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

{ 79 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

Lucy May 29, 2017 at 3:13 am

This is very interesting. I am married to a man a few years younger, we have been through serious domestic physical issues after marriage. It felt as if he changed his faith to please me and not because he truly felt it was right for him at the time. Things became worst as he has a large family and his relationship with his mother is unhealthy. She would say to me in the past that if he doesn’t want you here then you would kicked out.
His dad left him abs his mother when he was a baby and he ran off to marry another woman who he had two grown up kids and grandkids and a lovely house!! His father is happy.

At aged 10 my husband screamed out he wanted to know who is father is… Then somehow his mother found details and they connected.

My father in law is a happy man his wife is lovely but my mother in law is a controlling woman who never thinks wrong of her son. He hurt me and I tried getting help literally three months after our huge wedding he turned violent on me and she didn’t want to help… I felt betrayed and his father was too lazy to visit us to sort the issues out the only person who truly cared was my own mother.

Things turned very ugly and my husband was arrested as he tried to smother me… Following this his mother and family members interrogated me, didn’t believe that he could be so violent then kicked me it of my marital home.

I found out that night that my husband used to tell his mother everything she was his confident and he only took to her advising.

In an argument with him once he blurted out I only need the love of my mother not another woman …!!!!! That shocked me…. Everytime we booked a holiday she had to know about it, she would phone up its like she needed to be informed of everything we do…. I’m a 40 something woman who doesn’t need to be controlled by anyone, and I used to say to my husband for Gods sake can’t you stop texting your mum?!! It was embarrassing and I felt like she is paparazzi… She bed as to let him be a man and stop interfering and he needs to cut away from the apron strings.

Lastly, after our marriage she arranged a photo shoot just for her and my husband I wasn’t invited which told me that I’m not accepted by her or his family etc…

They have a vintage photo which looks sick hanging up in her living room… It’s like she can’t let him go or he looks like a replacement for a lover or boyfriend… By the way she’s never sustained a long term relationship. The photo doesn’t tell a pretty picture… And it hurt me that he doesn’t want to have professional photos with me?!!

After we got married he would create drama situations that I would end up leaving to stay in a hotel because of fear of getting hurt.

He wasn’t very affectionate towards me but he is to others.. I lost my dad as a kid I guess my issue is that I would like attention from my spouse to protect me and love me without the emotional pain.

I’ve never know anything like this and I’m now receiving counselling to gain some empowerment.

Roger May 30, 2017 at 1:32 pm

I have known for many years now (4 or 5) the reason for having problems in my relationships. It came down to a “lack of love” from my mother, but this was something that I had created myself in me for feeling having been abandoned at 3 or 4 years of age. This was due to the circumstance of my youngest sibling who was born very ill at birth, I was left “aside” for a few years due to the gravity of her illness and the attention my mother had to give her.

I did not know these things at all. It was and is only through working with others on different levels with various methods that I am finding my way closer to dealing with the deepest of inner issues I have in me.

I resonate with what you said about how men “turn out” but not with all the reasons as such.
In my case I find it hard to understand that my mother had any “sexual” intention or eroticized subconsciously or consciously. Although I can´t be sure of this. But you are so precise in what affected men experience that I am not discarding it at all.

Of course we get moulded and create conditions and blocks from very early on and when we reach the age of “awakening” (if anyone does), we realise that 75% of who we are is still that child and everything that we have learnt and experienced is marking us and bringing the experience we are living in the present even if it is not a pleasant one.

Yes, its dammed hard work, but I can only think of the liberation of not being tied to these very deep “inner conflicts” and to be free of these shackles in order to make way for a truly lasting relationship and a more peaceful and happier me.

We can look at them as attachments and conditions that do not serve us any more.

Does anything really last in this physical world? The answer is obvious. NO!

Everything is impermanent, everything comes and goes, nothing lasts, there are cycles and re-cycles… so what are we holding onto? Its seems so easy right? But its very hard to work on these inner issues, but worth it.

And there is a way, you have to start changing and questioning everything you do. Everything! And then try and start doing things in a way that you never imagined that you would or could…… the way you live, eat, move around, think (and especially think!!!), communicate, walk, see, hear, run, share, sing….. move it!

I am still working on this deep issue, but I can tell you that it has weakened quite a lot and I would say I am closer and closer.

I know this because i have experienced it with the women I have had relationships with over the years. I am getting closer and closer to that liberation as my relationships are getting better and better….. especially with MYSELF… and here is the biggest clue!

Yet, I am at probably the hardest part of this inner work and yet I cant see how I am going to release it. But I know I will.

Yes, I am facing it head on and it is not easy. Hence my search to see what others were or have been living and how they are dealing with it.

Thank you Dr. Milhado and everyone that has commented here.


Pat Ferguson June 4, 2017 at 3:23 am

Hello Dr Milhado. I’m the 61 y/o twin sister of brother who has an abnormal [not sexual] attachment to mum. He still lives with mum. He has always wanted Dad and me out of the way. Dad passed away in my arms 2003, with me trying to revive him, [which everyone knew]. My brother left it until 2014 when my mother had the onset of dementia, then told her repeatedly that I had been drinking, and as dad was having his heart attack, I just let him die. Mum still believes this. [plus other lies]. This was just the last straw – in over 40 years of his cruelty/madness. I had to leave town shortly after when, -’I'll kill you f…… slut’, throwing things including a ‘walker’ held over his head to smash me, which I averted, and hands around my throat, [over a bowl of soup I ASKED about for mum.] You cannot EVER ask him anything.] Few people could imagine a person who would find such lunacy/gratification in hurting others. My husband made me go to another town, because he said, ‘he will kill you [mentally/physically] if you don’t get away’, as I was at my end, after so many years, and it’s still going on. We never had children. I have similar genes, so terrified I might impart those cruel/insane genes.
I’ve written approx. 18 pages of his terror over the years.
[I've told so little of the horror in this post - just the end.]
MY REAL WORRY IS now, with our [dementia] mum 85 y/o, who may pass away any time – I believe, when mum goes, he will direct all his loss, rage, hate and madness at me – I think he will come and KILL ME. He has nothing to lose. ♥ Pat
[P.S. I don't know your qualifications/agenda, but just know, this is true and from the heart]. P.

Eliza August 5, 2017 at 8:04 am

I thought this was what I was dealing with, but now I’m not sure. My husband has spent decades manipulating me into being his mommy. He is completely dependent on me to take care of all the adult things in life – bills, insurance, medical care, cooking, cleaning, car purchases, everything. He has never made a hotel reservation, arranged a vacation, arranged a night out, purchased a present, or even chosen the dvd to watch at night. Until I had a health issue last year and he failed to take care of me at all, I didn’t realize that he has no capability or inclination to give any care back. He was frightened like a small child whose mommy was sick. My faith in my marriage broke. I depend on my friends. I might have a better support network without my husband, if I am honest.
Over the years, I tried to break out of codependence by giving him responsibilities and not helping him (and I’m careful never to criticize how he does things, any attempt is great by me). He couldn’t or wouldn’t. If I don’t want dead pets or the electricity shut off, or to wear dirty clothes to work, I have to do it all. He works a little on his home business – I work full time at a real job that provides our insurance and most of our income, and worked extremely hard at multiple jobs in the recession until I carefully worked into this good job. He was laid off in the 1990′s and doesn’t like the sound of anything he could apply for. Our sex life devolved to him laying on his back waiting for foreplay and sex to be performed upon him, so I stopped having sex (it made me vomit afterwards, thinking of him like a baby laying on diaper waiting to be fondled by his mommy). He feels entitled to being taken care of like a baby and often turns to me during movies if there is a line about women not taking good enough care of their husbands and says “see?!”

I know my path is either to cut loose or take care of him, but what makes a man or woman like this? I’ve seen it in other marriages now that I know what to look for. What is it? Is there any hope at all that he might become a partner, and love me like a an equal who also has needs, not as the source for all his needs who deserves nothing back? Since last year, I feel emotionally wakened and unwilling to live in this relationship designed to satisfy one person.

Pat September 11, 2017 at 11:16 am

I will only one word to women : If your boyfriend is clearly a mama boy, don’t marry nor have kids with him. It is almost impossible to win a fight with an overbearing mother as it will be very difficult for your partner to side with you. In fact he his more likely to betray you. The fact is that the real wife of such men are their mothers…. Their real wife are only “concubines” for them.

Pat September 11, 2017 at 11:24 am

Yep. The cultures that tend to have a “Men With a Mother Complex” also tend to be more macho

Just look at Europe : starting north, and going south you will note that the more you go south the more the men are machos. The cultures that have the most mother / son issues are mostly in southern eruope

Peter Milhado PHD September 11, 2017 at 1:07 pm

Not true u have no idea how powerful the Mother is south north east or west wake up brothet

Peter Milhado PHD September 11, 2017 at 4:10 pm

U got and the word concubine is overrated

Jane October 31, 2017 at 3:02 pm

Wow! I came looking for articles such as yours because of current issues in my romantic relationship with my husband due to mother-in-law, and my sudden realisation that all he wants is her approval.
However, the last paragraph of your writing really, really hit home for me in relation to my ex-husband. He is a person who was constantly described by everyone who knew him as ‘such a nice guy’. Once we married and the ‘worship’ began to decline, and started to see the demonization of all women – with the exception of his own mother of course. Any woman who left her husband was particularly evil, and heaven help her if she was considered to be ‘keeping the children from the ex-husband’ – that was the worst kind of woman in his eyes supposedly because of personal experience with wife number 1 (I was number 3). My realisation that he actually hated women was a lead up to our separation and divorce. I’m so pleased that I found this article as it helped consolidate what happened. I knew that things would never work, but of course because of everyone defining him constantly as ‘such a nice guy’, I left feeling a lot of the burden of the broken relationship, when in fact it was fated never to work as he was totally self-absorbed and unable to see his own issues.
Thank you.

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