Relationships between mothers and daughters can be some of the best and strongest around. They can also be contentious, fraught, and filled with conflict. This can be especially heartbreaking if you have friends who are very close with their moms, because you see what you and your mom could be. Sometimes, the dysfunctional relationship can come from moms "meddling" in their daughters' lives. The intentions are good, but there might be signs your mom is projecting her issues onto you.
"Moms are predisposed to want more and better for their children," counselor Dr. Dee Ray tells Romper by email. "A mom who has lived through certain experiences is likely to want to be involved or influential in the lives of their daughters approaching the same experiences." It makes sense that your mom would want to make life easier on you by sharing her experiences — and you likely want that too, sometimes — but projection can occur without her even knowing what's happening.
Licensed marriage and family therapist Angela R. Wurtzel agrees, adding that projection can begin before a child is even born, and is often the result of a mother disliking certain characteristics about herself. That doesn't mean that it doesn't hurt if your mom thinks you should be a different size than you are or should change your personality or appearance in ways that just don't feel "you." It's important to recognize, however, that projection is often not really about you as a person — it's about her. There are a lot of different ways that your mom may be projecting her issues and insecurities onto you. If you notice the following signs, it could actually help your relationship.
Projection can be extremely subtle and somewhat difficult to pick up on, but if she's always pushing you to do things her way, that's a common sign. "The mother isn't taking into account or or reacting to the person her child is, but rather in the way that fits for herself," psychologist Dr. Erika Martinez tells Romper in an email exchange. In this case, your mother is considering how she would handle the situation based on her own personality and experiences, not your own.
According to Wurtzel, your mom could also be projecting her insecurities or baggage from past experiences on to you if she's always telling you not to respond as she would (or has), too. Your mom doesn't want you to do something that she considers a mistake.
Even in the best of relationships, moms can be critical because they love their children and want them to succeed. That being said, there is such a thing as being too critical. "If your mom continues to criticize you and put you down instead of building you up or encouraging you, it is a sign of her own issues," therapist Kimberly Hershenson tells Romper by email. "Your mom should be someone to lean on, not someone who tears you down. She may be experiencing low self-esteem and taking it out on you."
According to an article that psychotherapist Katherine Fabrizio wrote for Psych Central, putting your mom's happiness above everyone else's, including your own, is a sign that her insecurities have rubbed off on you. You may not realize that it's happened, but if you notice that you try to make Mom happy regardless of the effects on everyone else, she may have projected those issues onto you.
Boundaries are important in nearly any relationship, but they can sometimes become a bit blurred between family members, partners, or very close friends. If there aren't any boundaries in the relationship you share with your mother, it could actually be a sign that she's projecting issues on you, Hershenson says. Moms and daughters need to have parts of their lives that are kept separate from one another.
Again, this type of meddling can stem from good intentions, but micromanaging can send the signal that she doesn't think you're capable of running your own life, according to Psychology Today.
Apologizing and owning your mistakes is important. "If she is incapable of this, she may be feeling down herself and looking to blame others," Hershenson says. Saying you're sorry tells the other person that you recognize what you did wrong and that you'll work hard to avoid that in the future.
If your mom reacts especially strongly to situations that have more to do with you than with her, that could be a sign that she's projecting. "Strong emotions about another’s situation is often tied to personal issues," Ray says. Sometimes, your mom can be even more upset than you are about a particular experience. That is a good clue that she's dealing with something unresolved that has nothing to do with you.
"Projection is often unconscious, and serves as a defensive mechanism to protect us from undesirable or negative feelings," Dr. Nikole Benders-Hadi, a Doctor On Demand psychiatrist, tells Romper by email. "Thinking about projection in this way can often help facilitate better communication if you notice your mom is projecting her issues onto you, and serve as a good starting point for open and honest dialogue about it." Talking about it can be difficult, but ultimately, it might benefit you both.