13 Signs Of A Toxic Mother That Many People Don’t Realize

Knowing them can make you better equipped to heal your trauma and rescue your inner child.

Reviewed by Dr. Holly Schiff, Licensed Clinical Psychologist Dr. Holly Schiff Dr. Holly SchiffLicensed Clinical Psychologist linkedin_icon
Written by , Integrated MA, Certified Relationship Coach Sneha Tete Integrated MA, Certified Relationship Coach linkedin_icon Experience: 4 years
Edited by , MA (English) Asmita De MA (English) Experience: 3 years
Fact-checked by , Integrated MA (English) Gazala Firdos Ansari Integrated MA (English) Experience: 2 years

It is not easy to accept that you have a toxic mother. It is hard to believe that mothers – who are the epitome of love, affection, and compassion – can be toxic or abusive.

Carl Jung, a renowned modern psychologist, conceptualized the Devouring Mother as someone who “consumes” their child psychologically and emotionally. This overbearing attitude can stunt the healthy development of children and damage their self-worth and independence. These children grow up with low self-confidence, always second-guessing themselves and feeling guilty of the choices they make. They may even want to seek constant validation from their mothers and, later, their partners.

However, it is not easy to recognize toxicity, especially from a primary caregiver. You can look out for these 13 signs to identify a toxic mother and how to deal with a toxic family or parent. Read on for more information.

What Is A Toxic Mother?

A toxic mother-daughter relationship mostly arises due to the career choice or work environment of the mother. If a mother finds herself in a toxic environment via work, family, or social relations, the chances are that toxicity may enter your life through hers.
No one ever wants to treat their child poorly or give them a negative memory. But an enmeshed toxic mother cannot cope with the unhealthy stimulants in her life and instead succumbs to it, becoming toxic, and at times narcissistic, herself. It can also be caused by psychological agents that change the mother’s behavior and heed to dysfunctional mother-daughter relationships. Thoughts like ‘my mom is toxic’, ‘I have a toxic parent’, or ‘I have a manipulative mother’ can seriously affect your relationship.

Mothers don’t intend to be bad; they just happen to be under stress. Here are some signs to identify toxic mothers and their toxic personality.

13 Signs You Have A Toxic Mother

1. Abuse

A toxic mother verbally abusing her child
Image: Shutterstock

Abuse – whether physical, verbal, emotional, or psychological – is the first sign, and the most predominant one, that your mother is toxic. Physical abuse entails hitting you, while verbal includes yelling and demeaning or criticizing you. Emotional abuse is hurting your emotions to the extent of leaving you emotionally drained or incapable of showing emotion. Psychological abuse leads to self-deprecating behaviors, suicidal thoughts, lack of self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth.

protip_icon Quick Tip
An inability to hold space for the emotions of the child or being overly critical and judgemental about strong emotions, negative or positive, can cause emotional damage in children.

2. Marginalizing

Your mother might favor your siblings more than you and go out of their way to ‘keep you in line’ and other efforts to make sure you ‘don’t become full of yourself.’ Even in adulthood, she might tell you that your opinion is silly or that nobody cares what you think. This is a power play and a form of manipulation.

protip_icon Quick Tip
This is a common form of passing on the “mother wound” to a daughter and is an effect of patriarchy. A mother believing herself to be a “second class citizen” due to her gender may treat her daughter as such and prefer a male child, or even in the absence of a son, refuse to hold the daughter in high esteem.

3. Narcissism

When anything positive in your life happens, she believes it is for her. Did you receive an award in a competition? It was because she sent you to train in that activity. Do you look beautiful? It is her genes that gave you your beauty.

4. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a sign of toxic mother
Image: IStock

When someone promises but doesn’t live up to their word or denies saying such a thing is gaslighting. This affects a child’s ability to trust people or even read their intentions.

5. Authority Or Control

A toxic mother talking down to her child to control her
Image: Shutterstock

A common trait among toxic mothers is the want to control every little aspect of your life. This does not reflect the caring way a mother wants to be involved in your life but the toxic, controlling way defined by ‘I raise you, so everything you do needs my permission.’

6. Scapegoating

When she makes a mistake, she’d rather blame you for it instead of apologizing or even admitting the mistake. You become her go-to person put the blame, even when it was not your fault. She never takes responsibility for their actions.

7. Emotional Blackmail

Once she has blamed you for just about everything, she will go on to use this to blackmail you – literally or emotionally. If you’ve heard “You will do this for me, or I will reveal your secrets,’” it is emotional blackmailing.

8. Guilt Trips And Manipulation

If not the emotional blackmailing card, she might guilt-trip or manipulate you into doing things she wants done. Even though your mother might not have paid attention as a caring parent, she has your weak points to get things done her way.

9. Boundaries

A word that may be positively absent in your mother’s dictionary is ‘boundary.’ She either doesn’t know the boundaries that people may have or they doesn’t respect them. She may barge into your room unannounced even when you might be dressed inappropriately and won’t feel guilty about it. She might snoop through your things without permission to ‘find evidence to your wrong-doings.’

10. Humiliation

Mothers talk proudly about their kids wherever they go and whoever is ready to lend an ear. Toxic mothers also talk about you, but it usually consists of criticisms and humor-laced insults in front of your relatives, friends, or teachers. The stories can even be very intimate secrets that may hurt if people get to know them, but toxic mothers share them without regard for your feelings.

11. Stonewalling

The petty behavior of silent treatment taken way too far is called stonewalling. Here, the mother might pretend as if you are not present, or be deaf to whatever you are talking.

12. The Comparison Game

This is a common scenario even in healthy family relations. Here, the focus is on the overt stress when compared to a sibling, neighbor, friend, cousin, or even an out-of-league celebrity.

13. Covert Or Passive Aggression

When your mother uses indirect forms of manipulation that consist of dismissing what you say, or interrupting you when you are speaking, or your parents have a covert interparental conflict.

Now that you are aware of the signs to identify a toxic mother, read on to find out the effects of having a toxic mother.

What Are Some Effects Of Having A Toxic Mother?

Depending on the severity and duration of the toxic behaviors, the impact might vary greatly; however, the following are some typical outcomes:

  • A child’s self-worth and confidence can be progressively undermined by persistent experiences of emotional abuse, manipulation, or criticism in the context of a family dynamic. This can lead to long-lasting feelings of low self-esteem well into adulthood.
  • Living in a toxic environment may contribute to anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. Additionally, it takes a toll on the child’s emotional stability for life
  • Extended periods of stress and emotional turmoil can have negative effects on the body, potentially impacting the immune system, causing sleep disorders, and other health problems.

Now let’s talk about how to deal with a toxic mother – what your options are and how you can build yourself from this point. It is not a sudden process, so don’t expect an instant change. Here are the main steps to deal with a toxic mother and ways to go about it.

These manipulative behaviors may not be glaringly obvious at times, which makes it difficult to identify for the one experiencing it. A lifestyle blogger who had a troubled childhood elaborated on the same in one of her posts about Mother’s Day being a complicated celebration for her. She said, “The worst she ever did was treat me like a burden. It might not sound too brutal, but when you’re six and need a hug from your mom for whatever reason, it can be detrimental (i).”

How To Deal With A Toxic Mother

1. Recognize And Accept The Problem

Understand and define the problem that you are in. This will help you find a solution. Reduce the time you spend with your mother to give time to yourself. Restoring and growing into the picture of your ideal self should be your priority. Remember that it’s okay to let go of a toxic parent and walk away from them. You don’t even have to turn back and think if it was the right move. Trying to mend the relationship is also an option, which might help the mother find a way out of their toxicity. Once you have recognized these toxic behaviors and their effect on you, you need to figure out how to set boundaries.

2. Process And Understand Your Feelings

A woman seeking therapy to deal with her toxic mother
Image: Shutterstock

a. Therapy – The biggest help you can find is from a professional therapist. They will guide you out of the darkness towards a better headspace.

b. Be Real with Yourself – Being real with yourself starts with accepting that you are in an unhealthy situation. It will not end until you change the setting and your attitude towards the person responsible and yourself.

c. Old Patterns – A person may change, or it might be a different person this time, but a toxic characteristic always carries the same signs and tell-tale patterns. So, do look out for patterns in behavior that may exploit you and make sure you don’t get stuck in a negative and neglectful relationship again.

3. Build Your New Self

Self care is a good way to deal with a toxic mother
Image: Shutterstock

a. Develop A New Relationship With Yourself – While it is easy to lose yourself amid toxicity, try and hold on. Start anew. Show that you love yourself and work on improving your relationship with yourself. You can start with simple, self-affirmations. As long as you stand by yourself, you can overcome anything.

b. Self-Care – Start with identifying what you like and dislike and what suits you. These little things bring out your positivity and help boost your self-confidence.

c. Learn To Say NO – Saying ‘no’ can initially be hard or seem like a futile effort. But it helps develop your sense of standing up for yourself and setting healthy boundaries with a toxic mother.

d. Checklist – Make a checklist of the behaviors you want to change. Note how that behavior will help you become better and how this behavior is holding you back. Prioritize the order of the habits if you have to, and start working on them right away.

e. Unlearn – Nobody is perfectly good or unchangeably bad. While you are not a felon, you are the victim of toxicity and have adapted to camouflage into your surroundings. This has to stop, and you have to become confident and independent. Therefore, unlearn.

f. Confidence – Love yourself, find your real self, and establish your self-worth. You don’t have to suddenly up and be the most confident on the planet, but you need to start believing in yourself and your capabilities. Accept that you can do it as long as you put your mind to it.

g. Connections – While you slowly try to mend your relationship, make sure to acknowledge and maintain the other relationships around you. Ensure they are healthy, and if they are not, work to make them as healthy as possible. Support from people whom you trust goes a long way in overcoming toxicity.

h. Slipups – A misjudgment or a miscalculated step may make you want to give up, but hold on. It is okay to make mistakes; they are what you need to learn to succeed.

i. Establish Boundaries – Since boundaries are never respected in a toxic relationship, let’s start by finding where you want to draw a line. No one should cross this line without your permission ever.

j. Self-Evaluation – Journal everything that you worked on every day. This will allow you to check your progress whenever you meet a hurdle – a reminder of how far you have come and a motivation to keep moving forward.

Key Takeaways

  • A toxic mother-daughter relationship may arise due to a toxic environment via work, family, or social relations that the mother finds herself in.
  • The first and most dominant sign of a toxic mother is abuse, irrespective of whether it is physical, verbal, emotional, or psychological.
  • To heal from a toxic mother-daughter relationship, you need to make restoring your self-confidence and growing up as your ideal self a priority, even if it means creating distance.

Unveil the damaging effects of toxic motherhood with these eight hurtful things toxic mothers say to their children. This eye-opening video sheds light on the importance of breaking free from the cycle. Click to play!

Infographic: 5 Signs You Have A Toxic Mother + Ways To Deal With Her

A mother plays an important role in nurturing and shaping a child’s personality. It is through her love, care, and support that one realizes their potential and blooms into an independent individual. However, dealing with a mother who does not give you freedom, acknowledge your achievements, or appreciate you can take a toll on your mental health. How can you be sure if your mother is displaying such traits? Well, the infographic below can help. We have listed the signs to look out for in a toxic mother and the right ways to deal with her. Take a look.

5 signs you have a toxic mother(infographic)

Illustration: StyleCraze Design Team

Having a toxic mother can be physically and mentally taxing for the child, which can impact their self-confidence and development. If you notice the signs listed above –⁠ from narcissism and gaslighting to passive aggression –⁠ in your mother, it is likely that you have a toxic mother. The key for the child is to accept the reality first and start taking measures to deal with the situation. The best way to come out of this trauma is to take the help of a professional therapist. If you find someone you know in this situation, do not forget to share the steps listed above with them.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a toxic mother say?

A toxic mother may say things that feel demeaning, condescending and overtly critical. They may also use comparative statements such as “he or she is better than you”.

Should I forgive my toxic mother?

Yes, you should forgive your toxic mother as the act of forgiveness is necessary to reclaim your power and gain inner peace.

Will a toxic mother ever change?

A toxic mother can change, but it takes effort, counseling, and willingness. The first and the most difficult step towards this change is the recognition of her own flaws.

Do toxic mothers love their kids?

Toxic mothers definitely love their kids in their way, but their behavior can still be demeaning toward their children. Their approach to taking care of their kids might not be aligned with what the children actually need.

Is my mom toxic or am I toxic?

Reflect on your behavior and your mother’s behavior to determine if either of you is toxic. If you find your judgment too clouded by emotions or catch yourself unwillingly adopting some of her traits that you dislike the most, it is better to go for counseling.

Should I apologize to my toxic mom?

You can apologize to your toxic mom depending on the situation, but it may not always be effective. Prioritize your mental health and well-being.

Personal Experience: Source

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Dr. Holly Schiff

Dr. Holly SchiffLicensed Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Holly Schiff is a clinical psychologist licensed in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York and has over 10 years of experience. She was awarded a Doctorate of Psychology in School and Community Psychology from Hofstra University. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Fordham University, majoring in psychology with a minor in sociology and pre-law advisory. While completing her undergraduate...read full bio

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