There 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