I was recently interviewed by the Chief Sub-Editor of CLEO & DOLLY, Ellie McDonald, for her article Family Feud in the March issue of CLEO Australia (on sale now). Here you can find an edited and updated version of our discussion:
About the importance of a strong mother-daughter relationship and why the daughter needs this as she reaches adulthood…
To achieve and maintain healthy relationships with self and others, we need to have internalised an accepting, unconditionally loving, nurturing and nourishing mother so that we can relate from, and care for ourselves in this way. If we haven’t for whatever reason internalised a nurturing mother, we can get caught in a cycle of searching outside ourselves for others to meet our needs and to affirm our worth in the world.
For most, our relationship with mother is often our first and primary attachment relationship – it is the barometer for all of our future relationships with self, family, friends, colleagues, partners and our children. We are born into her world and this helps shape:
If mother has awareness and has worked at resolving her own identity issues, it is far easier for her to foster the daughter’s separation, autonomy and sense of self. A strong sense of self-identity is essential as we move into young adulthood.
About the negative effects of a strained mother-daughter relationship for a young woman in her twenties…
We know that strains in the relationship with mother throughout childhood and beyond are major contributing factors to our physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual health and wellbeing. Symptoms may include addiction, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, poor relationships, a lack of self-worth as well as numerous other concerns (Reference: Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes the Baby’s Brain)
Some of the negative effects that we may experience are:
As a psychotherapist for the last 15 years and a leading specialist in women’s emotional, psychological and spiritual health and well-being, I have witnessed the journey of many young women who enter therapy because of symptoms such as eating disorders or relationship problems. Of course we work on symptom relief but a huge chunk of the therapy is actually spent separating psychologically from mother (and father as well as other internalized imagoes). This can be long-term and painful work as the daughter begins to wonder, ‘who am I, if I am not my mother?’, ‘who am I if I am not who my mother told me I am?’
It is grief work because it means letting go of the false identities we have been living out of as well as coming to the realisation that we cannot change mother into the mother we long for. It means accepting mother as she is. It means growing up and (re) mothering ourselves in a loving and nurturing way. In Jungian psychology, it means getting in touch with – and owning – our feminine aspects of the soul/psyche.
About how common the breakdown of a mother-daughter relationship is…
Many women have an extremely complex relationship with mother. It is not uncommon however, for the relationship to breakdown, heal and transform overtime.
About some of the reasons why this may have happened…
The most problematic mother-daughter relationships are for those who grow up with a mother who suffers with narcissistic wounding and who therefore parents with narcissistic tendencies.
If the mother has herself not been seen or heard and her own dependency, safety, love, worth, self-actualisation/realisation needs have not been met, she might:
In the few examples given above, it is more about the mother’s needs than the daughter’s – this can be highly toxic to the daughter’s sense of self. Child psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott writes,
“The mother gazes at the baby in her arms, and the baby gazes at her mother’s face and finds herself therein…provided that the mother is really looking at the unique, small, helpless being and not projecting her own expectations, fears, and plans for the child. In that case, the child would find not herself in her mother’s face, but rather the mother’s own projections. This child would remain without a mirror, and for the rest of her life would be seeking this mirror in vain.”
We all long for our mother to meet us emotionally, but the mother who suffers with narcissism is incapable of doing so. We learn at an early age, adaptive and creative ways of getting our needs met; though pleasing, rebelling, academic achievements, becoming the sick child and so on. These patterns of being and behaviour often follow through into adulthood.
About how to heal from a difficult mother-daughter relationship…
The Mother/Daughter Relationship:
For Daughter (and therefore Mother!):
NB: it is important that we don’t get caught in blaming or demonizing mothers; there are just as many complexities within father/daughter relationships. Notice that I don’t use the term ‘narcissistic mother’ – the reason for this is because at the core, mother is a human being, whole and unbroken – she herself has more than likely suffered with narcissistic wounding. The ‘narcissistic mother’ is only part of who she is. In saying all this, as mothers, we do need to recognise the profound impact that our wounding and parenting style have on our daughter’s sense of self and her ongoing relational, emotional, psychological, social, and spiritual health and well-being.
Sydney Soul-Centred Psychotherapist + Eating Psychology Coach, Jodie Gale, is a leading specialist in women’s emotional, psychological and spiritual health and well-being. She spent time in the South of France training in mother-daughter relationships from an Indigenous, Jungian and Psycho-Spiritual perspective. Over the last 15 years, Jodie has helped 100s of women to transform their lives. She has a private counselling, life-coaching and psychotherapy practice in Manly and Allambie Heights on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. Jodie is passionate about putting the soul back into therapy!