Mother Hunger’s Lingering Effects
October 11, 2022
By Wesley Gallagher
Mothers are important. They are the first relationship we all have. Even if you never knew your mother, she still carried you in her womb for 40 weeks before you were born. And as you probably know very well, your relationship with your mother, or lack thereof, plays an integral role in your formative childhood years. But what you may not realize is that the effects of this relationship linger well into adulthood, greatly impacting your mental health and ability to have healthy relationships.
What Is Mother Hunger?
“Mother hunger” is a term coined by Kelly McDaniel, a licensed professional counselor and sex addiction therapist who introduced the concept in her 2008 book, Ready to Heal. While everyone is affected by their relationship with their mother, she specifically focuses on the mother-daughter relationship. Her most recent book, Mother Hunger, dives even deeper into this phenomenon.
“Maternal love is our first experience of what love feels like,” writes McDaniel, “and the maternal care we receive informs how we feel about ourselves throughout life.”
According to her, mothers provide daughters with three vital developmental needs:
- Nurturing – Daughters need affection, comfort, and loving touch from their mothers.
- Protection – Daughters need to know that their mothers will protect them from potentially dangerous situations or people.
- Guidance – Daughters need to be able to come to their mothers for advice and help in making important life decisions.
If one of these three needs is missing, a daughter will grow up with an aching sense of worthlessness, loneliness, and longing for something more. This early lack of attachment can have a devastating impact on a girl’s self-esteem and her ability to have healthy relationships as an adult.
“Many of us mistake mother hunger for a craving for romantic love,” writes McDaniel. “But in truth, we are longing for the love we didn’t receive during our formative moments, months, and years.”
Even loving, well-meaning mothers can miss one of these developmental needs as they raise their daughters. Mother hunger is passed intergenerationally, as daughters learn to love in the same way their mothers loved them, and a mother can’t give her daughter what she doesn’t have.
The Effects of an Emotionally Absent Mother
The mother hunger that comes from having an emotionally absent mother can have long-term effects. Many do not recognize their mother hunger until later in life as they struggle to maintain healthy relationships with others.
Rachel Margolis, a certified life coach from Texas, discusses on our Recovery Replay podcast the effects of having an absent mother as a child. Her parents divorced when she was 2, and her father gained custody of her and her brother after her mom attempted suicide.
She was supposed to visit her mother every summer, but one summer, after only two weeks, her mom put her on a plane back to her father. She didn’t see her again until she was 18.
“So I had that abandonment from my mom,” says Margolis, “and then there was the rejection from my stepmom.” Her dad remarried when she was 4, and it was evident from early on that her stepmother was jealous of the attention her father gave her. “I would try to reach out because I was so desperate and so starved for attention, for any kind of attention,” but there was nothing, Margolis says. “There was just coldness. She didn’t even acknowledge my existence.”
This rejection from both her mother and her stepmother led to a number of issues as Margolis grew up. As she learned to deal with the rejection, she developed maladaptive coping behaviors. Because of the messages she had received from a young age that she was not worthy of anyone’s attention, she held on to deep shame for even existing.
“You question everything you think and everything you feel,” Margolis says. “It’s hard to know who you are as a person.”
As she got older, Margolis experienced abuse from several people in her life, including her first husband. Because her first and most important relationships, with her mother and stepmother, were distant and abusive, she never learned that she was worthy of anything but abuse and neglect. She battled depression and used alcohol to self-medicate. It took years for her to heal from the early wounding of her mother figures. It wasn’t until she met her second husband and eventually started recovery that she truly began to heal.
Hope and Healing Is Possible
If you didn’t get what you needed from your mother when you were younger, you may feel like there’s no hope to recover what was lost at such a young age. Fortunately, we are much more resilient than most of us realize, and it is possible to heal from childhood trauma and its impacts.
If you or a woman you know is struggling from the effects of childhood trauma, Willow House at The Meadows is here to help. We help women who are struggling with relationships, mental health, addiction, and much more. Using McDaniel’s Ready to Heal as one of our resources, our highly trained professionals will help you dive into your own mother hunger issues and free yourself from the chains of unwanted behaviors that stem from it. Our safe, nurturing environment will allow you to heal from childhood wounds and learn to live a life of wholeness. Reach out today to learn more.