Mommy Issues: Meaning, Psychology and Signs

By Danielle Boland

Having a rocky relationship with your mother in childhood can lead to a lot of emotional turmoil in adulthood. Going back to the days of Freud and other prominent psychologists, experts have looked at the relationship between mothers and children to explain why people are the way they are as adults. 

Different interactions with your mother in the early years of development can cause you to have different forms of attachment to romantic partners later in life. It can also increase the likelihood of other emotional issues, such as anxiety or detachment. The interactions in a mother-child relationship and the effects they can have are sometimes referred to as “mommy issues.” 

By knowing the signs of mommy issues and understanding the types of attachment styles that can stem from the relationship with your mother, you can help determine whether you may have mommy issues.

What Are Mommy Issues?

The term “mommy issues” commonly refers to a complex relationship with one’s mother. Mommy issues result in various psychological effects, which become more apparent as someone gets older and has their own romantic relationships.

Mommy issues often stem from the way someone’s mother interacted with them while they were growing up. This does not necessarily mean that the mother was a “bad” parent, but it can mean their behavior affected the way their child sees themself and their place in the world as an adult.

The Psychology Behind Mommy Issues

From a psychological standpoint, mommy issues can relate to the kind of attachment a child forms with their mother while growing up. The different attachment styles can tell us a lot about why someone may have certain traits or issues as an adult. 

In 1944, psychotherapist John Bowlby wrote about how the attachments formed with a mother in infancy have a direct correlation to how adults behave. Researcher Mary Ainsworth worked with Bowlby and found that specific aspects of the way a mother acted with their child led to different attachment styles with children. These styles were eventually sorted into four different categories.

Attachment Styles

The four attachment types that can occur in a mother-child relationship include:

  • Secure: People with this attachment style have the ability to form secure and loving relationships with other people. This type of person was shown love as a child and felt safe and secure with their caregiver. They knew they could rely on their parents when they were sad.
  • Anxious-insecure: People with an anxious attachment style have a deeply rooted fear of abandonment. They are often insecure in their relationships and worry their partner will leave them. People with an anxious attachment style need a lot of validation and tend to be clingy or needy.
  • Avoidant-insecure: Avoidant attachment style stems from the fear of intimacy. Children who were ignored or whose feelings were invalidated by their parents tend to develop this attachment style. People with avoidant attachment tend to have a hard time developing trusting relationships where they let a partner in, and they prefer to rely on themselves for emotional support. 
  • Disorganized-insecure: Disorganized attachment is a combination of both anxious and avoidant attachment types. People who display disorganized attachment tend to be clingy for affection and their partner’s time, but they also push their partners away and feel they can’t trust them. This type of person wants and craves love but is afraid to give and receive it. 

What Causes Mommy Issues

Many psychologists and doctors say that the attachment formed with a mother is the most important connection a child will make early in their life. With this level of importance, it is only natural that an unhealthy relationship or experience with your mother will lead to emotional issues in the future. 

If someone’s needs were met as a child, they most likely developed a healthy attachment style and are able to have healthy relationships as adults. In some circumstances, such as in cases of abuse or neglect, children are forced to develop emotional coping mechanisms to survive. This may cause a negative attachment style in the future, which will show up in later romantic relationships. 

5 Signs of Mommy Issues

Everyone can experience mommy issues differently depending on their own circumstances, emotional capacity, coping skills and support growing up. It is important to know the different signs so you can learn whether you are experiencing mommy issues. 

1. Clinginess

People who did not feel a close or secure attachment to their mothers when they were young may exhibit clinginess in their adult relationships. This can show up in romantic relationships, and a person may demand a lot of their partner’s time and attention in order to feel secure. 

2. Detachment

If you had a detached parent during childhood, or one that did not show a lot of affection, you may exhibit detachment as an adult. This can present as an inability to get close to people or trouble with intimacy. 

3. Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem can be a sign of having a poor relationship with your mother as a child. If a child is not shown affection or told they are loved, they may not develop a healthy sense of self-worth.

4. Poor Relationship With Mother

Having a poor relationship with your mother may be a sign of mommy issues. If you grew up with a lot of tension with your mother, it may be worth taking a deeper look into. 

5. Dependent

Being dependent on your partner as an adult can be a result of always being dependent on your mother as a child. Adults with attachment issues tend to heavily rely on their romantic partners for emotional support and help with simple tasks they should be able to do themselves. 

Mommy Issues in Men vs. Women

Men and women may experience mommy issues differently, as both genders tend to have different social norms and expectations on how to handle relationships. 

Women who have mommy issues may exhibit:

  • Inability to trust in relationships
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Not having strong female bonds
  • Not wanting to become like their mother
  • Trying to people-please

Men who have mommy issues may exhibit:

  • Frequent contact with their mother
  • Being disrespectful towards women
  • Needing constant validation
  • Being insecure in relationships
  • Pattern of cheating in relationships
  • Feeling entitled or better than others

However, both men and women may experience a variety of these symptoms due to complex relationships with their mothers and different attachment types. 

Resolving Mommy Issues

If you think you are experiencing mommy issues, speaking with a therapist or other licensed professional can help you work through those issues. A therapist can help you unpack your relationship with your mother to see if you may be exhibiting a specific attachment type that is affecting your current relationships in a negative way. 

If you are looking for support for these concerns, the free-to-use Nobu app has many different tools to help you address the effects of your childhood and learn ways to cope. The Nobu app has lessons, mindfulness tools, goal-tracking services and many other resources that can help improve your mental well-being. For an additional fee, you can also connect with a licensed therapist to receive professional mental health care. Take the first step toward a happier life: download Nobu today.

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Edited by – Jonathan Strum

Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor’s in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. He has written, edited and published content for health care professionals, educators, real estate agents, lawyers and high-level university faculty… Read more.

Written by – Danielle Boland

Danielle is a licensed clinical social worker, currently living and practicing in central Connecticut. Danielle graduated from Columbia University in 2012 with a Masters of Social Work, and always had the goal of opening her own private practice. She specializes in women’s issues, maternal health and postpartum mental health. Danielle is passionate about empowering people of all ages and hopes to use her writing skills to provide more resources for those looking to improve their mental health… Read more.

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Medically Reviewed by – Dr. Angela Phillips

Angela is a licensed therapist and clinical researcher, and has worked in public, private, government, and not-for-profit organizations, across clinical and research-oriented roles. Angela’s clinical and research experience has included suicide prevention, cognitive behavioral… Read more.