15 Signs Of A Toxic Mother And Ways To Deal With Her

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A toxic mother can adversely affect her child in more than one way. The first relation that a baby shares even before coming into the world is with the mother. She nurtures her child for nine months in her womb and undergoes severe pain to bring them into the world. Children find comfort in their mothers, and they are the biggest source of inspiration. But, at times, mothers can negatively influence their children. Their constant criticism, judgment, and abusive behavior can have a toxic effect on their child’s psychological and emotional aspects. And growing up with a toxic mother around can permanently alter a child’s psyche and lead to behavioral problems. They might also have difficulties with their self-confidence and social skills. Such traumas can sometimes take forever to heal. But what can you do about it? You need to figure out whether your mother is toxic or is it your assumption. Read on for a list of traits commonly associated with toxic mothers. You can also find a few tips and tricks on dealing with her.

In This Article

Who Is A Toxic Mother?

Although there is no specific definition of a toxic parent, it can be defined as a person who shows narcissistic attributes to undermine their children and get the upper hand. The word ‘mother’ stands for affection, care, warmth, and positivity. But a toxic mother is the complete opposite of it. Instead of love, a toxic mother feeds lies, rebuke, ignorance, humiliation, and other negative traits to her child. These types of mothers are generally neglectful about their children and their upbringing.

Ideally, parents should correct their children whenever they go wrong. It is a part of a child’s development. But a toxic parent is someone who criticizes unnecessarily and seldom uses words of appreciation or encouragement for their child.

A toxic mother will chastise her child more than required for the most negligible errors. She deprives her child of kind words but showers the strongest judgments that can crush their confidence and self-esteem. She can make a child feel unworthy of anything good in life.

She will downplay her child’s accomplishments and coax them to push their limits. For instance, if her child wins an award at the spelling bee competition, she may complain about not being good in math instead of congratulating.

If the child aces math, she will grumble about them not being good in sports. She can never be happy with anything the child does. She will not appreciate their good qualities but rather point out their shortcomings or weaknesses.

Sharing her own experience, Karina Mueller, a mother and mental health advocate, explains how difficult it is to deal with a toxic mother. She says, “As an individual, I never existed. Right from the start, I was replaced by a projection. I was cast into a role in which I could be of the greatest use to my mother to appease her inner neuroses and demons. I was to be a certain way and play a certain role in order to be accepted. I never achieved that acceptance. Instead, we battled in the shadows. I fought for my individuality, even when I didn’t recognize it was something being stripped from me (i).”

15 Signs Of A Toxic Mother

If you want to identify a toxic mother, watch out for the negative traits that she exhibits.

1. Indulges in destructive criticism

A mother provides feedback to make her children learn from their mistakes and improve their skills. But a toxic mother offers only negative feedback or destructive criticism, creating an oppressive atmosphere. She seeks perfection from her children and disapproves of anything that does not match her set standards. If her child is weak in something, she will constantly taunt, scold, or even call them hurtful names.

2. Compares with other children

The child may have got an A in all the subjects, but a toxic mother is unhappy because the neighbor’s child got an A+ in two subjects. There is a difference between making your child aim higher and destroying their self-confidence by comparing them with another child. A toxic mother constantly compares her child and overlooks their merits. She might even make comparisons between siblings.

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A toxic mother has extremely high expectations of their child. She is only concerned about her and does not care if the child can achieve those goals. And if the child falters, she will blame them for being inadequate.

3. Shows no enthusiasm for your successes

She neither acknowledges nor appreciates efforts of her child.
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When children succeed, they like to share it with their parents to be acknowledged and appreciated for their efforts. However, a toxic mother neither accepts nor appreciates her child’s efforts. It happens especially when the child has achieved something without her help. She feels that if the child continues to do well without her, she will lose her importance. Hence, she prefers showing no excitement for their success. In this environment, she is extremely unloving towards the child and prefers being unresponsive to her child’s accomplishments.

4. Shames for the smallest of mistakes

If a child accidentally breaks a glass bowl, the mother’s reaction is to check if they got hurt. But a toxic mother curses and abuses. She would tell them they can ‘never’ do anything good in life and may give severe punishments even for small mistakes. It may make the child believe that they deserve such ill-treatment. In this case, the family environment becomes unsupportive and unsympathetic.

5. Commands respect through aggression

Every child needs to be disciplined and learn to respect elders. Parents should put in the lesson through love and affection. But a toxic mother chooses the other way and gets aggressive or tries emotional blackmail to get the child to do what she wants in the name of respect. If children fear and get anxious when dealing with their mother, it means a wrong approach is being used.

6. Uses the silent treatment

Silent treatment makes the child feel guilty even when they are not wrong.
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The silent treatment is another effective weapon in a toxic mother’s arsenal used against a child to do what she wants. It makes the child feel guilty even when they haven’t done wrong. The cold behavior coaxes them to the extent of damage control by apologizing for something they didn’t do. Such passive-aggressive behavior can have a long-term damaging effect on the child’s psyche.

7. Blames for being too negative

When a child raises points against their toxic mother, a toxic mother will blame them for being too negative. The child may only be reacting, but since the mother wants to control, she will blame them for their behavior. In the end, the child will regret raising their voice or speaking against their mother.

8. Plays the victim card

One of the sharpest weapons a toxic mother wields against her child is guilt. Each time her child speaks up against her toxic behavior, she will cry in despair and blame the child for making her feel bad. She manipulates her children so that she becomes the victim, and they feel ungrateful for hurting their mother by speaking against them.

9. Humiliates with subtle but mean comments

“She can never become anything in life.” “He is good for nothing.”

Such comments ridiculing or demeaning a child can severely puncture their self-esteem. A toxic mother will be uncaring and dismiss the child as being too sensitive or over-reacting. She may not think much before saying such harsh statements, but it affects the child adversely.

10. Disregards personal boundaries

A toxic mother does not consider your privacy. Since she wants to control every aspect of your life, she will deny you privacy. She might check your phone and mail without your permission, look through your stuff in your absence, and in extreme cases, even stalk you online. She does it less out of concern for you and more out of the need to use it against you to control you.

11. Gives her feelings more importance

Everything is about her needs, wants, emotions, and feelings. A toxic mother will not consider her child’s opinion or suggestion. She will ensure that the child feels obligated to ignore their own choice and instead toe the line for the sake of their mother’s happiness.

12. Imposes responsibility for her happiness

A toxic mother leaves no opportunity to remind her child of the sacrifices she has made for them. She does it to make them feel responsible for making her happy. Every child is expected to do well in life and make parents proud. But it should not be done at the cost of their happiness. A child should not feel pressured or responsible for their parent’s happiness.

13. Denies you a shot at conversation

A toxic mother cannot handle confrontation. So, she will avoid any conversation that involves her child pointing out her flaws. She will either hang up the phone on them or walk out mid-conversation. Having a meaningful conversation with a toxic mother is next to impossible.

14. Gaslights you for her convenience

Children’s minds are malleable and easy to influence. And a toxic mother uses this to her advantage. She gaslights her child to believe what she wants them to believe. It could cause adverse effects on children, and they lose trust in their mother when they grow up and learn the truth.

15. Emotional abuse

A toxic mother may resort to emotional abuse. It involves toxic behaviors that affect the emotional well-being of the child. A toxic mother may constantly criticize, manipulate, or belittle her child, creating a harmful environment. Emotional abuse can also manifest as neglect, where the mother ignores the child’s emotional needs. This toxic dynamic can leave a long-lasting emotional scar, affecting the child’s self-esteem and overall mental health. A toxic mother may also give silent treatment to her child to make them give in to her demands. She may even resort to stonewalling or ignoring the child for hours or days to express her disapproval (1). Recognizing these signs is crucial for seeking support and establishing healthy boundaries to break free from the cycle of emotional abuse in the mother-daughter relationship.

How To Deal With A Toxic Mother?

If your mother has been showing the above signs, you might be wondering about dealing with her. The best way to deal with her is by healing yourself from experience and changing your outlook in life.

1. Acknowledge the pain

Acknowledge that you are hurt to heal the wounds.
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The first thing you need to do when trying to heal from a traumatic experience is to acknowledge that you are hurt. Humans deny specific experiences fearing they may not be able to deal with them. Hence, they prefer shoving them aside without realizing those will come back to trouble them if not dealt with correctly.

2. Rebuild yourself

Your toxic mother may have called you numerous names and criticized you, but it is time you leave that negative energy behind and start rebuilding yourself. You can try motivational journaling to list all you have achieved to date and what you wish to achieve in the future. Write stuff you want to say to yourself to remind you how awesome you are.

3. Learn to love yourself

Your mother may have created a bad image of you in your head. It’s time to change it to the actual image by involving in self-awareness activities. You can try by listing your strengths to hone, your weakness to work on, and your interests to develop. Go easy on yourself. Do not put undue pressure to meet unrealistic expectations.

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Try talking to a close friend and ask them to describe you and what they think are your strengths and weaknesses. Work on the weaknesses they mention and try to build the strengths they shared with you.

4. Take care of yourself

Exercise daily and eat healthy
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To heal completely, you need to take care of your physical health. Develop a routine of waking up and going to bed at a specific time. Complete a stipulated number of hours of sleeping every day. Exercise daily and eat healthily. Do everything you can to ensure you lead a healthy life.

5. Forgive and let go

Remember that your mother is human, and humans are not perfect, right? Perhaps, it was how she was brought up and saw it as the best way to raise a child. Or she probably had no idea that her actions were hurting you. Irrespective of what it is, let go of any negative feelings and forgive her. Try to hold on to only the good memories you may have of her. Love her for whatever little good she must have done for you.

6. Set clear boundaries

If you wish to do away with the bitter past and start afresh with your mother, do it by setting clear boundaries in your relationship. Tell her how her excessive criticism hurts you and how it would be good if she could control her negative traits. Give her a chance to make amends and rebuild her relationship with you.

7. Learn to protect yourself

Learn from your experience and try to stay away from people who show similar traits. Do not let anyone bully you and determine your self-worth. Be clear about who you want in life and work towards it tirelessly. Do not let anyone else dictate how to live or what to do in life.

8. Seek professional guidance

If the wound is too deep for you to deal with on your own, seek help from a qualified professional. A good psychologist will guide you through the pain you have experienced over the years and help you tackle pent-up negative feelings you may be holding against your mother or yourself.

We are all imperfect humans with our own set of flaws. A toxic mother’s flaw is her inability to express love for her child. Sometimes, she may mean well but cannot show it the right way. No matter how bad your mother may have treated you, a part of your heart will always hold her close. So, if needed, put some distance between your toxic mother and yourself to preserve your sanity but do not hold on to resentment towards her. Love her for giving you life and let go of any bitterness.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What does a toxic mother say?

Toxic mothers can sound cruel and say critical things that can hurt a child’s tender mind and heart. “You’re good for nothing,” “you are such an embarrassing child,” and “no matter what you wear, you look ugly” are a few things a toxic mother might say to her child.

2. How does a toxic mother affect a daughter?

Toxic mothers consider belittling, abusing, ill-treating, and humiliating their children a part of their upbringing. Whether a son or daughter, this behavior affects the mind and heart of the child and impacts their overall development. Children living with a toxic mother can demonstrate a range of issues. From difficulty in expressing emotions to poor self-esteem and anger management. Eventually, it can affect a child’s relationship with their siblings, family members, and even future partners.

3. Does a toxic mother love you?

It is believed that a toxic mother or parent loves their children. However, they are inconsistent in expressing their emotions. They lack basic skills to understand their children and empathize with them. Perhaps, that’s why they often fail to give their children the love, care, warmth, and mental peace that parents are expected to provide.

It may be difficult to relate the word “toxic” to your mother, and you may not want to believe it even though the signs are right in front of you. A toxic mother may not show all of these signs, and sometimes she may mean good but not able to portray it that way. Either way, do not overlook or ignore such behaviors if they affect your mental peace. Respect and love her but do acknowledge your feelings, and if you find it difficult to forgive her, you may also seek professional help.

Infographic: How To Set Clear Boundaries With A Toxic Mother?

No matter how much you love her, dealing with a toxic mother can be frustrating and dreadful. Our infographic shares vital tips you can use to set boundaries with a toxic mother and foster a healthy parent-child relationship.

tips to set clear boundaries with a toxic mother (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

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Key Pointers

  • Toxic parental behavior can cause psychoemotional problems in children.
  • Disapproving things that don’t match expectations and constant comparison with other kids can be a few signs of a toxic mother.
  • Acknowledging your pain and seeking professional help are some ways to deal with a toxic mother.
toxic mother_illustration

Image: Stable Diffusion/MomJunction Design Team

Learn about the harmful effects of mean things mothers say to children as we discuss 8 common phrases that hurt their confidence and happiness.

Personal Experience: Source


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  1. How to tell if you have a toxic parent.
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