If there is indeed a maternal instinct, it, like alcoholism, can grow into a blind and destructive disease.
Dr. Joseph Stapledon, The Mom Disease
Chronic mothering is an indicator of an acute personality disorder in which a woman uses mothering as a way of avoiding intolerable life situations. There is no typical personality profile for a woman who abuses mothering. However, while chronic mothering occurs in all types of women, general similarities include over sensitivity, feelings of inadequacy, and a derisive hostility towards other mothers.
Chronic mothers (CMs) often project an outward appearance of confidence, a façade occasionally broken in tearful outbursts at seemingly unimportant issues. As well, the CM usually appears to be motivated solely by her children's best interests. However, the split between the inner monologue of the CM and her outward performances is quite pronounced. Her inner character is an “injustice collector” for whom reminiscing over past injustices, and perhaps even provoking future ones, is a part of a pleasurable and noxious habit used to sublimate her own personal dissatisfaction. Indeed, the CM both suffers from and enjoys the opportunities her children have missed and her children's poor treatment of her.
The CM focuses on suffering as a way of avoiding reality. She rationalizes her behavior in various ways and seldom realizes her own masochistic need to suffer. Without understanding her dependency the mother sees no reason to change her behavior. Blind and lacking the conviction for either suicide or self-improvement, the CM instead destroys herself in a slow emotional collapse. As her children, normally suffering from personality disorders themselves, grow older they either avoid their mother or perform the needy role that she requires. However, even when attention is given, the CM believes her children are secretly rejecting her. The CM sees this rejection as both dangerous for her children and as betrayal that they have unfairly levied against her. This negativistic and childlike behavior pattern is the mother's dramatic and desperate plea for love, attention, and pity.
Desperation is the most pronounced characteristic of a CM. In many cases the CM is unfaithful to her spouse, and there is often a compulsive pattern of self-debasement and various types of sexual involvements with multiple partners. When demands for love and attention are not met by her children CMs often resort to these types of “binges” as a respite from mounting household tensions. This maneuver temporarily increases the CM's self-esteem and well-being.
The first step in helping a CM is to try and stop her from mothering. Asking a mother not to be a mother seems inhumane, perhaps even impossible, but this is precisely what is needed. Contact with her children must be severed while the woman learns healthier ways of dealing with the stresses and disappointments of life. If either immaturity or weakness prevent her from admitting her problem the woman will be unable to make the separation from her children. Nevertheless, the passivity and dependency exhibited by CMs have led to excellent results with extended psychotherapy and behavior modifying hypnotherapy. Once the problem has been accepted and therapy has begun, a woman may be able to return to her family within three to six months providing she truly wishes to be a better mother and adheres to the mantric regimes prescribed by a capable physician.