A short description of Mother Hunger

How can something as necessary and natural as love get twisted into addictive hell? Probing this paradox led me to the creation of Mother Hunger. The term almost speaks for itself. Like cancer, Mother Hunger invisibly eats away your insides, slowly digesting any strength, dignity, or agency you’ve gathered. Hunger pains need relief. Food, sex, romance, work, alcohol…something to numb the inner longing for love that’s missing.

Mothers provide daughters with three important developmental needs: nurturing, protection, and guidance. If any one of these three is missing, a daughter grows up with an achy loneliness that distorts her self-concept and capacity for healthy relationships. I call this Mother Hunger. Well-meaning mothers regularly miss one of these critical developmental needs when raising their daughters. Since most women are impacted by the toxic stress of patriarchy, a mother can’t give her daughter what she doesn’t have. A daughter learns to love the way her mother loves her and Mother Hunger is passed intergenerationally between women. For example, perhaps your mother was loving, cuddly, and playful. You felt her love and enjoyed her affection. But she had difficulty making decisions, managing her moods, and you often felt confused or worried about her. You learned that you couldn’t look to her for solutions or guidance. As an adult, you wrestle with anxiety and confusion, often feeling younger than your age. You find powerful people irresistible.

Or let’s say you grew up inspired by your mother. You felt proud of her hard work or her style. But she didn’t protect you from your father’s rage. Routinely, you were left alone in terror. Since your mother was busy or distracted, you learned not to burden her, quietly building a fortress around your heart. As an adult, people may experience you as fierce and strong. But deep inside, you shiver with insecurity and fear.

Mother Hunger exists on a spectrum and names the invisible wound that emerges from missing comfort, or safety, or guidance from your mother. If you missed all three, and your mother was abusive, I call this Third-degree Mother Hunger. Third-degree Mother Hunger feels like a sense of homelessness, a burning need for addiction, and a haunting confusion about your basic needs and desires. Third-degree Mother Hunger is essentially disorganized attachment and shares symptoms with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, or major depressive disorder. But Mother Hunger isn’t pathology or a disorder. It’s an injury. An invisible wound that hides from awareness until you find a name.

Time does not heal all wounds. Running a marathon or taking a trip around the world won’t remedy this particular heartache (although it might help!) Healing Mother Hunger requires awareness (you’ve got that part) and a competent, attachment-focused guide who knows about Mother Hunger. With support, the frozen grief will thaw and you will find relief.

With warmth and love,

Learn more about Mother Hunger: How Adult Daughters Can Understand and Heal from Lost Nurturance, Protection, and Guidance here >>