"A man who has been the indisputable favorite of his mother keeps for life the feeling of conqueror." ~ Sigmund Freud
Someone tweeted that quote yesterday and, as co-author of the only book on the market about the romantic challenges facing adult mama’s boys and daddy’s girls, it caught my attention. Taken out of context, I don’t know where Sigmund was headed with those words. I don’t know what came before or after. But it inspires me to post a few words in response.
“A man who has been the indisputable favorite of his mother keeps for life the feeling of conqueror” brings to mind a man puffed up with pride, believing the world belongs to him, feeling entitled to the admiration of his peers, the women and children in his life, with or without having to earn it. If he “keeps for life the feeling of conqueror” then the first person he believes he conquered was his mother. It’s a direct reference to the fact that mama’s boys grow up believing they are superior to their mothers and it does affect them for the rest of their lives.
As a society, we have a variety of images of mama’s boys when they are little. Sometimes we think of them as clinging little fellas who haven’t learned to feel safe in the world separate from their mothers. Depending on their age, it can inspire either sympathy or concern. Other times we think of them as solicitous of their mothers. Eager to please, they are like the moon orbiting her, trying to keep mom happy and content.
Another image of a young mama’s boy is brought to mind by Freud’s quote. That is the little boy invited to be “the little man” for his mother. For this boy, dad has disappeared, leaving the son to attempt to take his place. Dad may have died or not be available because of separation or divorce. Dad might be so busy working and providing for the family that he becomes emotionally unavailable to his wife and children. Whatever the circumstances, a void has been created such that the son misses the opportunity to enter his dad’s sphere of influence as a young teenager. Instead, he remains in the sphere of influence of his mother where he attempts to stand in the place of his dad.
In such families, a void has been left that the young man tries to fill. While it seems admirable and is surely a response of love from the boy, it sets him up to believe he is his mother’s equal, even her superior, and this can negatively affect his relationship with women for the rest of his life.
Believing he is his mother’s equal or superior, a son finds himself in a precarious position. Deep down inside he knows he isn’t “man enough” to fill his father’s shoes. It doesn’t matter how appreciative his mother is of his attempts to do so. It doesn’t matter if she compliments his efforts and seems to genuinely depend on him, he cannot take his father’s place. He has neither the maturity nor the biological distance to be able to accomplish this impossible task. His attempts to take his father’s place, his mother’s agreement to let him, and society’s seeming approval set him up to feel deep insecurity and inadequacy in his relationship to women.
The result, for instance, is a grown married man who either pushes against his wife by bullying her into submission or pulls on her because he cannot make a decision without her approval. Both extremes (and there are multiple variations between these two) are the result of a man struggling with a deep, abiding sense of inadequacy birthed in him when he first tried to fill his father’s shoes.
If he’d had the chance to enter his father’s sphere of influence as a preteen and teenager, he would have learned how to be a man before learning how to take on and love a woman. He would have had a deep and abiding sense of his masculinity, his connection to his father and his father’s ancestors, and he would have come to marriage secure in all of that.
Before I level the playing field with a similar phenomenon for daddy’s girls, let me share the very good news that it is never too late for a man to enter the sphere of influence of his father. Exploring that is too much for this article and would result in rewriting the book that already carries that information! But when a man who has been trapped in the role of mama’s boy chooses to enter his father’s sphere of influence, he discovers inner resources that can make his life with the women and children in his life more satisfying for himself and them.
And yes, you may have guessed it already, daddy’s girls feel superior to the men in their lives. Whether they are daddy’s girls because they tried to take mama’s place with him or whether they tried to take dad’s place with mom; just like their mama’s boy counterparts, these young girls attempt to fill a role they are not capable of filling. It creates a sense of superiority that can negatively affect their relationships with men for the rest of their lives.
Daddy’s girls miss the opportunity to re-enter their mother’s sphere of influence as teenagers. Without the invitation to come into her sphere of influence and that of the maternal ancestors, daughters miss the chance to learn how to find fulfillment in themselves. Instead, they are taught to find fulfillment by taking care of the men and children in their lives, which is an impossible task. Feeling as though her husband depends on her to be able to make his way in the world, an adult daddy’s girl believes she is superior to him and that is a lonely place for a woman to live.
But, again, the good news is that it is never too late for a woman to re-enter the sphere of influence of her mother and her mother’s ancestors. It takes imagination and commitment; but it can happen and when it does a woman discovers internal resources available to her than can turn her life around.
I don’t think that keeping “for life the feeling of conqueror” is a healthy or satisfying position for either a man or a woman when it comes at the expense of his being grounded in his masculinity and potency and at the expense of her finding fulfillment and power inside herself, states of being that create the chance for romantic/married love to be enormously fulfilling.
So rather than rewrite the book that points the way to freedom for mama’s boys and daddy’s girls – freedom to express their love in healthy, satisfying, and even joyous ways – I’ll point you to the book itself at http://www.GettingBacktoLove.com ~