Healing Mother Hunger

Shame is a powerful emotion, often misunderstood and overlooked in the context of trauma and attachment. As a trauma therapist, it’s crucial to understand the role of shame in the development of a child’s behavior and beliefs, particularly how it functions to facilitate attachment by preventing the child from exhibiting behaviors or beliefs that might upset the parent. This article delves into the function of shame, its connection to the concept of “mother hunger,” and provides insights into healing from this deep-seated emotional wound.

Understanding Shame in Attachment

Shame serves a fundamental role in the attachment process between a child and a parent. According to trauma expert Janina Fisher, shame is an emotion that “helps us to stay within the bounds of what is acceptable in our relationships.” Fisher explains that shame acts as a social regulator, ensuring that a child’s behavior aligns with parental expectations, thereby facilitating attachment and survival.

Donald Nathanson, a prominent researcher on shame, elaborates on this function by describing shame as “the emotion that lets us know we have transgressed some social boundary, thus threatening our bond with others.” Nathanson’s perspective underscores how shame operates to maintain relational harmony by curbing behaviors that might jeopardize the child’s connection to their caregiver.

The Protective Function of Shame

From an evolutionary standpoint, shame can be seen as a protective mechanism. When a child feels shame, they are motivated to modify their behavior to avoid rejection or disapproval from their primary attachment figures. This adaptation is crucial for survival, as a strong bond with a caregiver increases the likelihood of protection and care.

However, while shame serves to maintain attachment in the short term, it can have detrimental effects on a child’s emotional development and self-perception in the long term. This is particularly evident in cases of “mother hunger.”

The Concept of Mother Hunger

“Mother hunger” is a term coined by Kelly McDaniel to describe the deep, unmet needs for nurturing, protection, and guidance from a mother figure. When these needs are not met in early childhood, the child may experience a pervasive sense of longing and emptiness. This unmet need can significantly impact the child’s emotional and psychological development, leading to a range of issues in adulthood.

One poignant example of mother hunger can be seen in the case of a young girl named Emma. Emma’s mother was emotionally unavailable due to her own unresolved trauma. As a result, Emma grew up feeling a profound lack of maternal affection and validation. To cope, she internalized feelings of shame, believing that her needs for love and attention were unacceptable or burdensome.

The Block Created by Shame

Shame creates a significant barrier that prevents children like Emma from recognizing and expressing their need for affection. This emotional block can manifest in various ways:

  • Emotional Suppression: The child learns to suppress their feelings and needs to avoid further shame and rejection.
  • Perfectionism: The child may strive for perfection in an attempt to earn the love and approval they crave.
  • People-Pleasing: The child becomes excessively focused on pleasing others, neglecting their own needs and desires.

These behaviors can persist into adulthood, making it challenging for individuals to form healthy, fulfilling relationships. They move through the world unaware of their deep-seated need for affection, often feeling unworthy of love and connection.

The Generational Nature of Shame

It’s important to recognize that no one is free from experiencing or perpetuating shame. Even the most well-intentioned parents, myself included, are not exempt from this cycle. Trauma is often generational, and parents can unintentionally pass on their own unresolved issues to their children. I always stress that I don’t believe in vilifying or blaming parents who try their hardest to be “good enough.”

Good enough parents can unknowingly activate shame in their children due to their unconscious biases. Shame can be triggered in children anytime they sense that a need they have consistently upsets their parent. For example, if a child perceives that their emotional expressiveness causes distress to their parent, they may begin to feel shame around showing their emotions.

To understand how deeply ingrained shame can be, consider something your family of origin isn’t comfortable discussing. You will likely find feelings of shame within yourself about that topic. This simple exercise highlights how easily and subtly shame can infiltrate our lives and relationships.

Healing from Mother Hunger and Associated Shame

Healing from mother hunger and the associated shame is a multifaceted process that involves several key steps:

1. Acknowledging the Wound

The first step in healing is acknowledging the presence of mother hunger and the impact it has had on one’s life. This involves recognizing the unmet needs and the ways in which shame has shaped behavior and self-perception.

2. Self-Compassion

Developing self-compassion is crucial for healing. This means treating oneself with kindness and understanding, recognizing that the feelings of shame and unmet needs are not one’s fault. Practices such as mindfulness and self-compassion exercises can be beneficial.

3. Therapy and Support

Engaging in therapy with a trauma-informed therapist can provide a safe space to explore and process these deep-seated emotions. Group therapy or support groups can also offer a sense of community and understanding.

4. Re-parenting

Re-parenting involves giving oneself the nurturing and validation that was lacking in childhood. This can be done through self-care practices, setting healthy boundaries, and cultivating a positive inner dialogue.

5. Building Healthy Relationships

Learning to build and maintain healthy relationships is a critical aspect of healing. This involves developing skills such as effective communication, emotional regulation, and vulnerability.

6. Addressing and Releasing Shame

Finally, it is essential to address and release the shame that has been internalized. Techniques such as EMDR, somatic therapy and Parts Work  can help individuals process and release these emotions.


As a trauma therapist, guiding clients through this process can empower them to break free from the cycle of shame and build the loving, supportive relationships they deserve.

If you would like to schedule an appointment to explore your own attachment and heal trauma, please go to schorcounseling.com for more information.


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