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:
- Dismissive/disregarding of your feelings and needs
- Emotionally unavailable
- Emotionally blackmailing
- Comparing you to others
- Disrespectful of your boundaries
- Often playing the victim
- 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)
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.
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.
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?
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