Your Absent Mother & Your Love-Life

To be sure, our mothers have a very powerful influence on our love-lives. Why? Ideally, they are the first to teach us about love. For the most part I’ll be talking about your ‘biological mother.’ That’s the mother who gave birth to you. Even though the role of mother has more to do with which woman in your life took the responsibility to raise you.

The effectiveness of a mother can be judged by the way she treats her children. Common types include first and foremost, the loving mother. Congratulations to those of you fortunate enough to have had one of those. The loving mother is a person who can consistently parent or guide her child while protecting his or her individuality and self-esteem.

Then there’s the overbearing or dependent mother. She is emotionally needy and imposes her needs on her child. Usually her needs have nothing to do with you. They are simply carry overs from her unresolved past. In most cases her needs interfere with her ability to give love and parent.

Then of course there’s the physically or emotionally sick mother. Her practical functioning as a mother is impaired by illness and the needs that her condition creates. I’ll add one more, the aggressive mother. She’s a person who is hurt, usually about some losses in her life, but transforms her hurt into anger and rage directed largely at her children and other innocent parties.

Of course there can be overlaps, when mothers display more than one of these ways of relating to their children. But the quality I want to focus on in this post is a mother’s physical and/or emotional absence. You see, determining absence can get complicated. Some people can leave while they’re still sitting next to you, if you get my meaning. Their absence is expressed and felt simply because they are somewhere else in their thoughts, feelings, and the things they do and how they do them.

For example, sick mothers are notoriously absent and so are aggressive mothers and dependent mothers. They are usually so over-involved in their own unfinished emotional business that their child will experience their absence long before he or she even knows how to put words to it. In a fundamental way, the experience of maternal absence is the source of one of the most important love-life lessons that can be taught to a child. Of course, a physically absent mother will teach this lesson the most intensely.

What precisely is the love-life lesson I’m talking about? The lesson is, the ‘promise of love is never kept.’ People who suffer the absence of a mother, whether it be an emotional or physical absence, will mix emotional insecurity with love. In other words, they will have their doubts about love. Can you blame them?

Each person will develop his or her own formula for coping with this absence and doubt. Some will struggle with dependence. Others will be angry and fight. Others will get frequently sick to manipulate care to feel loved. The point is, the past disappointment that the absence of mothering created will dominate life and love unless challenged. The absent mother has successfully taught her child how to be similarly absent.

As far as I can see, too many adults are going in and out of love relationships looking for their absent parent. The illusion that you as an adult can find gratification for your unresolved childhood needs in an adult love relationship is responsible for more relationship failures than anything else. You can’t get the mothering you needed, in your adult love relationships. In fact, now that you’re an adult, you can’t get it anywhere.

I’m sorry, I know you didn’t want to hear that. You’ve been secretly hoping that your creativity and attractiveness would bring someone into your life who would make those past hurts and losses go away by finally giving you what you needed, mother’s love. If I could somehow rationalize this and make it happen for you I would. From personal experience, I’ll simply tell you, I know what it’s like.

The alternative I have for you is much less glamorous. And you’ll probably disregard what I’m saying, dispute it tooth and nail, until you’ve had enough frustration and disappointment trying to ‘fix’ this problem your way. You see, there’s a good chance you’ll re-injure yourself over and over again if you hang onto your agenda to find the ‘absent mother’ in your adult love-life. It’s just not possible. Chronological childhood and adolescence occurs only once in a lifetime, and that’s it.

The good news is, you can heal loss by accepting your grief, working your way through it, and letting it go when it’s time to. If you accept what I’m telling you, you’ll cry, feel sad, and eventually give up on the idea that you can ‘find’ your absent mother. That’s the little boy or girl now in adulthood still trying to figure out where she went. Some people are never found. And what takes her place is what you can find inside of you.

In fact, here is where it gets mysterious and wonderful. Whoever made us put inside a few neat resources just in case of trouble. The trouble in this instance is the absence of someone who is supposed to keep her promise of love. When you get sick of looking for her in your adult love relationships, you’ll come around to looking inside of you for what you can use instead. That empty space she left inside of you gets filled from the inside out, not from the outside in. At least not at this point in your life.

Over the years I have had the privilege of working with people with absent parenting who managed to find what they needed inside of themselves. They found love and wisdom inside and even gave some to their children in ways that were never given to them. How is this possible? They realized that they are unique individuals. That their uniqueness was not given to them by their parents. It was there at the beginning of life and remained throughout as a resource from which to solve love-life problems, like the absence of mothering.

Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness. True strength is knowing what you need and getting it.

Comments? Welcome. Dr. Tom Jordan









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Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.

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