Many adult daughters have had a life-long struggle to emotionally connect with their mothers.

Many are confused as to why even simple interactions with their mothers can feel exhausting, draining, and even infuriating in moments. They describe how their mothers may display lovely qualities at times, such as gratitude when you take her to a doctor’s appointment or when she offers to help with the dishes during a dinner party. This makes it even more bewildering when, even in the face of seemingly benign interactions, you perceive darker undertones that your mother seems unaware of, such as unspoken aggression, thinly-veiled criticism, or manipulative attention-seeking, which can stir up feelings of anger, grief and emptiness in you as her daughter.

It’s frustrating because the mother seems unconscious of the deeper motivations of her behavior and often appears to resist becoming conscious of them.


We want to assume the best about our mothers and give them the benefit of the doubt. Thus, it’s common for adult daughters to blame themselves when they feel frustration or anger at their mothers’ behavior. Yet the reason for her behavior is not in your control and nor is it anything that you can fix.

For many women, it can be shocking to realize that your mother may be what psychotherapist Lindsay Gibson calls “Emotionally Immature,” which involves operating from a younger developmental age on an emotional level. This can manifest as coming from a more primitive level of awareness, such as from a place of self-protection, self-absorption and even power-over, which characterizes the behavior of young children or teenagers. Basically it’s accepting that your mother operates more like a wounded child inside an adult body.

As adult daughters we may understandably resist this realization for many reasons:

  • Because we’re conditioned to look up to our mothers since childhood.
  • Because we long for our mothers to be able to offer guidance and wisdom.
  • Because this realization can feel abandoning to the child in us who simply wants to experience feeling loved and accepted by your mother.
  • Because this realization may trigger the original feelings of powerlessness, loneliness or despair from childhood that was buffered by the childlike hope that one day she could be different.

Your mother’s  level of emotional maturity will override your efforts to create more depth in the relationship. This is something we can only grieve and accept.

It can feel like a mystery at first because the adult daughter tries many different approaches including exploring shared interests, being very accommodating, offering to be more available or trying to be generous in time, money, or emotional energy. Often, none of it produces the results that the adult-daughter is hoping for because 1)  the daughter is doing all or most of the work and 2) because the mother may not be emotionally mature enough to have the kind of meaningful connection you are longing for.

We’re sold a version of mother-daughter connection that may not be possible for us.


We are surrounded by images in the media including movies, commercials, sitcoms, novels and advertisements depicting mothers and daughters who are close, talk about everything, and feel like best friends. And it’s normal and natural to want to have this kind of connection with your mother that the culture promotes as it also reflects what we’ve been hoping for since childhood.

When we don’t have this ideal relationship with our mothers, it can cause us to feel shame or guilt, like “I must be doing something wrong, otherwise why can’t I have that connection with my own mom?” And so adult daughters often go back to trying something else only to feel even further depleted, confused and stuck. It becomes a painful cycle.

Recognizing the signs of emotional immaturity is key to breaking the cycle of blaming ourselves, feeling stuck, and continuing to keep going back to the “empty well” of our mothers hoping and wishing that maybe this time she’ll be different.

Manifestations of Emotional Immaturity in mothers can include things like…

  • Only surface-level conversations are possible; reporting on what has happened or is happening
  • Petty behaviors, gossip, backbiting, retaliation, revenge or just drama of some kind
  • Rigidity in views, black or white views of right or wrong
  • May have been authoritarian or ascribe to old school parenting styles
  • Resistant to seeing you as a full adult, you’ll always be a child to her.
  • Not interested in inner work or self-examination, dismisses therapy or self-help
  • Attention-seeking and image-management strongly influence her intentions and behaviors
  • Won’t accept help or help herself but will complain often and loudly
  • Constantly under stress or in crisis, feels helpless or victimized
  • Seems spooked by deep emotions, doesn’t want to “work through” conflict
  • Doesn’t understand why people don’t “get over it” and move on
  • Prefers to “push things under the rug” and pretend things are fine
  • Critical of you, surveys, compares and evaluates you to some degree
  • Doesn’t put in any effort to see you, can’t be bothered, always an excuse
  • Is very anxious and would like to be in constant contact with you
  • You feel you have to do most of the work in the relationship, it’s all on you
  • Feels entitled or indignant that you’re not seeing her enough, guilt-trips are common
  • She’s more kind to you the worse you’re doing; when you’re well, she’s distant

Emotionally Immature Mothers may be mature or more developed in other areas.

Over the past 10 years of coaching women on the journey of healing the Mother Wound, I have encountered dozens of emotionally immature mothers of my clients who are successful and have high social status in their communities including being medical doctors, psychiatrists, novelists, politicians, CEOs, actors, political activists, public figures and so much more.

This is part of why emotional immaturity can be so confusing for adult daughters. They say, “How can my mother be so bright, aware, even brilliant in other areas of her life and still be so emotionally primitive, childish and resistant to change, growth and self-reflection in her relationships?” The reason is because emotional immaturity can coexist with higher development in other areas of oneself and one’s life. Both can be true.

I recall one terrible day when my mother was attacking me over email while I was at work. That day my colleagues and I were required to attend a presentation on the topic of conflict resolution, which was the very same process that my own mother was a professional trainer of. The irony was intense, as though the universe was putting right into my face the painful contrast between who my mother was professionally and who she was emotionally.

I remember feeling “How could my mother be a professional trainer of conflict resolution AND at the same time, be speaking to me privately over email as if she was a bully on a playground, hurling insults, taunting me with criticism and defiantly telling me I’m no longer her daughter?” It was almost too painful, disorienting and confusing to bear.

Emotionally immature mothers with limited emotional capacity tend to see their daughters not so much as separate, sovereign, individual human beings, but more like extensions of themselves.

Emotionally Immature mothers may see their daughters as many things including as a…


  • Competitor or threat to her place at the top. She may “one-up” you or knock you down to size
  • Friend to party with or gossip with, tell her problems to, or call anytime on a whim
  • Pet: Someone to always agree with her, entertain her, be physically around her often
  • Trophy: Someone to bring her adulation, pride, a prop to augment her self-esteem
  • Mother: Someone to fix her messes, soothe her fears, tell her everything will be OK
  • Furniture: A burden, a bore, taking up space, a nuisance, a bother, a chore, a problem

These are dehumanizing and painful roles yet because she is our mother and we grew up with nothing else to compare it to, we continue to tolerate it and the relationship becomes something that must be endured, which erodes our self-esteem and sets us up to have other relationships with similar dynamics with romantic partners, friends, coworkers, etc.

Examples of Behaviors from Emotionally Immature mothers that cause pain: 


  • Talking over you, interrupting you, bringing all the attention back to herself
  • Dismissing your feelings as not important, yet takes up all the space in the room
  • Doesn’t really want to get to know you, not interested in your life or your experiences
  • Minimizing you, putting you down, encouraging you to doubt or question yourself
  • Making you feel guilty for natural needs or feelings or boundaries
  • Wants to take you down a peg; making sure you don’t get too “big for your britches”
  • Sees your genuine efforts to improve the relationship as you thinking you’re “superior” to her
  • Feels entitled to say horrible, nasty things to you when she feels sad or bad.
  • Feels entitled to your time and energy with no awareness of how that impacts you
  • Can act like a petulant child who resists helping herself or accepting your help
  • Can cause a scene when she feels she is “ignored” or not getting enough attention
  • Is blind to her role in creating negative outcomes, blames others and resists reflecting on herself and her behavior.
  • Sees your feelings as obstacles and wants them to go away
  • Sees a good daughter as a compliant, dutiful daughter who doesn’t say much
  • Resistant to receiving feedback or improving relationships
  • Sees your individuality as a liability and something to downplay
  • Is a user, a taker, and doesn’t feel compelled to reciprocate
  • Can be very good at performing and displaying motherly behaviors in public

Emotionally Immature mothers define things differently from those who are emotionally mature:

  • Love is seen as enmeshment, not as understanding and connection
  • Loyalty is seen as compliance and following obligation without complaint
  • Vulnerability is seen as a shameful weakness and not a strength
  • Strength is seen as defiance, obstinance, and resistance towards others and life
  • An enemy is seen as someone who doesn’t agree with her (“You’re either with me or against me”)

This is why sometimes it can feel like you’re speaking two different languages with your mother.

No matter how much you try to explain, to help her understand, she may still view YOUR behavior, (even honesty or kindness) as a form of attack on her. For example, her definition of love may not include boundaries or understanding, so when you seek to create those she sees you as pushing her away, condescending to her or questioning her motives.

You may have excused these behaviors over the years in many different ways:


  • “She is my mother, I have to tolerate it, I only have one mother.”
  • “She has suffered a lot in her life, if I can lift her burden I will.”
  • “She’s always been this way, I can’t do anything about it.”
  • “She raised me, I owe her whatever I can give.”
  • “I’m being a good daughter when I am patient and don’t make waves.”
  • “She has really great moments; I need to keep hoping she can be more of that.”

However, after seeing your mother you may go into a “slump” for hours, days or weeks in which you may find yourself doubting yourself, your choices and your life in general. This is a sign that it’s time to create more boundaries and new narratives for yourself that support your wellbeing, which may include limiting time with your mother and becoming more strategic in how you show up in the interactions with her. Therapy, community support and coaching can help.

“Why is she like this?” Emotional immaturity has many factors…


Emotionally immature people feel anxiety and are motivated to keep bad feelings away that make them feel insecure about themselves. They don’t want to feel like a bad person and avoid situations, thoughts and feelings that may induce the overwhelm of feeling uncomfortable, painful feelings.

Our mothers became emotionally immature innocently as children due to their own upbringing which may have been characterized by fear, hypervigilance, abuse and neglect. Yet as adult daughters, we must take measures to protect ourselves from the negative impact that they are unconscious of. This is part of creating healthy emotional differentiation with our mothers, stepping into our sovereignty, and becoming the primary caretaker of our inner children. This leads to greater self-worth, more self-respect and generally more joy, lightness and peace in your life.

“Why does this hurt so much?” Because to a child, a mother’s love IS equivalent to self-love.


Growing up as kids, our mothers’ capacity to help us to feel loved, valued and supported was the original template for loving ourselves as adults. As children, we needed her to see us and love us FIRST. A mother’s mirroring and consistent loving support is the raw material for the creation of a sense of “self” in a child.

If our mothers were emotionally immature or dysfunctional in some way, as kids we naturally came to the false conclusion: “If mommy can’t love me or see me, I must be really bad and I have to work harder to get her to see me clearly. I will eventually get it right and she will finally see me, and we’ll have the happy-ending relationship I’ve been longing for.”

This false belief serves us as a helpful illusion, a kind of “life-raft” during childhood to buffer us from the painful ruptures or devastating experiences of rejection, neglect or abandonment from our mothers that would have been too overwhelming and excruciating to bear otherwise.

In adulthood this false conclusion may still be operating in the background, causing us to feel held hostage to an impossible dream of our mother one day seeing us when this may be truly impossible. We can’t “make” someone see us clearly. As adults we can realize that we don’t have that kind of power.

Your mother’s “withholding” of love for you can feel as though she’s withholding permission for you to love yourself.


In the context of child development, seeing oneself as “good” WAS contingent upon our moms loving us first. I put “withholding” in quotes because the truth of the matter is often that the love we sought and needed from our mothers, may be something she does NOT possess in the first place to give to us.

In other words, she’s not withholding love from you, she simply doesn’t have it to give to you in the first place. This is an important thing to grieve.

It’s both Sad and Liberating to realize that….

  • Your mother is emotionally immature and is literally incapable of seeing you clearly.
  • She can’t truly know you on a deep level that you may have been longing for.
  • This is impersonal. Emotional capacity is a byproduct of their own development.
  • You haven’t been doing anything wrong. No matter how much you explain yourself, it falls on deaf ears. She can’t help it. She can’t be different.
  • There is nothing you can do to expand her emotional capacity or to make her emotionally mature, only she can affect change in that area, and she has to want that for herself.
  • Your mother has primitive impulses and motivations that are based on self-preservation, not on higher values like love, integrity and authentic connection. Allowing her to be at the level she is at, without needing her to change, is a gift to her AND to yourself.
  • Whatever level of loving maternal energy you are craving from her since childhood can only come from within yourself, as she is incapable of providing that.
  • Your level of connection with your mother will likely be quite surface, superficial, and not very meaningful.
  • Your inner child needs YOU to be the mother you’ve always longed for. This is empowering because you are much more capable than your mother ever was.

The good news is that childhood is over and as an adult you can now do the inner work to DE-COUPLE your self-worth from your mother’s treatment towards you. This is essential work.

Some important mindsets to cultivate Emotional Differentiation from your mother:

  • Your goodness remains intact even if your mother can’t or won’t see it.
  • You are the expert on yourself, not your mother.
  • You’re not a failure for not being able to create a meaningful connection with her.
  • You get to prioritize your own values and integrity over your mother’s opinions.
  • Your mother’s views are hers and not reflective of Reality or Life in general.
  • Your boundaries are NOT a form of ingratitude toward your mother.
  • Her emotional immaturity is NOT PERSONAL and has nothing to do with you.
  • Grieving leads to freedom and permission to love yourself no matter what your mother does or says

Grieving is the bridge from childhood pain to adult liberation

As you grieve you can realize that it’s empowering and freeing to let your mother be wrong about you without rushing to defend yourself from her misperceptions. Part of grieving is getting support for yourself and also supporting the child in you that must give up the impossible dream of an ideal relationship with your mom. In that process you gradually become the mother to yourself that you’ve always longed for.

We can come to rest in the peace of knowing our true worth even in the face of her distorted view of us.

There is empowerment in accepting the fact that it’s not that she WON’T be different; it’s that she literally CAN’T be different.

There is peace to be found in letting your mother be wrong about you.

The freedom we give our mothers to NOT understand us is the same freedom we give ourselves to be fully authentic and happy in our own lives, just as we are. Space, lightness and peace open up in new ways. It takes commitment, persistence and support to get here. Every step is worth it!

As we grieve, let go and come to a place of acceptance, we discover we don’t need her to see us accurately or understand us in the way we truly did need her to when we were children. In this way, we also let go of this pressure on other people in our lives as well.

We become our own primary source of support gradually as we heal, grieve and let go. This allows us to feel a sense of “HOME” within ourselves no matter what is happening outside in the outer world and invites higher quality connections to come into our lives. 

We begin to see that our wellbeing is not contingent upon other people behaving a certain way. This brings joy, freedom and inner peace. You deserve this.

This is a process and takes time. Be patient and gentle with yourself. You got this!

Questions for Reflection: 

  1. Do you see emotional immaturity in your mother? If so, how? What manifestations stand out?
  2. What have been the most challenging aspects of your relationship with your mother lately?
  3. What would it be like to give up “the impossible dream” of your mother changing? How would you approach the relationship differently?
  4. Consider your ideal relationship with your mother. Knowing her limitations, what kind of boundaries or requests would you prefer in order to support yourself?
  5. It’s normal to feel sad, mad and disappointed when realizing your mother may be emotionally immature. What aspects of this create grief for you? Make space for any feelings that come up.
  6. Many women report feeling a sense of relief when realizing that they are not responsible for their mothers and can’t change or fix her in any way. Does this resonate with you? Write about this in your journal. How might this free up your own energy to stop going to the “empty well” and focus on your own wellbeing?
  7. What are your main takeaways from this article?

Would you like more support with this?


I invite you to enroll in my brand new mini-course called “How to Deal With & Heal From an Emotionally Immature Mother.”  I invite you to step into this powerful healing journey today!

Here are some resources for further exploration, including recommended reading and online resources…