11 Signs Your Toxic Mom Is Still Influencing You As An Adult (2023)


von Caroline Steber

11 Signs Your Toxic Mom Is Still Influencing You As An Adult (1)

Hannah Burton/Hustle

If you grew up with a toxic mother, there's a good chance her toxic words will reverberate in your mind and affect you to this day. And it's all thanks to the mother-daughter bond — whether they liked each other or not. "Yourrelationship with your motheris one of your first relationships in life, so it's going to affect how you see yourself and how [your other] relationships work," said Dr. Agnes Wainman ofLondon Psychological Services, tells Hustle.

Depending on what your mother said, you may have grown up believing that you were worthless or that you would never achieve anything. And since that's hard to shake, therapy or talking to other loved ones is often necessary. "For some women, it can be helpful to engage in therapy to better understand themselves and their dynamics with their mother," says Wainman. “You can look at this dynamic from a different perspective and grow by learning and accepting thatyour mother's toxic behaviorit was never really about who you are as a person; It was their issues and how they showed up in the relationship."

In some cases, it can also be helpful to share with your mother how her actions of 5, 10, or 20 years ago still affect you today. "Talking woman-to-woman with one's mother about how certain experiences were interpreted as a child sometimes helps to challenge an outdated or misperceived perception."Advisor Erin Parisi, LMHC, CAPtells hustle. "Sometimes our mothers can offer us additional information that allows us to process past events in new ways, or we can repair the current relationship." But it's also totally okay not to talk to her or have no contact if you want to. Whatever works best for you.

Here are a few signs experts sayYour mother's toxicity may still affect you, and what can be done about it.


Your goals revolve around impressing your mother

(Video) 10 Signs That You May Have A Narcissistic Mother

Growing up with a toxic mothercan set the stage for a lifelong desire to "win" her approval—often by doing things you wouldn't normally do. If you are, you're probably "doing things, consciously and unconsciously, in hopes that your mom will approve of you," relationship therapist Rhonda Milrad, LCSW, founder of Relationup, tells Bustle. "You adopt behavior that you think she will like or achieve something that will make her agree, and then you expect her to respond."

That could include getting a certain college degree, dating someone you think she would like, doing a job she's always wanted, etc. You get the idea," says Milrad. "The other way around You'll be disappointed when your efforts don't get the resonance you want." And that can lead to a vicious and painful cycle. While it may be hard, if your mother doesn't give you the validation you need, remember that your accomplishments still have value even if she doesn't see it.Talking to a therapist can also help you learn to put your own approval before your mother's.


You catch yourself in the way she acts

If you grew up in a toxic household, you probably vowed never to act like your parents. And yet, since so much of our adult behavior is influenced by what we learned in childhood, it's not surprising that you sometimes repeat the same unhealthy patterns.

“You are doing the things she did that you swore you would never do,” Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, Director of theBaltimore Therapy Center, tells Hustle. "You start to see your mother's patterns in your own, even though you hated it when she did it and you hate it even more when you did it."

Realizing that you are repeating your mother's bad behaviors can be a panic-inducing moment. But no worry. Through therapy and recognizing these unhealthy thought patterns, you can learn to reframe your reactions and cultivate yoursown, healthy personality.


You still hear her words in your head

Your mom's words can literally reverberate in your head, even if you haven't spoken to her in years. (And sometimes even after you've repaired your relationship with her.) Again, this is because of these learned responses.

As Bilek says, "You make a mistake and you hear a voice saying, 'Can't you do anything right?' Just like she always did. Or worse, you find yourself saying these things to yourself.” Since it can be exhausting to have such a negative bond in your head, therapy is often necessary to push those thoughts away and slowly bring them back to you adjust thinking.


You think about her all the time

If your mother was a source of toxicity and stress during your childhood, you probably want to move on and not think about her. But unfortunately that's easier said than done. You may think about hard things she said or have flashbacks to dramatic moments.

As Bilek says, if "it's still taking up more space in your brain than you're willing to give it and having more impact on your emotions than you're willing to let on," therapy may be just what you need to manage the toxicity to remove from your brain.

(Video) 7 Signs Your Parents are Gaslighting You


You are still sensitive to your mother's moods

If you're still carrying around pain from the past, you might find yourself overly irritated by your mother's whims if you're still in contact with her. You might be "busy deciphering when she's pleased or upset with you," Milrad says. "Your mood swings according to their reaction, and you find it difficult to stay separate, keep calm, and look at their reactions neutrally."

If that's the case, it can be helpful to give yourself more space so you're less dependent on her and therefore less likely to get caught up in her drama. But therapy can also be key, as it can give you better coping skills so you'll know exactly what to do next time your mom is in a bad mood.


She is your only source of motivation

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Did you grow up with your mother saying you would never become anything? Or that you were a big disappointment? These harsh words can serve as motivation to get through college or land a dream job. But, as Milrad says, "You are still controlled by your words, even though they may motivate you to greatness."

It's great to feel motivated to do great things, but it's important to learn how to motivate yourself rather than using the drive to prove someone wrong, which is what drives you forward. By reminding myself that her harsh words had a lot more to do with itheras withOf, it may be possible to break free from this painful memory.


You're dating a version of your mother

If toxicity is all you know, it makes sense why you might be dating someone just like your mom. "You're repeating a pattern by being with someone who treats you in a similar way to how your mother treats you and reinforces her toxic messages," Milrad says of Kind of the relationship they're familiar with. Also, sometimes people end up in this type of relationship hoping that they'll finally be able to win over a rejecting person who's central to their life."

That's why it's important to reach out to people who care about you — like friends, other family members, or a therapist — so you can see that you really are worth it and date someone who sees that, too.


You fight with limits

Similarly, you may find that your toxic mother interfered with your ability to find and maintain healthy relationships as an adult. "Many adult children with toxic mothers ... are often drawn into other toxic relationships, either romantically or as friends."Therapist and Clinical Supervisor Elizabeth Trautwein, LPC, LMHC, tells Hustle. “Healthy boundaries weren't modeled or taught as children, so as adults they have trouble seeing where they end and another person begins. They feel threatened when someone close to them has a different opinion or preference. They'll either become overly attached to romantic partners or friends, or they'll be completely emotionally disconnected and withdrawn, one end of the spectrum or the other."

While you're right here, it's entirely possible to relearn relationship skills and make healthier choices in the future.


You are a perfectionist

If you're super hard on yourself, it almost definitely has something to do with how you were raised and the harsh words that went through your head. "Adults with toxic mothers struggle with self-esteem and perfectionism, and feel like they will never live up to the expectations of others or be good enough," says Trautwein. "They constantly strive to be the best, never to make mistakes, or to earn the love and attention of those around them."

And that can have side effects. "You can be overly sensitive to criticism, always trying to prove yourself, anxious, and able to please people," says Trautwein. "Daughters of toxic mothers often struggle with eating disorders, addictions, and a need for control." It can be difficult to come to terms with the scale of the problem while realizing just how big of an influence your mother really was. But that's the first step to getting better and moving on.

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You feel guilty more often than not

No matter what happens in life, do you find a way to feel guilty about it or do you blame everything on yourself? "Toxic mothers often blame their children for things that are completely beyond the child's control," says Wainman. "Some mothers go so far as to blame the child for 'ruining' their life. This constant guilt becomes ingrained, making you feel like you're always doing something wrong or on the verge of making a mistake.”


You are a people pleaser

The effects of growing up with parents who didn't appreciate you or who made you feel like you were never good enough can manifest in adulthood as a desire to please others. "Children with toxic mothers try to win their mother's love and approval. You often even go well into adulthood [for example] and buy your mother an expensive gift when you can't afford it," says Wainman. "It can affect other relationships, and you may find it difficult to say no to others and give too much time and resources (especially to those who don't reciprocate)."

The good thing to keep in mind is that you can overcome this if you are willing to put in the work. While it may be difficult, talking to friends or loved ones, going to therapy, and even talking to your mom can help you redefine the way you think about yourself and, in turn, your life.

(Video) 10 Signs Your Parents are Making You Depressed


What is a toxic mother in adulthood? ›

Toxic parents create a negative and toxic home environment. They use fear, guilt, and humiliation as tools to get what they want and ensure compliance from their children. They are often neglectful, emotionally unavailable, and abusive in some cases. They put their own needs before the needs of their children.

What are the effects of toxic parents in adulthood? ›

Growing up with toxic parents can affect your physical and mental health, putting you at risk for substance use, low self-esteem, and relationship difficulties. Setting healthy boundaries, prioritizing self-care, and getting support from family, friends, or a therapist are ways to cope with a toxic childhood.

Is my mom toxic or am I overreacting? ›

According to experts, a major key to distinguishing the two is looking at how long the strife lasts. If things are nasty between you in many different areas of the relationship for years at a time, the relationship itself might be toxic. But if there's only one, sudden issue, that's probably more benign.

How a toxic mother affects a daughter? ›

Impacts on Adult Daughters

The damage from a toxic mother can also lead to lifelong struggles with self-image, communication with others, mental illness like depression and anxiety, addiction problems, eating disorders, relationship issues, and more.

What do toxic mothers say? ›

The most common toxic behavior of parents is to criticize their child, express self-wishes, complain about the difficulties of raising a child, make unhealthy comparisons, and make hurtful statements1. What is this?

How do I heal myself from a toxic mother? ›

Try to remember good things, too.
  1. Educate yourself about the problems you've identified so far. ...
  2. Examine your relationships with other people in your life. ...
  3. Validate and process your emotions. ...
  4. Examine your limiting beliefs. ...
  5. Reconnect with your inner child. ...
  6. Find the direction in which you want your life to develop.

Did I grew up in a toxic household? ›

Feelings of extreme anxiety, low self-esteem, worthlessness, difficulty trusting others, maintaining close relationships, or feeling worn out after a visit with your family are all signs you grew up in a toxic family.

What are the psychological effects of a bad mother? ›

Some common reactions to growing up with a toxic mother include anxiety and depression during childhood and adulthood. People raised in toxic families may also be more prone to drug and alcohol abuse and may also have difficulties in personal relationships.

Can your parents love you and still be toxic? ›

Parents who carry a promise of love and care, while at the same time mistreat their child, are called toxic parents. Almost all toxic parents say they love their children, and they usually also mean it. But love involves much more than just expressed feelings. Real love towards children is also a way of behaving.

How do you tell if your mom is gaslighting you? ›

What are some examples of gaslighting parents? If a parent repeatedly denies or disputes your experiences or your feelings about them, makes you doubt or feel bad about yourself, or tries to relinquish responsibility for something he or she did by blaming you—those are all signs of gaslighting.

What is cold mother syndrome? ›

Emotionally absent or cold mothers can be unresponsive to their children's needs. They may act distracted and uninterested during interactions, or they could actively reject any attempts of the child to get close. They may continue acting this way with adult children.

Are my parents toxic or am I? ›

Some of the common signs of a toxic parent or parents include: Highly negatively reactive. Toxic parents are emotionally out of control. They tend to dramatize even minor issues and see any possible slight as a reason to become hostile, angry, verbally abusive, or destructive.

How does a mother gaslight her daughter? ›

A gaslighting parent consistently denies or disputes a child's experiences or feelings, making the child doubt their recollection so that they can escape responsibility for their actions1.

What does mother daughter codependency look like? ›

Codependent parents rely on their children to give to them, instead of giving to their children. This is known as parentification. By continually showing your child that you were a victim, you're relying on them to give you the emotional support you need.

What is a dysfunctional mother daughter relationship? ›

Dysfunctional mother-daughter relationships can come in many forms. Often it can take form in criticism, where a daughter feels like she's constantly getting negative feedback from her maternal figure. Sometimes, it can take the form of detachment. “Some women are simply not close to their mothers,” says Wernsman.

What does a narcissistic mother say? ›

You knew I didn't like it, but you still did it to hurt me.” “You only think about yourself.” “You always look for attention.” “You don't deserve everything that I have done for you.”

What is a toxic narcissist mother? ›

A narcissistic mother may feel entitled or self-important, seek admiration from others, believe she is above others, lack empathy, exploit her children, put others down, experience hypersensitivity to criticism, believe she deserves special treatment, and worst of all, maybe naïve to the damage she is causing.

What are the signs of an emotionally abusive mother? ›

Types of Emotional Abuse by Parents
  • Constantly criticizing the child.
  • Blaming the child for adult problems.
  • Rejecting the child repeatedly.
  • Dismissing the child's feelings.
  • Deliberately causing the child emotional pain.
  • Ridiculing the child or mocking them.
  • Humiliating or publicly shaming the child.
  • Talking down to the child.
Aug 8, 2022

How do you emotionally detach from a toxic mother? ›

Some key factors include:
  1. Set boundaries with your parents (and enforcing them!)
  2. Accept the guilt (and live with the discomfort)
  3. Don't try to change them—change what you can control.
  4. Take care of yourself first.
  5. Surround yourself with supportive relationships.
  6. Be prepared to exit the relationship if necessary.
May 24, 2019

Should you leave a toxic mother? ›

It's okay to let go of a toxic parent.

This is such a difficult decision, but it could be one of the most important. We humans are wired to connect, even with people who don't deserve to be connected to us. Sometimes though, the only way to stop the disease spreading is to amputate.

How do I know if my mom is manipulative? ›

But you might notice these key signs:
  • You often feel tricked or pressured into doing things.
  • It seems as if you can't do anything right.
  • It no longer seems possible to say no.
  • They often twist the truth.
  • You often feel guilty or confused.
  • Your efforts never seem good enough.
Jul 21, 2020

What does childhood emotional neglect look like in adults? ›

Childhood emotional neglect may impact your adult relationships by making it hard to trust and become close to others, and increasing your chance of experiencing depression and anxiety. Neglect is the most common form of child abuse.

When should you cut your ties with your family? ›

Research shows the most common reasons people cut ties with family include:
  1. Sexual, physical, or emotional abuse or neglect.
  2. Poor parenting.
  3. Betrayal.
  4. Drug abuse.
  5. Disagreements (often related to romantic relationships, politics, homophobia, and issues related to money, inheritance, or business)
Nov 10, 2021

What is toxic childhood syndrome? ›

Toxic stress response can occur when a child experiences strong, frequent, and/or prolonged adversity—such as physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence, and/or the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship—without adequate adult support.

What is a vindictive mother? ›

A vindictive parent can mean a lot of things. They may be vindictive towards you (the other parent), aiming to make life miserable for you. Or they might be vindictive in ways that put your child in the middle of conflict, or worse—hurt the child emotionally.

How should a toxic mother behave? ›

10 tips for dealing with toxic parents
  1. Stop trying to please them. ...
  2. Set and enforce boundaries. ...
  3. Don't try to change them. ...
  4. Be mindful of what you share with them. ...
  5. Know your parents' limitations and work around them — but only if you want to. ...
  6. Have an exit strategy. ...
  7. Don't try to reason with them.

Will a toxic mother ever change? ›

Brown University's advice on keeping yourself safe in dysfunctional family relationships emphasizes the fact that a toxic parent is likely not to change; what can change is their child's level of engagement, boundary reinforcement, and resistance to old patterns.

How do I unlearn toxic traits from my parents? ›

How to unlearn toxic childhood lessons
  1. Reflect on your beliefs. Timm recommends really paying attention to what you tell yourself every day without labeling those thoughts as “good” or “bad.” ...
  2. Try empowering reframes. ...
  3. Engage in mindfulness practices. ...
  4. Practice forgiveness. ...
  5. Try inner child work. ...
  6. Try somatic techniques.

What do toxic parents look like? ›

Toxic parents may invade your privacy or not allow you to make your own decisions. Or maybe they're overly critical and controlling of your decisions, even as an adult. Manipulative behaviors. Your parent may try to control you by using guilt or shame to play with your emotions.

When your mother plays the victim? ›

A mother's role-playing has direct effects on the child that can be long-lasting and highly damaging. Children of mothers who play the victim may feel inadequate and struggle to maintain boundaries, recognize the abuse, and voice their needs.

What are common gaslighting phrases? ›

35 Common Gaslighting Phrases
  • "I did that because I was trying to help you." ...
  • "That's not what happened." ...
  • "This is why you don't have friends." ...
  • "That is hardly important." ...
  • "It's not that big of a deal." ...
  • "You're too sensitive."
  • "You're overthinking it." ...
  • "You're being paranoid."
1 day ago

What mental illness is gaslighting? ›

Gaslighting is the use of a patterned, repetitive set of manipulation tactics that makes someone question reality. It's often used by people with narcissistic personality disorder, abusive individuals, cult leaders, criminals, and dictators. It's important to point out that gaslighting is a “patterned” behavior.

What is a snowplow mom? ›

Snowplow parenting, also called lawnmower parenting or bulldozer parenting, is a parenting style that seeks to remove all obstacles from a child's path so they don't experience pain, failure, or discomfort.

What is unloved daughter syndrome? ›

With an emotionally unreliable mother or one who is combative or hypercritical, the daughter learns that relationships are unstable and dangerous, and that trust is ephemeral and can't be relied on. Unloved daughters have trouble trusting in all relationships but especially friendship.

What do mommy issues look like in a girl? ›

Mommy issues in women

Low self-esteem. Difficulty trusting others/commitment issues. Having very few female friends. Feeling like you must do everything perfectly.

Did I have emotionally abusive parents? ›

Emotional abuse includes: humiliating or constantly criticising a child. threatening, shouting at a child or calling them names. making the child the subject of jokes, or using sarcasm to hurt a child.

How do you know if you're the problem? ›

8 signs you're the problem in your relationship
  1. You're hot-headed. ...
  2. You think your partner is inferior to you. ...
  3. You avoid conflict. ...
  4. You're obsessed with social media. ...
  5. You don't take responsibility for your actions. ...
  6. You have friends whispering in your ear. ...
  7. You prioritize your own needs/wants first.
Sep 21, 2017

How do you forgive a toxic mother? ›

Forgiving Your Parents
  1. Resolve resentment. Nursing resentments toward a parent does more than keep that parent in the doghouse. ...
  2. Develop realistic expectations. ...
  3. Hold on to the good. ...
  4. Foster true separation. ...
  5. Let your parents back into your heart. ...
  6. Commit to the journey.

What are the 4 types of gaslighting? ›

There are four primary types of gaslighting behaviors: the straight-up lie, reality manipulation, scapegoating and coercion. Last week we looked at the straight-up lie and reality manipulation. This week we are going to focus on scapegoating and coercion.

Why is my mother gaslighting me? ›

Gaslighting parents likely have some narcissistic tendencies, because narcissists are the grand masters and mistresses of gaslighting. It's how they maintain their grandiose view of themselves, which in fact hides their feelings of low self-esteem. It's part of their defense mechanisms.

What are daughters of narcissistic mothers like? ›

Narcissistic parenting creates huge problems for the growing child. Daughters of narcissistic mothers often become enmeshed with their parent, losing contact with their true self and growing up without boundaries and without the ability to recognise or nurture healthy relationships.

What is an enmeshed mother? ›

In an enmeshed relationship, a mother provides her daughter love and attention but tends to exploit the relationship, fortifying her own needs by living through her daughter. They both grow to depend on this type of arrangement, despite its dysfunction.

What is parentification trauma? ›

Parentification is a form of invisible childhood trauma. Parentification occurs when the roles between a child and a parent are reversed. You know you were parentified if as a child you have to step up as the caretaker, mediator, or protector of the family.

How do you fix a damaged mother-daughter relationship? ›

If you've decided to heal your mother-daughter relationship, consider a few ways to open the doors to reconnecting.
  1. Appreciate the role she's played. ...
  2. Show her gratitude. ...
  3. Let your mom continue to influence you. ...
  4. Let her be part of your family. ...
  5. Dedicate time to continue traditions with your mom.

What does an unhealthy mother-daughter relationship look like? ›

Poor Boundaries

One common way toxic mothers overstep boundaries with their daughters is by micromanaging their lives. If your mother continues to dictate your appearance, career, or romantic choices, or even meddles in your life long after you've reached adulthood, that is a sign of toxicity.

What does mother-daughter codependency look like? ›

Codependent parents rely on their children to give to them, instead of giving to their children. This is known as parentification. By continually showing your child that you were a victim, you're relying on them to give you the emotional support you need.

How do you detach a manipulative mother? ›

If your mother is a narcissist, take these steps to manage your relationship:
  1. Set boundaries. Create and maintain healthy boundaries. ...
  2. Stay calm. Try not to react emotionally to what she says, even if it's an insult. ...
  3. Plan your responses. “Have a respectful exit strategy when conversations go off the rails,” Perlin says.

Is it okay to cut off toxic mom? ›

It's also possible that, even if your parent has good intentions and has addressed their own issues, continuing a relationship with that parent may still feel too triggering for you, Spinazzola says. If that's the case, you have every right to cut ties.


1. Nine Signs of the Narcissistic Mother | Mother-Daughter Relationships
(Dr. Todd Grande)
2. 8 Signs Your Child is Depressed (For Parents)
4. 10 Traits of Toxic Parents Who Ruin Their Children’s Lives
5. These Are the Signs Someone Was Raised By a Narcissist
6. How to Let Go of Your Adult Children (And Restore Your Sanity!)
(Sixty and Me)
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