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How to Deal With a Toxic Mother (God’s Way)

The mother-child relationship can be complicated. But what do you do when the woman who should nurture and support you is the source of your pain?

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 child when her troublesome behavior becomes so deeply ingrained that she doesn’t even realize the harm she’s causing.

 

Toxic mothers have a way of never assuming responsibility, always putting all blame on others, and manipulating. And they disguise it by saying, “I’m just trying to be a good mother.” When this happens, even adult children 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 without being able to truly pinpoint why.

 

Let’s talk briefly about what does and doesn’t constitute toxic behavior.

Your mother is NOT toxic because she:

  • Disciplines you
  • Doesn’t give you what you want
  • Disagrees with you
  • Has input in your life
  • Has rules she expects to be followed in her house

However, if she does any of the following things regularly, it suggests her behavior is toxic:

  1. Dismissive/disregarding of your feelings and needs
  2. Emotionally unavailable
  3. Emotionally blackmailing
  4. Controlling
  5. Critical
  6. Comparing you to others
  7. Disrespectful of your boundaries
  8. Manipulative
  9. Often playing the victim
  10. Self-centered
  11. Unapologetic
  12. Blaming
  13. Attacking
  14. Obsessed with putting on a good front

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 mothers.

What do you do when you want to love your mother, but her toxic behavior is leaving you in desperate need of an antidote?

When in doubt, look to the Bible. It teaches us many things, including

Five ways to deal with a toxic mother.

 

Grieve the loss.

“But she’s still alive,” you say. That may be true, but death is only one form of loss. Many with toxic mothers need to grieve the loss of a loving relationship with their mother, as it will likely never be. Expecting it to change will likely only bring further heartache. I realize this can be painful to admit, but God is close to the broken hearted: “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close.” (Psalm 27:10)

 

Forgive.

Whether your mother knows her behavior is toxic or not, forgiveness is not for her, it’s for you. For one, it keeps you in God’s will and secondly, it releases you from carrying the burden. If Jesus could forgive people he didn’t know for something so horrific as nailing him to a cross, we too can forgive others for their toxic behavior. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34a) Just remember, the because you forgive you do not need to automatically trust.You can forgive and still have boundaries.

Get healing.

Your mother’s toxic behavior is not a reflection of you. Even though it may have left you with deep emotional wounds, it shouldn’t define you. Your identity should be in Christ, not in the unrealistic expectation of others. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Set realistic expectations.

During your healing journey, you will likely get healthier but this does not mean that your mother will change. Be prayerful that she does, but the Bible says in Proverbs 13:12a, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” When someone shows you who they are, you would be wise to believe them. Pray that she is open to allowing God to change her, but in the mean time, don’t expect her behavior to change over night. If there’s been no repentance, there will be no change.

 

Set boundaries.

Boundaries indicate where one person ends and the other begins. The fact that this woman is your mother does not give her the right to overstep your boundaries. Boundaries will look different for each person. For some, learning how to declare their needs is all that is needed. For others, there may be forms of consequences or even avoidance. Refer to “How to Set Boundaries with a Toxic Mother” for more on this.

The Bible is clear in Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” This means you are responsible to do your part andlet God do the rest.

May you find peace and healing for your soul, my friend.

Need more help?

If you’re struggling with a toxic person in your life, family or otherwise, join us for our new online course How to Deal with Toxic People (God’s Way) and get your joy back. Click here for more info and get your name on the early wait list.

Grab a copy of my FREE ‘Toxic People Survival Guide: Tips for Learning How to Identify and Deal with Difficult People.”

10 replies
  1. Frankline Nabuyoli
    Frankline Nabuyoli says:

    Wow I am currently dealing with this! It’s like this blog post was sent from Heaven for such a time as this! I literally just got out of an altercation with my mom, and im just asking God to give me the strength and courage to not break. Minutes after it happens I check my email, and see this!
    Only God I tell ya!!

  2. Vangelina Chang
    Vangelina Chang says:

    Thank you for a great read. I’ve been dealing with toxic people in my life and started learning to set boundaries, and sometimes just avoiding them altogether depending on whether they’ve shown me they can respect my boundaries or not. It’s important to stick to the boundaries we’ve set because that’s how we let others know how serious our values are to us.

  3. Tara
    Tara says:

    I love you Kris! I so needed to read this!! It has taken me a lot of years to understand this…. thank you!

    Your ministry is always a blessing!

  4. Shauna Parker
    Shauna Parker says:

    My mom has been an alcoholic since as far back as I can remember. In fact she lost custody of me when I was just 2 years old. Growing up I seen things no child should ever witness. We have had our bad times but we also had good times. She still drinks, sometimes heavy, but I have come to understand that I can’t control her. She will make her own choices and I have to make mine. I don’t see her as much as I would like but I have come to be ok with that. It is actually better and I no longer feel stressed out. I do talk to her when she is sober but when she has been drinking I have to make the choice to walk away.

  5. Kris Reece
    Kris Reece says:

    Thank you so much for sharing Shauna. That couldn’t have been easy, but I’m so glad to hear that you’ve come to a place where you are able to rest in God and still love her (even if from a distance). Blessings to you!

  6. Marika Vermaak
    Marika Vermaak says:

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom around this topic God’s way..It means a lot to me in dealing with my toxic mother.

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