5 Healthy Tips If "I Love You Mom" Is Difficult To Say

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated July 29, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Laura Angers, NCC, LPC

A mother’s love is so important. So much so, that it goes on to influence our emotional and psychological well-being for years to come. Unfortunately, mothers do not always provide the love and attention daughters need, making it incredibly difficult for them to say, “I love you, Mom.”

If you struggle to say these words to your mother, there’s nothing wrong with you. But it could indicate that some healing needs to happen. And today, we’re going to explore five healthy tips if loving your mom and saying “I love you” is hard. Because even if a mother’s love was absent in your life, it doesn’t make you unlovable or love impossible.

Don’t Force Yourself To Say, “I Love You Mom”

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Your mother isn’t just another woman in your life. She’s your mother, and with that role comes an unspoken expectation that she will love you well and maybe even unconditionally.

However, just because someone is a mother doesn’t mean they will always love you best. In fact, it’s not unusual for people who are closest to us to cause us the most pain. Mothers love as best as they can, but sometimes they can fall short. And motherly love can be far from nurturing sometimes.

If that’s been the case in the relationship with your mother, it may be very difficult to say, “I love you, Mom.” However, it’s important to know that there’s no shame in that.

You may feel guilty about your relationship and what it “should” be – especially when comparing it to other mother-daughter relationships. But try not to experience feelings of guilt or shame. Instead, try to acknowledge the truth of your experience.

And in real life, here’s what that might look like:

  • You and your mother have a dysfunctional and hurtful relationship (we’ll cover examples of dysfunctional relationships next), or
  • You and your mother have unresolved issues

When you first acknowledge the reality of your relationship, you can take steps to heal yourself. Then, you may also be able to reconcile and rebuild the relationship you have with your mother, too.

Understanding the dynamic of your relationship can help to figure out why it’s difficult to feel love for your mother and also why it’s difficult to say, “I love you, Mom.”Author of Daughter Detox: Recovering from an Unloving Mother and Reclaiming Your Life, Peg Streep, outlines eight different types of dysfunctional mother-daughter relationships.

Here are eight prototypes as outlined by Streep:

Dismissive

To the dismissive mother, your accomplishments are insignificant or unimportant. Sometimes, this dismissal becomes rejection, which can create even more pain and tension.

Often, as a way to win the mother’s approval (which is code for love and attention), daughters will demand that their mothers love them. Or, they will try to fix the problem by overachieving.

Controlling

Controlling mothers micromanage, showing that they have no respect for their daughter’s emotions, thoughts, or actions. This can make the daughter feel insecure, helpless, and inadequate.

Unavailable

As Streep writes, “Children are hardwired to rely on their mothers thanks to evolution.” And while an unavailable mother isn’t necessarily a mean individual, they can cause significant damage to their daughters.

So, what happens when mothers are simply unavailable, both emotionally and physically? It can leave daughters hungry for loving attention and sometimes make them needy and desperate for it.

Enmeshed

The dismissive mother places a lot of distance between herself and her daughter. But in enmeshed relationships, there are little to no boundaries, and the identities of both the mother and the daughter become blurred. And unfortunately for the daughter, her own identity all but disappears in the image of her mother.

Combative

While a combative mother might sound noisy and disruptive, the truth is, her behaviors are usually kept hidden from the public eye. Using emotional and verbal abuse, combative mothers are jealous of, and competitive with, their daughters, along with being highly critical of them.

Unreliable

When daughters don’t know what to expect from their mothers, they have what Streep refers to as an unreliable mother. And this goes on to influence how they approach all relationships and interactions – with a wary and guarded stance.

Self-Involved

The self-involved mother treats her relationship with her daughter as more of a political game in which she uses her daughter to make herself look good and feel better about herself.

Role Reversal

This may be the most uncommon of dysfunctional mother-daughter relationships, but it can still show up. This is when the daughter becomes the mother and vice versa.

Unfortunately, this can occur at a very young age for some women. If mothers struggle with mental illness and substance abuse, role reversal can occur and rob the daughter of her childhood or teenage years. What’s more, it robs the daughter of ever having a loving and attending mother.

The Negative Impact Of Dysfunctional Relationships On Daughters

As you read through the eight types of mother-daughter dysfunctional relationships, it’s clear to see that they can cause a lot of pain to the daughter.

Just a brief overview of some of the negative impact can only make it more understandable why it’s difficult to say, “I love you,Mom,” when motherly love was absent or limited.

Self-Love And Self-Confidence

Daughters who feel unloved struggle with self-love, self-confidence, and self-esteem, never believing they’re good enough, smart enough, and beautiful enough, both for others and themselves.

In short, they just don’t see themselves accurately. They always see themselves falling short. This can lead to self-destructive behaviors, including eating disorders, as this 2005 study shows.

Difficulty Forming Healthy Attachments

Daughters often want, but don’t get enough of, their mother’s love and attention. So, they tend to become people pleasers, pushovers, and have a difficult time saying no and setting boundaries. And research has found that the mother-daughter relationship pattern can make it difficult for adult daughters to form secure attachments later in life.

Trust And Conflict Issues

Daughters who feel unloved may also have trust issues and tend to think that relationships are unreliable. Although these daughters want love, they don’t want to get hurt anymore, and they’ll unconsciously avoid love and commitment in healthy relationships, making it even more difficult for them to receive the love and attention they desperately need.

And according to this study, irrespective of a woman’s relationships, she often struggles with conflict resolution because of the unhealthy patterns she learned as a child.

Depression

Finally, daughters who feel unloved can present with more depressive symptoms than women from healthy mother-daughter relationships.

Five Healthy Tips If “I Love You Mom” Is Hard To Say

When a daughter has a dysfunctional relationship with her mother, it’s no surprise that it’s hard for her to say, “I love you, Mom.” In fact, her emotions may be far from loving.

She may wrestle with many negative emotions, including confusion, anger, resentment, bitterness, etc.

And just the thought of saying, “I love you,Mom,” can stir up a powerful emotional response. If that’s the case, there are things you can do for yourself.

However, it’s important to note that the goal of these healthy tips is not to coax you into saying these four magic words. Rather, the ideal outcome from these five healthy tips is to support you and your healing process.

1. Give Yourself Lots Of Love

Daughters who live in a difficult relationship with their mothers struggle with many things, not least of all, self-love. And perhaps one of the reasons why it’s so hard to give themselves love is because they’re still waiting to receive it from their mothers.

And even though mothers should love their children, the truth is, they can fall short. If that’s been your experience with motherly love, that doesn’t mean you are unworthy of love. It simply means, that for whatever reason, your mother couldn’t love you better.

The silver lining – yes, there’s a silver lining here! – is that you don’t need to rely on one person (even your mother) for love. In fact, you can give yourself love. And by practicing simple self-care rituals, seeking professional help, or by taking care of yourself in even the smallest of ways, you can start to feel more whole and worthy again.

It can be very empowering to give yourself the gift of love. And when you love yourself, it may be easier to say, “I love you,Mom,” someday.

2. Don’t Take It Personally

When someone treats you badly, it’s only natural to take offense and feel bad about it. But what would happen if you don’t take your mother’s bad behavior personally?

You might be reeling in your seat as you read this. But, in short, many people make unconscious decisions to keep pain in their lives because they don’t know how to live any other way.

Your mother may have been (or may still be) one of the eight prototypes we mentioned early. But that may be simply because she is in so much pain herself – pain she doesn’t even know she has.

Of course, we’d much rather her be “guilty as charged.” However, realizing that she might be deeply wounded could help explain – but not excuse – her actions. What’s more, this makes her actions a reflection of her pain and not a reaction to your worth and value.

3. Change Yourself Before You Say, “I Love You, Mom”

This tip may stir up strong feelings, and that’s understandable. After all, your mother should be the one to work on herself and change. But the truth is, you can’t force anyone to change, nor can you change anyone. It’s not your responsibility.

But you can change yourself. This doesn’t mean you have to deny what happened or start saying, “I love you,Mom,” if it doesn’t feel true and genuine.

But it does mean you can start to heal yourself and change your mindset – especially when it comes to your self-perception and your relationship with your mother.

professional therapist can help you work this out.

4. Be Realistic And Patient

Do you have ideas for how you’d like your current relationship to look like with your mother? Depending on your past, along with the type of dysfunctional relationship you have with her, it’s important to be realistic.

But this shouldn’t be confused with being pessimistic. The truth is, healing takes time, and nothing good comes from rushing important projects, especially something like healing a relationship with your mother and being able to say, “I love you, Mom.”

After all, haste makes waste.

So, get clear on what you want, and then decide how realistic it is. And also be prepared for your relationship goals to take some time.

5. Saying “I Love You Mom” Is Not The Same As Giving Your Mom Carte Blanche

Are you afraid that by saying, “I love you, Mom,” you’ll make yourself vulnerable and get hurt all over again? If so, remember that those four words are NOT the same as:

  • Letting her be a part of all aspects of your life
  • Being her best friend
  • Giving her more opportunities to hurt you again

Here’s why.

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You can love someone and still have boundaries. This doesn’t make you mean. This makes you a self-respecting woman who sets guidelines, showing people how to behave and interact with you. It’s a way to treat yourself with respect and to help others do the same.

So, you can say, “I love you,Mom,” but that doesn’t mean you have to share intimate details or important aspects of your life with her if you’re not ready to.

Will your mother hurt you again? It’s possible.We can’t control other people. But with boundaries, you get to decide how to act in those situations, and your mom will not be surprised by your actions because you laid them out in the boundaries beforehand. What’s more, you also get to limit the opportunities for further abuse and pain.

In an ideal world, we would all have a wonderful relationship with our parents. For some women, this isn’t the case, and they must come to terms with dysfunctional mother-daughter relationships.

If it’s difficult for you to love your mother, and to say, “I love you,Mom,” remember to be kind, compassionate, and patient with yourself. It’s the best way to begin healing and to also be able to say these words to her someday.

If you’re ready to have the support of a counselor, you can get started with BetterHelp today. Therapy focused on mother-daughter relationships is still a growing field, so what your needs are and what your treatment looks like is going to vary from person to person.

While your counselor will work with you to find the best approach, online therapy, so far, has been shown to be promising for many types of talk therapy, including those that treat generalized anxiety and depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive behavior. They’re shown to be just as effective when delivered online as when in person. HuffPost recently ran an article breaking down some of that research if you’d like more information.

Online therapy has some great draws as well. Platforms like BetterHelp are often more flexible than a traditional office. If you’re working through your therapy with your mother, it’s easier to find a common time when you don’t need to run to an office. You can have a session anywhere you’re comfortable with a reliable internet connection. Online therapy also tends to be less expensive than traditional therapy.

Here are some recent reviews from BetterHelp users dealing with similar issues about their counselors:

“Since working with Norma I feel like I found the right compass to help me navigate life. Norma is wise, knowledgeable and compassionate. During our sessions I always feel safe and understood. I joined BetterHelp because I was trying to improve my relationship with my daughter and learn how to deal with life. I feel I am much better place now and I know Norma has helped me achieve this. She is a credit to BetterHelp and would not hesitate to recommend her to all my friends. Thank you Norma for all your help, advice and support, it means more than words can say.” Read more on Norma Beatriz

“Elvia has shown empathy and compassion from the very first session. She has the ability to provide honest feedback in a constructive manner and tangible tasks that truly work. I’m so grateful for the progress I have made in a short amount of time thanks to her expertise and look forward to seeing how my life will continue to change for the better with her help. Highly recommend Elvia for any moms struggling with PPD, anxiety, and self esteem issues.” Read more on Elvia Avitia

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