11 Surprising Signs Your Mom Is Toxic — And What To Do About It
By now you've probably heard that toxic people in your life can stress you out, and hold you back. Sometimes these toxic people can be friends, or even parents. In the case of parents, specifically moms, experts say issues like these are due to their own mother's shortcomings, or a mental health issue like borderline personality disorder or narcissistic personality disorder — both of which can create a toxic environment to grow up in. But sometimes, toxicity can be due to your mom's immaturity, more than anything else.
If your mom is immature, her childish tendencies have probably affected your relationship in a variety of ways. And, often it may seem like you're the more mature one. "Immature habits in a parent/child dynamic can lead to a toxic relationship ... called 'parentification' of the child," licensed marriage and family therapist, Racine R. Henry, PhD, tells Bustle. "It’s when children are expected to perform the physical/emotional/mental duties normally expected of a parent ... When the now adult child no longer wants to play the role of parent, conflict arises due to the parent’s unwillingness to change."
That's why, now that you're grown, you might notice that your mom continues to be immature in a way that's unhealthy for you, and for her. Here are a few toxic habits experts say may be a sign your mom is immature, as well as what you can do about it.
1. Your Mom Wants To Be Your Best Friend
Remember Amy Poehler's "cool mom" character in Mean Girls? That was a great example of a toxic, immature mom. And while it's obviously nice to have a loving mother who can also be your friend, this dynamic can create an unhealthy situation if it goes too far.
As author and stress management expert Debbie Mandel tells Bustle, "cool moms" tend to turn against their children the way a toxic friend might turn against you: by creating competition and doing whatever she can to erode your confidence.
If you constantly feel in competition with your mom — instead of loved and supported — this "cool mom" dynamic may be to blame. And the best thing you can do is put up boundaries and create distance, whenever possible.
2. Every Convo Ends With You Feeling Guilty Or Upset
Your parents should be your rock — people you can turn to when you're feeling down and out. But toxic moms really struggle with this concept, often turning every convo and problem around to make it about themselves. And, as a result, "every conversation you have with her ends with you feeling guilty, angry, or invisible," licensed psychologist Tanisha M. Ranger, PsyD, CSAT-S, CMAT-S tells Bustle. "Often times when we are dealing with toxic people, we can't put our finger on [what went wrong, but] conversations with them always seem to end with us feeling badly in some way."
This can be highly frustrating, as well as a sign it may be time to turn to other people in your life. As much as you'd like to call your mom, if she can't be there for you when you're in need — without making it all about herself — it may be healthier to talk with a therapist, best friend, or partner instead.
3. You're Always The One Apologizing
Nothing screams "immature" quite like an inability to apologize. So take note if you're the one who has to say sorry whenever anything goes wrong between you and your mother. And, remember that this is a trait common to all toxic folks. As Ranger says, "Toxic people, in general, have a lot of difficulty with taking responsibility and accepting the consequences of their own choices and behavior." Although difficult, if your mother cannot understand when you are asking for an apology, creating some distance after a disagreement may help cool things down.
4. She Doesn't Support Your Relationship
There's a big difference between a parent who disapproves of who you're dating, and one who's just trying to drive a wedge between you and your significant other. The latter is something many toxic moms do as their children get older and start dating, often because they can't stand when the spotlight isn't on them.
"She wants to make a wedge between you and your partner so she can be the victim," clinical psychologist Paul DePompo, PsyD, ABPP tells Bustle. "This is [due to] her insecurity and it makes it hard for her to be happy for you."
If your mom is attempting to undermine your relationship, the best thing you can do is leave her out of it, as much as possible. "Stop trying to convert her," DePompo says. "She is who she is and is not likely to change much. If it is going to lead to drama, keep her out of the conversation unless its something she will find out — in that case, be kind but assertive."
5. She Can't Seem To Have A Reasonable Conversation
It takes a pretty mature person to hold a reasonable, level-headed conversation — especially if things are getting heated. So take it as a sure sign of immaturity if your mom can't seem to keep her cool.
"Does your mother end disagreements over the phone by hanging up mid-convo? Does she avoid conversations about what she does wrong? When you try to tell her how she hurts your feelings, does she lash out or play the victim? An immature person often thinks they do no wrong and aren’t able to hear constructive criticism," Henry says. If this perfectly describes the dynamic you have with your mom, it may help to put up some boundaries.
6. She Criticizes Your Every Move
Criticism seems to be a go-to for toxic parents. "It's the textbook scenario of a mother who picks apart every little thing about her adult child," Henry says. "If you find that you can’t do anything right, according to your mom, and you hear nothing but critiques this could be a sign of your mother struggling with her own maturity." While it may be difficult to do, ignoring scathing comments from your mother may be the best route, as well as seeking validation and advice elsewhere.
7. She Tries To Manipulate You
When you think of someone who's immature, you might think of a young kid who uses manipulation to get their way. And yet, this is a trait you might notice with your mom, too.
"If your parent uses crying or triggering your sympathy to get their way, this could be a sign of an immature parent," Henry says. "A parent should be able to communicate their needs and feelings without trying to manipulate you into bending to their will. This includes ignoring your phone calls to get you to visit them and ensure their safety or neglecting their own personal care." All of these actions create drama that you just don't need.
8. She Lashes Out When She's Upset
Everyone's entitled to a minor slip-up or two when they're truly upset. But that doesn't mean it's OK for your mom to lash out over the smallest thing, or to take her frustration out on you. So, if she lashes out, or calls you names when she's mad, it may be healthier to create some distance for a while.
As therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW tells Bustle, "A mother's role is to provide unconditional love, safety, and support." If you aren't getting that, it may be a sign of a toxic relationship, and one that needs to drastically improve before you can continue to be a part of it.
9. She Wants You To Fix Her Problems
If your mom needs help with a personal problem, that's certainly OK. It's only toxic when she starts to lean on you for everything — year after year — and blames you when things don't go her way.
If this sounds familiar, there is something you can do about it. Learning about boundaries and how to set them is a great place to start, Crystal Clancy, MA, LMFT, owner of Iris Reproductive Mental Health, tells Bustle. That, and learning how to not take her behavior personally. "[You need] to know that it is not [your] fault that [your] mom is like this," she says. "[You do not] have to continue to put up with the behavior."
Even though it can be difficult, a truly toxic situation may mean it's a good idea to go "no contact" with your mom — at least until she learns healthier ways to deal with her emotions.
10. She Wants To Control You And Your Siblings
If you have siblings, take it as a sign if your mom tries to get between you and control the way you communicate. "[Toxic moms often] want to control the flow of information and turn siblings against each other so she will never be left out and so [you] will be disturbed enough to still need her," DePompo says. "She [might] spread negative things that one siblings says to the other and she will complain about one sibling to another so your support toward her will turn away the sibling alliance."
If this seems to be the case, it'll be important that you don't give in, or fall into her trap. "You have to allow her to be mad or disappointed and practice dealing with it," he says. "She will be cold next conversation but [you should] act as if all is OK. She will move on, especially when you make future plans with her."
11. She's Never Excited For Your Successes
While it's understandable that your parents might struggle with the idea that you're growing up — and no longer requiring their 24/7 help — that doesn't mean it's OK for them to hold you back from success. And yet, that's exactly the way an immature mom might handle the situation. As DePompo says, "She does not want you to be successful without her because it means you don't need her."
Regardless of why your mom is behaving in a toxic way — perhaps due to unresolved issues, a personality disorder, or immaturity — toxicity is toxicity. So, even though it may be tough, do what you need to do to establish boundaries and work on yourself, and hopefully your mom will follow suit.