Toxicity is something we associate with people who drop into our lives and add stress and chaos.
We expect it from acquaintances, strangers, and even friends.
But what about our mothers?
Unfortunately, toxic mother-child relationships can occur and often leave lasting scars.
When a mother is toxic, it can leave a child feeling confused and unloved.
It’s especially heartbreaking when the person you look to for unconditional love and protection turns out to be the one harming you in some way.
However, when we take the time to identify toxicity in the relationship with our mothers, we can gain perspective and work toward healing.
Is it possible you may be in a toxic mother-child relationship?
Let’s find out.
What Is a Toxic Mother and What Made Her That Way?
The first step towards understanding and working with a broken mother-child relationship is to define what a toxic mother is and why she may exhibit harmful behavior.
A toxic mother harms her child in some way, whether through verbal, physical, or emotional abuse.
Here are some of the reasons why toxic mothers exhibit these behaviors:
- Trauma: Experiencing trauma in her past can lead a mother to become toxic when raising her children.
- Poor role model: Growing up in an environment with little guidance and poor role models can lead a mother to believe that this type of emotional neglect or abuse is normal.
- Mental health problems: Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or a personality disorder can impede a mother’s ability to effectively parent her children, leading to a toxic environment.
- Poor communication skills: Lack of communication or miscommunication between mother and child can create an atmosphere of misunderstanding and tension. Poor communication likely began in your mother’s household and could have continued with other relationships, such as friendships and dating.
- Unhealthy coping mechanisms: Toxic mothers may have grown up with unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as drinking alcohol or taking drugs to cope with stress, which can lead to neglect or poor decision-making in parenting.
When we look at these causes of toxic parenting, it’s important to remember that your mother is likely not a “bad person.” She may have had a difficult life and was simply trying her best with the tools she had available.
Taking the time to understand the root of her actions can help you have greater compassion for your situation and begin to heal.
6 Examples of What a Toxic Mother Says
There are many types of toxic language mothers use that can be damaging to a child’s sense of self-worth. Here are six common examples:
1. “I wish you were never born.”
A toxic mother may say this to her child in moments of frustration or anger, attempting to make them feel as though they are unwanted and unloved.
These harsh statements are damaging and can lead to low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and other psychological issues.
2. “You are so lazy/stupid/worthless.”
Words that invalidate personal worth are meant to belittle and make the child feel less than they are.
Not only will these words hurt in the moment, but they can also have long-term effects on the child’s self-esteem and confidence.
3. “Why can’t you be more like your brother/sister?”
A challenging statement like this pits siblings against each other, creating jealousy and division within a family. These words are meant to make the child feel inadequate, as if they are lacking compared to their siblings.
4. “You’re an embarrassment.”
Shaming a son or daughter by expressing embarrassment can be damaging because it implies that the child’s behavior or actions make the mother feel ashamed of them.
It can lead to guilt and shame in the child, making them less likely to be themselves.
5. “Stop crying; you’re too sensitive.”
Telling a child to stop crying is dismissive and invalidating, as if their emotions are not legitimate or important.
Suppressing a child’s authentic emotions can cause them to repress their feelings chronically and automatically, leading to even more emotional issues in the future.
6. “You’re too clingy/dependent on me.”
An isolating statement is damaging because it implies that the child’s need for emotional connection and support is wrong or burdensome to the mother.
When a parent pushes independence too quickly, it can lead to feelings of insecurity, worthlessness, and loneliness in a child.
13 Heartbreaking Signs of a Toxic Mother
When you’re the child of a toxic mother, it can be hard to notice the warning signs of her toxicity. Here are 13 heartbreaking signs of a toxic mother to keep an eye out for:
1. Conversations Are One-Sided
A toxic mother often dominates conversations, leaving little room or opportunity for the child to express their opinion.
Your mother may actively talk over you, look away and act distracted when you’re talking, or start doing something else while you’re speaking.
She may outright tell you to stop talking or criticize you for talking too much while simultaneously taking the floor and dominating the conversation.
These behaviors can be damaging because they imply that your ideas and thoughts are not important or valued.
2. She Is Jealous and Competitive
A toxic mother may have these feelings towards her child, which can lead to emotional manipulation or abuse.
She may try to control or compete with their successes, making the child feel like they cannot express their own individuality.
Jealous behavior can make the child feel less than others or as if they must constantly compete for her love and attention.
3. Her Love Is Conditional
A toxic mother may make the child feel their love is conditional or contingent on them behaving in a certain way. She may express disappointment, disapproval, or criticism when the child does not meet her expectations.
Then, when she is loving and giving, the child may have difficulty trusting it, as if it is too good to be true.
4. She Embarrasses You Regularly
Many children and young adults think their parents are embarrassing, especially during adolescence.
However, a parent who is always saying or doing things that make you feel embarrassed or ashamed in public is indicative of a toxic mother.
These actions can imply that she is not respecting your boundaries or recognizing your privacy.
5. She Uses Emotional Blackmail and Guilt Trips
A toxic mother may use emotional blackmail and guilt trips to control your choices or actions. She may threaten to withdraw her affection or love if you don’t comply with her demands.
When an adult manipulates her child’s emotions, it can have detrimental effects on the child, such as guilt, anxiety, and even resentment.
6. She Employs Gaslighting and Denial
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that happens when someone denies reality to gain power or control over another person.
A toxic mother may use gaslighting and denial to make you feel your thoughts, feelings, and experiences are invalid or illegitimate.
When a mom manipulates this way, a child can feel confused and uncertain about themselves.
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7. She Has Uncontrollable Anger and Explosive Outbursts
A toxic mother may have frequent, uncontrollable outbursts of anger that can be directed at the child.
These outbursts make a young child feel scared or unsafe and can lead to guilt if they believe they “caused” the outburst.
As an adult child, you may realize, “My mom is toxic,” but you can feel responsible or guilty just as you would as a small child. You may also feel anger and pain to be the recipient of this behavior.
8. There’s Financial Abuse
This abuse occurs when a parent uses their financial power to manipulate a child. A toxic mother may use her resources to punish, reward, or control the child’s behavior.
This type of abuse can be damaging because it implies that the child’s worth – and the mother’s love – is somehow tied to money.
9. Criticism Is the Norm
If your mother always needs to criticize or point out a flaw when she talks to you, it certainly suggests you are dealing with a toxic mother.
When you’re seeking validation or support, such as when you achieve a goal or share an accomplishment, she may belittle your success.
In reaction, you may feel like your accomplishments are never good enough, and your self-esteem can decline.
10. She Resorts to Physical Abuse
A toxic mother may resort to physical violence, such as slapping or hitting, to get you to comply with her demands.
If you’re an adult, this behavior is completely unacceptable, and you should separate yourself from your mom as quickly as possible.
This behavior can be disguised as “discipline” for younger children, but it is often a way for her to control the child and get them to do what she wants.
Physical abuse can leave long-term emotional scars on the child and make them feel they are unworthy of love or respect.
11. She’s Co-Dependent
Does your mother look to you to parent her? Does she have a substance abuse or mental health issue but expects you to enable her?
Co-dependency is a common trait of toxic mothers. She may lean on you too much, refusing to make her own decisions, and instead, look to you for guidance and support.
When co-dependency spills into adulthood, it can be a complicated and unhealthy dynamic to navigate.
A minor child coping with this dynamic will feel overwhelmed, drained, and exhausted from all of their mother’s demands and expectations.
12. She Refuses to Apologize
No parent is perfect, and even the healthiest of mothers make mistakes. However, the toxicity line is crossed when a mother cannot apologize for those mistakes and refuses to take responsibility.
An emotionally unhealthy mother may make excuses and blame others to avoid admitting fault or apologizing, leaving the child feeling helpless and resentful.
13. She Isn’t Emotionally Available
A toxic mother may be physically present but emotionally unavailable. She may not make time for meaningful conversations with the child or show any interest in what is going on in their life.
Furthermore, the mother may not participate in hobbies that interest the child or provide emotional support during times of difficulty.
How to Deal With a Toxic Mother
Identifying the signs of toxicity in your parent is the first step towards healing and creating healthy family systems. The next step involves developing an action plan to protect you from toxicity.
Here’s how to deal with a toxic mother in a mature and healthy way.
- Acknowledge your feelings: A child of a toxic parent will often brush their feelings under the rug to deal with their mother’s toxicity. It is essential to recognize the feelings that come up, such as guilt, resentment, anger, or sadness.
- Set boundaries: Boundaries are essential in any relationship, especially when dealing with a toxic parent. Setting boundaries can help you protect your emotional and physical safety by limiting what behaviors are acceptable and what are not.
- Reach out for help: If the toxicity of your mother’s behavior has become too damaging, it is a good idea to seek professional help from a therapist or counselor. They can provide objective advice and support on how to cope with the situation.
- Take space from the relationship: You don’t need to make a black-and-white decision about whether or not you’ll keep your mom in your life. However, there’s nothing wrong with taking a break. This may happen once in your life, if you may even need to take regular breaks to maintain your emotional balance and avoid getting overwhelmed by toxicity.
- Express your needs and expectations: Communication is key to any relationship, and it is vital to express your needs and expectations for the relationship in a clear, non-confrontational way. With this, you can create a better relationship with your mother and ensure she doesn’t have the upper hand in conversations. She may not fully listen to or respect your requests, but at least you can show compassion towards yourself for communicating and respecting your needs.
When dealing with the conflict and toxicity of a mother, it is essential to remember that you aren’t required to “solve” the issues at hand.
It is okay to step away from the situation and take care of yourself to ensure your emotional well-being. Try these tips with a hopeful yet realistic outlook for the best results.
An emotionally unhealthy mother can profoundly affect their child’s life, making it difficult to navigate and even triggering trauma and mental health problems.
If you are experiencing a toxic dynamic with your mother, it is essential to recognize and acknowledge the signs of toxicity.
From there, develop an action plan that helps you protect yourself and prioritize your own mental health by setting boundaries, reaching out for help when needed, and expressing your needs and expectations.
Remember, you are not responsible for managing their toxicity, and it is perfectly okay to take space from the relationship to care for yourself.
With a positive yet pragmatic perspective, you will be certain to uncover the solace and serenity that is rightfully yours.