Not everyone has a perfect relationship with their mom. Some people get in silly fights with their mother over something like how often they come to visit, but others are constantly put down by their mom or made to feel badly. If this sounds familiar, you may have an emotionally abusive mother. Recognizing that the way your mom treats you isn't healthy can help you take the proper steps to recover your self-esteem and maybe even help you to find ways to improve your relationship with her.
"Emotional abuse is a pattern of behaviors intended to exert control over another by influencing their emotions," says Nikole Benders-Hadi, psychiatrist at Doctor On Demand, over email. "This type of control can involve verbal attacks, bullying, criticism, threatening, or manipulative behaviors."
When thinking about emotional abuse by a parent, it is especially important to distinguish potential signs of abuse from normal parenting. Discipline and control over a young child's behaviors is expected, and just because you get into an argument or are criticized by your mom on occasion doesn't necessarily mean abuse is occurring. "In order to be characterized as abuse, behaviors must be present over time as part of a larger pattern," says Benders-Hadi.
If you think you have an unhealthy relationship with your mom, watch out for these nine signs she might be emotionally abusive.
1She Constantly Puts You Down
An emotionally abusive mom will constantly put you down, shame you, and humiliate you, especially in front of others. "She may belittle your accomplishments or dreams, making you feel like she is right and you are wrong," says Carrie Krawiec, LMFT over email. "Name calling is another example."
2She Blames You For Her Unhappiness
"Does your mom blame you for her unhappiness?" says Benders-Hadi. "Stress is no excuse to blame a child for mom's unhappiness, and it is important for all of us to take responsibility for our own actions and behaviors. This kind of deflecting onto someone else may be a sign of emotional abuse."
3She Gives You The Silent Treatment
Your mom might threaten to not communicate with you if things don't go her way. "Setting up this kind of conditional relationship could be an example of mom trying to exert control over you," says Benders-Hadi. "Refusing to communicate, limiting contact, or isolating you from the rest of family can also fall into this category and should be examined closely if it is occurring in your relationship with your mom."
4She Threatens Violence
Even if she doesn't actually hurt you, threatening violence or threatening to stop taking care of you counts as emotional abuse. "Violence is never acceptable, and parents have a responsibility to care for their children and protect them from harm," says Benders-Hadi. "If you are being made to feel unsafe or neglected on a regular basis, you are not getting the emotional support you need from your mom and may be in an abusive relationship."
5She Denies Your Feelings
Your mom might deny your feelings or deny that anything is wrong, as one characteristic of emotional abuse is refusal of the abuser to acknowledge any wrongdoing. "This can lead you to question whether the abuse is actually occurring, as well as lead to acceptance of such abuse as a normal part of the relationship," says Benders-Hadi.
6She Compares You To Others
A more subtle way that moms can emotionally abuse their children is by comparing and controlling through manipulating the child’s emotions. "Comparing occurs when one child’s behaviors or accomplishments are compared to another child," says mental health counselor Monte Drenner over email. "Statements like “Why can’t you act more like your sister?” These comparisons take an emotional toll, and over time the child gets the message they are not good enough for their parents."
7She Makes You Feel Guilty
"Another form of emotional abuse is controlling their children through emotions like guilt," says Drenner. "For example, statements like ‘If you loved me you would take my side.' The goal of statements like this are to make the child feel guilty and manipulate their emotions in order to control them somehow."
8She Tries To Control You
"Another example of emotional abuse would be domination or control," says Krawiec. "Maybe you feel you must 'ask permission,' or she has control over your time or spending. She might disapprove of how you spend your time or money if it is outside of her preferred way."
9She Has Boundary Issues
An emotionally abusive mom may has have codependence or boundary issues. "She refuses to see you as a separate person, she shares your information without permission, she relies on you solely for contact and resist seeking supports outside of you, or she barges in on places or spaces uninvited," says Krawiec.