Men With a Mother Complex


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

19 thoughts on “Men With a Mother Complex”

  1. Interesting. After the age of typical psychological development, is it ever too late to find a father-figure and turn that erotic feeling for the mother into a genuine expression of love for other women?

  2. A mother complex could explain a man’s attraction for women with dominant personalities, even if his mother herself wasn’t a dominant type but more like an overprotective one?

  3. So, basicaly, dating or marrying someone with this complex is a “damned if you, damned if you don’t relationship pattern”, filled with resentment etc.

  4. Yep Cloe I tried to do someting with it myself but it’s damned hard work, this article is so true and sad as well

  5. And I think from my own perspective it’s barely impossible to change it, my true nature is to do nothing, and when it’s too bad or hard I feel so weak and want to get back to mom, there are only moments which last not so long when I feel totally independent person, I got too much good and somewhere else I dont feel it’s so attractive to me, because you must work, talk to other people, do things with them, realize you aren’t special, frustration comes out but I am to weak to show other people how I dont need them, because I need them to be there or I feel scarred, it’s too bad to get better

  6. An italian businessman retained me for consulting for his company that wanted to go public.
    He took me to many meetings at these little Italian espresso bars for about 6 months.
    I waited for the business plan but nothing was provided and nothing materialized other than these waste of time meetings.
    The Italian then demanded his retainer back from the billable hours.
    I refused. He then brought several thugs to my home to try to intimidate me into giving back my consulting fees.
    I invited them in very calmly and went into the kitchen to prepare sandwiches and coffee.
    I immediatly dialed directory assistance for the man’s mother’s home phone number.
    I got her on the telephone explaining that I was about to call the cops and have her son arrested for criminal harrassment. I explained that I too was a mother of two sons and how I wanted to prevent that from happening to her son and her family’s good name.
    She told me to give the phone to her son to speak to him.
    All I heard was lots of yelling and then saw five Italian thugs get up from my dining room table and high tail it out of there never to return.
    If someone gives you trouble, call their mother.

  7. Hi Peter

    What’s the first step for a man who finds himself in this predicament?

  8. I am the wife of man, who is admittedly and proud of being extremely dominant. At work he feels the need to correct others and influence the senior leaders/VP’s that his way is the ‘right’ way. He is a supervisor and often discounts the manager (male) who he works for. He always believes and says that he is smarter than the manager and the senior leaders don’t respect the manager like they do him.
    We separated for a short time and have been trying to get counselling for a lack of communication problem, in our marriage. We both had very busy jobs, and he had an affair that lasted over 3 years with his admin assistant. When I found out, he said it was my fault because I wasn’t ‘available’, was ‘too busy’ with work, didn’t want to have sex enough, ‘sex wasn’t interesting enough’, just didn’t do what ‘he’ was telling me to do at work in order to succeed.
    Now that I am working on my own self, improving my own emotional intelligence, developing my own friends and interests, he seems to be depressed and drinks alot. The domination has become a focus for him and he is only happy when he is ‘leading / directing’ a group of people, the way he thinks things should be. Other than that, he is not socializing with friends, neighbours, just for the fun of it.
    As the only child, his father was not emotionally available and had little physical time with him. His mother over compensated and even today, uses him as her confidant. When he is down, he calls her and shares. He is most loving and sharing with her. He doesn’t want to share emotion with me nor hear my feelings. Yet he will with her.
    We are going to visit for a week soon and I’m not sure I can handle all the domination. What I’ve read is bang on and scares me!

  9. Hello Dr. I met someone where the relationship couldn’t go any further after a couple of months. I believe this is the reason. I wanted to tell him but I know it is not for me to tell, he needs to understand for himself… How do I start that? How do I subtly, non intrusively, have him start to ask himself the right questions?

  10. this is my life story. as for that phrase “it’s a hard work”, that seems to be no problem to me personally, because it’s a harder work to live like that. thank you for the post!

  11. I am the neurotic woman who won’t leave the domineering man. My “boyfriend” found a father figure 1year into our relationship and everything changed between us. Sex stopped, he started smoking cigarettes, his personality changed. He has since “broken up” with that horribly abusive man and continues to look for new male friends to fill the void.
    we’ve been together nearly 6 years now and have a child together. I’m so confused and torn between wanting to leave yet am frozen with fear of being on my own financially and breaking up my son’s family.
    “Boyfriend” is so convincing with shallow words of commitment “we’ll get married when the time is right”, “I still love you, hang in there-I’ll come around. ” “if only you were nicer to me, i’d be nice to you.”) and I just continue to believe everything he says, I stuff my feelings and then explode.

  12. Surely the pain of living on your own and looking after yourself and your son would be more fulfilling (ultimately) than living with someone who sounds very abusive and who doesn’t care about or for you–or his son. I write this as someone who left a similar mother complex(ed) man and has had a history of them. I agree with what Dr Milhado writes: “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.”
    For me this is the crux of what I need to work on in myself–I have to deal with my dependency on men who have no real interest in me, which comes from my own lack of father or other good enough man in my early life. A helpful book, which shows how you might start to have your own life is, “Men who hate women, and the women who love them”. It’s worth saying “NO” and start living, living your own life–the most precious thing! Courage!

  13. I do identify with this being in a relationship with a man, whos mother is very dominant. Oh what a disaster he is in relationships with women. He has lost his sense of self blames and then also plays the victim. Is not able to take responsibility for his own floppy boundaries and is not able to feel his own feelings. Is very dependent, and wow my life has improved since I put some distance between us. He creates drama, makes up stories and I believe underneath is seething with anger, which he is not aware of actually.

  14. Have lived 7 years with such a neurotic person. You never succeed in your relationship No matter how hard you try. You end up fighting with the mother in law and there is constant rift with your spouse. Moreover the atmosphere at home is like your watching some very dirty relation live. You feel like you are the outsider. There is sign language always. And the mother behaves more possessive and weird and more like a lover than a mother. And you feel the life like a trap. And in certain cultures you have to stay with your mother in law post marriage, and when your husband is a puppet in his mothers hands you hardly get a new life. But through the years you have to grow strong and you get monetary benefits in the relationship and nothing beyond that. As mentioned he is into compulsive masturbation. And my daughter and I have suffered and lost our peace of mind in this mutual adoration society. There’s no love or compassion for the wife but she is demonised and abused.

  15. Oh god, this is me!

    Never have I read something so accurate of myself. The inflicting anger on self, the feelings of superiority and then inferiority, feeling like I’m extraordinarily special, but then feeling like an egotistical naive idiot and becoming depressed, fear of women. I’ve both idolised and demonised women. Want to love a woman but can’t trust any woman. Sometimes I dunno who the hell I am, what I am, lost my individuality? Wish my mother hadn’t overprotected me!!! Isolating myself because I am scared I’m so broken inside that it’ll hurt someone else. So I’ve always felt so alone all the time, even when not. Dependant on parents, mother’s sacrificing…

    Feel so twisted, like morals and desires are conflicting and neither will back down… been 10 years of this now.

    Feel like I’ve made progress to get out out this rut of pain and despair, not there yet and feel like it will still be a couple of years longer, but feel like this has spread my awareness so I know how to make my next steps. Perhaps the availability of my same-sex parent through later life has healed me a little?

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