Seven Signs of an Emotionally Unavailable Mother 

Do you sense that something is missing in your relationship with your mother?

Maybe there’s an emotional distance that affects your relationship with her and influences other areas of your life.

When you grow up with an emotionally unavailable mother, the bond you share with her is weak.

Even if she doesn’t actively mistreat you, you don’t feel you can rely on her for understanding or emotional support. The following are several signs that your mother isn’t available to you.

1. She dismisses your emotions

Children learn how to identify, express, and manage their feelings as they grow up.

Much of their emotional learning comes from interacting with their parents.

An emotionally unavailable mother doesn’t acknowledge or help you work through your feelings.

She doesn’t want to talk about what’s making you sad. She encourages you to bottle up or ignore your anger. Your fears all get dismissed as trivial.

She may not even pay attention to your joy or excitement.

What actually makes you happy or means a lot to you is beneath her notice. What you feel doesn’t seem worthy of her attention, thought, and empathy.

In some cases, mothers dismiss their children’s emotions in a way that’s frightening and overtly abusive. For example, she hits you or screams at you when you cry.

She mocks you cruelly when you express fear.

Regardless of the cause and nature of your feelings, she insults you by telling you that you’re spoiled, weak, stupid, or overly sensitive.

2. She keeps telling you what you should be feeling

Instead of trying to understand your emotions, your mother strongly tends to tell you what you should or should not be feeling.

For example, when you’re angry about something, she simply tells you that you shouldn’t be angry. She claims that other emotions are more appropriate for the situation.

Your mother may also try to correct how you feel about other people.

For example, if you feel indifference or dislike towards one of your relatives, she may get angry with you and insist that you should be full of love.

When trying to change their children’s feelings, emotionally unavailable mothers often rely on heavy shame and guilt. You have an obligation to feel a certain way, failing to fulfill it.

Your mother may act as if there’s something profoundly wrong with you, or she may assume that you’re being deliberately disrespectful.

She doesn’t discuss why you feel a certain way or what you can do with your emotions.

Whether you’re experiencing fear, joy, disgust, or excitement, you aren’t giving your mother what she expects.

What she focuses on is your failure to meet her expectations.

3. She shows discomfort with emotions

Your mother may avoid conversations that reveal emotional vulnerability. It may also be exceptionally difficult for her to experience a feeling, name it, and deal with it healthily.

Emotionally unavailable mothers often deny the effects of emotions. Even when they’re upset or unwell, they claim they feel fine.

They expect you to behave similarly. You aren’t supposed to disturb the peace with your genuine feelings.

Emotional displays may make her irritable. Even if you’re relatively quiet, she scolds you for being too loud or too open about your feelings.

She claims that you’re giving her a headache, whether you’re laughing or crying.

She avoids talking about painful situations, such as losing a loved one.

Even when it’s necessary to discuss an emotionally sensitive topic, such as abuse, she looks uncomfortable or easily becomes angry.

She closes the conversation prematurely.

Another possibility is that she frequently erupts with her own emotions. At the same time, she doesn’t feel comfortable permitting you to share your feelings.

She may allow herself to get angry or express her fears, even in a destructive way, but she expects you always to remain placid and quietly cheerful.

Your emotions are too discomforting for her to deal with.

4. She focuses on maintaining appearances

Wanting to look good and maintain a positive reputation isn’t unusual. But it’s possible to place too much emphasis on appearances.

Emotionally unavailable parents tend to prioritize their social standing over the emotional well-being of their families.

It’s possible that your mother puts on a friendly, cheerful persona in social situations.

She strives to maintain the appearance of happiness and normality for neighbors, colleagues, and friends. Other people may see her as a loving, responsible mother and a kind person.

She may even be outgoing, someone who likes throwing parties and arranging other fun activities.

Her private behavior may be a sharp contrast to her public persona. At home, she tends to be distant, uncommunicative, and impatient.

She doesn’t listen well, and she interrupts you frequently. Some of her behaviors may even be worse, including violent emotional outbursts.

In managing her family’s reputation, an emotionally unavailable mother may want her children to avoid discussing difficult topics.

For example, if you’re struggling with depression, your mother may want you to keep quiet about your psychological health.

Even if staying silent is causing you to suffer more, she seems to be concerned mostly about what other people will say.

Preserving the appearance of a healthy, close family ultimately becomes more important than developing close and healthy relationships within the family.

Your family may look good in photos. People may praise your mother for being involved and caring. But she remains distant in important ways.

5. She doesn’t seem to have time for you

Even if you see your mother regularly, you may feel there’s never a chance to have a meaningful conversation with her. Physically, she’s present.

But she can’t or won’t give you focused attention and thoughtful, caring interactions.

Some emotionally absent mothers get caught up in a whirlwind of obligations. They hold down a job and shoulder the responsibility for domestic chores and errands.

It’s their responsibility to feed, clothe, and bathe their kids, and they may be taking care of their parents or other relatives.

One of their children may currently need a good deal of extra attention, leading to some emotional neglect for the other kids.

Some extremely busy mothers still manage to make time for connecting with their kids emotionally. However, their circumstances make it more challenging.

Despite having good intentions, some mothers remain unaware that they’re emotionally distant. This is especially true if they’re stressed out from their daily schedule.

An overly busy schedule or stressful routine isn’t the only reason for lack of quality time. Even if her life isn’t hectic, your mother may not make an effort to bond with you.

She seems distracted or impatient. If you speak to her, she looks at her phone or stares out of a window. Although her memory is otherwise good, she tends to forget what you tell her about yourself.

Conversations with her are largely casual. If you’re distressed, don’t think of turning to her for comfort or meaningful advice.

Over time, you realize that there are important aspects of your life that you don’t want to discuss with her. You don’t think she’ll make an effort to understand what you’re feeling.

6. She expects you not to act like her child

Sometimes, parents expect their kids to do the parenting. Or they want their kids to fill another role that isn’t typically appropriate in a parent-child relationship.

Mothers struggling with illnesses or addictions may turn one or more of their children into the equivalent of an adult caretakers.

Mothers who are isolated and lack meaningful relationships may expect their children to act like close friend or a therapist.

Sometimes, a mother may expect a child to give her the emotional support and companionship typically provided by a spouse.

Even if there’s no sexual abuse in the relationship, the dynamic is still dysfunctional. The child is trapped in a role they aren’t meant to play.

Within these kinds of dysfunctional relationships, the mother isn’t reliably available. She doesn’t pay consistent attention to her child’s emotions or provide the necessary comfort.

She’s emotionally immature and doesn’t know how to handle her feelings.

Even without fully understanding the situation, kids in these circumstances realize that they have to disregard their own needs.

They’re conditioned to downplay their emotions and pay attention only to what their mother feels.

7. She doesn’t seem to really know you

When you have an emotionally unavailable mother, you live in a state of heightened insecurity. You don’t feel seen or heard in more than a superficial way.

Even when overwhelmed, you don’t feel confident that you can share your emotions and receive a helpful response.

You may believe that there’s something wrong with you, some personal failing that keeps your mother at a distance.

You may make various efforts to win her attention and approval. But you’re still haunted by the sense that you’re invisible or don’t matter much.

This lack of confidence may permeate into other relationships and life areas.

Some mothers justify their emotional unavailability by constructing certain narratives about their kids.

They claim their kids are tough, independent people who don’t need coddling. They characterize their kids as mature for their age and largely quiet and calm.

Even when these descriptions are partly accurate, they’re simplistic. They’re based on an incomplete picture. Kids who appear independent and mature still need an emotional bond with their parents.

They still need help understanding and processing their own emotions.

Unfortunately, emotionally unavailable mothers often struggle with unresolved issues, such as a lack of emotional maturity, past trauma, or a poor relationship with their parents.

Sometimes, they can change how they relate to their children and improve as mothers. Other times, meaningful change isn’t likely.

Understanding patterns of emotional unavailability can give you a basis for healing yourself and working on your development.

You can understand what needs to change in your life, and you can give yourself empathy and some of the nurturing that was absent from your childhood.

Can a gifted therapist help you too?

If you struggle with anxiety, depression, high-stress levels, relationship issues, or other specific challenges, one-on-one support from a therapist can help a lot.

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