It stands to reason that if you grew up in a loving family environment, you’re likely to be a well-balanced individual. But if you had an emotionally abusive mother, what would the signs be?
Before we list the signs of an emotionally abusive mother, let’s talk about the different types of maternal attachment. It wasn’t until the late 1940’s that researchers, in particular, John Bowlby, started exploring the significance of the maternal role in child development. Bowlby coined the phrase ‘Attachment Theory,’ which stipulated that for a child to grow up as a healthy and well-balanced individual, it was necessary to experience a warm and loving relationship with its mother.
However, not all children have this warm relationship. Some experience neglect, they are ignored, they are frightened, they can even be smothered with affection.
Bowlby believed that there were four types of attachment:
When a mother fulfils all its child’s needs and the child forms a strong and healthy loving bond, then this is a secure attachment. The mother is consistent with her behaviour towards the child and sensitive to its needs.
The child feels secure enough to explore its surroundings without the mother nearby. Although it will be distressed when the mother is gone, it is soon placated upon her return. These children grow into healthy individuals.
When a mother is distant and unresponsive to her child’s needs, the child becomes anxious and distrusts the mother. The child acts indifferently to the mother and does not trust them to fulfil their needs. They are not confident enough to explore their surroundings without the mother and act emotionally indifferent upon her return.
These children grow up to be quite emotionless in their relationships and often swing from clingy behaviour to outright hostility.
A mother that is sometimes responsive and at other times neglectful sends mixed messages to her child in that she cannot be trusted.
These children never know where they stand and show a mixture of helplessness and resentment towards the mother. Growing up they are likely to be passive-aggressive and show signs of insecurity.
When a mother swings between two extremes, such as smothering their child with love and then acting aggressively, children do not know how to react in these circumstances. They can be depressed, violent, passive or apathetical.
They are likely to grow into individuals with no boundaries, who manipulate others for their own benefit and can fly off the handle at the slightest provocation.
What are the signs of an emotionally abusive mother?
So these are the attachment types and how they affect the child during childhood and growing up. But what would the outer signs look like for those with an emotionally abusive mother?
You lack a strong identity
Those who experienced an anxious-ambivalent attachment would not have received the encouragement or support from their mother which goes into creating a person’s sense of identity. They would need constant validation from others as they did not receive from their mothers.
You don’t trust people
If you grew up with an anxious-avoidant insecure attachment with your mother, it is not surprising that you do not trust people around you. The very first person that should show you how to trust and make you feel secure should have been your mother. With her ever-changing behaviour and responses, you are always going to distrustful of others.
You are overly loving and forgiving
Sometimes children who received an abusive childhood can turn out to be overly loving and forgiving easily. This is typical of a child who has had a disorganized/disoriented attachment, as they won’t want to inflict this behaviour on their own children.
You are cold and manipulative
Those who had a disorganized/disoriented attachment are often master manipulators and feel cold when it comes to others, especially within their own family. This is particularly true if they have been smothered with love and then completely ignored.
You are childlike and immature
If you had a mother that ignored or was indifferent to you, you might become trapped in a child’s perception and never really grow up.
This is typical of those who had an anxious-avoidant insecure attachment with their mother. Quite often this childlike feeling will continue into adulthood where the mother still exerts some control over you.
You find it hard to control your emotions
Frequent outbursts are a sign that your emotions are bottled up inside. This could be because you had a disorganized/disoriented attachment with your mother which made you wary of showing any signs of emotion. As a child, it was better to keep quiet but now that you are an adult you cannot keep these thoughts and feelings trapped inside.
We might have not had the best of childhoods and we could have been the victim of an emotionally abusive mother, but that doesn’t mean we cannot change for the better. If your mother was emotionally abusive and you resonate with some of our signs, it’s not too late to get some help.