am complete aware of situation I am in, but I always ask my self: If I know who she is, if I know what is she capable of, if I know that she will never change…why it hurts me so much?

  6. Deb Hand

    . .This article describes my 63 year old boyfriend His mother is the neediest female I have ever met

  7. Betty

    Brilliant article, I am 45 and my mum is not happy with my relationship and constantly gives me little snide remarks about everything my partner does/doesn’t do. She said she wants more for me and doesn’t understand why I want to be with him. She finds one reason after another to worry about me. She tells me what I am doing wrong, what he is doing wrong, that he won’t commit and if he does commit what he is going to do and how it is going to be . She tells me I am being mentally abused. We have been together for two and a half years and for two years of that my Mother has insisted on arguing with me over him and getting abusive verbally if I don’t agree with her. My relationship isn’t perfect and should have progressed but this strain is playing a huge part even though i still live alone.

  8. Beth

    Thanks, this article really helped.

  9. Eduardo

    A must read! Very helpful advice. It describes my mother and the reason im having trouble in my relationships. Thanks.

  10. Celia

    Thank you. Definitely a valuable read. I have a possessive Mother and I removed myself from her grip when I was 17.5. This did not stop her from being bitter about and jealous of my relationships.
    My Mom used to constantly say ‘You divorced me!’ until one day when I asked her why she kept saying these words when I was never married to her.
    At this moment I am experiencing a possessive work colleague, a very strange situation but I believe that it is a reflection of something that I have not yet resolved within myself regarding my Mother’s possessiveness as I believe that I carry the pattern.
    I plan to release this pattern through whichever healing modality aligns itself to my intention.

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