As a counselor and coach, I’ve see women negatively affected by toxic mothers in my practice more than any other hurdle they encounter in life. And nearly every time, I witness these women expecting their bad mothers to miraculously change into caring, nurturing, supportive mothers.
“I know I need to be more firm in setting boundaries with people, but NEVER did I think that I would have to do it with my own mother.” — Sally B.
Instead of focusing on trying to love your mother enough that she magically transforms in to a good person, or continuing your relentless attempts at pleasing her, it may be time to learn how to set boundaries with her.
The Bible says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” (Proverbs 13:12a) simply hoping for something you want only leads to further heartache.
While it’s absolutely try that bad mothering contributes to many hurts and dysfunctions. But you are always responsible for yourself. And taking care of yourself begins with setting and keeping healthy boundaries.
How do you set boundaries with a toxic mother?
- Recognize your mother for who she is. In a previous post, I talked about some of the traits of bad mothers. Many broken daughters remain in denial over their mothers and spend a lifetime wallowing in struggle and confusion. Relationships take two people to work. Just because someone holds a title in your life does not give them the right to treat you poorly.
- Know the truth. I had a client who knew that her mother was toxic but thought it was still her duty as a daughter to care for her mother. Her mother would make demands on her daughters schedule without checking with her first. If the daughter didn’t comply she’d threaten to not watch her kids. Each time, the daughter felt guilty for not complying with her mothers demands. This client was confusing taking care of her mother with being at her mother’s beck and call.
- Be a cheerful giver. If you don’t want to do something, or can’t find a way to do it joyfully, don’t do it. It’s OK to say no. In fact, it’s often good to say no. Sometimes your yes just enables your mother to stay stuck in her poor behavior. Even Jesus said no to his family when he needed to. (Matthew 12:46-50).
- Weather the storm. Just because you lay down a boundary, don’t expect your mother to get in line and realize the error of her ways. More often than not, you will have to tolerate inappropriate behavior, often worse than before as your mother tries to reestablish her position of dominance. It may come through angry outbursts, manipulative tears, or total withdrawal. If you can remember that these tactics are meant to get you back to the place where she has control, you can weather the storm easier and stand your ground.
If you are having trouble, you may want to consider a form of distancing. Depending on the level of toxicity the relationship brings, you may consider not spending as much time with her or a time of separation. Distancing does not imply that you don’t love or honor your mother, but you need the time to learn how establish new and healthier boundaries.
If you are trying to set boundaries with a toxic mother and finding it difficult, get help. Stemming the tide of guilt and hurt that comes from that relationship is crucial for your mental health and the health of your relationships. I work with women whose mothers were toxic and help them find their way to healing their wounds.
My book Build a Beautiful Life Out of Broken Pieces can also help as it walks you through how to overcome the negative thought patterns the relationship may have caused.
To read more about toxic mothers, visit these others posts: