25 Things Toxic Moms Might Say, According To Experts

These familiar catchphrases still sting as an adult.

by Eva Taylor Grant, Kaitlyn Wylde and Carolyn Steber
Originally Published: 
Young woman is arguing with her mother. They are sitting on sofa with legs crossed and senior woman ...
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While it might not be immediately obvious that your mom is toxic, experts say there are key phrases and go-to comments that might give her away. Things like “Why don’t you just grow up?” or “I never said that” might ring a bell. And if it’s an ongoing problem, it can start to affect your relationship with her — and how you feel about yourself.

According to therapist Danielle Forshee Psy.D, LCSWe, a toxic relationship can be defined as “a dynamic between two or more people where emotional needs generally go unmet because of issues that have nothing to do with the other person.” It can also quickly turn into emotional abuse in some cases.

There’s a good chance your mom is toxic if she consistently makes you feel bad about yourself and your choices, says Elliot Pinsly, LMSW, a licensed clinical social worker. Whether it’s intentional or subconscious, “a toxic person tends to be controlling, demanding, manipulative, demeaning, and/or self-centered,” he says. As a result, it can leave you feeling depressed, unsupported, and alone.

While toxicity is bad in any form, it’s especially biting when it comes from a family member. It can be tough to cut people off, but often the best course of action is to create firm boundaries.

If your mom’s toxicity is unfixable and unbearable, there’s no shame in moving further away, speaking less often, or even going no-contact. It might also help to reach out to a therapist, mentor, or friend for support. Here are 25 signs your mom is toxic, according to experts.


“I never said that!”

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If your mom predictably yells “I never said that!” whenever you bring up one of her hurtful comments, consider it a sign of toxicity.

According to Pinsly, toxic moms love to gaslight by insisting they never said something, even when you’re 100% sure they did. “The goal is to make you question your reality and shift blame,” he says.

It’s a sneaky trick that helps them get away with saying whatever they want without repercussions, and it can be incredibly confusing and frustrating.


“Why can’t you just get over it?”

According to professional counselor Rachel M. Abrman, MA, LPC, this type of comment is hurtful and toxic because it leads you to question whether your feelings are accepted or respected.

This response is incredibly invalidating and can also make you feel alone in your feelings. Toxic moms rarely take responsibility for their actions, so this might be a phrase you hear all the time.


“You’re just like your grandmother.”

Is your mom constantly comparing you to a difficult or unsavory family member, like a cranky uncle or a dramatic grandmother?

If so, she’s likely trying to deflect blame or manipulate you into thinking you’re the one with the problem, says Pinsly.

By comparing you to someone with grisly personality traits, she’s likely hoping to make it seem as if you’re the bad guy — and that’s not fair or OK.


“You need to grow up and deal with it.”

If you try to talk to your mom about something stressing you out, you might not expect her to say, “Oh, grow up.” But according to Abrman, that’s exactly what toxic moms like to do.

This is a surefire way to shut down a conversation, especially one she probably doesn’t want to have. Chances are she knows exactly why you’re upset, but she’s hoping to brush it under the rug so she doesn’t have to listen, change, or show up for you emotionally.


“This is your fault.”

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If toxic moms love anything, it’s pointing fingers. According to licensed marriage and family therapist Sara Stanizai, LCSW, it’s common for toxic moms to blame their kids for their own mistakes and bad decisions.

"This puts [you] in the position of being responsible for [her], when really it should be the other way around,” she says. If things go wrong and your mom blames you, all signs point to toxicity.

According to Jessica Bloom, LCPC, RPT-S, a therapist and owner of In Bloom Counseling, toxic moms also like to say things like “You’re making me act this way” or “You’re the one who made me upset.”

This is a go-to tactic that again shifts the blame from her to you, and it also implies that if you had only acted better, you wouldn’t be fighting.


“Don’t tell your dad...”

Secret keeping is another toxic mom red flag, says Stanizai. By asking you to keep a secret from your dad or your siblings, it creates an unfair dynamic and an unhealthy amount of pressure.

If your mom asks you to lie for her, try pointing it out or saying no to the request. Hopefully, she'll realize that it's inappropriate to put you in the middle of her problems.


“Why didn’t you do better?”

Your mom should be your biggest cheerleader, not your biggest critic. So if you’re constantly wondering, “Why is my mom never proud of me?” or “Why does my mom want me to be someone I’m not?” it may be time to step back and reevaluate your relationship, Stanizai says.

It’s possible your mom started this toxic behavior when you were in school, but it’s not uncommon for it to continue into adulthood as you share career and other life milestones with her. Either way, it always feels awful when a parent negatively reacts to big moments.


“Where were you last night?”

According to clinical psychologist Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., things can get toxic fast when a mom refuses to accept that her kids are autonomous adults who can make their own decisions.

While a parent is always a parent for life, you have to draw the line somewhere — and that’s something many toxic moms struggle with. A toxic mom might call at all hours, demand to know where you are, or panic if you don’t answer the phone on the first ring.

According to psychologist Dr. Danielle Forshee, PsyD, LCSW, if this is true, chances are your mom had a bad case of "helicopter parenting” when you were younger, and it’s morphed into clingy behavior now that you’re grown.

Demanding to know where you are is toxic because it stops you from becoming your own person, she says. It’s important to spread your proverbial wings and create your own life, but with a toxic mom that can be difficult.


“Why do you spend so much time with them instead of me?”

While on the subject of boundaries, consider if your mom ever guilt trips you for seeing your friends or partner instead of stopping by to see her.

If she wants your social life to include her, that's a major red flag, and there's a word for this, too: enmeshment. "Enmeshment is when your mom has difficulty allowing you to have your own life outside of her," Forshee says.

This might also show up in your mom making you feel bad for not visiting on a holiday. Regardless of your closeness, you need to have your own social space and schedule. If she can't accept that, it may be something to unpack with a therapist.


“You’re my best friend!”


There is nothing wrong with being close to your mom, but take note if she seems to be leaning on you too heavily as a friend. "Instead of a mom developing her own friends and support network, [a toxic mom will rely on you] to fulfill these needs,” says therapist Julie Williamson, LPC.

It can be exhausting, and it’s also not a role you’re required to fill. If it seems like your mom’s entire life circles around you, encourage her to get out and meet new people. It’ll be good for both of you.


“So last night in bed...”

Another thing to watch out for is if she major-league overshares. While everyone has a different comfort level with their parents, experts say it’s a red flag if your mom calls and shares all the nitty gritty details of her dating life, sex life, etc.

If you’re getting "cool mom" vibes (hey, Amy Poehler) it’s OK to set a boundary by letting her know that you love her and enjoy talking about certain things, but certain topics go a touch too far.


“You should break up with them!”

Since she’s on the outside looking in, you might want to listen if she says your partner is toxic or not a good match. But beyond that, she doesn’t have a right to demand you break up with someone. According to Klapow, toxic moms tend to poke and prod and offer advice as a way to overstep your boundaries, and it’s not something you have to put up with.


“You’re so dumb sometimes!”

This one might seem obvious, but for a lot of people, it can be tough to tell when insults are actually harmful — and not just playful fun.

As Klapow says, the parent who scolds or verbally berates you is 100% toxic, even if they try to pass it off as a joke. And it can also blur the line between annoying parent behavior and an actual problem.

“It becomes emotional abuse when there is character assassination or put-downs that continue despite your attempts at communicating how it affects you,” Forshee adds. If it feels like your mom is attacking you, know that your feelings are valid.


“You’re way too sensitive.”

Similarly, toxic moms love to tell their kids that they’re being “too sensitive.” This comment immediately shuts down any hope of a civil conversation, and it’s also something they can hurl back when they don’t know what else to say.

In fact, therapist Dawn Friedman, MS.Ed says this is yet another sign of gaslighting. “In healthy relationships, people will listen to you when you have a problem with the way they’re communicating,” she says.

On the flip side, toxic moms like to control the narrative, and one way to do that is by claiming you’re overreacting or being ridiculous. Just like that, she can brush you off and shut you down.


“Well nobody else has a problem with it!”

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Take note if your mom claims her actions are fine and normal because “no one else has a problem with them.” According to Friedman, a parent should care about your individual experience, even if it’s perceived to be singular. Not to mention, this kind of comment is almost always an excuse for a toxic mom to get off the hook for rude behavior.


“Why can’t you just be more like your sister?”

Comparing siblings — whether the comparison compliments you or throws you or a sibling under the bus — is often said to pit you against your other family members, says Friedman. And it’s all on purpose.

These comments are meant to contribute to “toxic gossip dynamics.” Your mom’s goal might be to get you on her side so she has backup during family arguments.

Of course, at its most basic, this comment can hurt your self-esteem, especially if your mom compares your appearance, success, or intelligence.


“I’ve given you everything!”

The thing to remember is that, even though your mom “put a roof over your head,” it doesn’t automatically mean everything was perfect or that you don’t have a right to discuss problems from the past.

“She may have literally been there for you in some ways, but not in the ways you have needed,” Pinsly says, and it’s crucial you don’t let her mix up the two.

This comment is meant to make you feel guilty so you drop whatever it is you’re trying to talk about. That way, she won’t have to admit she messed up or sit and listen as you call out her flaws.


“Why do you always make everything about you?”

This comment is pure projection, says Pinsly, and it’s important to see it that way.

If your mom is constantly claiming that you make everything about you, or that you turn everything into an argument, chances are that’s what she’s doing — even though she likely isn’t capable of seeing it that way.

Children of toxic parents are often scapegoated [and] blamed for their parents’ own behaviors,” says Pinsly, and it can create quite a rocky dynamic.



Sometimes toxic comments go beyond words. If your mom lets out a long sigh or a guttural noise whenever you try to talk to her, it could be her way of shutting you down.

If it happens regularly, it can start to feel quite toxic. If she sighs or goes quiet until you go quiet or give in to her demands, consider it a red flag. The toxicity stems from the bad energy and the fact that she isn’t using her words.


“How do you expect to find a husband?”

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According to Topsie VandenBosch, LMSW, a licensed psychotherapist, this question is a fave of toxic moms everywhere. It might come out as a form of body-shaming, where she comments on your appearance, but she also might knock your personality or skills — and her reasoning is anyone’s guess.

Not only is it toxic to imply that you’re unlovable or that you’re only worthy if you find a partner, but rude comments about how you look can obviously be a big hit to your self-esteem.

Toxic moms don’t stop there, either. According to therapist Rachel Goldberg, LMFT, they might also imply that your looks or personality could push away friends. She might say something like, “Wow, I hope you don’t act/dress that way in public.”

Not only do comments like these imply that you’re flawed, they also teach you to hold back and hide yourself. As Goldberg says, “It may create fear or anxiety around being authentic and open with others, leading to difficulties in social interactions and emotional well-being.”


“I sacrificed everything for you and this is how you repay me?”

“These types of comments are what I would call ‘guilt-tripping’ and can result in a person feeling like they are eternally indebted to their parents just for simply being born,” says VandenBosch.

Many toxic parents are unable to hear critiques without immediately blurting this out. They might also wield it when they’re trying to get their way. How could you say no when they remind you they “sacrificed” everything for you?

There’s no talking to someone who feels this way, as any reply will further prove to them that you’re ungrateful.


“I don’t know why I bother giving you advice. You just do what you want anyway.”

This one will have you rubbing your temples for sure. According to VandenBosch, insensitive comments about your ability to make your own choices can fill you with self-doubt. It can also imply that you need to take your mom’s advice 24/7, which obviously isn’t true.


“Okay, well I guess I’m just a bad mom!”

According to Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT, ATR-BC, a licensed marriage and family therapist, this comment is so common coming from toxic parents that you might not even register it anymore.

If your mom is upset, she might blurt it out to get you to feel guilty or stop talking, which can be incredibly frustrating.

It might stem from her issue with black-and-white thinking or her lack of desire to have a conversation.

Toxic parents tend to feel attacked quite easily, even when they’re being approached gently. In this case, this comment might stem from her bad relationship with her mom, but that doesn’t make it OK.


“I’m sorry you feel that way.”

Another super dismissive remark is the classic “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

“Whenever someone says this, it’s a form of pseudo-apologizing that doesn’t address the heart of the hurt feeling,” says Bloom. “This can be done as a way to quickly end conflict but doesn’t demonstrate taking responsibility for their actions.”


“I don’t remember that happening...”

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Brace yourself if you ever try to talk to your mom about something that casts her in a bad light. According to therapist Audrey Schoen, LMFT, toxic moms love to misremember things, whether it’s something that happened a week ago or ten years in the past.

“This one can come in many forms,” she tells Bustle. Your mom might say she doesn’t remember saying something hurtful or claim that you’re misremembering and she’d never do such a thing. The goal, of course, is to give her a moral high ground.

“[The toxic mom] can do no wrong,” says Schoen. “These kinds of comments make it risky to share just about anything, [since you’ll] always be wondering if you will be judged.” It can also make you feel incredibly lonely since it makes it clear your mom isn’t on your side.

If it feels like you can’t be yourself, share your thoughts, or have a civil conversation, chances are your mom is toxic and you’ll want to establish boundaries, chat with a therapist, or speak to her less often — for your own peace of mind.

Having a toxic relationship doesn't have to mean you should cut your mom out of your life. But recognizing any of these behaviors in your relationship with your mother might be an indicator that you should prioritize putting work into making the relationship more balanced and healthful. Boundary setting, open communication, and even family therapy can help. You deserve to do what's right for you, and not have your mother breathing down your back years after you've left home.

Studies referenced:

Fosco, GM. 2014. Interparental Boundary Problems, Parent-Adolescent Hostility, and Adolescent-Parent Hostility: A Family Process Model for Adolescent Aggression Problems. Couple Family Psychol. doi: 10.1037/cfp0000025.

Kong, J. 2018. Effect of Caring for an Abusive Parent on Mental Health: The Mediating Role of Self-Esteem. Gerontologist. doi: 10.1093/geront/gnx053.


Elliot Pinsly, LMSW, licensed clinical social worker

Rachel M Abrman, MA, LPC ,licensed professional counselor

Danielle Forshee, PsyD, LCSW

Julie Williamson, LPC

Sara Stanizai, LCSW

Joshua Klapow, PhD

Dawn Friedman, MS.Ed

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