A mother without a mother: women’s experiences of maternal estrangement in motherhood

Barcham, Samantha Sarah Saffron (2022) A mother without a mother: women’s experiences of maternal estrangement in motherhood. DCPsych thesis, Middlesex University / Metanoia Institute. [Thesis]

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Family estrangement can be a devastating experience. The traumas associated with estrangement can occur at multiple levels, in the form of past neglect or abuse, or arising from distressing events such as divorce or poverty (Agllias, 2016). The process of estranging from a family member or being the rejected person can also be traumatic to experience. However, as a fundamentally relational issue, estrangement can be understood as often being linked to early relational trauma (Agllias, 2015b; DeYoung, 2015). The silence and shame that usually encircles estrangement, particularly between parents and children, obscures the picture around its pervasiveness with research suggesting it occurs more commonly than might be thought (Conti, 2015).

This study addresses existing gaps in the field of estrangement research. Positioned within a hermeneutic constructivist perspective that foregrounds subjectivity and selfexperience as a means of interpreting the world, a methodological approach of narrative inquiry was used to explore the lived experiences of six women estranged from their mothers, who were also mothers to one or more children. Narrative interviews were conducted with each participant. From their accounts, three in-depth individual stories were produced using dialogical narrative analysis and within which my own story of estrangement was interwoven. The fourth story is a fictionalised account created from the narratives of the remaining three participants who are depicted as friends supporting one another.

The stories that have emerged through this research poignantly demonstrate the struggles of estrangement and what it is like to be a daughter who cannot have a functioning relationship with one’s mother. They show the effect this can have on one’s sense of self, often imbuing it with a sense of shame. The wounds of estrangement ran deep, fuelling a powerful desire for the participants to be a different kind of mother for their own children. In becoming mothers, their stance toward the behaviour of their own mothers shifted, as did their capacity and willingness to accept such treatment at the expense of their wellbeing. The intergenerational thread that wove through their narratives exposed a cycle of hurtful behaviour often being passed along the generations. The participants’ wish to break the pattern came coupled with the pain that their own mothers were unable to do this for them. This study also revealed the inner tensions daughters contend with concerning their mothers as they age and the imagined sense of relief that comes with their passing.

The insights offered through the telling of these stories can support the work of psychotherapy and those working with families affected by estrangement. They reveal the profoundly complex nature of estrangement and its relational roots, encouraging practitioners to give particular attention to the shame infused interpersonal difficulties often masked in experiences of estrangement.

Item Type: Thesis (DCPsych)
Sustainable Development Goals:
Research Areas: A. > School of Science and Technology
B. > Theses
C. Collaborative Partners > Metanoia Institute
Item ID: 36834
Depositing User: Lisa Blanshard
Date Deposited: 24 Nov 2022 09:45
Last Modified: 24 Nov 2022 11:22
URI: https://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/id/eprint/36834

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