The relationships we share with our mothers are truly unique. From the time we come into this world, they nurture us like no one else in our lives. They fill us with confidence and love, and they temper the tough experience of life by giving us a place of permanent shelter from the storm. This is not the case for everyone, however. For some, the relationship they share with their mother is turbulent, fraught, and toxic. What do you do when your mother hurts you more than she helps you? The answer, unfortunately, isn’t an easy one to come by. Our mothers are important and they hold a special place in our hearts — even when they aren’t the parent we need or deserve. Though they might berate you, belittle you, and criticize your every move it’s hard to let go of the first person you looked for in longing and in love. Letting go is necessary, though, when the bond we share with our mother has turned sour, dangerous, or toxic to our happiness and self-esteem.
Motherly relationships aren’t always smooth sailing.
While television and the movies have built up a very specific type of relationship between mother and child, it’s not always smooth sailing where this connection is concerned. Like any other relationship, the affection and communication we share with our parents can become bent and twisted. Humans also, they hold their own tragic flaws and histories, which can make it even harder to maintain compassion and see one another on an even playing field.
The relationship you share with your mother can be just as toxic, just as soul-crushing, as any other relationship you’re a part of. Although we’ve been taught to revere our mothers and accept them no matter what — you still have a right to be happy and safe. When you’re tied into a toxic mother, however, neither of those things is possible.
If you’re ready to overcome this toxic relationship, you’ve got to employ some brutal honesty. You have to start seeing your mother for who she is and see your own humanity in it all as well. No one deserves to be made small. No one deserves to be told they aren’t good enough, or that what they want for themselves and their futures is invalid. Stand up for yourself. Find the courage to take action in the name of your own wellbeing and have enough self-respect to cut ties with the person who’s wreaked so much damage.
Signs it’s time to cut ties with your toxic mother.
Are you dealing with a toxic or abusive mother? It might be time to cut ties and walk away, but not before you look for the warning signs.
Endless guilt and upset
When it comes to the toxic mother, there is never an end to the guilt and the upset. Every conversation ends in conflict, or an increase in your own feelings of guilt, shame, and eroded self-worth. On a regular basis, they make you feel worse about yourself — and they do it by both snide remarks and subtle undercuts that hit you in the soul. This might come from their own insecurities, or a need to keep you small in order to retain their power over you.
Criticism comes standard
Does your mother endlessly criticize you or critique you? Do they comment on your weight, relationships, career, or friends with little consideration and no abandon? Do they make you feel small with their words and their disrespect? This is a classic symptom of a toxic relationship, and it’s a system that’s regularly used by mothers who are striving to keep their children in a state of inferiority or insecurity.
Looking for a savior
Not all toxic mothers are screaming matches and sanctimonious critiques. Sometimes, a toxic mother-child relationship looks more like a stereotype flipped on its head. This can be the mother who is looking to their child as a savior. Maybe your mother expects you to carry her burdens for her, or resume the role of a parent in her life. Perhaps she depends on you financially, or she clings to you mentally and emotionally.
Manipulating thoughts and feelings
Manipulation is a common tactic used by the toxic mother, and it can wear a lot of different faces. This manipulation might be emotional. Perhaps your mother uses tears or protestations of pain to make you feel guilty, so you’ll bend to her will. On the opposite end, they might rely on mental manipulation and complicated, nuanced games of support and denial in order to win your allegiance (or servitude).
Forcing the blame game
When it comes to your mother, do you find yourself constantly apologizing? Even when you aren’t the one at fault? Again, this is a common tactic used by parents of adult children across the board. Rather than taking responsibility for their own mistakes, they shift the blame to you — forcing you to internalize it and take it on at your own cost and burden. They force the blame game and force you to take on the weight of everything that goes wrong in your relationship or family.
Undercutting your relationship
Toxic mothers love to get involved in their children’s relationships, and they love to cause problems and heartaches where there otherwise were no issues. Does your mother put herself in the middle of your relationships? Does she cause problems or sew seeds of doubt and conflict while running your partner down? Again, this is a common tactic used to wield control and undermine your happiness.
When your mother gets upset (with you or anyone else) what does her response look like? Dramatic and volatile explosions can often be a sign of a relationship that is plagued by toxic behavior. If your mother lashes out, screaming and terrorizing anyone and everyone who denies her wishes — it might be time to get serious about getting yourself clear and safe.
Unchecked mental illness
Living with and loving someone with mental illness can be a challenge and a struggle…especially when that person is your mother. Though we love our parents, it’s not always possible to support them through their mental illness. This is especially true when they refuse to support themselves. A parent who refuses to get help, take medication, or address their issues is not one who we can hold on to. We have a right to protect our own mental health, and a responsibility to ensure we protect our happiness and safety.
Control, control, control
There is, perhaps, no more telling symptom of a toxic parent than the issue of control. Do you have a mother who insists on controlling your life or calling the shots for you (and your siblings)? Do they refuse to listen to your ideas? Do they refuse to see the value in your goals? The controlling parent is not one who is looking out for their child’s best interest. They are someone who is looking out for their own image, and the picture of a family they want to build.
The best ways to separate from a toxic parent.
You don’t have to allow your mother’s toxic behavior to undermine your life forever. You can stand up for yourself and you can find the strength to slowly cut ties and discover your joy. In order to do this you have to dig deep, however, and prioritize your needs while you strive to tap into your own courage and personal power.
1. Acceptance as a first step
Before you can move on and away from your mother, you have to accept who she is and how her behavior and choices impact you. Acceptance is not allowance. It is simply seeing reality for what it is and finding the courage to say, “Okay.” Until you cultivate acceptance, you can’t see where you’re standing or where you need to go. It’s the first step in taking action, and the first step in separating yourself from a mother who can’t see your worth.
Take off your rose-tinted glasses and stop forcing your mother into the box you want her to fit into. Be brutally honest. Who is your mother? When you’re hurting, how does she treat you? When you’re angry, what solutions does she offer? Can you trust her? Does she consider you when she makes choices that shape and change your family?
See your mother as the human that she is. Consider all the parts of her — the hurt child, the uncertain woman, the wise crone with more experience than you can muster. Understand that, just as you are flawed and broken…so is she. Take her off the pedestal and see her for who she is. How does she affect you? Does she add grace and support to your life? Does she bring you mercy when the world is cruel? Like any other relationship, the love we share with our mothers should add (not detract) from our lives.
2. Get clear on your intentions
Once you’ve allowed yourself to see your mother as she is, you need to figure out your own intentions and how you want to proceed. If you’ve decided to severe ties with her for bad behavior, you need to ensure that you’re prepared to make this move. Cutting someone out of your life is a forever experience (in many cases). Are you prepared to say goodbye to your mother forever? Are you doing this out of a need to be happy, or a need to punish?
Make no mistake — if you think cutting your mother out of your life will make her change, you’re wrong. We do not change for other people. Not really. We are the only ones who can change ourselves, and we can only do that when we decide it is something we want to undertake for our own happiness.
“Punishing” your mother isn’t going to work. Especially if she doesn’t see you as an equal, or worthy, or respect. You need to ensure that you’re cutting ties for the right reasons: your need for peace and respect in your life. Anything beyond that could indicate a certain level of unpreparedness, or a lack of consideration. Give yourself time to think through all the pros and cons, and take action only once you’re certain you’re ready to let go.
3. Have an honest conversation
After cultivating acceptance and aligning your intentions, the natural next step is to inform your mother of the upcoming changes. Before you do this, however, take some time to shore-up your boundaries. Have a clear vision of what you expect and how you want to proceed. Know too what behavior you are and aren’t willing to accept, and make that explicitly clear from the start.
Boundaries in place, find a comfortable (and safe) time and place to sit your mother down and have a candid conversation. If your mother is especially toxic or volatile, enlist the help of a friend, or even a family issues expert that can help both of you navigate the difficult conversation to come with respect and civility.
Avoid blaming language (i.e. you did this, you did that…) and stick to the facts you know. Explain how you’re feeling and why, but remove any “you” language that might otherwise inflame the conversation. Instead, describe scenarios as if you were detached (“Event A happened, and that made me feel bad”). Don’t hold back and make clear what comes next. Once you’ve given yourself room to explain where you’re at, leave room for them to do the same…but don’t accept abuse.
4. Let go of the guilt and the shame
There’s a lot of guilt and shame associated with our toxic parental relationships, and that’s often precisely what keeps us trapped in their poisonous loops and patterns. We have to move past that guilt and that shame if we hope to free ourselves from the darkness and find a path to our own light. We are not responsible for the pain of our parents, nor are we beholden to them forever for the decisions that they made.
While you should be grateful for the sacrifices that your mother made for you, you should not allow those sacrifices to make a martyr of you. You don’t have to sacrifice yourself on the altar of your mother’s charity forever. In many cases, your mother made the choice to have you. That choice comes with responsibilities that never rested on your shoulders.
Stop allowing your mother to guilt you into holding on to her pain. Don’t allow her tales of woe and misery to be the chains that prevent your own joyful future. The pain that others caused her is no excuse for the pain she causes you. Embrace your own power and envision yourself free of her entanglements. Lean into your personal space and celebrate your individuality a little more each day.
5. Allow your inner child to run free
Cutting ties with your mother is a strange feeling, and for a long time you won’t be certain how to move forward. In order to re-establish yourself as a newly independent person, you need to reconnect with the joy, optimism, and love in your life. The most effective way to do this is by opening up the door for your inner child to re-emerge. Slowly, they will learn to rediscover the world and what it means to be seen, valued, and loved for who and what they are.
Walk away from your mother and allow your inner child out to run free. Take them by the hand and assure them that there’s no more monster under the bed. Let them know that they have a chance at happiness now, and they can dance exactly as they’d like to. Revel in the joy of this newfound freedom and use this process to tap back into your childlike sense of wonder.
Make a conscious effort to let your inner child out of every day, or every week. Give them free rein to explore new relationships with all the childish curiosity that makes learning an enjoyable experience. Drop the inner criticisms and echoes of a mother who didn’t quite know how to love as well as she needed to. Re-parent your inner child and give them the support they never found in the caretakers who came before. Thank your mother for what she did, but kindly say good night and allow yourself (and your inner) child to move on and heal.
Putting it all together…
Though the relationship we share with our mothers is meant to be sacred and reassuring, it doesn’t always play out that way. Sometimes, the relationships we hold with our parents turn toxic and do more harm than good. In those moments, it’s important to stand up for ourselves and take stock. We have a right to be happy, and that doesn’t have to include a mother who criticizes you, runs you down, or otherwise works to destroy your happiness.
Accept who your mother is and accept too how she impacts your life. Take off the rose-tinted glasses and see her as she is, not as you wish her to be. Once you take a brave step into this new reality, you can begin to set your intentions and decide what course of action is the best for you and your wellbeing. Weight the pros and cons of walking away, and understand that it’s not a tool for punishment and it’s no way to force your mother to change. Knowing what you need to do, sit your mother down and have an honest conversation with her. Communicate your feelings and your new boundaries too. Avoid blaming language, but let her know where the new lines lie. Allow yourself to let go of all the guilt and shame, and empower yourself to move forward in authentic joy by bringing your inner child out to celebrate their new freedom regularly.