Emotionally Absent Mothers: 10 Ways for Their Damaged Daughters to Build Female Friendships

Updated on April 25, 2018
letstalkabouteduc profile image

After struggling with depression and anxiety most of my life, I'm now dedicated to becoming a stronger person who lives life to the fullest.

Daughters of Emotionally Absent Mothers: A History of Our Feelings Being Denied

Thirty years ago, before it became a popular procedure, I had breast augmentation. I was a shy woman in my 20s with low self-esteem who'd been teased mercilessly by a boy in high school. He'd look me over and comment: “you're a carpenter's dream...a flat board...you're a pirate's treasure... a sunken chest.” While we may call that sexual harassment or bullying by today's standards, it was just the way things were in the late '70s when girls felt too powerless to call out such behavior and instead internalized the hurt.

After having surgery, I asked my mother to not tell anyone about it. I felt self-conscious, and she assured me she would keep it private. But, when I met her newest boyfriend, he mentioned that his daughter had breast implants as well. I was humiliated. I confronted my mom about the betrayal, but she laughed it off, saying I was being ridiculous and it was no big deal.

Daughters of emotionally absent mothers fear that other women will deny their feelings just as their mom had. But, when they turn away from female friendships, they feel lonely and depressed.
Daughters of emotionally absent mothers fear that other women will deny their feelings just as their mom had. But, when they turn away from female friendships, they feel lonely and depressed. | Source

Daughters of Emotionally Absent Mothers Bottle Up Their Emotions

That was just one instance of many that illustrates my life as the daughter of an emotionally absent mother. Many of these moms, such as my own, lack empathy and can't connect with their daughter's feelings. In many cases, some trauma in their own childhood caused them to shut down and not relate well to others in the affective realm. They ignore their daughters' emotions, mock them, and rebuke them but never acknowledge them, causing great hurt and frustration.

This had been my mother's pattern since I was a little girl. I learned at a young age that my feelings didn't matter. They were dumb, and it was best to keep them bottled up inside of me. Because of my mother's constant repudiation of my emotions, I developed a profound distrust of all women. After all, if my own mother belittled my feelings, wouldn't other women do the same? I was too scared to take that risk.

Yet, being disconnected from other women, proved too high a price to pay as I suffered from depression and loneliness. Fortunately, I started to read Jasmin Lee Cori's The Emotionally Absent Mother and within those pages found the sisterhood I always wanted and needed. I read all I could on the subject and discovered how other daughters in my situation also found it hard to trust women. Many forced themselves to do it, though, pushing through their fears and convincing me to do the same. Here are 10 ways I went about building female friendships after being hurt and frightened for so long:

1. I Did the Picking.

In the past, the only women in my sphere were those who took the initiative, muscling their way into my life because they needed something from me. They were damaged people, wanting me to listen endlessly to their many problems. They drained me. When I became stronger, I decided to pick my own friends. I chose women who were emotionally healthy and could engage in a reciprocal relationship. They were people who challenged me to become the best version of myself.

2. I Stayed in Control.

Strong women with self-esteem end a friendship when it's not a match. We daughters of emotionally absent mothers, though, often struggle to extricate ourselves from bad relationships. Although we feel trapped in them, we don't want to hurt anyone so we deny our feelings, stay put, and suffer. Once I learned how to get out of bad friendships, knowing everyone would be okay and the world wouldn't end, I had less anxiety about starting new ones.

3. I Chose Friends With Emotional Intelligence.

We gravitate towards the familiar and often get into relationships that replicate our childhood. I did that with friendships, finding women who were emotionally distant like my mother. Unconsciously, I was trying to relive our mother-daughter relationship and fix it. But, I always got hurt when those so-called friends bulldozed my feelings, acting as if they didn't matter. When I recognized this destructive pattern and changed it, I began choosing women with emotional intelligence—self-aware, empathetic, supportive, kind, and humorous. I finally experienced what it meant to have true friends and never wanted to be without them again.

4. I Chose Friends With Healthy Habits.

I looked for friends who wanted the best for themselves and for me. In the past, I had friends who complained about their husbands, criticized their kids, and bemoaned their jobs. Their idea of fun was going out eating, drinking, and smoking. Because I wasn't yet strong enough, I went along with them even though it wasn't my scene. Now I seek out women who enjoy activities that promote their well-being: walking, hiking, swimming, going to the movies, and having stimulating conversations about politics and current events.

Daughters of emotionally absent mothers need to consciously look for female friends who are different than their moms--supportive, empathetic, and whole.
Daughters of emotionally absent mothers need to consciously look for female friends who are different than their moms--supportive, empathetic, and whole. | Source

5. I Started a Book Club.

Because it was crucial I chose my friends and felt in control, I started a monthly book club. I invited women from work, the neighborhood, and my sons' school to attend once a month at my home. I knew the ones interested in coming would be intelligent women who enjoyed reading, thinking, and discussing issues in-depth. It was a huge success, and I made quality friendships that continue to this day.

6. I Accepted That Rejection Was Inevitable.

Growing up with an emotionally absent mother, I felt rejected each time she dismissed my feelings. To avoid a hurtful response like that from others, I put up walls and let few enter my inner sanctum. When I admitted to myself how terrified I was of rejection, I was finally able to gain some perspective. I accepted the reality that making new friends would involve rejection; I would turn down some women and some women would turn down me. But I would survive and so would they.

7. I Gradually Opened Up Over Time.

As the daughter of an emotionally absent mother, it was hard for me to open up and reveal my authentic self. This was especially true when revealing my feelings, which I had always kept closely guarded. I felt too vulnerable and frightened to share them. When I had done so with my mother, she shut me down time and time again. By not opening up with other women, though, I prevented friendships from flourishing and kept them on a superficial level.

It can be terrifying for daughters of emotionally absent mothers to open up and be vulnerable. But, once they do, they will develop deeper female friendships that will change their lives.
It can be terrifying for daughters of emotionally absent mothers to open up and be vulnerable. But, once they do, they will develop deeper female friendships that will change their lives. | Source

8. I Decided to Be Silly.

I was so scared of rejection and betrayal in my relationships that I forgot to have fun. Friends had overburdened me throughout the years with their problems so I had come to see all women as draining. When I gained more confidence, I started asking women to do crazy adventures with me: going to the trivia night at the local pizza parlor, dressing up in costume for a half marathon, and having sleepovers at my house. I never had those kinds of adventures as a kid so they were both thrilling and therapeutic.

9. I Silenced the Negative Tapes Running in My Head.

As daughters of emotionally absent mothers, we have a lot of damaging tapes running through our heads. We have messages that say we're not worthy of having good friends. We're not worthy of taking time for ourselves to have fun and be silly. We're not worthy of getting the camaraderie that enriches our souls. When I started talking back to those messages (all of which were from my mother) and saying they were wrong, I was able to make friends and enjoy them.

10. I Chose Not to Become My Mother.

When you're the daughter of an emotionally absent mother, it's easy to get caught up in your own pain. I did that for several years, closing myself off from the people I loved the most—my husband and sons. By not responding to the needs of my family, I was becoming a lot like my mom and that was the last thing I wanted. I started to slow down my life, take more time to listen, and to be fully present--both physically and emotionally.

When Choosing a Friend, You Want to Consider Her Emotional Intelligence.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 McKenna Meyers

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      • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

        McKenna Meyers 

        9 months ago from Bend, OR

        Denise, yours is a wonderful example of how our childhoods shape us for the rest of our lives. Friendships are one of the most precious things in the world, but some of us--because of our past--have such difficulty forming them and enjoying them. Putting myself out there to make women friends is so difficult for me, and I really need to push myself. It takes a long time for my barriers to come down and trust a person. But, like you, I'm happier when I do. It's ironic because my mother has lots of friends but, of course, those relationships are very superficial like those who have 1,500 so-called friends on Facebook! Best to you.

      • denise.w.anderson profile image

        Denise W Anderson 

        9 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

        I don't remember being very close to my mother. When I talk to my sisters about my feelings, they have issues understanding how I feel, as they were much more close to her. We had several traumatic things happen in my last few years at home. My brother just older than me drowned at the age of 16, my other older brother was in an accident that left his hand deformed, and I was in an accident that nearly took my life. I remember my mother's nervous breakdown, her frequent crying spells, and her continually saying that she was not good enough. I grew up with a skewed view of what relationships are supposed to be and have had issues making friends, especially female ones, since. I like what you say here, that we can make a choice to have high quality friends. I am growing in my understanding of this and realize that I do need friends. As I reach out to others, and allow them to get to know me, I am a much happier person.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        9 months ago from Olympia, WA

        I love your honesty, and you're willingness to share your story so that others may learn. Very refreshing!

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