The Effects of a Dysfunctional Mother-Daughter Relationship

by Melody Causewell

    Mother-daughter relationships can be a source of great comfort during tumultuous periods of development. However, negative relationships may have the opposite effect, leading to additional strain and emotional complications for both parents and children. Dysfunctional mother-daughter relationships may lead to attachment issues, lowered self-esteem, problems with conflict resolution and increased rates of adolescent depression.

    Secure Attachments

    Dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship patterns may lead to trouble in developing later attachments. According to research published in the journal "Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy" in 2004, intimate relationship patterns are strongly affected by the types of patterns experienced in childhood. In this study, 1,509 subjects ages 18 to 50 were surveyed about their childhood experiences and their current intimate functioning. Researchers found that subjects who had more positive, loving relationships with their parents had more positive and secure intimate relationships in adulthood. Those with negative relationship patterns may wish to examine this if they find themselves in a pattern of difficult attachments with adult partners.

    Self-Esteem and Eating Disorders

    Research published in the Hungarian academic journal "Psychiatria Hungarica" indicates that the quality of early mother-child relationships may have a lasting impact on self-image and coping behaviors. In this study, Hungarian researchers found that participants who reported negative parent-child interactions tended to show more self-punishing behaviors and scored lower on self-worth measures. The study concluded that the relationship between mothers and children may alter the way dysfunctional attitudes and self-esteem develop, which may lead to disordered eating or other types of self-punishment. Those suffering from disordered eating or self-worth problems may benefit from therapy that addresses past familial relationships in conjunction with current relationship models.

    Conflict Resolution Issues

    Research out of Utrecht University in the Netherlands reports that the way children resolve conflicts with their parents may spill over into their social relationships. In this study published in the "Journal of Family Psychology" in 2011, researchers found that the way adolescents respond to conflicts with family members tends to be consistent with the way they respond to conflict with friends, setting up a pattern that may be persistent throughout adulthood. Friend conflict also had some effect on the way later adolescents responded to disagreements with their parents, by allowing the teenager an outlet to practice different styles of cooperation. Daughters with dysfunctional models of conflict resolution from their mothers may be at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to finding appropriate means of resolving conflict outside the home.

    Depression

    According to University of Virginia research, negative interactions with parents may predict later depressive symptoms. In this study published in the "Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology" in 2006, 143 adolescents were surveyed, seeking relationships between dysfunctional parent-child interactions -- including withdrawal, anger and autonomy struggles as well as dependent social relationships -- to determine if these strained relationships lead to increased rates of depression. Researchers found that those with dysfunctional family interactions did have more depressive symptoms than their counterparts without this relationship strain. Mother and daughter pairs with difficult relationships may wish to seek resolution early in order to avoid additional mental health complications.

    About the Author

    Melody Causewell has been a writer in the mental health field since 2001. She written training manuals and clinical programs for mental health organizations. She has published feature articles "Leaven" magazine and has been published in "Natural Awakenings." She has a degree in psychology, a Masters degree in social work and is a La Leche League leader.

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