It’s hard enough to deal with your own emotions, but the situation becomes much more complicated when you have a toxic mother.
The emotional turmoil often leaves scars that can last years, and these wounds are not easily healed by time alone. That’s why it’s essential to take precautions to protect yourself from being hurt again in the future.
Here’s how to deal with a toxic mother, as advised by experts.
Hannah Tishman, LCSW
Psychotherapist | VP of Operations, Cobb Psychotherapy NYC
Develop strong and practical coping skills
When you have a toxic mom, it is essential to develop strong, practical coping skills. We enter this world through our moms, but that does not mean we have to tolerate toxicity. Coping strategies reinforce the importance of self-care and individuating from our parents.
If we don’t set boundaries with a toxic parent, there may be feelings of obligation around spending time together, which can lead to resentment. One might undergo severe anxiety, resentment, anger, and other clinical symptoms as a result of tolerating toxic treatment from a parent.
Boundaries guide how we want to live and how we choose to invest our time and energy. Without boundaries, we can easily be taken advantage of, leading to toxic abuse patterns, including emotional and physical abuse.
This may also lead to low self-esteem, an increase in hypervigilance and may interfere and impact interpersonal relationships.
Some ways to set boundaries include:
- saying yes or no clearly
- expressing differing opinions
- staying silent instead of opting-in at all times
- taking a step back from excess contact
Don’t answer the phone if she is calling several times a day and instead set a specific time to connect with her if you have the energy and desire to do so. A great way to take the initiative is to pre-schedule a standing weekly or monthly call, depending on your relationship. When you visit or if she visits, stay in a hotel, vice versa.
Establishing physical space leads to the establishment of emotional boundaries in itself.
When and if your toxic mom makes inappropriate comments towards you, walk away. There is no ability to control what she says. However, we can choose to respond differently than we may have in the past. This reinforces new patterns and helps us to change our negative behaviors in response to other’s toxicity.
Know what type of treatment you can tolerate and what type of treatment does not work for you
It’s also essential to express how these comments make you feel if you are feeling emotionally and physically safe enough to do so. “I feel _ when you make those comments. In the future, is that something you might be able to keep in mind?”
Some other ways to set verbal boundaries include:
- “That’s not going to work for me.”
- “I am available to talk for 20 minutes, but then I have to hop off.”
- “Here is what I can do for you right now: XYZ.”
Be mindful of what you choose to share with your mother
You don’t owe any information, and you get to decide what you let her in about. Make a list of things you want to change and write next to each behavior how you would like to react or feel instead.
It’s okay to be hopeful and to want to make the relationship work. It can be helpful to meet together with a therapist or even to encourage her to get her own therapy. This depends on the relationship and what you want out of it.
Be honest with yourself about the reality of what could change in your relationship. If you don’t feel there is room for change, it’s helpful to practice acceptance and continue knowing your limitations and hers.
If you are willing to put the work in, there is room to modify learned behaviors that no longer serve you. It’s helpful to understand how your mother and the environment you grew up in shaped you before you can make change happen.
You are in control and can grant yourself permission to change patterns and to respond differently to your mother going forward. Recognizing having a toxic mother can be painful and bring up lots of memories and discomfort. Normalize this when you begin to heal and remember that you are not alone.
La Keita D. Carter, PsyD
Licensed Psychologist | Certified Clinical Trauma Professional Owner and CEO, Institute for Healing, LLC
Consider the impact that the relationship has on your health in all aspects
Consider the impact that the relationship has on your health in all aspects (mental, physical, social, spiritual, and financial health). If your mother is causing dysfunction or negative health patterns, then you should make decisions with your health at the front of your mind.
Only you are responsible for your health, so you should consider it with each decision.
Keep in mind that family relationships are typically a protective factor for mental health disorders. Studies show that healthy family relationships are connected with healthy psychological adjustment (Hochgraf et al., 2021; Haines et al., 2016; Mak et al., 2020).
When those family relationships are doing more harm than anything, you should contemplate all of the avenues that you can use to increase your health.
Ask your mother if she will attend therapy
Therapy for you as an individual or as a family can be very helpful. Therapists can help break down communication barriers that have been established by each of you. They can also help you come to understand each other as emotional beings who have needs that each of you can fulfill for the other person.
Lastly, therapy can give you a safe space to share things that have been the root of resentment or dissatisfaction in your relationship.
Put up boundaries
You know how much you can take. Don’t let others tell you that you are too sensitive or need thicker skin. If you don’t like how you are being treated in any relationship, you don’t have to maintain that relationship.
Your boundaries don’t communicate what others can’t do; they communicate what you can do.
In other words, it’s not that your mother can’t berate you in public. She can go to the mall with you if she will be respectful. If she can’t be respectful, then you can go alone.
Your boundaries are all about you, not others.
If things go really south, consider estrangement
Estrangement is detachment or sever in verbal, physical, and emotional contact between family members. It typically involves no intentional and direct communication; however, there are times when there is direct communication.
For example, when dad has a health emergency, mom and son (who may have been estranged) will work together to make health decisions for him. However, once the business is completed, the estrangement may return. Indirect communication typically comes in the form of talking to each other through other family members or attorneys.
This is an awesome decision to make that has a lot of implications, so it should be made soberly. There are many consequences to being estranged from family members, especially mothers.
When people think of mothers, they think of the stereotypical warm, nurturing mother who only uses words to uplift you and supports all of your decisions. They may not conjure up thoughts of the mother that raised you, which could be littered with verbal, physical, and emotional abuse:
You really have to think about the cultural implications of disconnecting from this person. Some cultures have heavy social sanctions for estranged family members. For example, pulling away from your mother could mean that you lose relationships with your other parent and/or siblings.
It could also mean that you don’t get invitations to family events and social gatherings that would be important to you. You may also lose the support that you need when something major comes up for you (e.g., graduations, weddings, birthdays, illness).
Lastly, social rejection from peers and associates who can’t possibly fathom why you would disconnect from your mother has been associated with estrangement.
With that being said, it’s more common than people realize. One study found that 44% of the participants had experienced estrangement, and 39% of those who were estranged were estranged from an immediate family member.
If these social sanctions are too heavy for you to bear, you may want to consider all of your options before you go this route. It’s not just the social sanctions that you should consider. People who are estranged have other problems as well.
Research shows that estrangement has been linked to extreme negative emotions (Agllias, 2011), self-regulation problems, and increased physiological response patterns (Friesen, 2003).
Erica Cramer, LCSW
Clinical Social Work/Therapist, Cobb Psychotherapy NYC
There are many different types of toxic mothers, from the overly controlling to the overly critical to the overly involved. It is clear from this range that toxic mothers can either come across as vindictive or compassionate.
Regardless of their presentation, the result of their actions remains consistent. Their behavior aims to prevent their adult children from living authentic and autonomous lives.
Toxic mothers can become enmeshed in their child’s decisions, relationships, and lifestyles if appropriate boundaries are not implemented. Toxicity can lead to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, identity confusion, and all sorts of other negative outcomes.
The reason is the adult is not being true to they you are and trying to consciously or unconsciously appease their mother.
Communicate with her on your terms
Generally speaking, you should not communicate with your toxic mother on a daily basis. Speaking to a toxic mother requires a different level of energy and preparation than speaking to a non-toxic mother. You may feel like you are constantly walking on eggshells or that nothing you can do is right in her eyes.
Speaking to someone who is so negative regularly can lead to low self-esteem and affect other aspects of your life. It is important to limit your conversations with her in order to limit the influence she has over your life.
Speak to her when it is convenient for you, and you are mentally prepared to engage in such a conversation. If she would love to speak to you 10 times a day, but you know you can only successfully navigate 1 conversation, go with what makes sense to you, and communicate with her only the number of times you feel comfortable.
If you do not feel comfortable telling her the actual reason for the lack of communication, blame it on a neutral party (such as a demanding job or complicated household).
Spend time with her sparingly
Being with a toxic mother requires more mental energy than spending time with a non-toxic mother. Make sure whenever you spend time with her, you are ready for a battle and have the endurance to keep her thoughts and opinions at bay.
Otherwise, it can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Spend time with her on your terms and when you feel ready to put on your boxing gloves.
Do not tell her about things that will inevitably create issues
There are patterns that exist in every relationship (we fight when we talk about this subject and get along well when we talk about this subject). Identify the “safer” topics to discuss with your mother and avoid the more “dangerous” ones. This will save you a lot of headache and heartache and could ultimately pressure the relationship.
For example, if you know you and your mother do not see eye to eye on the people you date, do not discuss them with her until a relationship gets serious and she actually needs to know that information.
Be aware of both of your triggers
Is flexing your independence a trigger for T-Mom? Be aware. Either do not mention stories that showcase your independence or be prepared for her commentary when you do so.
If her being judgmental is one of your triggers, be mindful of topics that you are okay with judging you about vs. ones you are not.
Consider living far away from her if possible
Sometimes the best boundary to put in place is a physical one. If your mother is constantly showing up at your house or cause other issues by her sheer proximity to you, it may be time to consider changing zip codes.
Although this is not a feasible solution, it may be one to think about it if that is the only way you can truly become an independent adult.
Manage your expectations
Your mother is toxic, and you know it. She is the person who sabotages positive things in your life and makes your feel horrible about yourself. When you go to see her, do not expect Carol Brady; you’re setting yourself up for shock and disappointment.
When you have a toxic mom, you need to be honest about who you are dealing with and what she is capable of.
Pick your battles
If you are going to get upset about everything she says, you are probably going to be upset most of the time.
You can always, for any reason, reevaluate the relationships in your life, regardless of who they’re with. So, if you’re maintaining this one, in any capacity, when she says something that hurts your feelings, ask yourself if it’s worth getting upset about.
- Will being upset about or reacting to this situation change anything?
- Will disclosing your feelings to her actually help change her behavior in the future?
- Were you surprised by this behavior?
If your answer to most of these questions is no, save your energy.
Toxic moms come from all different versions, from the one who unknowingly smothers you to the one who vindictively tries to ruin your life. It’s important that you’re honest with yourself about who your mother is, and you protect yourself accordingly.
Following these tips will help you navigate the turbulent waters of dealing with a toxic mother. Remember that there are billions of people in this world, not all great, and some of them become parents.
You are the most important person in your life, and you must protect and love yourself first.
Myisha Jackson, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor | Owner, Healing Journey Counseling Center
Toxic mothers are a common issue that I treat in therapy. Toxic mothers are defined as a mother that:
- criticizes their child
- ignore their boundaries
- lack of empathy
- make their child feel guilty
- shame their child
Toxic mother has been more common in the mother-daughter relationship versus the mother-son relationship.
Create boundaries with her
The healthiest way to handle and cope with a toxic mother is to create boundaries with her. Boundaries are in place to protect you from feeling hurt by your mother. You choose how you will like to create those boundaries.
- Will you only see her during the holidays?
- Will you only communicate by phone?
- Will you only spend a limited amount of time with her?
You create it based on how much you can physically and mentally handle from her. It is important not to let others make you feel bad for creating boundaries with your mother. I know it is an old saying about “that’s your mother,” and although that is true, they do not mean you have to tolerate disrespect from her.
Make sure you stand your ground
Another thing is to be assertive. Make sure you stand your ground. State your needs and wants clearly and not allow her to take advantage of you. You can be assertive by making eye contact, being mindful of body language, and using a clear (not yelling) voice.
Don’t be afraid to stand up to your mother. You have to do this for yourself. Think about how you feel each time she becomes toxic towards you. You have to put an end to it.
These two ways that I shared today are healthy ways that do not involve being rude and disrespectful. Your mother may not like it when you do these things, but these things are for your own mental health and not hers.
Owner, Stag Valley Homestead
Realize that there’s nothing wrong with you
For those going through it, the first step undoubtedly is the realization that there is nothing wrong with you. You, at your core, are a functioning person who is being held to an unrealistic standard to live within the boundaries or forced to orbit the will of your mother.
Knowing you are not truly at fault for all the holes they find (or make) is where you can begin to break away from the cage built around you from the years of conditioning.
Recognize signs of gaslighting and hypocrisy
Secondly, learn to recognize signs of gaslighting, hypocrisy, and overall actions that have no other motive but to deflate or diminish your thoughts, actions, goals, or any other aspect of your life that strays too far from what your mother wants.
Once these things are realized, the path to freedom is made clear.
Confront and address the toxic behavior
Start with the one thing you’ve been taught to avoid: Confrontation.
This will be the catalyst that is most difficult. Addressing toxic behavior is often the one step that never gets done, and in turn, families become broken when those most victimized by it choose to vanish at the first availability.
Perhaps it’s as simple as pointing out that she requires or demands of you what she herself doesn’t do or that she holds you to standards she doesn’t hold for others in the household. It could be the simple fact that you feel in her eyes nothing is ever good enough or that you’re required to make yourself available for them, but they’re never available for you.
Whatever the situation may be, identify it and address it.
Remind them that you are an individual first and their family member second
This is the first step in standing up for yourself against someone who is toxic—reminding them that you are an individual first and their family member second. This is often a starting point where they can place you outside of the social dynamic where they see and treat you as property.
Asserting yourself and your autonomy is so vital that if they choose to accept it, there is hope for both of you to reach a bridge of healing and build a healthy relationship.
This won’t come easy. Gaslighting and diminutive arguments are designed to break you down, guilt you, or make you look like you are the one who is unbalanced. These tactics are designed to make you lose footing so they can regain control. You may not succeed the first few tries.
It takes time, patience, and a lot of regrouping where you analyze where you faltered and what would work next time.
Cut contact for a short time
If you have the ability, such as living on your own, cut contact for a short time. Most narcissists or other toxic people thrive on the feeling of central focus. You and the world revolve around them for their use at their discretion.
Breaking that pattern is a hardball way to stand firm to the fact that no longer will you live under the rule of you “treat me with respect, or I won’t treat you like a person.”
I was fortunate enough that my mother was able to look inward enough to realize she was exhibiting such toxicity towards me and my sibling. My stepdaughter, however, is going through this battle herself, and it brought to light that not all mothers will yield.
To this, I say that above all else, there comes a degree of separation where you can no longer worry about their acceptance of you. If at all there is physical, mental, or emotional harm — leave.
Call someone, remove yourself, and accept that some bridges cannot be mended.
Qualified Social Worker, The Emotions Facilitator | Life Coach | Certified Hypnotherapist
Control the amount of time you spend with her
The most significant relationship in your life, in my opinion, should be with your mother. This is the first person you have connected with on a deep level—spiritually, emotionally, and physically. She is the first human connection any baby will ever know.
The relationship with their mother sets the stage for every other future relationship a baby will have.
However, not all mothers are maternal, and not all mothers have been able to develop the natural bond that should exist between mother and child. It can be hard to understand how a mother can behave in such a destructive way towards her offspring, but we need to realize that maybe she herself was brought up in a similar situation.
Maybe her mother was unavailable to her, and she is just repeating the pattern that she learned and is familiar to her.
Signs of a toxic mother
Dealing with a toxic mother can be very draining. Here are some of the signs to look out for:
- An emotionally unavailable mother will not be able to show empathy towards her child if they are in need of reassurance.
- A toxic mother never wants to understand your perspective. She may not be able to put herself in your shoes or be willing to let you voice your views or opinions.
- This type of mother will take things literally, will not be able to see her shortcomings and downfalls, and will make it all about her by shifting the focus to why she behaves how she does, with no regard to your feelings.
- This mother cannot see when she has done something wrong, is not willing to take any responsibility for her actions, and will blame others.
- Lack of boundaries can be another common sign of a toxic mother. She will expect you to be at her beck and call. Everything revolves around her.
- You may be fearful of expressing yourself and telling her how you feel as you know she will make out you are the one with the problem. Sometimes it can be difficult to have those delicate conversations.
- She will blame you for things you had no control over.
- She may even give you the silent treatment.
- She may get other family members to side with her, leaving you isolated.
I just want to point out this is not an exhaustive list. You may find other signs and symptoms, but these are a few common things I have found when dealing with this type of mother.
How to deal with a toxic mother
If you are unfortunate enough to have a toxic mother, here are a few tips on how you might be able to deal with her:
- Look after yourself – Put yourself first. Self care is very important as you have to look after your mental health. Dealing with someone like this, especially your mother, who is supposed to be there for you and loving you unconditionally can have a severe effect on your mental health. There is nothing worse than having to be constantly treading on eggshells because you are waiting for the next explosion.
- Control the amount of time you spend with her – Any interaction you have with your mother might be best to do in small doses. That way, you are not exposing yourself to long periods when you are in her company. You control the amount of time you spend with her.
- Be mindful – Learning to be mindful about where and how you choose to put energy into your life can be an insightful tool. It can allow you to have a sense of space around your mother, which focuses on the positives and what you can do for yourself. Things don’t fix themselves overnight.
- Take control and set yourself some boundaries.
- Tell her honestly how you feel – Try having a talk with your mother and tell her honestly how you feel and how her behavior has a negative effect on you. You might be surprised she may not even realize what she is doing as it’s most probably been so ingrained in her, and no one else has taken her to the task before.
- Consider therapy – If you fear talking to her alone, how about getting a mediator or suggest going to see a therapist?
- I would highly recommend you working with a therapist who deals with Inner healing and Emotional trauma work. It is very important to get to the root cause of your issues. Your mother’s behavior would have had an effect on you, and you may, as a result, have some limiting beliefs you are holding about yourself.
- You could have feelings of not being good enough or self-blame. Being treated this way is a form of emotional abuse, and these scars go deeper than any physical attack because they cannot be seen or measured.
- Cut ties – If all else fails, then my last suggestion is to cut ties. There is nothing wrong with removing toxic people from your life, no matter if it is your mother.
You deserve to be happy and stress-free. If that means severing your ties, then so be it. Put yourself first. No need to feel guilty; you are doing what is right for you.
Before doing that, if you know it’s going to tug at your heart, why not give your mother a warning that you are not happy, and if it continues, you have no other option. That way, it would be down to her if you decide to finally remove yourself from that situation.
I’m sure if you were in a toxic relationship with a partner, she might well be one of the first people to tell you to remove yourself from that relationship. Just know you are not alone and that help is out there for you if you need it.
Dawn Friedman, MSEd
Therapist, You Are Not Your Mother
Know and set your limits
There are times when dealing with a toxic mother just isn’t worth it. If you notice that you always leave her presence or hang up the phone feeling worse about yourself or your life, then it’s time to set some limits.
You might decide to only talk to her once a month instead of once a week or not to come home for the next holiday season. Or you might want to start letting her know that you’ll no longer tolerate it when she crosses a line.
For example, you might say to her, “If you bring up my appearance again, I’m hanging up.” And then do it. Remember that boundaries aren’t a punishment for her behavior or an attempt to control her; they are a way to protect you and your well-being.
After all, you’re not telling her she’s not allowed to have totally different politics than you do; you’re just informing her that you will no longer listen to her talk about it.
Expect her to be exactly who she is
One way to deal with a toxic mother is to expect her to be toxic. Instead of holding out hope that this time she’ll be different — nicer, kinder, more empathetic — expect her to be exactly who she is.
When we give up on hoping people who aren’t interested in improving will improve, then we can get onto the more effective work of deciding what we want to do about it.
If you know she’s probably going to blow off your birthday, you can make plans with friends and let them know you might need some extra TLC. Or if you expect her to belittle your job promotion, maybe you can decide she doesn’t have the right to know about it.
Don’t participate in her backstabbing
Toxic mothers often try to pit people against each other—this keeps everyone else on the outs and her at the center of the drama. Once you know that’s happening, you can opt-out.
When your aunt calls to ask you why you aren’t visiting your poor mother, you can say, “Aunt Jen, I’m not talking with you about mom. If mom has a problem, she can call me.”
You should also be wary of what you share with your mom when it’s about other people, even if it’s just absently nodding along while she talks about your sister’s bad taste in wedding dresses.
Don’t be surprised if you get a text from your sister later demanding to know why you were critiquing her taste. Let your mom know you’re not talking about other people, and let other people know you’re not talking about your mom, and then stick to it.
Lara Slimmer, MA, LPC, NCC
Licensed Professional Counselor, Choosing Therapy
Define, communicate, and maintain consistent healthy boundaries
Relationships between a mother and her child are always unique. However, the mother-child relationship can frequently be complicated, even toxic.
Regrettably, relational toxicity with my mother is something that I have experienced firsthand. Our enmeshed relationship has resulted in an emotional roller coaster throughout the years. Enmeshment is defined as:
“an extreme form of proximity and intensity in family interaction in which members are over concerned and over-involved in each other’s lives”
(Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 2000).
Yet, I have learned how to manage my emotions, in addition to setting appropriate boundaries, in order to maintain a healthy relationship with my mother. Interpersonal enmeshment wholly characterizes my relationship with my mother.
The following list consists of skills I have implemented to address, as well as decrease relational toxicity with my mother:
- Define, communicate, and maintain consistent healthy boundaries
- Uphold consistent limit-setting and challenge boundary violations
- Utilize assertive communication as this allows for clarity in establishing wants and needs in an appropriate and respectful manner
- Avoid being goaded into an argument by speaking in a calm and clear tone of voice
- Own your emotions and behaviors by employing “I” statements as this will communicate responsibility and accountability
- Validate your mother’s emotions but be aware of when you are being manipulated
- Remain calm and in control when standing up for your rights
While implementing the aforementioned skills has not been an easy task throughout the years, I can say with all honesty that our relationship today is better than it has ever been.
We now share a mutual respect for each other, allowing for a mature relationship.
My mother and I are now able to spend time together, lending toward an increase in the enjoyment of life. Happy memories are being created, erasing the bad as we now travel together, have “mommy-daughter” dates, and engage in heartfelt conversations. And I would not want it any other way!
Dana Basu, PsyD
Licensed Clinical Psychologist, everGROW therapy
Set boundaries moving from small to large
The natural instinct people have with parents is to allow them to influence our lives because parents are meant to take care of us and protect us from danger. However, toxic parents abandon their responsibilities towards their children and instead prioritize their own needs.
Unfortunately, this means that children are often left to protect themselves—this is where boundaries come in.
Boundaries are an important way that people can protect themselves from the harm of others, even when that other is a parent. Not doing so can lead to repeated experiences of harm and trauma.
There are lots of different ways to set boundaries, moving from small to large. Examples of small boundaries might include saying, “I don’t want to talk about that with you right now.” It’s a comment on what you don’t want to happen right now but doesn’t address the future.
Other small boundaries include:
- visiting with your mother only in certain places (perhaps only in public or only at a family member’s house)
- only responding to texts or voice messages when you are ready
Bigger boundaries are more pervasive and lasting. These might include:
- not allowing your mother to interact with your partner or child
- having contact with your mother only on specific occasions
- choosing to cut ties completely
There are pros and cons to setting big boundaries vs. small boundaries.
Small boundaries are easier at the moment, but you have to address them repeatedly every time you’re together. While big boundaries are more difficult to set, but once you make the decision, you only have to worry about enforcing the boundary and not think about what boundary to set any longer.
In the end, boundaries bring up a lot of emotions, especially when enforced with toxic people, as they tend to make us feel bad for our boundaries. But this isn’t actually accurate. Once you make a boundary, allow yourself to go to trusted others for reminders and reassurance instead of allowing your mother to determine what is right for you.
Angela Ficken, LICSW
Licensed Psychotherapist, Progress Wellness
Implement personal boundaries and limits to protect yourself
Dealing with a toxic mother can take a lot of emotional energy and impact other relationships in your life. One of the first steps I often recommend is setting personal boundaries.
Having a toxic relationship with your mother can manifest in many different ways, and implementing some personal boundaries and limits to protect yourself is key to managing your own emotions and wellbeing.
You can not change your mother, and setting limits might not change how she acts and reacts to you, but you can change your own responses to her and how you choose to engage with her.
There are many different ways to set personal boundaries, so if you have a toxic relationship with your mom or anyone for that matter, I encourage you to meet with a therapist who can help you figure out what’s best for you.
An example of a personal boundary can include saying “no.” Examples of this are:
- “I understand you are upset, and my answer remains the same.”
- “I am not able to do that right now.”
- “No, thank you.”
You can also use these statements on repeat if needed. Having something rehearsed ahead of time makes it easier to remember and say when you are in the moment. You can practice your boundary statements in the mirror to see what your effect looks like and to hear your own voice.
Additionally, give yourself some grace.
It might not go according to your master plan right out of the gate, but remember you are choosing to engage differently and try a new way of communicating to improve how you feel. That’s a good thing.
Licensed Creative Arts Therapist
Explore what boundaries feel right for you and commit to making them a priority
This feels like a big buzzword in therapy circles right now, but that’s because they’re important. Boundaries look different for different people, and they may be external boundaries or internal boundaries.
External boundaries might look like setting time limits on when you interact with your mother or letting her know you’re going to hang up the phone if she is not respecting when you tell her you don’t want to discuss certain topics.
Internal boundaries might look like practicing detachment from the emotional impact of your mother’s actions or keeping promises you make to yourself, like implementing self-care or reaching out to someone who can support you after interacting with your mother.
Take some time to explore what boundaries feel right for you, and commit to making them a priority. For some people, boundaries might also mean cutting off contact with your mother.
This can be painful, and our society can at times overemphasize the importance of family, but sometimes the healthiest thing for an individual is to end the relationship.
Locus of control
This can feel hard, but it can be helpful to remember what is within your control. You are not able to change your mother, and unfortunately, she may never change. You are not able to control how she responds to you or the actions she takes.
However, you are in control of how you respond and the actions you can take.
It can feel frustrating to know you can’t change how your mother acts, but there is power in knowing what you can do. This can help alleviate the powerlessness that can sometimes arise in your interactions with your mother.
Offering yourself compassion
One of the most painful things about having a toxic mother is the grief that comes with acknowledging that you don’t have the parent that you wish you had. It’s important that you have space to feel your feelings and to let go of any shame that may be bubbling up around those feelings.
For example, if there’s an inner voice that is telling you that you’re not supposed to be feeling angry at your mother, see if you can turn the voice of judgment down and let yourself just feel that anger.
Your feelings deserve space to be felt, and the more that you can tune into that compassion, the more you will be able to meet your own needs. Sometimes part of dealing with your toxic mother is learning how to be the kind of parent to yourself that you wished you had.
International Trauma Specialist | Life Coach Strategist, The Taylor Way
Focus on healing your heart
Boundaries can be challenging to set in any relationship, especially when it comes to toxic mothers. It’s key to put up healthy boundaries when dealing with a toxic mother; sometimes, I ask my clients to think of them as physical armor.
If you are choosing to see your mother, consider putting on a pair of superhero underwear to secretly remind yourself how strong you are. Wear a special necklace given to you by someone who loves you that reminds you of how strong you are.
Play music that lifts you up before the meeting, and have a special song that calms you and soothes your heart once the meeting is over.
Start limiting the time and energy that you give to your toxic mother – you do not have to answer the phone just because she’s calling (I promise!). It’s healthy to set a time limit to visits and walk away when the time is up – you’re an adult now and can choose how and when to engage with her.
It’s also normal and healthy to grieve the relationship that you wanted and wished you could have with your mother. Rejection is painful, especially when coming from our mothers. So grieve the relationship you wanted, craved, and deserved but don’t get “stuck” in the grief.
Find women who are about your mother’s age to go to for advice—women you trust to love you in a motherly way and who are willing to show up for you in a healthy way.
Ask for help
Know that it’s okay to ask for help. Whether receiving coaching from someone like myself, who has experience with a toxic mother, or attending therapy, or confiding in a trusted friend, reach out and find a safe ear. You are not alone!
Three siblings + me = Four distinct responses to a toxic mom.
After hearing the late John Bradshaw speak about family shame, I rounded up my siblings and attended Bradshaw’s family workshop. Many learnings include how each of us responded to the same angry, critical, violent, and “I didn’t really want children” Mother.
I was the oldest and fought back with resulting physical, mental, and emotional hurt. It’s meant a lifetime of healing work but also realizing all that violence made me stronger.
Brother Sam went silent and hid. One basis of our closeness today is his memory that I always knew where he was hiding and never would reveal his whereabouts to Mom. Sam remains very inward and solitary yet among the most solid people I know.
Brother Jim became the family clown. One story was that he made her laugh even when she was whipping him. He’s still making people laugh.
Sister Patti became the “good little girl,” and I believe that was one of the factors driving a lifetime of alcoholism, multiple divorces, and losing touch with her daughters.
Seek professional help
My point: as children, we hopefully all find unique ways to cope. As adults, it’s possible to realize that our inner child was damaged. Perhaps some professional help is needed to let go of those memories if they continue to affect our current relationships, including our relationship with ourselves.
Create distance to protect yourself
To allow another adult to rain their toxicity on us as adults are unnecessary and to be avoided at all costs – including creating distance to protect us.
Life is short, and creating a supportive environment around us is a requirement for living the life we were born to live.
Award-Winning Mindset Coach, Forward Life Coaching
A mother stands as the first and most profound connection for a young child and one of the most defining relationships in one’s life. So, when that person is toxic, it creates a very unstable soil for self-esteem to grow and thrive.
You can get rid of toxic friends by cutting them out of your life, but disconnecting from a parent is a much tougher decision. In many cases, adult sons and daughters hold on to the hope and expectation that their toxic mother is going to deliver the loving and nurturing behaviors that they crave.
How do you know whether your mother is toxic?
There is an ocean of information out there on the topic that will resonate with you, but one basic test can be applied: Does your mother generally make you feel better or worse about yourself?
People who are good for you (especially parents) tend to elevate you, celebrate your successes, encourage you, be happy for you. You usually feel comfortable around them. If this isn’t the case, you might have your answer.
How to deal with it:
For those who are waiting for that ‘good mother’ persona to show up, the first step is to see your mother as she really is — not as you wish she were — and accept it.
Accept that she will never be like your friend’s mum, or the lovely lady down the road, or the mum from that movie you just watched. She won’t realise the error of her ways and change, and she won’t praise your incredible achievements.
Don’t hang for this. She is what she is. No expectations. You cannot ever control how she behaves; only how you respond to it and how much you let it control you.
Break the loop
I frequently see individuals confiding in their toxic mother with their most intimate problems, only to be made feel much worse than they already did by her negative response.
The worst thing of all, is that they knew this would happen but couldn’t help reaching out to her. They are in a loop of failure, looking to validate and reinforce their shortcomings through their mother.
So how to break this flow? In a nutshell, don’t confide in her and don’t ask her for advice. Resist it.
Don’t give her the stick to beat you! Stopping yourself a few times will be enough to break the habit, and then notice how much better you feel when you—and only you—are in control of your feedback cycle.
Understand that you are not defined by her
Instead, expect the negative behaviour and see it for what it is. Hers. Not yours. Don’t allow yourself to be seen through her eyes. Work on your own beliefs and self-image.
You cannot change her, but you can change how she affects you. You can remove the power and control she has over you and protect yourself.
Block her negative energy by visualizing a shield
One of the most effective and empowering Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) tools I teach is ‘The Shield’. When your mother is being negative, hurtful or aggressive towards you, visualize a shield or a transparent bubble popping up, to protect you.
How do you do it?
You use your beautiful imagination to literally visualize a shield or bubble appearing around you. You then visualize a flow of energy (you can give it a color) or words coming out of your mother as she is talking and see them crashing against the shield or bubble, unable to get through it and any closer to you.
They bounce back out towards her or disintegrate and simply cannot get to you. You are inside the bubble, safe and protected. The toxic flow cannot get to you.
How does it work?
This tricks the brain into thinking that you are safe and it then responds accordingly. If you think about it, anxiety is simply caused by thoughts; it is a feeling of stress produced by imagining what might happen or what someone might think.
In this case, your imagination leads your thoughts and images where you are safe and directs the emotional response accordingly. You can use this face to face, online or over the phone all the same, by visualising the words/energy coming out of the screen or device and crashing against the protective shield around you.
A truly empowering tool to stop toxic individuals from having any power over our feelings and state of mind.
Today can be the start of a new chapter for you, one where you are free from the power that your toxic mother has over you. Her limiting beliefs don’t have to be yours, you can stop longing for what isn’t and take control of your mind and space right now.
Unfortunately, as a child growing up with an alcoholic mother, one does not know what to do. It seems like a foreign entity, and you wonder if moms are just “all like that.”
That was my mom, a person who never seems to want me around but smart enough to manipulate me in a very non-threatening way, like “Why don’t you go out and play with your friends,” or “Here is the car, honey, go have fun.”
Her goal was to get me out of the house, and my job was to do what I was told.
Growing up with a toxic mom, you learn how to fend for yourself and question all of your thoughts because she is emotionally unavailable to love, nurture or protect you. In fact, in the long run, I found that her toxicity impacted me mentally as I grew older and as I entered into the workforce and into my own relationships.
The toxicity was like venom, and it spread through every part of my life.
Learn to understand and be willing to create boundaries if necessary
So how can we deal with toxic mothers as adults and as a child of a toxic mother? The first and most important would be education.
Learning to understand and be willing to create boundaries if necessary. Being uneducated can lead to becoming codependent, looking for love from your mother, as you are always trying to win her approval.
Get help for yourself
Secondly and equally important would be to get help for yourself, so you can navigate through the ups and downs of a toxic mother. By getting help, you will learn to love yourself, which is critical to becoming and staying a healthy adult.
Identify your own toxic behaviors
Lastly is to identify your own toxic behaviors. Having experienced toxicity firsthand from one’s mother, you have seen the damage it could possibly pose. So take inventory of yourself and acknowledge your own truths to break the toxic cycle.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is a Toxic Mother?
A toxic mother is a parent who consistently engages in harmful and emotionally abusive behavior toward their child. It can often leave the child feeling worthless, guilty, and powerless. To identify a toxic mother, it may be helpful to look for patterns of unhealthy behavior and how they affect your emotions and well-being.
What Are the Signs of a Toxic Mother?
Toxic mothers can have a significant impact on their children’s lives and well-being. Hence, it is crucial to recognize the signs of a toxic mother to address the situation. Here are some common signs of a toxic mother:
• Making the child feel guilty, ashamed, or responsible for the mother’s feelings or problems.
• Using love as a weapon, threatening to withdraw affection or love if the child doesn’t comply with the mother’s wishes.
• Gaslighting, making the child doubt their own perceptions and memories.
Physical, Verbal, or Psychological Abuse:
• Physically or verbally assaulting the child.
• Using words to humiliate, criticize, or demean the child.
• Using excessive control or power over the child’s life, such as controlling their decisions or isolating them from friends and family.
• Failing to provide basic physical and emotional needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, or comfort.
• Not paying attention to the child’s feelings or needs.
• Not setting appropriate boundaries and expectations.
Jealousy and Envy:
• Feeling jealous of the child’s accomplishments, relationships, or attention.
• Competing with the child, trying to undermine their successes or steal their spotlight.
• Being envious of the child’s youth, beauty, or vitality.
Unpredictable mood swings:
• Shifting moods frequently and without warning making the child feel like they are walking on eggshells.
• Being emotionally unstable, such as crying one minute and lashing out the next.
• Making the child feel responsible for the mother’s emotional state.
What Causes a Mother to Be Toxic?
• Childhood Trauma: A mother who experienced traumatic events during her childhood, such as abuse or neglect, may struggle with managing her emotions and behaviors. This can result in toxic behavior towards her children.
• Mental Health Issues: Mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and personality disorders, can impact a mother’s ability to provide a healthy and supportive environment for her children.
• Substance Abuse: Substance abuse can lead to toxic behavior, as a mother may prioritize her drug or alcohol use over the needs of her children.
• Difficulty with Empathy: Some mothers may have difficulty putting themselves in their children’s shoes and understanding their feelings and perspectives. This can result in hurtful comments or actions towards the child.
• Enabling or Codependent Relationships: A mother who is codependent or enabling her partner’s toxic behavior can also contribute to a toxic dynamic within the family.
How Do I Set Boundaries With My Mother?
Setting boundaries with a parent can be challenging, especially with a mother. However, it is important for your own well-being and your relationship’s health. Here are some steps you can follow to help set boundaries with your mother:
• Identify what boundaries you need: Think about what specific actions or behaviors of your mother affect you negatively and write them down.
• Communicate clearly and assertively: When you have a conversation with your mother about setting boundaries, be clear and direct about what you need. Use “I” statements such as “I feel uncomfortable when you criticize me in front of others” instead of blaming statements.
• Be flexible: Some boundaries may need to be adjusted over time, especially as your relationship evolves. Be open to reassessing and changing your boundaries as needed.
• Practice self-care: Taking care of yourself is critical to maintaining boundaries. When you feel strong and confident, you’re better able to stand up for yourself and uphold your boundaries.
• Seek outside support: If you’re having trouble setting boundaries with your mother, consider talking to a therapist or counselor. They can provide additional tools and support to help you navigate the situation.
Remember, setting boundaries is a process, and it may take time for your mother to understand and respect them. Be patient and persistent in communicating your needs, and try to approach the situation with empathy and compassion.
Is It Okay to Cut Off Toxic Mom?
Yes. If you feel that your relationship with your mother is consistently causing you stress, anxiety, or other negative emotions, it may be in your best interest to limit or end your contact with her.
However, cutting off a toxic parent is not a decision that should be made lightly. Consider seeking the guidance of a therapist or counselor to help you navigate this difficult situation. They can provide you with support and help you determine the best course of action for your mental and emotional health.
Furthermore, it’s important to prioritize your own well-being in any relationship. If cutting ties with your toxic mother is the best decision for you, don’t hesitate to do so. Your health and happiness should be your top priority.
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