If You Have A Toxic Relationship With Your Mother, These 11 Tips Can Help You Move Forward
While you may or may not have realized it at the time, growing up with a toxic mom is incredibly tough. And it can be even tougher since all the detrimental side effects have a way of sticking around long after you've moved out, and on with your life. In fact, the things she said or did can still impact you as an adult, and color how you see yourself and those around you.
Usually, these side effects occur because "toxic people do not respect your boundaries," Sheila Tucker, LAMFT, a licensed associate marriage and family therapist and owner of Heart Mind & Soul Counseling, tells Bustle. "They may compete with you, will likely criticize you, compare you with others, and make unreasonable demands." So if this sounds like your mom — a person who is supposed to love and nurture you, Tucker says — it only makes sense that you're still reeling all these years later.
There is good news, though, because no matter how toxic your mom was, there are plenty of things you can do to move on, and even speed up the process of recovering. It can take some time to sort through what happened and figure out what you need, but it's well worth the process. Here are some ways you can begin to move on, according to experts, if you grew up with a toxic mom.
1. Start Therapy
It can be difficult to fully understand the impact your mom has had, or to see all the tiny ways her actions are still impacting your daily life. That is, until, you chat about them in therapy.
"Therapy with a qualified professional can be a great start to help you sort through all the confusion and old hurts that you're carrying around," Dr. Jamie Long, licensed clinical psychologist at The Psychology Group Fort Lauderdale, tells Bustle.
Your therapist can also suggest ways to help you move on in a way that works best for the situation. If therapy is something you can manage to do, you may want to give it a try.
2. Talk With Friends
While therapy can be a big help, there are lots of other ways to get your emotions out and gain perspective. You may want to turn to another family member, for instance, or a partner, or even friends who have been through similar situations.
"A loved one is a great resource to help you sort through the muddy waters of toxic exchanges with your mom," Long says. Sometimes you need someone to reassure you that it wasn't all in your head, Long says, and that what you went through really did happen. It's all about validating your experience, in order to move on.
3. Set Boundaries
It's also important, as you go through this process, to establish boundaries with your mom. "This is about understanding your limitations and keeping yourself safe," Tucker says. "The goal here is to set a boundary for what works for you."
Depending on your relationship, this may mean talking to your mom less often, telling her fewer things about your life, or even cutting off all contact, if that feels like the right thing to do.
Whatever you choose, it's important not feel bad about setting boundaries with your mom, Long says. It can be extremely tough to cut her out of your life, or to take a step back. But if that's what needs to happen, give yourself permission to do so without feeling guilty.
4. Learn More About Toxicity
"When we can’t stop thinking about the past it’s often because there is something about it that we don’t understand," Long says, which is why part of moving on can mean learning more about toxicity, and the impact it has.
"Getting clarity on what happened and why it happened can be helpful," she says. "We can get clarity in therapy, through journaling, reading self-help books, and talking to others who had similar experiences."
5. Try To Let It Go
That said, if it feels like it's time to let it go, you certainly can do that, too. And the good news is, "letting go of the past does not mean that you condone what happened or are letting your mom off the hook," Long says. "Letting the past go simply removes it from top of mind to the back of your mind so that you can put your energy towards living a joyous and meaningful life."
This might mean focusing on yourself, instead of trying to figure out why your mom was so toxic, or why she acted the way she acted. It can also mean prioritizing your own life, instead of feeling like you need to fix hers.
6. Talk With Her
If it feels like something you'd be able to do, you may even want to talk with your mom about what happened when you were younger, and get her side of the story.
"The best way to combat resentment is to take time to understand the other person," Dr. Marianna Strongin, clinical psychologist in Manhattan and founder of Strong In Therapy, tells Bustle. "Why was [your] mother toxic? Was it because of her own mother? Was it because of trauma or unforeseen chaos in their life? By forming empathy for others you are then able to let go of resentment and anger."
7. Accept Who She Is
Similarly, it may help to accept your mom for who she is, and realize that you can't do much to change her now, and you definitely can't change the past.
"Acceptance will allow you to create space between your expectations and your reality, as well as space between your thoughts and feelings so that they're not all encompassing," Tucker says. "Space allows a change in perspective, an opportunity to see your mother for who she is, and an opportunity to react in a way that best serves you."
8. Recognize Old Habits
It can also help to recognize old habits that you've formed because of your mom, and make an effort to break them.
For instance, "many of those with [toxic moms] learned to stay occupied and to stay out of their mother’s way," Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, MFT, ATR, a licensed psychotherapist and owner of Create Your Life Studio, tells Bustle. You may feel like you can't relax, or that you can't sit and just be, without worrying someone will find fault with you.
It's a habit, and a feeling, that you may still be carrying around today. And yet, by changing how you operate on a daily basis, you'll be showing yourself that the toxicity is in the past, and it's time to figure out how you'd like to feel.
9. Find A Mom-Like Figure
While you don't have to replace your mom, it can be helpful to add more people into your life who can support you and encourage you in a way she wasn't able to.
"We call this a corrective emotional experience in therapy," Lauren Cook, MMFT, a clinician practicing emotionally-focused therapy, tells Bustle. "Find a woman in your life, whether it’s an aunt, a neighbor, or a mentor at work, who can show you what it looks like to have a healthy relationship with a woman who is older than you."
You can chat, and talk about life, and call her for advice. And, even better, having this person in your life will also help "further clarify what you are willing to accept in terms of behavior from your mother," Cook says.
10. Challenge The Thoughts In Your Head
"We're all constantly talking to ourselves in our heads, and that dialogue is impacted when there's been a painful parent relationship, often hurtfully or at least unhelpfully," Mike Ensley, MA, LPCC, a a nationally board-certified counselor who specialized in recovering from toxic relationships, tells Bustle.
So check in with your thoughts from time to time. "When you start to notice thought patterns that have a root in a toxic relationship, you can begin the process of 'defusing' from them: recognizing that they aren't really who you are, they come from an external source, and can be responded to with choice instead of accepted as given truths," Ensley says.
This can do wonders when it comes to moving on, and getting rid of all the unhelpful thoughts that've been living in your head.
11. Be Your Own Caretaker
If you grew up with a mom who wouldn't listen, or validate you, or encourage you, it can help to be and do those things to yourself, instead.
"Become your own caretaker," Shuli Sandler, PsyD, a clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. "Look at the flaws your mother had and try to correct them by taking care of yourself. This is a way to set right what went wrong, and give yourself what you need.
It can take a long time to move on from the impact your toxic mom had, but it can be done. Take it slow, go to therapy, talk with friends, and challenge your thoughts, and you'll definitely be heading in the right direction.