She’s supposed to be your first love, your biggest cheerleader, your best friend. And for many people, their mothers do fulfill that role — and so much more. Unfortunately, not everyone has that same relationship with their mom, and in fact, might have the opposite experience. But if walking through the card aisle on Mother’s Day makes you cringe, (or avoid her calls entirely), it could be just one of the many signs that you have a toxic relationship with your mom.
“When we talk about relationships with our moms, we have to acknowledge that we all have this ideal Mom ingrained in our psyche (i.e. someone who provides unconditional love and support, is nurturing, engaged, and protective),”
Dr. Amanda Darnley, PhD, a licensed psychologist, explains to Romper. “And when that ideal doesn’t match up with reality, children tend to blame themselves for the disconnect, rather than blaming mom — even adult children.”
It can be even tougher to admit that your
relationship might be rocky with your mom because children of any age will look up to their parents as role models and try to forgive their faux pas, no matter how frequent or unforgiveable they might be. “As adults, we tend to find familiarity comforting, so it’s hard to reconcile the idea that we would find toxicity comforting,” says Dr. Darnley.
Now, as you go through this list, it’s important to keep some perspective. If your mom shows some signs of toxic behavior, you need to ask yourself how frequently these incidents are occurring. “Despite the standards we tend to hold them to, moms are human, which means they get to make mistakes; they aren’t going to get it right all the time,” says Dr. Darnley. “The relationship becomes toxic when the behaviors on this list are pervasive.” So if there's a consistency of bad behavior that doesn’t stop after speaking with your parent, only then will you truly be able to tell if you’re in a toxic mother/daughter relationship.
1 A Toxic Mom Is Overly Critical SDI Productions/E+/Getty Images
In theory, your mom has your best interests at heart. But when she seems to judge everything from the job you have to the person you’re dating, it might not be healthy for you. “It is possible that criticism emerges around one particular issue, such as the daughter’s weight, love choices, relationship with other family members, money, or career choices,”
Dr. Elisa Robyn, PhD, a licensed psychologist, tells Romper. “But random criticism can be more hurtful and toxic since we find ourselves on constant alert for the next attack.” If you find that your mom is critical about your life, you should call her on it so that she's aware that her comments are cutting, and not helpful. 2 A Toxic Mom Is Dismissive
Let’s say that you’re dealing with a problem at work. Instead of trying to help you think of solutions (or just be a kind ear to vent to), she ignores your feelings entirely. “She might minimize your problems (i.e. ‘Oh you think YOU have it bad? You should hear about what happened to my neighbor’s husband’s cousin’s girlfriend… ’),” says Dr. Darnley. “There is nothing worse than going to someone for support to have them invalidate your pain.” When this happens too frequently, it’s a sign of a toxic relationship.
3 A Toxic Mom Always Picks Fights
You’re on the phone with your mom when the conversation takes a bad turn, and before you realize it, you’re in the throes of a heated argument — again. “Some arguments are to be expected in any relationship,” Dr. Robyn explains. “However, if the arguments always circle around one topic or occur in particular situations, there is a toxic element to the relationship.” That’s not to say that conflict shouldn’t ever occur, but if it keeps happening, it could be a dysfunctional
mother/daughter relationship. In a healthy relationship, arguments are addressed and resolved, and not perpetually repeated. 4 A Toxic Mom Demands Your Attention
Sure, it might make you feel special when your mom wants to chat with you all the time. But too much attention-seeking isn’t healthy for either of you, especially if it’s one-sided. “Your relationship can be toxic if she doesn’t ask you about your life or the conversation always seems to lead back to her,” says Dr. Darnley. “This lack of interest and engagement is clearly harmful in any relationship.” Try to make your mom aware that it’s not always about her, and that your conversations should be less one-sided.
5 A Toxic Mom Is Emotionally Unavailable
You’ve had a really rough day with your newborn, and all you want to do is call your mom and, well, complain. Thing is, not only doesn’t she validate your feelings that being a new mom is so tough, she doesn’t really seem to care much, either. “Emotionally distant mothers probably grew up with a disengaged mother, or perhaps disassociated because of their early abuse,” Dr. Robyn explains. “In this case a mother might explain that she is focused on her own healing or personal growth, which results in her being too self-involved and emotionally unavailable.” Even if you try to engage your mom in other ways, if you find that she doesn’t respond or acts indifferent, you probably have a toxic mother daughter relationship.
6 A Toxic Mom Makes "Jokes" About You
A little teasing is par for the course with parents, but not when it comes with digs that really cut deep. And while you might think bullying begins in school, it can actually start right at home. “Jokes can be painful, especially when they are used as a form of embarrassment or a way to insult us,” says Dr. Robyn. “While some teasing is appropriate, it easily turns into a sense of being bullied.” Jokes made at your expense aren’t a way of showing love, but rather are meant to be a put-down, even if it’s coming from a parent.
7 A Toxic Mom Dismisses Your Negative Feelings LaylaBird/E+/Getty Images
If your emotions make your mom mad, upset, or even apathetic, you might want to take note — that’s a sign of toxic behavior. “Your mom should never ignore or punish your emotional reactions,” says Dr. Darnley, who explains: “As a child, this might have looked like sending you to your room when you were sad or upset, or saying things like ‘Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.’ 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. Sadly, these behaviors send the message that emotions are unacceptable at best, or that they won’t be tolerated at all.
8 A Toxic Mom Reverses Roles
Feeling like you’re mothering your own mom sometimes? You’re probably not mistaken. While there might be moments in your mother/daughter relationship where you take the lead and assume the mom role, it shouldn’t be an everyday occurrence. “Role reversal can be subtle and dangerous, especially when the mother does not wish to grow up or take responsibility for her actions,” says Dr. Robyn. “If she becomes more self-indulgent and leaves the work of being an adult to the daughter, the hidden danger in this situation is that the mother can then blame the daughter for each decision and ultimately tie the daughter to the mother with a deep level of guilt.”
9 A Toxic Mom Is Constantly Dramatic
Having a mom who has a flair for the dramatic isn’t a deal-breaker when it comes to relationships, but continuous craziness definitely is.
“Constant drama is toxic in any relationship, and can be a form or expression of addiction,” says Dr. Robyn. “This is classic abuse and one of the easiest forms of toxic behavior to identify.” If your mother is a drama queen, you might need to limit your own interactions with her so that she doesn’t control every situation and make it all about her. 10 A Toxic Mom Makes You Responsible For Her Happiness
Sure, her grandkids might be the light of her life, but being the sole responsibility for your mom’s happiness is a total trap, according to Dr. Robyn. “This is a form of entrapment, demanding that the child be exactly who the mother wants her to be,” Dr. Robyn explains. “The result can be a dangerously over-achieving daughter who tries to be and do everything, or just walks away, knowing that she is destined to fail in the relationship.” After all, it can feel crippling if your mom uses you as a crutch for her own contentment, so make sure that you don’t feel responsible for making her happy every second of the day — because that’s not your responsibility.
11 A Toxic Mom Uses Guilt And Money To Control You
Toxic behavior isn’t just in what is said, but in a person’s actions as well. So
if your mom is manipulating you with guilt trips, it isn’t healthy, Dr. Robyn says. “It is important to remember that this behavior is a form of control that in many cases the mother learned from her mother,” she says. “Logic will never work in these situations, though therapy might if the mother is willing to change.” And if that’s not an option, you might have to walk away, unfortunately. 12 A Toxic Mom Ignores Healthy Boundaries
From scrolling through your phone to trying to become friends with your gal pals, many toxic mothers lack healthy boundaries. They might share private conversations with their friends, or even share inappropriate information in an attempt to become BFFs. “It’s a classic form of abuse,” says Dr. Robyn. You can try to show your mom where she has stepped over the line, citing specific instances so she can understand where her behavior was inappropriate. But if she continues to have blurred lines, you might have to walk away from the toxicity.
13 A Toxic Mom Won't Let You To Stand Up For Yourself
Your mom should be your wing woman, the person in your corner at all costs. So if you find that your mother stifles your ability to stand up for yourself, it could signal bigger issues, says Dr. Darnley. “A sign of a toxic relationship is when your mom generally rejects your private experiences by telling you things like ‘You are overreacting,’ ‘Don’t be so sensitive,’ ‘That didn’t happen,’ ‘Why are you always so serious?’” she says. “This is particularly damaging because it sends the message that there is something wrong with you, your memories, your feelings, your perspectives, etc. And over time, can cause you to question your ability to view things accurately.”
14 A Toxic Mom Minimizes Your Achievements
You finally get your boss to let you work from home. When you tell your mom, instead of a congratulations, you get a caustic comment. “When your mom minimizes your achievements, it’s toxic,” says Dr. Darnley. “She might say something like, ‘Oh that’s so nice that they gave you a promotion. Karen’s son has been promoted 3 times in the last year. He’s such a hard worker.’” While you might be happy for Karen’s son, what about a little pat on the back for you? Hearing messages like this consistently can lead you to have unhealthy and unattainably high standards for yourself, where essentially, even though you are high achieving, you still feel like you’re failing.
15 A Toxic Mom Gaslights You
“Another behavior to watch for is a mother who tells you that your experience did not happen, that you are the one who is wrong and the other person is right,” points out Dr. Robyn. “For example, you were bullied but were difficult to get along with. Or you were not harassed, you dressed inappropriately or flirted.” When this keeps happening, it is toxic and not healthy. Says Dr. Robyn: “When the reality of our experience is denied, we doubt our mental stability.” Adds Dr. Darnley: “You might not be able to recognize what you are feeling or why, and you might feel confused about how you ‘should’ react to things.”
No relationship is ever perfect, least of all a mother/daughter one. But if you’re finding that there’s more angst than joy, it might be time to have a serious sit-down with your mother to uncover the root of the problem. Whether it’s therapy for her (or both of you), some time apart, or creating healthy boundaries, you have every right to be loved and respected the way you deserve, especially from someone as significant in your life as your mom.