11 Signs Your Toxic Mom Is Still Affecting You As An Adult
If you grew up with a toxic mom, there's a good chance her toxic words echo in your head, and affect you to this very day. And that's all thanks to the mother/daughter bond — whether you liked each other or not. "Your relationship with your mom is one of your first relationships in life, so [it] will impact how you view yourself and how [your other] relationships function," Dr. Agnes Wainman, of London Psychological Services, tells Bustle.
Depending on what your mom said, you might have grown up believing that you're worthless, or that you're never going to amount to anything. And since that can be tough to shake, therapy, or speaking with other loved ones is often necessary. "For some women, engaging in therapy to get a good understanding of themselves and their dynamic with their mother can be helpful," Wainman says. "You can view these dynamics from a different perspective and grow to learn and accept that your mother's toxic behavior was never really about who you were as a person; it was her issues and how they showed up in the relationship."
It can also help, in some instances, to tell let your mom know how her actions from 5, 10, or twenty years ago are still impacting you today. "Talking to your mother, woman to woman, about how certain experiences were interpreted as a child, sometimes helps to challenge an outdated or incorrect perception," counselor Erin Parisi, LMHC, CAP tells Bustle. "Sometimes our mothers are able to offer us additional information that allows us to process past events in a new way, or we're able to make repairs to the current relationship." But it's also perfectly OK to not talk to her, or have zero contact if that is what you want. Whatever works best for you.
Here are a few signs experts say your mom's toxicity may still be impacting you, as well as what to do about it.
1. Your Goals Revolve Around Impressing Your Mom
Growing up with a toxic mom can set the stage for a lifelong desire to "win" her approval — often by doing things you wouldn't naturally want to do. If this is you, you likely "consciously and unconsciously do things hoping that your mom will acknowledge you," relationship therapist Rhonda Milrad, LCSW, founder of Relationup, tells Bustle. "You engage in behavior that you think she will like or attain something about which she will approve and then you look to her for a reaction."
This might include earning a certain college degree, dating someone you think she'd like, going after a job she always wanted you to have, etc. "You make sure that she knows about it and, eager for her attention, are thrilled when you get it," Milrad says. "Conversely, you are disappointed when your efforts don’t get the desired response." And that can lead to a vicious, and painful cycle. Though it may be hard, if your mother is not giving you the validation you need, remember that your accomplishments still have worth even if she doesn't see it. Speaking with a therapist can also help you learn to put your own approval first before your mother's.
2. You Catch Yourself Acting Just Like Her
If you grew up in a toxic household, you probably swore to yourself you'd never act like your parents. And yet, since so much of how we behave as an adult is influenced by what we learned in childhood, it's not surprising that you might be repeating the same unhealthy patterns sometimes.
"You do the things she did you swore you'd never do," Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, tells Bustle. "You start recognizing your mother's behavior patterns in your own, even though you hated when she did them and you hate it even more when you do."
Realizing that you're repeating your mother's bad behaviors can be a panic-inducing moment. But don't worry. Through therapy, and recognizing these unhealthy thought patterns, you can learn to reframe your reactions and cultivate your own, healthy personality.
3. You Still Hear Her Words In Your Head
Your mom's words can quite literally echo around in your head, even if you haven't spoken to her in years. (And, sometimes even after you've mended your relationship with her.) Again, this is due to those learned responses.
As Bilek says, "You make a mistake and hear voice saying, 'Can't you do anything right?' just like she always did. Or worse yet, you find yourself saying those things to yourself." Since it can be exhausting to have such a negative tape playing in your head, therapy is often necessary to help dislodge these thoughts, and slowly readjust how you think.
4. You Think About Her All The Time
If your mom was a source of toxicity and stress as you were growing up, then you'd probably like to move on and not think about her. But unforutnately, that can be easier said than done. You might find yourself thinking about harsh things she said, or having flashbacks to dramatic moments.
As Bilek says, if "she still occupies more space in your brain than you want to give her and has more of an effect on your emotions than you want to allow," therapy may be just what you need to clean the toxicity from your brain.
5. You're Still Sensitive To Your Mom's Moods
If you're still carrying around pain from the past, you might catch yourself feeling overly-triggered by your mom's moods if you're still in contact with her. You might be "preoccupied with deciphering when she is pleased or upset with you," Milrad says. "Your mood fluctuates according to her response and it is difficult for you to be separate, hold yourself steady, and be neutral about her reactions."
When that's the case, giving yourself more space can help, so that you're less reliant on her, and thus 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 just what to do the next time your mom's in a bad mood.
6. She's Your Only Source Of Motivation
Did you grow up with your mom saying you'd never amount to anything? Or that you were a huge disappointment? These harsh words can serve as motivation to get through college, or snag a dream job. But, as Milrad says, "you are still controlled by her words even though they may be motivating you onto greatness."
Feeling motivated to do awesome things is great, but it's important to learn how to motivate yourself, rather than using the drive to prove someone wrong as what's pushing you forward. By remembering that her harsh words had way more to do with her than with you, it may be possible to free yourself from that painful memory.
7. You're Dating A Version Of Your Mother
When toxicity is all you know, it makes sense why you might end up dating someone who's just like your mom. "You are repeating a pattern by being with someone who treats you similarly to the way that your mother treated you and reinforces her toxic messages,' Milrad says. "Although it may sound strange, people unconsciously and consciously recreate these circumstances because this is the type of relationship with which they are familiar. In addition, sometimes, people end up in this type of a relationship with that hope that they will finally be able to win over a rejecting person 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 realize you're true worth, and date someone who sees that also.
8. You Struggle With Boundaries
Similarly, you may realize that your toxic mom has affected your ability to find and maintain healthy relationships as an adult. "Many adult children with a toxic mother ... are often drawn into other toxic relationships either romantic or friendships," therapist and clinical supervisor Elizabeth Trautwein, LPC, LMHC, tells Bustle. "Healthy boundaries were not modeled or taught as kids so as adults they struggle to see where they end and another person begins. They feel threatened when someone close to them has a different opinion or preference. They will either over-attach to romantic partners or friends or are completely emotionally shut down and withdrawn, one end of the spectrum or the other."
While this may be where you're at right now, it's totally possible to relearn relationship skills, and make healthier choices going forward.
9. You're 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 have leaked into your head. "Adults with toxic mothers struggle with self-esteem and perfectionism and feel they will never live up to other's expectations or be good enough," Trautwein says. "They are constantly striving to be the best, never make mistakes or earning the love and attention from those around them."
And this can have secondary effects. "They can be hypersensitive to criticism, always trying to prove themselves, anxious, and can be people pleasers," says Trautwein. "Daughters of toxic mothers often struggle with eating disorders, addiction, and needing control." It can be tough to come to terms with the scope of the problem, while realizing how big of an impact your mom really had. But that's the first step in getting better and moving on.
10. You Feel Guilty More Often Than Not
No matter what happens in life, do you find a way to feel guilty about it or make it all your fault? "Toxic mothers often blame their children for things that are completely out of the child's control," says Wainman. "Some mothers may go as far as blaming the child for 'ruining' her life. This constant blame becomes ingrained so you may feel like you are always doing something wrong or about to make a mistake."
11. You're A "People Pleaser"
The affects of growing up with parents who didn't acknowledge you, or who made you feel like you were never good enough, can manifest in adulthood as a desire to people-please. "Children with toxic mothers try to win their mother's love and approval. They often go above and beyond even well into adulthood, [for example], buying your mother an expensive gift when you can't afford it," says Wainman. "This may bleed into other relationships and you may have a hard time saying no to others and are overly giving of your time and resources (particularly to those who don't reciprocate it)."
The good news is that you can overcome this, if you're willing to put in the work. While it may be difficult, speaking with friends or loved ones, going to therapy, and even talking with your mom can help you reframe how you think about yourself, and thus how your live your life.