Mother-child relationships are complicated. There is really no work-around for somehow screwing things up with our kids one way or another during the journey of parenthood. We’re humans. It happens.
However, there is a subsect of mothers who do little to nothing to try and counteract those mistakes we make as moms. In fact, they do everything in their power to make things as toxic as possible. In the psychology world, these types of parents are called “devouring mothers.”
What is a devouring mother?
In a now-viral TikTok, content creator and licensed therapist Jim Brillon expands on signs that you have a devouring mother or possibly are one yourself. The devouring mother is a psychological archetype that describes a mother who is overbearing, controlling, and manipulative towards her children. This personality disorder is often seen in those with borderline personality disorders or narcissism.
A devouring mother doesn’t want her children to spread their wings and fly. They want them dependent, downtrodden, and constantly in need of their mother. She essentially wants to “devour” them whole in order to keep their kids as close as possible with no chance to develop an identity of their own.
“It’s an analytical term referring to kind of this shadow side of the mother archetype. It’s somebody who consumes their children psychologically and emotionally instilling guilt in them for leaving or for becoming an independent autonomous human,” Brillon explains.
According to Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, the mother archetype is usually associated with qualities such as nurturing, love, compassion, and protection.
However, there is also the devouring mother archetype, the shadow aspect of The Mother, which is a “manifestation of the negative aspects or shadow side of the mother archetype.”
To Sigmund Freud, the devouring mother was also known as the Oedipal Mother, or a mother that gets too close to her children and intervenes in their lives. In her attempts to protect her children, she undermines and infantilized them making adulthood and self-sufficiency near impossible.
What are the traits of a devouring mother?
There are several signs that you might have a devouring mother, or a “shadow mother” who will find ways to make their children part of their plan to keep and maintain control of the family structure.
“A consuming mother is somebody who’s afraid of being alone, who will infantilize their children to keep them dependent so that they never leave. They’ll often sabotage family therapy, child therapy. They prey on their children and their family and even friends, exerting control to meet their own emotional needs,” Brillon explained.
“They’re often overprotective, controlling, highly enmeshed. They might not allow a child or a teen to have their own friends. They don’t want them to become independent. It’s really a very devastating archetype what a mother can be. We often see this in personality disorders like borderline people and narcissists.”
What is devouring mother syndrome?
After the therapist’s analysis went viral, several TikTok users resonated with his message, sharing anecdotes from their own lives with devouring mothers.
“My mom pushed me to get a job and for two years, went behind me, and rejected every offer or rescinded every application for two years,” one user wrote.
Another wrote “This is my mother. I eventually fought back. I left at 18, and I’m still enduring the terrible aftereffects at almost 34. I fight a war every day.”
“My mom never taught me how to cook, do laundry, budget, sew, etc. My sister is 55 + and still lives with her. My sister is praised by the church for staying,” another said.