A toxic relationship is typically a two-way street. But in a mother-child relationship, the parent does wield the bulk of the emotional responsibility — hence why there are a lot more toxic moms than toxic daughters. It’s not always clear when a parent is crossing a line, but experts agree that signs your mom is toxic can be found in the way she speaks to you.
When a parent is prone to toxicity, they often have a Rolodex of biting phrases that come out on a regular basis. Things like “why don’t you just grow up” or “I never said that” might ring a bell. And if it truly is an ongoing problem, it can start to affect your relationship with them as well as how you feel about yourself.
Although it’s a fine line, a toxic relationship isn’t always synonymous with emotional abuse, which can also come out in the words your mom uses. "A toxic relationship is a dynamic between two or more people where emotional needs generally go unmet because of issues that have nothing to do with the other person," Danielle Forshee, Psy.D, L.C.S.W., tells Bustle. While toxicity can be tough to spot, it often comes down to how another person makes you feel. “The word ‘toxic’ in terms of a relationship means that one person’s behavior leads to serious negative emotional consequences for the other person,” says Elliot Pinsly, LMSW, a licensed clinical social worker. Whether it’s intentional or subconscious, “a toxic person tends to be controlling, demanding, manipulative, demeaning, and/or self-centered,” he says. And it can leave you feeling down, or as if your self-esteem has taken a hit.
It often hurts extra to realize that your mom is being toxic. According to Pinsly, it can shatter the image of who you hoped she could be. But it’s also a good thing, as the knowledge may make it easier to cope with her words. “Sometimes we need to implement boundaries, find acceptance and change, set time and distance, or redirect our needs to ourselves and find healing,” says licensed professional counselor Rachel M. Abrman, MA, LPC.
If you’re wondering what to do when your mom says hurtful things, or if you recognize any of the comments listed below, it may help to reach out to a therapist, mentor, or friend for support.
Having a toxic relationship doesn't have to mean you should cut your mom out of your life. But recognizing any of these behaviors in your relationship with your mother might be an indicator that you should prioritize putting work into making the relationship more balanced and healthful. Boundary setting, open communication, and even family therapy can help. You deserve to do what's right for you, and not have your mother breathing down your back years after you've left home.
Fosco, GM. 2014. Interparental Boundary Problems, Parent-Adolescent Hostility, and Adolescent-Parent Hostility: A Family Process Model for Adolescent Aggression Problems. Couple Family Psychol. doi: 10.1037/cfp0000025.
Kong, J. 2018. Effect of Caring for an Abusive Parent on Mental Health: The Mediating Role of Self-Esteem. Gerontologist. doi: 10.1093/geront/gnx053.
Elliot Pinsly, LMSW, licensed clinical social worker
Rachel M Abrman, MA, LPC ,licensed professional counselor
Danielle Forshee, PsyD, LCSW
Julie Williamson, LPC
Sara Stanizai, LCSW
Joshua Klapow, PhD
Dawn Friedman, MS.Ed
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“You are just like your father!”
A toxic parent's behavior is defined by self-centered attitudes, controlling, physical and psychological abuse, manipulations, and complete disregard for personal boundaries. Generally, toxic parents try to control you by invoking a sense of intense guilt, obligation, or inadequacy.
Toxic mothers may express their anger in negative ways, like through name-calling and yelling. In extreme cases, toxic parents may become violent and abusive. Over time children may develop fear, anxiety, or even violent tendencies themselves in response to this toxicity.What is an example of a toxic mom? ›
Toxic parents may invade your privacy or not allow you to make your own decisions. Or maybe they're overly critical and controlling of your decisions, even as an adult. Manipulative behaviors. Your parent may try to control you by using guilt or shame to play with your emotions.How toxic mothers affect their daughters? ›
Toxic parents may overshare with their children, treating them like their therapist regarding several things that the child can't control or understand. This can lead into adulthood and cause problems for the child as they figure out how to navigate their relationships.What is a toxic narcissist mother? ›
A narcissistic mother may feel entitled or self-important, seek admiration from others, believe she is above others, lack empathy, exploit her children, put others down, experience hypersensitivity to criticism, believe she deserves special treatment, and worst of all, maybe naïve to the damage she is causing.What is cold mother syndrome? ›
Emotionally absent or cold mothers can be unresponsive to their children's needs. They may act distracted and uninterested during interactions, or they could actively reject any attempts of the child to get close. They may continue acting this way with adult children.Are my parents toxic or is it me? ›
Some of the common signs of a toxic parent or parents include: Highly negatively reactive. Toxic parents are emotionally out of control. They tend to dramatize even minor issues and see any possible slight as a reason to become hostile, angry, verbally abusive, or destructive.What does a toxic mother daughter relationship look like? ›
A Toxic Mom Dismisses Your Negative Feelings
' As an adult it might look like ignoring your calls for a month when you asked her to stop commenting on your weight.” An unhealthy relationship might even mean that your mother changes the subject when anything remotely emotional comes up.
According to experts, a major key to distinguishing the two is looking at how long the strife lasts. If things are nasty between you in many different areas of the relationship for years at a time, the relationship itself might be toxic. But if there's only one, sudden issue, that's probably more benign.How do you walk away from a toxic mother? ›
Preparing to let toxic parents go
- Practice ongoing self-care. ...
- Know that you're not alone. ...
- Explore your options. ...
- Clarify your intentions. ...
- Allow yourself to let go of guilt.
Playing the victim: another form of toxic maternal behavior
Playing the victim often includes scapegoating a child or children, but sometimes it's primarily a form of blame-shifting and a way to get attention.
These mothers constantly feel envy.
They won't let their daughters go out with specific people, and yet at the same time, they'll start to flirt with those people if they're around. One thing all daughters of narcissistic mothers know is that they'll never be there to defend them.
They are controlling and possessive and tend to compete with their children. Manipulative parents see their kids' independence as a threat, shower children with unreasonable expectations, and make you walk on eggshells around their sensitivities.How do narcissists treat their children? ›
A narcissistic parent will often abuse the normal parental role of guiding their children and being the primary decision maker in the child's life, becoming overly possessive and controlling. This possessiveness and excessive control disempowers the child; the parent sees the child simply as an extension of themselves.What do narcissistic moms say? ›
“You're always so busy with your own life that you don't even think about me.” “I'm so tired of doing everything for you.” “You're gaining weight and won't be able to fit your new clothes soon.” “I'm going to have to punish you if you don't do exactly what I say.”How do you respond to a narc mother? ›
- Set boundaries. Create and maintain healthy boundaries. ...
- Stay calm. Try not to react emotionally to what she says, even if it's an insult. ...
- Plan your responses. “Have a respectful exit strategy when conversations go off the rails,” Perlin says.
Mothers with narcissistic tendencies often leave long-lasting impacts on their daughters, like: thinking love is conditional. accepting abuse as the norm in relationships. people-pleasing.What are the different types of narcissistic mothers? ›
That said, the six faces of maternal narcissism are identified as: the flamboyant-extrovert, the accomplishment-oriented, the psychosomatic, the addicted, the secretly mean, and the emotionally needy. A parent can be a mixture of these types and often that is the case.