11 Signs Your Mom Is Toxic, Based On Her Relationship With Her Mother
While everyone has the ability to grow and change and leave unhealthy family dynamics behind, when your mom is toxic because of the environment she grew up in, she may struggle with her daily life, and how she treats you. It may not be fair, but your mom's relationship with her own mother may explain why you've grown up in toxic environment, and have your own problems today.
When dealing with a toxic mom, it's important to keep yourself safe and protected from her unhealthy habits. It can help, however, to try to view her in a different light — especially if you want to start to break this cycle, and improve your relationship going forward. "See her as a child who simply needs love, remembering that that those who are hardest to love are the ones who need it the most," life therapist Jasmin Terrany, LMHC tells Bustle. "If she is open to it, I recommend efforts to connect, share, and to get closer emotionally. Therapy is always helpful."
In therapy, you can both learn how to be mentally healthier now, but it can also prevent you from moving forward with the same habits, should you decide to have your own kids down the road. "Regarding your own children, it is important that you do your own inner work, and find ways to give yourself the love that you didn’t receive, so that you are full enough to give your children the love that they need," Terrany says. That way, you can break the pattern that was passed down from your grandma, to your mother, to you. Here, some ways experts say it's possible to tell that your mom is toxic because her mom was toxic, as well as what to do about it.
1. She's Mean And/Or Aggressive
Everyone's entitled to be in a bad mood occasionally, but if your mom seems to be mean and aggressive by nature, it could be a sign she grew up in a toxic household with a toxic mom who was also mean and aggressive.
"Most people who are mean or aggressive usually learned this behavior from experiencing it," says Terrany. And that may explain why she's taken the same stance with you. "People who are bullied often end up bullying eventually — it is a way for people who feel weak to gain a sense of strength."
But that doesn't mean you have to put up with it. If it doesn't help to talk to her and reason with her, it's always OK to have less contact, if that means creating a healthier, more peaceful life for yourself.
2. She's Super Critical Of You
Take a look at how your grandmother treats your mom. Is she incredibly critical or condescending? If so, you might be getting a glimpse into how she was raised. And, it may explain why your mom treats you the same way.
"People who have been criticized or judged are often quick to do the same with others," Terrany says. "Whether they say it directly to the person, or behind their back, being judgmental makes a person feel powerful for the moment without realizing it’s like taking poison and expecting the other person to die. They are just sitting with the toxic sentiments themselves."
Of course, it's common for toxic moms to claim they're "just trying to make you a better person," but that doesn't change the fact she's doing so in a harmful way. "Sometimes people think their feedback will make the other person better, whereas in truth it just makes the other person feel bad," Terrany says. "Constructive feedback is different; it comes from a loving place, with an intention for it to be received in a positive way, it is a sincere desire to help the other person grow, and can be delivered in ways that are appropriate and invited."
3. She Has A Hard Time Saying She Loves You
When you hear your mom talk on the phone to your grandmother, does the conversation sound loving, caring, and supportive? Or, what about the stories you've heard from your mom's childhood? Does it sound like she was supported and cared for way back when?
If the answer is no, it may explain why your mom doesn't possess the ability to show love to you and your siblings. "Love can be expressed in various ways but if someone presents as 'toxic' it is likely they didn’t receive love in a way that 'filled them up,'" Terrany says. "Those who didn’t feel loved often don’t know how to love ... because they lacked the model. Other times, in more positive circumstances those who had a toxic mom learn all things they didn’t want to do!"
So, it's always possible that, even if your mom grew up with a toxic mother, she may have chosen to swing the pendulum in the other direction, and be super wonderful to you. It is, after all, possible to break this toxic cycle by witnessing toxic behavior and choosing to live a different kind of life.
4. She's Always Looking For Approval From Others
If your mom grew up without getting any approval from her mom, it may be something that'll truly affect her for the rest of her life — especially if she hasn't yet been willing or able to realize it, and seek help.
You might notice this in her desire to get constant approval from others, which in turn can affect you. "When your mother cares more about what others think than what you think, you have a problem," Terrany says. "When her insecurity, and need for approval outweighs her dedication to you, it can be easy to feel frustrated, or rejected."
One way to start breaking the cycle is to bring this to her attention. If this pattern has been a part of her life since she was a child, your mom might not even realize she's doing it, so try to have compassion. As Terrany says, "The most important thing is to have compassion, and accept her. Give what you want to receive."
5. She Still Seems Controlled By Her Own Mother
You might think that a toxic mother/daughter relationship ends when the daughter moves away and begins her own life. But that's not always true. Your mom could even be under your grandmother's influence to this very day.
So take note if "your mom still does whatever her mom says even though she's an adult," Naphtali Roberts, a marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "Phone calls daily, changes of plans, and constant doubt of her own ability as compared to her mother's is a sign that your mom's relationship with her mom is toxic."
6. She Always Expects The Worst From Others
If your mom had a toxic mom, she may have fallen into the habit of always assuming or expecting the worst of people. As Terrany says, that's because "a mother is a child’s first love, and if a child doesn’t grow up feeling loved, it is likely they won’t expect the world to be a loving place, and will lack trust in others."
This is another reason why a mom who grew up with a toxic mom may not be able to show their love. While everyone has the ability to grow up and be different from their parents, it's often a difficult dynamic to overcome.
7. She Doesn't Have Healthy Boundaries With You
If your mom doesn't have any healthy boundaries with you, then there's a good chance she didn't have them with her mom, either. "Her mother probably was demanding and controlling," Holly Anne Smith, a national life coach and addictions specialist, tells Bustle. "Therefore it's [a] learned behavior pattern."
A relationship without boundaries is what's known as an enmeshed relationship, where you two don't have any separation or healthy respect for each other. It can be a tricky situation to get out of, because toxic mom's aren't very easy to reason with, much less push away once they've gotten used to telling you what to do. But it can be helped. Seeking therapy is a great place to start, as you'll not only learn coping skills, but will be better able to see the effect your mom (and grandma) have had on your life.
8. She's Left You Hanging Emotionally
While everyone has the potential to change, we generally learn how to treat others by how we were treated by our parents. So if your mom's mother wasn't nurturing, it may be difficult for your mom to be nurturing to you in return.
If that's true for your family, there's a good chance your mom had "a parent who didn't show up for her so her unresolved wounds become projected onto [you]," Holly says. This can play out in a lot of ways. When someone doesn't feel supported emotionally, it's not uncommon for that to play out in other relationships. As Holly says, your mom may have a habit, for example, of winding up in relationships with partners who similarly unavailable.
9. You Two Are Always, Always Arguing
It's OK to have the occasional argument with your mom, or even to have the type of relationship where you wouldn't consider yourselves best friends. But it may be a sign that your mom grew up in a toxic environment if she's created that same toxic environment for you.
As Holly says, this usually plays out in the form of conflicted interactions, where you guys have a "push pull," you may rant to each other in an unhealthy way, or have trust issues. This type of toxicity can manifest in a variety of ways.
10. She Doesn't Trust You To Make Your Own Decisions
If you have the type of mom who hovers over your shoulder, and doesn't seem to trust you, it may be due to a toxic childhood. "If she doesn’t trust in your ability to make decisions and empower you to be your own person, it can be a result of needing to feel important, perhaps because she didn’t get that from her own mother," Terrany says.
While it may be difficult, it's often healthiest to meet this dynamic with compassion. You know how difficult it can be to get over things that happened in your past, and your mom may be experiencing the same thing. Sure, she may have experienced this toxicity twenty or more years ago, but it can certainly be difficult to shake.
11. She Doesn't Open Up To You
When someone's feeling aren't validated when they're young, it's highly likely they'll learn over time to keep them to themselves. So if your mom is super guarded, this may be what happened.
"Mothers who don’t share their true thoughts and feelings are avoiding vulnerability," Terrany says. "Perhaps she thinks it’s not helpful for her to be vulnerable, but what she doesn’t realize is that lack of vulnerability creates distance rather than closeness. Sometimes people who have been hurt are more guarded as a result."
While overcoming toxicity that's gone on for generations may be difficult, it's not impossible. By being compassionate with your mom, and your grandmother, you can start the healing process. It's also helpful to meet with a therapist in situations like these, since it may be necessary to have a mediator, to help prevent emotions from bubbling over. But it's also OK to simply remove yourself from a toxic situation — especially if it doesn't seem like it'll ever get better — learn from it, and make healthier changes going forward.