I was watching a TV program the other day, and a character referred to her mother as a devouring mother.
In the program, the mother wrapped her daughter in cotton wool. She was overprotective, invested in her daughter’s life to the point where she neglected her own, and smothered her with love. Eventually, the daughter snapped and killed her.
I found it interesting because society usually focuses on neglectful mothers. Can you have too much love? In this article, I’ll examine the characteristics of the devouring mother archetype, how to spot if a devouring mother raised you, and how to heal from it. But first, a quick recap on archetypes.
What Αre the Archetypes?
The devouring mother archetype derives from psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s Archetypes. Jung’s Archetypes are 12 distinct personalities, sharing common character traits which we easily recognize.
There are distinct groups within the Mother Archetypes:
- The Great Mother represents Mother Nature, fertility, and maternal instinct.
- The Bad Mother is known in fairy-tales as the evil stepmother causing harm.
- The Adopted Mother takes care of people around her.
So, what’s the Devouring Mother Archetype?
What Is the Devouring Mother Archetype? The Definition
“The Devouring Mother ‘consumes’ her children psychologically and emotionally and often instills in them feelings of guilt at leaving her or becoming independent.” Caroline Myss
The devouring mother wants to keep her children all to herself out of the need to protect them from the real world or stop them from leaving her.
She can feel a genuine desire to safeguard her children from societal evils and dangers. Or, she might be so insecure and afraid of loneliness that she cannot bear her children to leave her.
The overprotective devouring mother infantilizes her children, keeping them in a permanently childlike state. She ensures her children cannot function in the adult world, leaving them reliant on her and unable to live independent lives.
The insecure devouring mother makes her children feel guilty if they dare to create a life of their own. Her children learn that life revolves around their mother, and cannot function in a world she doesn’t control.
This type of devouring mother archetype stems from a fear of being left alone. She needs to be needed and her children are the perfect candidates. She places her emotional needs above her children’s growth and welfare.
In both cases, as the devouring mother exerts more and more control over her children, she forces them to become dependent on her. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as they become more reliant on her, she relies more on them. It turns into a vicious circle. Neither party can exit.
Characteristics of the Devouring Mother Archetype
The devouring mother goes to any lengths to keep her child safe from harm. She might prevent them mixing with other children, home-school them, forbid them to play outside the house or attend after-school clubs. This stymies the child’s development into healthy adulthood.
This overprotective nature can turn into controlling behavior, especially if children rebel. The mother restricts her children even more from the perceived dangers of the outside world. She exerts control over every aspect of their lives.
Young children are easy to control, but as they get older, they can question rules and restrictions. The devouring mother may resort to manipulation tactics to explain or coerce desired behaviors. She may say things like,
‘This is for your own good’ or ‘I’m doing this for the best.’
When a parent is overly involved in their child’s life, identities become blurred. The child’s achievements are their achievements, the child’s goals become their goals, and so on. The parent loses their sense of self because they’re directing all their effort into their child.
It takes time, effort, and energy to control your child’s every move. It’s natural for a woman with the devouring mother archetype to neglect her own needs. When your child is your absolute priority, it’s easy to forget to look after yourself.
When you give up everything for your child, you can use this as another form of control and manipulation.
‘Look what I sacrificed for you. Look at everything I gave up raising you. Now, you owe me.’
The child is the devouring mother’s world. So, she learns to rely on her child for support, both emotionally, financially, and psychologically. This puts an unnecessary and unnatural burden on the child, who should find their own way in life, not care-take their own mother.
11 Signs of Living with a Devouring Mother
- You are afraid of growing up
- You find it difficult to maintain relationships
- You depend on your mother
- You end up in codependent relationships
- You prioritize your mother’s needs over yours
- You feel guilty if you put your needs first
- You need approval from your mother for everything
- You feel worthless without your mother
- You compare girlfriends to your mother
- Your mother is jealous of your friends
- You do everything you can to keep your mother happy
How to Heal from a Devouring Mother?
Mothers do not own their children because they gave birth to them. You cannot own another person, nor can you rely on that person for your happiness.
It’s okay to say no
You are not responsible for your mother. There is a natural order for things. The parent raises the child; the child becomes independent from the parent and so the circle continues. We have separate identities from our parents.
While it is natural to feel a sense of duty to elderly parents whose health has deteriorated, you still have your own life to lead. You cannot sacrifice yourself on the altar of a needy parent.
Get time apart
Sometimes we are too involved in a situation to see the problem objectively. You may need to step away for a few weeks or months to give yourself a chance to heal. After all, if you hurt your arm, you’d rest it to mend it. If you keep using it, you’ll only make it worse.
If your mother calls every day or ‘pops’ over to visit, make it clear this is to stop. She is welcome with an invitation, and you cannot speak to her daily. Make her understand this doesn’t mean you don’t love her, you just need your own space.
Understand you can’t fill her void
Her happiness is not your problem. Even if she blames you, those are her shortcomings, not yours. You cannot be everything and everyone to her. You are just wasting your life if you try.
Find positive mentors
I didn’t have a great relationship with my mother, but when I was younger, I met an older lady who acted as a mentor for me. I watched how she interacted with her children and saw the things she taught them. It gave me a different perspective to model myself from.
Sometimes the only recourse is to move out and rid yourself of her toxic behaviors. This is difficult if you are under the same roof. She can insert herself into your life and carry on controlling you. Moving out creates distance both physically and psychologically.
Use ‘I statements’ to avoid assigning blame
It’s easy to say things like ‘You’re always on my case’ or ‘You’re so needy’. This just points the finger and apportions blame. Instead, ‘I statements’ focus on your needs and take the emphasis off blaming someone. Saying ‘I need space’ or ‘I don’t have time to speak to you every day’ shifts from blame to owning the situation.
Sometimes the problems are so entrenched only a professional can help unpick them. You might not change your mother’s behavior, but you can understand it more and change how you react to it.
There are many reasons mothers adopt the devouring mother archetype. While it can damage the child, with help and positive role models, you can learn to grow and function healthily.
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