How to Deal With a Toxic Mother (24 Tips + Expert Insights)

Growing up with a mother who makes you feel worse, not better, can be really tough. If you’re feeling hurt, this article will help you understand if your mom’s behavior is toxic and what you can do about it.

We’ll talk about how to create a safe space for yourself and learn how to communicate your needs to protect your feelings—even if it means making hard choices about your relationship with her.

Disclaimer: This article provides general information and guidance on dealing with a toxic mother. It is not intended as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are struggling with a toxic mother or any form of family dysfunction, we recommend seeking support from a qualified mental health professional.

Prioritize Your Mental Health and Happiness

When dealing with a toxic mother, it’s important to put your mental health first. Each day, dedicate time to activities that nurture your peace of mind. Whether it’s a morning jog, meditation, or curling up with a good book, these moments are your mental health nutrition.

  • Healthy Habits: Eat well, sleep enough, and stay active.
  • Daily Relaxation: Carve out time each day to relax and do something you love.
  • Seek Joy: Make a list of things that make you happy and include them in your weekly routine.

It’s not selfish to look after your own well-being. Remember that it’s also okay to seek professional help. A therapist can offer tools and strategies to better manage the stress that comes with toxic relationships.

"Coping strategies reinforce the importance of self-care and individuating from our parents. One might undergo severe anxiety, resentment, anger, and other clinical symptoms as a result of tolerating toxic treatment from a parent."

— Hannah Tishman, LCSW | Psychotherapist | VP of Operations, Cobb Psychotherapy NYC

Allow Yourself to Grieve the Mother You Deserved

One of the hardest parts of having a toxic mother is coming to terms with the fact that she may never be the nurturing, supportive figure you yearn for. It’s a painful realization, and it’s okay to grieve that loss. In fact, I think it’s an important step in the healing process.

Give yourself permission to feel all the emotions that come up—the sadness, the anger, the disappointment. Acknowledge that your feelings are valid. It’s unfair that you didn’t get the mother you deserved, and it’s natural to be sad about that absence.

Consider writing a letter expressing all the things you wish you could say. You don’t have to send it—this is just for you. Releasing those pent-up emotions can be incredibly helpful. And remember, your worth is not defined by your mother’s inability to love you the way you deserve. That’s on her, not you.

Release Guilt for Putting Yourself First

You probably struggle with guilt when you set boundaries or prioritize your needs. After all, we’re conditioned from a young age to believe that we should always put family first, no matter what. But when your mother is toxic, that mindset can be harmful.

You can try this mantra for releasing guilt: “I am not responsible for my mother’s happiness.” Repeat that to yourself as often as you need to. Your mother’s emotions are not your burden to bear. You have a right to live your life on your own terms, even if that means disappointing her sometimes.

As we talked about earlier, prioritizing your mental health is important. Releasing guilt is a big part of that. It’s not easy, but with practice, it does get easier.

Be Honest with Yourself

Dealing with a toxic mother often requires a strong dose of self-honesty. What are the specific behaviors that hurt you? Sometimes, it can be tempting to forget the painful parts, but acknowledging them is the first step toward healing. Here’s how to get started:

  • Recognize and Name the Issues: Clearly identify the toxic behaviors and how they affect you.
  • Acknowledge Your Feelings: Permit yourself to feel whatever comes up without judgment.
  • Seek Clarity: If needed, write down incidents highlighting the toxic behaviors, which can help clarify your thoughts.

Be honest about what you can and cannot change. You might not be able to change your mother’s behavior, but you can change how you respond to it.

"... 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."

— Patricia Love (CPC) | Confidence and Empowerment Coach for Sales Women | Author, “Seen and (un) Heard

Work on Your Self Love

Learning to love yourself is an important part of healing from a toxic mother wound. Your relationship with yourself sets the standard for every other relationship in your life. When you truly love and accept yourself, you’re less likely to tolerate mistreatment from others, including your mother.

Here are a few self-love practices to try:

  • Speaking kindly to yourself and reframing negative self-talk.
  • Setting healthy boundaries and honoring your own needs.
  • Surround yourself with people who appreciate and support you.
  • Engaging in hobbies and activities that light you up.
  • Practicing self-forgiveness and letting go of perfectionism.

Remember, self-love isn’t selfish—it’s a necessity. When you fill your own cup first, you’ll have so much more to give to others.

Develop Healthy Ways to Manage Stress

Dealing with a toxic mother can be incredibly stressful. The constant criticism, manipulation, and emotional turmoil can take a serious toll on your mental and physical health if left unchecked.

Now, everyone’s stress reliever will look a little different depending on their preferences. Maybe for you, it’s hitting the gym, or perhaps it’s more about mindfulness practices like deep breathing. The key is to find what works for you and make it a regular part of your self-care routine.

But sometimes, the best way to manage stress is to address its source. If your toxic mother is the source, you can schedule activities that energize you after a draining encounter with her. Learning to anticipate and prepare for interactions can make a difference.

Build a Support System of Caring People

No one should have to face the challenges of a toxic mother alone. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a strong support system in your corner. These are the people who will lift you up, validate your feelings, and remind you of your worth when your mother’s toxicity has you doubting yourself.

Your support system might include friends, siblings, a partner, a therapist, or even an online community of folks who get it. Surround yourself with people who make you feel seen, heard, and understood. People who will celebrate your victories and comfort you through the tough times.

I know opening up about your toxic mother can feel scary and vulnerable, especially if you’ve been conditioned to keep family matters private. But here’s the thing—you don’t have to share more than you’re comfortable with. Start small and lean into the relationships that feel safest.

"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."

— Dana Basu, PsyD | Licensed Clinical Psychologist, everGROW therapy

Realize that There’s Nothing Wrong with You

Having a toxic mother can often lead to self-doubt or a distorted view of yourself. It’s important to remember that negative comments or behaviors from a toxic parent don’t define your worth or your capabilities.

Start by affirming your strengths and qualities that make you unique and valuable:

  • Self-affirmation: You are worthy of love and respect simply because you are you—no ifs or buts.
  • Separate Yourself from the Toxicity: It’s not your job to fix everything, especially things outside your control.
  • Celebrate Your Individuality: The only approval you really need is your own. Make a list of your achievements and qualities that you are proud of and celebrate it.

Regular practice of focusing on your attributes can significantly boost your self-esteem and help counter the negative inputs from your toxic relationship. Also, engaging in activities you excel at or that bring you joy can reinforce these positive perceptions of yourself.

"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."

— Niche Brislane | Owner, Stag Valley Homestead

Offer Yourself Compassion

Instead of beating yourself up or comparing your journey to someone else’s, speak to yourself with kindness and understanding. Give yourself permission to feel all the feels without judgment. Prioritize your needs and boundaries, even if it sometimes means disappointing others.

Compassion for yourself looks like this:

  • Giving yourself permission to have bad days without self-judgment.
  • Talking to yourself as you would to a dear friend—in kind, non-judgmental ways.
  • Allowing for imperfection because, let’s face it, everybody makes mistakes, and no one is perfect.

Remember, you don’t have to go through this alone. Lean on your support system when you need a reminder to be compassionate with yourself. And don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you’re struggling to find that self-compassion on your own.

"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... 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."

Kate O'Brien, LCAT, MT-BC | Licensed Creative Arts Therapist

Set Firm Boundaries and Stick to Them

Boundaries are the lines we draw around ourselves to protect our time, energy, and emotional well-being. They communicate what we will and won’t tolerate in our relationships.

With a toxic mother, boundaries might look like:

  • Refusing to engage in conversations that are critical, belittling, or manipulative.
  • Limit contact or end interactions when she becomes abusive or disrespectful.
  • Saying no to requests that feel intrusive, burdensome, or unreasonable.
  • Asserting your right to privacy and independence in your adult life.

I know setting boundaries can be scary, especially if your mother is prone to guilt-tripping when she doesn’t get her way. But remember, you’re not responsible for managing her emotions. You have a right to advocate for yourself and what you need, even if she doesn’t like it.

"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."

— Hannah Tishman, LCSW | Psychotherapist | VP of Operations, Cobb Psychotherapy NYC

Be Selective in What You Share

One of the signs of a toxic mother is the inability to respect personal boundaries. She may feel entitled to know every detail of your life, from your romantic relationships to your bank account balance.

And any information you do share can be used against you. That’s why it’s so important to be intentional about what you disclose to your toxic mother. Before sharing something personal, ask yourself:

  • Is this information necessary for her to know?
  • Can I trust her to handle it with care and respect?
  • Am I sharing out of obligation or a genuine desire to connect?

If the answer is no, it’s okay to keep that information to yourself. You don’t owe your mother unlimited access to your life, no matter how much she may try to convince you otherwise. This approach can significantly reduce stress and potential conflicts.

"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."

— Hannah Tishman, LCSW | Psychotherapist | VP of Operations, Cobb Psychotherapy NYC

Control the Amount of Time You Spend with Her

Another way to protect your well-being when dealing with a toxic mother is to limit the amount of time you spend in her presence. This can be challenging, especially if you feel pressured to attend every family gathering or live up to her demands for attention.

Remember, you get to decide how much time and energy you invest in the relationship. It’s not about cutting your mother off completely (unless that’s what you need for your own healing) but finding a balance that allows you to maintain a connection without sacrificing your own mental health and happiness.

Know What Treatment You Can Tolerate and What Doesn’t Work for You

Understanding what you can tolerate and what is absolutely off-limits is important to managing the relationship dynamics with a toxic mother. Identify what types of behaviors or comments strain your mental health and decide how much you can handle without feeling overwhelmed.

You may ask yourself questions like: What comments or actions trigger negative feelings? At what point do interactions start affecting your peace of mind? Determine ‘deal-breakers’ that signal it’s time to step back.

On the other hand, you may be able to tolerate occasional venting, mild criticism, or annoying but harmless comments. Each interaction with your toxic mother can serve as a learning moment on what works and what doesn’t, helping you adjust these boundaries over time.

"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."

— Erica Cramer, LCSW | Clinical Social Work/Therapist, Cobb Psychotherapy NYC

Detach with Love, Not Anger

Detaching with love involves stepping back for the sake of your well-being without harboring resentment or anger towards your mother. You can still care about her but choose not to engage in every battle or respond to every provocation.

Here are some ways to detach with love:

  • Focus on your own healing and growth rather than trying to change your mother.
  • Practice self-care and surround yourself with positive, supportive people.
  • Set boundaries from a place of calm assertiveness rather than reactivity.
  • Remind yourself that your mother’s toxicity is a reflection of her own pain, not your worth.
  • Send your mother love and light from afar without engaging in unhealthy dynamics.

Detaching with love doesn’t mean condoning abusive behavior or maintaining a close relationship at the expense of your own well-being. It simply means releasing the emotional charge around your mother’s actions so you can find a sense of inner peace and freedom.

"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."

— Myisha Jackson, LPC | Licensed Professional Counselor | Owner, Healing Journey Counseling Center

Accept that Your Mother Won’t Change

Accepting that your mother might never change involves understanding that no matter how much you try to reason or negotiate, some behaviors will likely remain constant. Begin by letting go of any expectations for change, which can reduce frustrations and potential heartbreak. Instead:

  • Focus on What You Can Control: Shift your focus from changing her to managing your reactions and emotions.
  • Seek Emotional Independence: Find happiness and validation from within or through relationships other than your mother.
  • Prepare for Stability: Understand that maintaining a stable expectation of her behavior can make interactions more predictable and less disappointing.

Remember, accepting your mother’s limitations doesn’t mean erasing the love you may still feel for her. It simply means making peace with what is so you can stop fighting reality and start investing in your own life without being dependent on her validation.

"You cannot 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."

— Angela Ficken, LICSW | Licensed Psychotherapist, Progress Wellness

Manage Your Expectations

Learning to manage your expectations means accepting the reality of who your mother is rather than clinging to an idealized version of who you wish she could be. Here’s an idea how to do it:

  • Recognize Patterns: Observe how past behaviors predict future actions.
  • Set Achievable Expectations: Aim for expectations that are within the realm of reality based on past interactions.
  • Prepare for the Worst and hope for the Best: This mindset can help you handle disappointments better.

I know it’s natural to hope that if you just explain yourself better or be the “perfect” child, your mother will finally give you the approval you’ve always craved. But, as said earlier, your mother’s behavior is not a reflection of your worth or your efforts.

"When you have a toxic mom, you need to be honest about who you are dealing with and what she is capable of."

— Erica Cramer, LCSW | Clinical Social Work/Therapist, Cobb Psychotherapy NYC

Practice Voicing Your Needs

Learning to voice your needs is a necessary skill when it comes to setting boundaries and maintaining healthy relationships. Practice getting clear on what you want and communicating it directly, respectfully, and assertively.

Here’s a tip: Use simple and direct language to avoid misunderstanding and maintain your composure as you speak. And most importantly, support your words with actions. If you say you will not engage in certain topics, be consistent.

I know speaking up for yourself can feel scary, but making your mother aware of your needs can also be a way of asserting your right to be respected and heard—an important part of taking care of your mental health.

"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."

— Lara Slimmer, MA, LPC, NCC | Licensed Professional Counselor, Choosing Therapy

Confront and Address the Toxic Behavior

Dealing with a toxic mother sometimes means having tough conversations and calling out unacceptable behavior. I know confrontation can be daunting, but there are times when addressing the toxicity head-on is necessary for your own healing and growth.

The key is to approach these conversations from a place of clarity and calm. Take some time to get clear on what specific behaviors are causing harm and what changes you need to see in order to feel safe and respected in the relationship.

For example: “When you criticize my weight, I feel hurt and disrespected. I need you to stop commenting on my appearance.”

Confronting toxic behavior is not about trying to make her change (because she won’t) but communicating your own boundaries and expectations clearly so you can make informed decisions about how to proceed in the relationship.

"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."

— Michelle James
| Qualified Social Worker, The Emotions Facilitator | Life Coach | Certified Hypnotherapist

Find Ways to Express Your Emotions

Bottling up your emotions or trying to numb them out, over time, tends to leak out in destructive ways. You may feel anger, sadness, guilt, shame, longing, and frustration—sometimes all at the same time, and this is okay.

That’s why finding a safe, healthy way out of your emotions is important. Healthy ways to express emotions include:

  • Talking to a trusted friend, family member, or therapist.
  • Engaging in creative activities like art, music, or dance.
  • Practicing mindfulness or meditation to observe and release feelings.
  • Attending a support group to share with others who understand.

Remember, emotions are neither right nor wrong—they simply are. Acknowledge them, understand them, and let them move on. This way, you’re not denying any part of yourself but instead providing a healthy outlet for what you might be feeling.

Create Distance to Protect Yourself

Sometimes, the healthiest thing you can do when dealing with a toxic mother is to create some distance—emotionally, physically, or both. This ties back to what we discussed earlier about setting boundaries and controlling the amount of time and energy you invest in the relationship.

What this looks like in practice may vary depending on your situation. It could mean:

  • Not answering every phone call or text message immediately.
  • Staying in a hotel instead of at your mother’s house during family events.
  • Unfollowing or muting your mother on social media to limit exposure to triggering content.
  • Surround yourself with positive, supportive people who respect your boundaries.

I know creating distance can evoke feelings of guilt, fear, or self-doubt, but remember, taking space to protect your well-being is not selfish or cruel. You are not responsible for your mother’s reactions to your boundaries. You have a right to do what you need to feel safe and at peace.

"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."

— La Keita D. Carter, PsyD | Licensed Psychologist | Certified Clinical Trauma Professional Owner and CEO, Institute for Healing, LLC

Consider Limiting or Ending Contact If Needed

In some cases of extreme toxicity or abuse, limiting or ending contact with a mother may be the heavy, last-resort tool. I know this is a heartwrenching decision that no one makes lightly. Walking away from a parent, even an unhealthy one, can come with immense grief, guilt, and stigma.

Before making any drastic moves, I recommend:

  • Seeking support from a therapist who understands family estrangement.
  • Getting clear on what specific behaviors or situations would warrant limiting or ending contact.
  • Thinking through the potential logistical and emotional implications of estrangement.
  • Building a strong network of chosen family and friends who can offer validation and encouragement.
  • Consider starting with a trial period of limited contact before making any permanent decisions.

No matter what level of contact you choose to have with your mother, know that you deserve to be treated with respect, kindness, and compassion. You are worthy of love even if your mother can’t provide that.

"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."

— La Keita D. Carter, PsyD | Licensed Psychologist | Certified Clinical Trauma Professional Owner and CEO, Institute for Healing, LLC

Seek Professional Help

Dealing with a toxic mother can be a deeply exhausting experience, and sometimes, it’s more than we can manage on our own. Seeking professional help can provide you with the tools and support needed to face this challenge effectively.

A therapist or counselor who specializes in family relationships can offer insight and coping strategies that are tailored to your particular situation. They can provide a safe, non-judgmental space to process your experiences and develop coping strategies.

Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. It takes immense courage to face your pain head-on and invest in your own healing. You don’t have to go through this alone.

"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."

— Dawn Taylor | International Trauma Specialist | Life Coach Strategist, The Taylor Way

Focus on Healing Your Heart

At the end of the day, dealing with a toxic mother is about more than just strategies and boundaries—it’s about healing your own heart. Learning to love, trust, and nurture yourself in all the ways your mother couldn’t.

Reparenting yourself also means learning to speak to yourself with kindness and understanding rather than self-criticism. Healing your heart means giving yourself permission to engage in activities that make you feel alive. Treat yourself to experiences that make you happy.

Most of all, be patient and compassionate with yourself. Healing is not a straight process, and there will be days when the old wounds feel raw and tender. You may not have had the mother you deserved, but you can be the loving parent to yourself that you’ve always needed.

More Insights from the Experts

“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.”

— La Keita D. Carter, PsyD | Licensed Psychologist | Certified Clinical Trauma Professional Owner and CEO, Institute for Healing, LLC

“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.”

“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.”

— Erica Cramer, LCSW | Clinical Social Work/Therapist, Cobb Psychotherapy NYC

“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.”

— Michelle James
| Qualified Social Worker, The Emotions Facilitator | Life Coach | Certified Hypnotherapist

“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.”

— Dawn Friedman, MSEd | Therapist, Child Anxiety Support

“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.”

— Robert White | Speaker | Leadership Trainer and Executive Mentor, Extraordinary People LLC | Author, “Living an Extraordinary Life

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the signs that my mother is toxic?

If interactions with your mother consistently leave you feeling belittled, worthless, or emotionally drained, she may be toxic. Other signs include a lack of empathy, respect for boundaries, manipulative behavior, guilt-tripping, and frequent criticism.

Is it okay to set boundaries with my mother?

Absolutely. Setting boundaries is a crucial part of protecting your emotional well-being, even with a parent. It’s not selfish or disrespectful to communicate what behaviors you will and won’t tolerate.

Healthy boundaries help you maintain a sense of autonomy and self-respect.

What if my mother doesn’t respect my boundaries?

If your mother consistently violates your boundaries, you may need to create firmer consequences, such as limiting contact or ending conversations when she crosses a line.

It’s also important to work on detaching emotionally and not taking her behavior personally. Remind yourself that her inability to respect your boundaries reflects her issues, not your worth.

Should I try to fix my relationship with my toxic mother?

While it’s natural to want to repair relationships, especially with a parent, it’s essential to assess whether your mother is open to change.

Protecting your mental health should be your priority. Professional therapy may help if both parties are willing to participate.

Can I still love my toxic mother?

Yes, it’s possible to love someone while not tolerating their toxic behavior. It’s important to separate the person from their actions and understand that it’s okay to love from a distance if needed to protect your well-being.

How can I heal from the impact of having a toxic mother?

Healing is an ongoing journey that often involves developing a strong sense of self outside of your relationship with your mother.

This may include working with a therapist to process childhood wounds, building healthy relationships with chosen family, practicing self-love and self-care, and learning to reparent yourself with compassion.

What if I feel guilty about distancing myself from my toxic mother?

Feelings of guilt are common, but remember that prioritizing your health and happiness is not selfish. Seeking support from friends, a support group, or a therapist can help you work through these feelings.

Final Thoughts

It’s never easy when the person who should support you ends up causing you pain. Learning to deal with a toxic mother is a process that takes time. There’s no quick fix, and healing happens slowly with a lot of patience and self-love.

If this feels too hard at times, there’s no shame in reaching out for support—whether it’s talking to friends who understand, joining a group, or seeing a counselor. Your peace of mind matters, and taking steps to protect it is one of the bravest things you can do.

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Erika Maniquiz is a certified teacher and librarian with a Library and Information Science degree. She cherishes the calm moments reading books as much as the dynamic discussions she has in her classroom. Beyond her career, she is a fan of Kdrama and loves Kpop's lively beats.