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“Sometimes I feel like I don’t like my daughter. She is one of those kids who will tell a lie for no reason and will have you believing her lies. When I had her there was no bond at all. When she would try to touch me it would gross me out. I don’t hate her, I just feel that I don’t like her,” revealed 35 year old Mary Ann.**

Mary Ann is one of many Moms who hold feelings of resentment toward their daughters;  a broken relationship born of frustration and ambivalence whose tainted roots can not be easily cured. Mary Ann gave birth to her first born child, Quinn, at the age of 18 as result of an unplanned pregnancy. Quinn had a twin who died during childbirth, a trauma that remains with Mary Ann today.

Mary Ann went on to have another daughter two years later and a son, five years after that. She describes her relationship with her other children as “loving” because she feels that they are better behaved and loveable.

Quinn is now 16 years old and Mary Ann says she looks forward to the day when she moves out of the house.  Quinn is barely passing school and is two grade levels below her age group. Mary Ann shared that Quinn is focused solely on her appearance and boys. She admits to lashing out at her older daughter Quinn more than her other children and interacting with her as infrequently as possible.

“When Quinn was younger, she told me that she knew I didn’t like her,” Mary Ann recalled. “And I remember her saying that it was okay because she didn’t like me either.”

Mary Ann, whose relationship with her own mother is nearly identical to the one she has with Quinn, sought help from a professional counselor when her daughter was younger. She admitted to feeling a certain amount of guilt over the fact that she did not like her daughter, but even more guilt over the realization that she couldn’t change the way she felt. The counseling sessions did not change anything because Mary Ann feared that revealing too much about her disdain for her daughter would result in Quinn being taken away.

Despite her feelings of ambivalence toward her first born child she claims that she has always taken care of her, providing the basic necessities ; food, clothing, shelter and funding for social activities. “I could do more but I don’t because I do not feel appreciated,” Mary Ann shared.

What would cause a Mother to shun her first born daughter and experience very little guilt about it?  How can a daughter heal when her Mom reveals a firm distaste for her as a child, followed by a life-time of critical remarks and unsupportive behavior? Four therapists weigh in on this relationship and its downward spiral.

“A mother might not love her daughter if her daughter makes her uncomfortable,” contributed Janet Zinn, a psychotherapist recently featured on XOX Betsey Johnson. “Either her daughter brings up feelings that are hard to deal with, or being with her daughter is a reminder of negative experiences.  Mothers tend to hurt their daughters because they haven’t healed the hurt that they’ve been through.  We do not hurt others when we feel good, truly good, about ourselves.”

“Some mothers feel helpless and exert what power they do feel they have to hurt their daughters, thus feeling less powerless,” Zinn added. “Some mothers have no outlet for negative feelings they have and take it out on their daughters.  Often mothers will blame daughters for feeling deprived, as if not having the daughter would allow them to have a happier life. To heal from this type of relationship, it is important that the mother admit to a therapist or in a support group, that she hates her daughter.  Then the relationship can be broken down to see if it is deep sadness, anger, frustration or other feelings that elicit that hate. It is also important for the mother to learn to be kind and patient with herself.  Actually, that is key.  If the mother treats herself well, then she models for her daughter how she would like to be treated.  As the mother gets more of what she needs from herself, she is not dependent on her daughter to give her satisfaction.”

Tina B. Tessina, PhD, a psychotherapist and author of  It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction revealed a different root cause for this damaging behavior, “Usually, when a mother abuses a girl particularly, rather than all of her children, it is because she regards herself and all females as worthless.”

According to Dr. Carol Langlous, who operates a self-esteem coaching program for teens, Mary Ann’s scenario aligns with traumatic situations like rape. “You see this a lot with rape victims who keep the child,” Dr. Langlous said. “The child becomes a constant reminder of the act and unknowingly, the Mom treats the child differently– sometimes with anger.”

“Along that same line, there may have been something traumatic that occurred in the Mom’s life at the time she got pregnant with this particular child. Now that situation and the child are forever linked for the Mom specifically; she cannot desperate the two,” added Dr. Langlous. “My guess is that she has transferred that unhappy experience onto the child. The child will suffer from this for the rest of her life.  Thinking that she is ‘less than’ the other kids.  The only thing that may help is if that traumatic experience can be identified and explained to her. Intellectually the child may understand, but emotionally the scars are already there. Therapy may help.”

Esther Boykin, a Marriage/Family therapist based in DC has confronted patients battling with this scenario on many occasions. “In my clinical experience, while there are many variables that can contribute to a mother not feeling emotionally connected to her daughter, depression and other mood disorders can make it difficult to feel warm and affectionate toward anyone, especially someone who needs a lot from you like a child,” Boykin shared. “For mothers of teens and young adults, the impact of a rebellious period can lead to a strained relationship with the Mom feeling unappreciated and angry.  However, more often than not, when a mother reports to me that she does not love her child, there is some history of trauma or abuse in the mother’s life.”

“Children, particularly daughters, are often experienced as a reflection of the mother’s sense of self.  You can think of it as almost a physical manifestation of who the mother believes she is,” Boykin continued.  “This can be an amazing experience for many women who are able to learn how to love themselves more fully as they learn to love their daughter- for both her strengths and her faults.  But for mothers who have traumatic and abusive pasts, the experience of motherhood and trying to relate to their daughters can be scary and overwhelming. Rather than feeling free to be vulnerable and allow themselves to connect emotionally, these women may have coping responses that prompt them to shut down and disconnect emotionally from their children; particularly their daughters. There are intense emotions in parenthood and those may trigger a mom with a difficult personal history to feel unsafe emotionally and over time resent her daughter for constantly bringing up unwanted feelings.  I think it is important to be clear that this is rarely, if ever, a conscious response.  Rather it is a safety mechanism that helped them survive some other incident but it now cuts her off from feeling close to her child.”