Men With a Mother Complex

by Peter Milhado PHD on July 24, 2012


woman2There are quite a few men who never grow up and get stuck in adolescence. In research I did many moons ago, I found these ‘eternal adolescents’ usually had fathers who were either partially or totally absent.

Others had fathers who were weak or passive, which left the upbringing totally to the mothers. Over the years I’ve worked with many single mothers and I believe many of them to be the true heroes in our society – their sacrifice and dedication is unfathomable.

In this article, however, I want to explore mother-son relationships, where the mother has been wounded herself. There are some mothers who eroticized the relationship. Son becomes consort, confidant, or “lover”. This relationship between mother and her ‘little man’ results in sexual energy being cathected very early in life and this is constantly reinforced. A high sex drive, with a need for immediate gratification, compulsive masturbation, Don Juanism and hyper-sexuality can often be traced to the mother–son relationship.

In addition, being the recipient of this kind of attention by the mother-goddess tremendously inflates the son. He is convinced that he is ‘extraordinarily special’, which leads to all the complications and sufferings later in life that neurotic vanity and grandiosity bring. Inflation and grandiosity never come without the opposite pole, namely deflation and depression. Since the sexuality is never consummated and since mother does have a relationship with father, brother or another man, the son is left feeling abandoned and betrayed. He constantly alternates between victory and defeat.

Delusions of superiority are followed by feelings of inferiority. He is left with a dilemma – he desperately needs a woman, as his self-esteem is dependent on her adoration, yet no woman can be trusted. There are some other mothers who spoil their sons and who can’t separate between “I love you’ and “I want you to love me” or “I love you” and “I want the satisfaction you can bring me”. What she doesn’t know is there is a concealed egotism behind her ‘altruism’ (Harding). Her own inability to say no to him is her own inability to say no to herself. She denies seeing her own selfishness and softness. As society sees this attitude of indulgence as a virtue, it is hard to see its true character. Mother appears admirable, sacrificing her own comforts for his. It is only later, when the son’s total lack of self-discipline, his inability to live responsibly, that the true nature of his upbringing is revealed. The son, who cannot resist this psychological seduction, is robbed of his individuality as a man.

There are still other mothers who are too domineering and don’t allow their sons enough space to explore and develop a sense of independence. They interfere incessantly and control their behavior. They overprotect him from real or imagined dangers where it would be better to let him test his capabilities and face life’s challenges. Through this attitude, a mother enhances her son’s fear of women and saps his masculine confidence. To adapt, he takes on a false mask, which is moderated in response to the demands of mother and doesn’t meet the needs of his inner life. Whereas spoiling mothers devour their sons whole, the domineering mothers are often more selective, they go for the will or the genitals. In both cases, the son’s dependent and masculine identity is injured, leaving him weak and dependent on others to provide for him. Behind this dependence lies a smoldering rage, which is usually directed against the self (i.e. depression and anxiety) and other people in a passive-aggressive way.

The treatment I’m familiar with for men with the above mentioned mother complex is soul-centered psychotherapy. This inner work helps men become conscious not only of their neurotic relationship to their mother, but also and most importantly on how they make inappropriate demands and project neurotic expectations on their wives. Unconscious men either idealize or demonize women. If the man with a mother complex idealizes his woman, she feels suffocated and realizes he is not in an intimate relationship with her true self at all – it’s not personal. If he unfairly devalues and demonizes his wife, she will leave him (unless she is neurotic herself). Most men with unconscious mother complexes do both – they initially worship and later on demonize their women.

Dr. Peter Milhado  © 2012

{ 70 comments… read them below or add one }

Peter Milhado PHD July 1, 2016 at 3:07 pm

Get some help and grow up!

John (Cristina) Perez July 4, 2016 at 9:15 am

Wonderful article. My story is rather strange. I was born male but live as a female. My mother thought that I was the re-encarnation of her dausgter that has recently died. I am sure I was born with a Trans orientation that started to noticed by my mother when I was around 4. She was very good to me and we were very close. I use to wear her cloths. At the same time I know I had sexual feelings for her and this made me feel very guilty. My dad was a good father but I rarely saw him because of his work. I had a younger sister. I use to sleep with my mother.
She would play with me and I would have an orgasm. She would laugh and told me it was nothing to worry about.
I am 55, divorced, have a son in Holland. I am semi-retired because of vision problems. I spend the whole day thinking about my mother. I have her photos in my bed-room. I feel no interest in meeting anyone. I am living almost all the time as Cristina. When I look in the mirror I see my mother. I feel I am her. I first noticed this when I was around 30. I was surprised but happy with the feeling of being my mother.
I will soon see a professional but I don’t know if I will be able to say evrey thing. I wouldn’t want my doctor to take away my thoughts and feelings.
I know I am not well.
John and Cristina

Julie July 13, 2016 at 3:44 pm

I have a brother in law that I believe has a mother who enables him in every way, he is 41 never has worked, he refuses to clean his own house that his mom bought him, so she pays a maid to clean it for him, also he won’t do his yard so the mom does it all for him, I am very concerned as I love them both, but I believe that the mom is ruining her sons life. My wife has tried to talk to her, but she always plays victim to Kerri, and we don’t know what to do. Can anyone help! By the way he’s 41 and still a virgin, it’s very sad to watch. Please help!

JoeBuckYerself July 23, 2016 at 3:03 pm

So what do ya recommend doc? A handful of pills and some electrodes attached to the noggin for some shock therapy?

Peter Milhado PHD July 24, 2016 at 12:24 pm

Skip the pills

Peter Milhado PHD July 24, 2016 at 12:27 pm

What a mess

John August 11, 2016 at 4:51 pm

thank you it helped my insight into myself

Glen Young September 21, 2016 at 6:54 pm

Darn hard work. Although I no longer have a relationship with my domineering mother I have a wonderful marriage with an understanding wife and kids.

Hi Peter, what has it been, 30 years?

Peter Milhado PHD September 24, 2016 at 5:12 pm

Son obsessed with mother is ure only concern

Paulina October 7, 2016 at 9:53 am

I am absolutely certain this is the case with my Ec husband. Otherwise an adorable man. I left him because I felt he was not in a real intimate relationship with me but with his mother. He later demonized me for that. I wish I could have done something. I wish he would go to the kind of therapy you recommend but he is reluctant.
I have a question. Do you think a 65 year old can overcome this problem?
Should I share this article with him?

Peter Milhado PHD October 15, 2016 at 1:14 pm

Quit trying to fix

Peter Milhado PHD November 13, 2016 at 3:47 pm


Peter Milhado PHD November 13, 2016 at 3:59 pm


Peter Milhado PHD December 30, 2016 at 2:39 pm

Run. And get some help!

RJM March 23, 2017 at 1:18 am

Your second to last paragraph paints a distressingly accurate picture of my life as a son to a domineering mother. I won’t go into any details that would be more suited to a therapist’s chair, but I just have some questions. What can I do on my own? I have taken the first steps and recognized it. However I am still pitiful with other women, and the loneliness is getting pretty unbearable. I want a family. Please tell me what to do. Should I cut her out of my life completely? I am heading that way but is that even the healthiest option? I would love some advice, and please direct me if this is not the proper channel. I am indeed suffering.

Peter Milhado PHD March 23, 2017 at 6:53 am

P. Get therapy

Madison April 8, 2017 at 4:08 am

Hi Dr. Milhado,
My daughter’s father has sexual fantasies about his mother (I found the evidence on his computer). Your article describes him well, i.e highly sexual, impulsive, self grandiosity mixed with inferiority. It seems he has had some kind of sexual relationship with her. Should I be worried about my daughter? Do men sexualized by their mothers go on to sexualize their daughters? Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

Princess April 12, 2017 at 11:30 am

Dr. Milhado,

Thanks for the open and carte blanche writing on this
Subject. You’re 1000% accurate. Im 43 dealing
with a 46 year old man who is enmeshed with mommu
to the point of detriment in all areas of his life!
During your professional experience have you seen
any of these unwavering victims change or br ome
aware of the mommy venom? Thank you gor writing

Peter Milhado PHD April 15, 2017 at 5:15 pm

Get help

Christian April 17, 2017 at 2:23 pm


I am a 23 yr old about to graduate college. I grew up in a household where my dad was almost sheepish at times and my mom was the enforcer in pretty much all things. This article helped me connect the dots as to why many of my past relationships have failed. I have identified it, now I only wish to reverse it and become my own man. Not sure how to do that without cutting my mother out completely.
But if that’s what it takes, i’ll do it

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