7 Signs Your Fights With Your Mother Are Normal Vs. Toxic, According To Experts

Originally Published: 
Vladimir Borovic/Shutterstock

If your mom is part of your life, then chances are you occasionally hit a rough patch, no matter how close your bond is. But it might not be immediately clear if your mom is toxic or if you're going through a hard time in your relationship. According to experts, a major key to distinguishing the two is looking at how long the strife lasts. If things are nasty between you in many different areas of the relationship for years at a time, the relationship itself might be toxic. But if there's only one, sudden issue, that's probably more benign.

If you suspect that your mom is a toxic person in your life, it's important to try to have positive and yet realistic expectations for how your relationship will continue. "A truly toxic mom is not likely to change her pattern of behavior," Shannon Thomas, LCSW, a certified trauma therapist and author of Healing from Hidden Abuse, tells Bustle. "Facing this reality can be heartbreaking but also freeing," she says. Of course, this doesn't mean that you shouldn't attempt to repair the relationship. Setting healthy boundaries and speaking with a mental health professional can help you navigate things moving forward.

Here are some signs that you're just having a hard time with your mom, as opposed to signs that she's actually toxic, according to experts.


Not Toxic: A Short-Term Issue


The primary way to differentiate a rough patch from a toxic relationship is that a rough patch is an intermittent, occasional bump in the road while a toxic mother-child relationship is one that is rooted in constant and consistent negativity, family and relationship psychotherapist Dr. Fran Walfish, tells Bustle. If, for example, you find yourself fighting with your mom about one specific incident, that probably doesn't indicate that she's toxic. But if you are constantly fighting with each other, that's more likely to mean that the relationship as a whole isn't as healthy as it should be.


Not Toxic: Disagreeing About One Thing

No matter how close you are with your mom, there's bound to come a time when the two of you disagree about something. It could be as small as what dishes to serve during the holidays, or as big as a political issue. But having trouble resolving one specific argument points to a rough patch more than it does a larger issue. The adult child should no longer allow their mental thinking space to be occupied by thoughts of what their mother will think, Walfish says. While it's normal to care about your mom's opinion, it shouldn't overwhelm you.


Not Toxic: She Needs Help For A Period Of Time


The degree to which you're expected to help your mom out can vary a lot depending on your family dynamics and how much you've separated yourself as an independent adult, Walfish says. But if your mom needs your help for a limited amount of time, that doesn't mean that she's toxic. Giving your mom a hand with household chores after an accident or helping her out with a small loan isn't necessarily a problem. The situation can become toxic if you're regularly expected to take on a caretaker role, instead of having it be a one-time thing.


Toxic: She Regularly Overwhelms You

"Having a toxic mom can often make us feel overwhelmed by her demands," Thomas says. "As our mom encroaches in our personal life, we feel smothered." Ideally, you should look forward to spending time with your mom, either in person or by talking on the phone. If she's being demanding in one scenario, like if she's insisting you come over for dinner on a specific night, that doesn't mean that she's toxic. But if she's regularly pressuring you to do things that you don't want to do and making you feel guilty for not doing them, that isn't a healthy situation.


Toxic: She Repeatedly Insults You

Angry young woman has disagreement with annoyed old mother in law, grown daughter arguing fighting quarreling with senior elderly mom, different age generations bad relations family conflict conceptShutterstock

"Toxic moms tend to use sarcasm in order to be able to say rude things without having to own their hostility," Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, MFT, ATR, a licensed psychotherapist and owner of Create Your Life Studio, tells Bustle. "Toxic moms will use sarcasm in order to demean you in an indirect, more socially-acceptable way," she says. "If you show that you are offended by her joke, she can then protect herself and hide her true intention by playing up her role as the victim, asking, 'Why are you being so sensitive? Can’t you take a joke?'" A one-off insensitive comment that she later apologizes for doesn't mean that your mom is toxic, but if she regularly, consistently, says offensive things about you, that isn't healthy behavior.


Toxic: Spending Time With Her Is Always Stressful

When you're going through a rough patch in your relationship with your mom, it can be stressful to spend one-on-one time with her. But if you constantly feel this way about your interactions, that's not a good sign. "If you feel jealous of your friends' mothers, if you wish you could spend a day having fun with your own mother without being on high alert in her company, nervously anticipating her next insult, outburst, or scene, your mother may be toxic," Scott-Hudson says. This is probably a good indication that you should start limiting your interactions, so that you can care for your own wellbeing.


Toxic: She Minimizes Your Emotions Constantly

Ashley Batz/Bustle

If you and your mom disagree about a situation, she might tell you that she thinks you're overreacting. But there's a difference between having differing opinions about whether your response is warranted in one case and consistently minimizing your emotions. "If your feelings are hurt and you are seeking to communicate this clearly and directly, but your mother’s habitual response is minimization and deflection, she may be gaslighting you with a method called 'downplaying,'” Scott-Hudson says. "If you share your feelings with your mother, and find that your feelings are getting consistently downplayed, your mother may be gaslighting you."

If you do suspect that your mom is toxic, it might be time to set some healthy boundaries and perhaps seek some outside professional help. But if your disagreement is just a bump in an otherwise happy relationship, just focus on working through this time together.

This article was originally published on