17 Surprising Signs Your Mom Is Toxic

#1: She always has to be right.

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Here are 17 signs your mother is toxic.
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It isn’t always easy to spot a toxic mom, especially if yours has been toxic for forever. You might not realize that her “annoying” traits — like the fact she brushes off your problems, criticizes your every move, or picks meaningless fights— all fall under the umbrella of toxic behavior. But they most definitely do.

In some cases, issues like these may be the result of an underlying mental health condition like borderline personality disorder or narcissistic personality disorder — both of which can create a toxic environment to grow up in as well as toxicity now that you’re an adult. But sometimes, toxic habits are simply due to a mom's immaturity more than anything else.

If your mom is immature, it may feel like you’ve always been the “mom” in the situation. This is what’s known as “parentification,” Dr. Racine R. Henry, PhD, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "It’s when children are expected to perform the physical/emotional/mental duties normally expected of a parent.” Parentification is unfair to experience as a kid because the parent/child roles are reversed. And as an adult, it can mean you have all sorts of conflict because your mom is unwilling to change, says Henry.

Whatever type of toxicity your mom has, Dr. Bethany Cook, PsyD, MT-BCk says it’ll begin to take a toll on your well-being. “It may inhibit your ability to relate to others in meaningful ways, and you may struggle to connect deeply with someone else and sharing your needs because when you were vulnerable with your mom, she shut your needs down or distorted them to benefit her,” she tells Bustle. And that’s why it’s so important to learn how to cope. Below are 17 signs your mom is toxic as well as what to to do about it.


She Always Has To Be Right

While your parents used to seem right when you were a kid, take note if your mom uses this as an excuse to dismiss what you’re saying. Not only is it tough to communicate with a mom who insists her opinion is 100% right, it’s a trait that can easily lead to stonewalling behavior, Cook says. When that happens, your mom will completely ignore you or shut down until you give in or agree.


She Ignores Your Boundaries

A toxic mother also has a way of ignoring boundaries, whether that means she barges into your apartment, tells people your secrets, posts things online when you asked her not to, makes unhelpful comments — you name it. “This is toxic because it sets up not only a power struggle between you and her but it also shows a lack of respect,” says Cook.


She Enables Dependence

As Cook says, you should consider it toxic “if your mom refuses to allow you to ‘grow up’ by insisting she does things for you that you should be doing for yourself, like making the bed, packing your own lunch, filling out paperwork without showing you how it's done, or laundry, among other things.” While some moms try to help out of genuine care, it’s a habit that can hold you back from becoming independent.

Other toxic moms might act like this intentionally to keep you dependent on her. It might be because she wants to be in control or because she’s having a tough time letting go of the role of caretaker. Either way, let her know that you appreciate the help but that she has to respect your boundaries.


She Oversimplifies Your Problems

Does your mom brush off your problems? Instead of offering support or advice, does she say things like, “You don’t need to go to therapy, you just need to try harder,” or “You aren’t depressed, you just don’t know how good you have it”? If so, consider it toxic.

While it might not seem like a big deal, licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Amanda Darnley says these statements have a dismissive undertone. They also imply you don’t know how to take care of yourself, which is incredibly invalidating.


She Gets Mad At You For Being Emotional

Another sign? Your mother gets angry when you cry or show feelings. “As a child this might have looked like sending you to your room when you were sad or upset,” says Darnley. “As an adult, it might look like ignoring your calls for a month [or] changing the subject whenever anything remotely emotional comes up.”

She might even do things like ignore you for an extended period of time as a form of punishment. “These behaviors send the message that ‘emotions are not OK’ at best and ‘will not be tolerated’ at worst,” Darnley says.


She Claims You’re Overreacting

Take note if your mom constantly claims you’re overreacting, too, possibly by saying things like, “That didn’t happen,” or “Don’t be so sensitive.” As Darnley says, “This is particularly damaging because it sends the message that there is something wrong with you, your memories, your feelings, or your perspective. And over time, it can cause you to question your ability to view things accurately.”

It all comes back to invalidation, which Darnley says stifles authentic connection and ultimately causes you to question your own emotional reactions. As you get older, it’ll be tough for you to recognize your emotions and what causes them, leading you to feel confused about how you “should” react to things.


Every Conversation Makes You Upset

For an easy way to tell if your mom is toxic, consider how you feel after talking to her. If every conversation ends with you feeling guilty, angry, or invisible, that’s your sign, says licensed psychologist Dr. Tanisha M. Ranger, PsyD, CSAT-S, CMAT-S.

"Oftentimes 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,” she tells Bustle.

It can be super 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 and tell her everything, it may be healthier to talk with a therapist, best friend, or partner instead.


She Minimizes Your Achievements

Did you just graduate? Get a promotion? Rent a cool new apartment? If your mom can’t be bothered to congratulate you, it counts as toxic. What’s more, a toxic mom might minimize your achievements by saying something like, “Oh, that’s good, but your sister got promoted when she was 22.”

“Hearing messages like this consistently can lead you to have unhealthy and unattainably high standards for yourself, where essentially, even though you are high achieving, you’re still ‘failing,’” Darnley says.


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 a friend, it can easily go 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. The best thing you can do is put up boundaries and create distance whenever possible.


You're Always The One Apologizing

Does your mom never say she’s sorry for how she treats you or speaks to you? "Toxic people, in general, have a lot of difficulty with taking responsibility and accepting the consequences of their own choices and behavior,” says Ranger. And that’s why, even though you didn’t do anything wrong, you’re always the one who has to reach out first and apologize.


She Always Plays The Victim

Your mom could also be playing the victim, which is another sign of toxicity. "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," says Henry.

If this perfectly describes the dynamic you have with your mom, it may help to put up some boundaries. By reacting to her every mood, you’re actually playing into her manipulation techniques. A toxic mom wants you to reach out and apologize and ask if she’s OK. Try giving her space the next time she plays the victim and see what happens.


She Cries To Get Her Way

While there’s nothing wrong with crying, toxic moms tend to use tears to their advantage. Henry says she might cry to get sympathy to get her way, particularly if you aren’t budging. And that is not OK.

"A parent should be able to communicate their needs and feelings without trying to manipulate you into bending to their will,” she says. This includes crying or running off into another room. All of these actions create drama that you just don't need.


She’s Super Critical

From cutting your hair to making lunch or choosing a partner, a toxic mom will always be looking over your shoulder with judgment in her eyes.

"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 mom may be helpful. Another option is to suggest you attend therapy together. If you’d like to maintain a connection with her, this may be a beneficial way to make her more aware of her toxic traits.


She Lashes Out When She’s Upset

Everyone's entitled to a minor slip-up or two when they're truly upset. Sometimes emotions run high and people say things they don’t mean. But if your mom lashes out, throws fits, or says awful things whenever she’s upset, consider it toxic with a capital T.

As therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW tells Bustle, "A mother's role is to provide unconditional love, safety, and support,” so it’ll feel really bad when she uses harsh words or brings up a sore subject. The best thing you can do, in these moments, is to take good care of yourself.

“If you can physically limit yourself from her, counteract the toxic by finding and befriending healthy and supportive peers/mentors/coaches and spend time with them cultivating healthy relationships,” says Cook.


She Wants You To Fix Her Problems

If your mom needs help with a personal problem, that's certainly OK. It only becomes toxic if she starts to lean on you for everything — year after year — almost like you’re the parent.

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, a licensed marriage and family therapist, 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," Clancy 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 — where you stop reaching, stop visiting, and fully focus on your own life — at least until she learns healthier ways to deal with her emotions.


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.

"[A toxic mom will] 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," clinical psychologist Dr. Paul DePompo, PsyD, ABPP tells Bustle. "She [might] spread negative things that one sibling 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."


You Have To Walk On Eggshells

Perhaps one of the most telling signs? Feeling as if you have to walk on eggshells around your mom, says Reena B. Patel, LEP, BCBA, a parenting expert, licensed educational psychologist, and board-certified behavior analyst. Whether you’re worried she’ll take your words out of context, embarrass you, or have a big emotional reaction, you always choose your words carefully for fear she’ll overreact.

It’s tough having a toxic mom, but remember there are things you can do to cope. As Patel says, “You are not your mom. You can take control and detach yourself. Seek support and therapy if needed. Do not react, take this personally, and do not feel responsible for your mom’s feelings. It is not our job to rescue her.”


Dr. Racine R. Henry, PhD, licensed marriage and family therapist

Dr. Bethany Cook, PsyD, MT-BCk, licensed clinical psychologist

Dr. Amanda Darnley, licensed clinical psychologist

Dr. Tanisha M. Ranger, PsyD, CSAT-S, CMAT-S, licensed psychologist

Debbie Mandel, stress management expert

Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW, therapist

Crystal Clancy, MA, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist

Dr. Paul DePompo, PsyD, ABPP, clinical psychologist

Reena B. Patel, LEP, BCBA, parenting expert, licensed educational psychologist, and board-certified behavior analyst.

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