A toxic mother may be so concentrated on her own needs that she fails to nurture those of her children. Common signs of a toxic mother include ignoring boundaries, controlling behavior, and abuse in severe cases. Toxic mothers cannot recognize the impacts of their behavior, and children grow up feeling unloved, overlooked, or disrespected. As adults, they may struggle with anxiety, depression, unhealthy coping skills, and relationship problems. Therapy can help them heal from a difficult childhood and avoid recreating toxic patterns with their own children.
9 Signs of a Toxic Mother
If you grew up feeling undervalued, controlled, or like your boundaries were not respected, then you may have a toxic mother. She may have made unreasonable demands of you and your siblings or failed to express affection and warmth. As an adult, you may look back and notice how her behavior continues to impact you now.
Below are nine signs you were raised by a toxic mother:
1. She Overreacts to Differences of Opinion
Conflict is inevitable in mother/child relationships. At some point, mothers will disagree with their children and vice versa. However, some mothers cannot control their anger and resolve conflicts with their children. Toxic mothers may express their anger negatively by name-calling and yelling at children. In extreme cases, toxic parents may become violent and abusive. Over time, children may develop nervousness, anxiety, or even violent tendencies in response to this toxicity.
2. She Makes Excessive Demands of You
A toxic mother may place unusual and overwhelming demands on you. They may expect you to drop everything for them and attend to their needs, even though you have your own life. If you try to say “no,” they may respond with anger, criticism, or guilt. You may feel trapped giving in to their demands, even though they are too much for you. Over time this can lead you toward anger, resentment, and burnout.
3. She Uses Manipulation to Get What She Wants
Manipulation is a hallmark trait of a toxic parent. A manipulative person tries to change another person’s thoughts, feelings, or behaviors for their benefit. This is often done sneakily. For example, a manipulative person may offer to do you a favor because they have a request for you. If you deny their request, they may claim that you owe them, and you may feel forced to appease them. If you think you are being manipulated, ask yourself if your thoughts, feelings, and actions are yours or if they seem to be influenced by someone else.
4. She Fails to Respect Your Boundaries
One of the most common traits of a toxic mother is a failure to respect boundaries. You may have tried to set limits in your relationship, only for these to go ignored. For example, you might have asked her to respect your privacy but then realize she has been reading your journal entries or snooping on social media. If this is the case, you may feel violated and disempowered. You may even expect that other people will not respect your boundaries, just like your mother.
5. She Puts Down Your Accomplishments
You may be dealing with a bad mother-daughter relationship if your mother downplays or puts down your successes. These mothers may not be proud of you because of their insecurities and jealousy. This can be deeply hurtful since it is a common desire to want acceptance from your parents. You may find that no matter what you do, you never truly feel like you earned your mother’s approval.
6. She Hurts You With Her Words or Actions
A toxic mother may say or do things without thinking about how their behavior affects her children. She may be so focused on her needs that she cannot acknowledge how her behavior makes you feel. In severe cases, this can involve physical or verbal abuse. Even as an adult, you may experience abuse at her hands. If your mother was physically abusive during childhood, this abuse may shift to verbal abuse. Often mothers who are abusive toward their children also experienced abuse in their childhoods.
7. She Refuses to Apologize
Toxic mothers may fail to take responsibility and apologize for their actions. They may say or do hurtful things and expect you to move on by “brushing it under the rug.” You feel hurt and angry, with no way to express or work on these feelings. Some children may find themselves apologizing for things that are not their fault to keep the peace within the family.
8. She Tries to Control You
A sign of a bad mother-daughter relationship is a mother attempting to control what you think, feel, or do. For example, maybe your mother decided what college you would attend, who you would date, or what clothes you would wear even as an adult. Her efforts to control you may have led you to pull away from her, set boundaries, or give in to her requests. Having a controlling and overbearing mother can also prevent you from learning the skills you need to thrive as an adult. You may feel unsure of yourself or lost in adulthood.
9. She Lacks Empathy
Empathy is the ability to consider and understand another person’s emotional experience.1 It plays an essential role in parenting as children learn empathy for others from their parents. Common toxic parent traits include a lack of empathy with their children and inconsistency in expressing love, understanding, and warmth. This may be because they came from similar toxic families. Unfortunately, a lack of empathy can lead to a poor bond between mother and child.
The Mental Health Effects of a Toxic Mother
While the signs listed above are some common traits of toxic mothers, these behaviors can vary from family to family. The signs will differ from a mother with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD), or antisocial tendencies. The mental effects of a toxic mother-daughter relationship will depend upon how your mother was toxic, how much time you spent with her, and whether or not you had other positive adult relationships.
If you were able to spend time with other supportive, caring, and loving adults who treated you well, you may have been able to cope with having a negative relationship with your mother. However, this is not always the case, and the generational cycle of abuse can be stopped. By being aware of your risk and taking action, you can prevent the same toxicity from happening in your own family.
Effects of being raised by a toxic mom may include:
- Higher risk for anxiety and depression: Some common reactions to growing up with toxic mothers include anxiety and depression during childhood and adulthood.2
- Substance abuse: People raised in toxic families may be more prone to drug and alcohol abuse. This can lead to difficulties in personal relationships.3
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): If physical, emotional, or sexual abuse were a part of your childhood, then you are at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that can develop in response to trauma.
- Relationship challenges: If you have a toxic mother, you may also find it difficult to establish a healthy relationship with your own children. Adults who have experienced child abuse are more likely to have abusive relationships with their kids.4
How to Heal If You Were Raised by a Toxic Mother
If you were raised by a toxic mother, healing is possible. Therapy, whether it is individually or in a group setting, can help you cope with your past. Therapy provides an opportunity to reflect on how your childhood has shaped the way you think, feel, and behave toward yourself and others. If you are ready to start healing, using an online therapist directory to connect with a trusted professional is a great first step.
Once you become aware of how your past affects you, therapy can help you learn healthier ways of coping with these experiences. If you have dealt with childhood trauma, there are many different types of therapy that are effective for treating post-traumatic stress disorder, like trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and psychodynamic therapy.5
Growing up in a toxic environment can also affect how you interact with your own children. Some people may find themselves continuing the same patterns with their families that they swore they wouldn’t. Therapy can also help you recognize how your past may be affecting how you parent and improve your relationship with your children. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it.