How I Survived and Thrived Despite the Lack of My Mother's Love

Caroline de Braganza

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I remember the session. My therapist perceived when she could be brutally honest with me. This was one of those times.

“You didn’t have your mother’s love when you were a child. Accept you will never get it - it’s time to move past that.”

My first reaction was hurt. How could she say that? It took a few days to sink in until I’d adjusted to accepting there were events (or non-events) that I had no power to change.

How we fool ourselves that we’re “over it”!

At the time I was in my early 40s.

Ten Years After

In 1999, I’d started therapy again as I wasn’t coping.

Then I received a letter dripping with love from my mother, inviting me to come back to the UK, she’d look after me until I got back on my feet with a job etc. (Hubby and I had closed our business and times were tough.) I caught the bait - hook, line and sinker.

I mentioned the letter to my therapist and told her I’d accepted the invitation.

It horrified her.

“Don’t go,” she said. “Surely you don’t believe what she’s written.”

There I was, falling for mother’s sticky sweetness again; hope, tinged with desperation, drove me to dig in my heels.

“I have to do this. I want to try one last time. If I don’t, I’ll never know. Maybe she’s mellowed with age.”

I still craved a happy ever after fairy tale come true.

This false hope lingered.

Here is a response by a reader of Peg Streep’s article “Unloved Daughters” on Psychology Today:

“It’s my own hopefulness that gets in the way. I get all hopeful that my mother will suddenly change and treat me well and, even though I know that’s nothing more than wishful thinking, I get sucked in anyway. I end up feeling as devastated at 35 as I did at the age of 15.”

This will be the last time

Mother started her nonsense the moment she spotted me in the Arrivals Hall at Heathrow.

“My God, you look like a hippy. We must do something with your hair. I’ve hired a limousine and driver so we can drive home in style.”

I endured another four days under her control before I packed my bags (and guitar) and left. A terrifying and traumatic last interlude which brought back the pain and terror I had endured under her reign until the age of seven, when my Dad (God Bless him) took my brother and I away from her clutches, divorced her, got custody, and transferred us to South Africa.

I worked six months in the UK, then returned to South Africa in November 1999. Despite an NHS doctor having diagnosed my depression (my fourth episode), I was optimistic my joy of being back home would kill it.

Home Sweet Home

“A mother’s love is something that should be evident, offered freely and prized above many other things in life. Yes, a father’s love is important, but it’s the mother who holds the newborn infant close and serves as the first real attachment. To girls, the absence of a mother’s love is something so traumatic that it can’t be put into simple words.” Sherrie Hurd - The Minds Journal.

On Christmas Eve, visiting friends, I had the worst anxiety attack ever. We stayed over that night; it would be a lie to say I slept. I was fragile, breakable.

The next morning, stepping outside to drive home, an unfamiliar experience presented - agoraphobia. I spent the entire journey home curled up on the passenger seat with my arms locked over my head.

Long story short, I spent seven weeks at a psychiatric clinic in January/February 2000, handling and healing my unresolved emotional issues, most of which centred on my relationship with my mother. Computers didn’t crash as we entered the new millennium - only me.

Part of the ritual of release was to write her a letter expressing everything I wanted to tell her but never had. Pouring those words onto 20-plus A4 pages killed the virus of this toxic relationship lurking in my psyche.

Better yet, the closing act of the ritual was to burn the letter. Every negative emotion linked to my mother went up in flames that day. Never to return.

I divorced my mother, just as Dad decades earlier.

How I survive and thrive without a mother’s love

I know I’m not the only survivor. Neglected daughters have worked hard (or still are) on the issues that arise from this lack of maternal nurturing.

This is what I learned during therapy about the possible psychological effects:

  • Lack of confidence and self-esteem
  • Lack ability to trust
  • Difficult setting boundaries (saying no)
  • Blame ourselves for being treated badly (something wrong with me)
  • May believe we’ll never succeed
  • Feeling insecure
  • Overly sensitive
  • Feel we don’t belong anywhere
  • Unconcscious thoughts dominated by fear of failure
  • We don’t deserve love
  • Love is a transaction - we have to earn and it can be taken away
  • We choose toxic friends and partners
  • Find if difficult to let go of toxic relationships
  • Avoid befriending other women

Years ago, I could tick all those boxes - not any more!

Most times now, I no longer regard a loving mother and daughter with envy. I don’t regret the lack of a maternal cheerleader to encourage and praise me. No yearning for memorable mother/daughter moments that never were.

(I understand and accept that I based my decision not to bear children on a flawed argument - that I’d be a shitty to my kids too. My therapist says I would have made a wonderful mother.)

I defied my therapist by visiting my mother but understand she wanted to protect me.

Now I love myself. Who needs a praise-singer when I’ve got me? No therapy for 20 years. Now my completeness depends on nobody but me and God (who always has my back).

We’re a formidable team!

I still react occasionally because the scars never disappear. Mothers’ Day, media hype showing joyful mothers and daughters, or the thousands of quotes on loving your mother can still trigger envy.

I bless them and wish them well. But that’s not me. I don’t belong there. I no longer resent them.

Most of the time, I’m okay with being neither a mother nor a loving daughter.

When I first heard this song by John Lennon (RIP) in 1970, I burst into tears because it struck a chord deep in my heart.

Lack of a mother’s love can devastate you, but with the right guidance, you can steer a fresh course and live a fulfilling life.

I did—so can you.

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