Let’s face it, the mother-daughter relationship is complicated. Most women’s relationships with their moms aren’t picture perfect. But don’t use that simple fact as an excuse to tolerate a relationship with a toxic mother that is hurting you.
When the very relationship that should nurture you the most is causing you pain and confusion, the effects run deep. A relationship with a toxic mother is a surefire way to lessen your self-confidence and your trust in others.
Let me be clear: All mothers make mistakes. God knows I’ve made my fair share! But mistakes and character flaws are two very different things. A mother can become toxic to her daughter when her repeated ‘toxic’ behavior has become so deeply ingrained that it becomes part of her identity and she doesn’t even realize it.
Toxic mothers have a way of never assuming responsibility, pointing all the blame on others, and manipulating. And they disguise it by saying, “I’m just trying to be a good mother.” When this happens, the daughters are left terribly confused. They want so much to believe that their mothers are loving and nurturing, but what they get instead is an onslaught of accusations that leave them feeling devastated, but not truly able to pinpoint why.
They know they don’t like to be around their mothers. They know they don’t like the way their mothers make them feel. But they just can’t seem to wrap their head around the fact that their mother may be the problem. They are more likely to feel that they are doing something wrong—something that they don’t ever seem to be able to fix. Sadly much of the toxic behavior is a result of brokenness in the mothers life that is now being taken out on the daughter.
To help relieve some of that confusion, here are five signs that you are a victim of toxic mothering:
- Your mother is dismissive. A toxic mother will typically ignore her daughter if she’s not behaving in the exact manner the mother wants. Because these mothers often look to their daughters to make themselves look good and feel better about themselves, a daughter who doesn’t do exactly what the mother wants has no value and therefore isn’t worth her time. Or if the daughter is in someway defying the mother’s wishes, a bad mother will often use dismissiveness as a manipulation tactic to bring the daughter back under her control. These acts of defiance are rarely true rebellion, by the way—often it’s just the mother’s perception that the behavior was out of line. To a toxic mother, anything that is not in line with what she wants, expects, or believes is a threat.
- Your mother is controlling. Toxic mothers have to have things their way at all times. Controlling can be seen in a variety of ways—outright yelling, manipulative comments, and blaming are all common. This is an immature and unhealthy way to handle relationships and is in no way considered good mothering.
- You mother is critical. Toxic mothers are never pleased. No matter how good you are, it’s never good enough. She will always find something to criticize. While this is an internal issue, these mothers don’t have the ability to look inward, so all of that criticism falls on the poor unsuspecting daughter who is just looking to please the very woman who has the greatest power to validate her, making the criticism sting even more.
- Your mother is self-centered. Toxic mothers take the cake when it comes to being selfish. I’m not referring to women who take the time to care for themselves, whether that’s getting to the gym or taking quiet time to refresh. I’m talking about mothers who make every decision based solely on what’s in their best interest. Many will disguise what they do for their children as being a ‘good mother,’ but there’s always a motive. Oftentimes it’s a front to try and prove to others that she is a good mother. This, naturally, leaves the daughter very confused.
- Your mother is obsessed with presenting a good front to others. Toxic mothers often look great on the outside and have many fooled. They are usually attractive and charming or put on a great act of pretending to be sweet and caring. Many daughters of bad mothers often hear comments like, “Oh your mom is so great,” while on the inside they are seething with anger over the lie they are living. Even more painfully, they are hurting from the lack of true love.
This list is in no way exhaustive. It’s just a glimpse of the poor behaviors exhibited by ‘toxic’ mothers who disguise themselves as ‘good.’
If you are the victim of a toxic mother, I want you to know that you are not alone. In my coaching and counseling practice, I see so many women every week who grew up with a mother who is toxic because of the brokenness in her life. As daughters they are still not fully aware of just how poor the mothering they received was and the damage it’s caused. They are in pain and confused, and they are feeling guilty about the feelings they have for their very own mothers.
In the next post of this three-part series, I talk about the effects that toxic mothers have on their daughters. Until then, you may find my Toxic People Survival Guide a helpful resource. It’s your FREE Guide to identifying and dealing with difficult people of all types.