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Signs of a Toxic Mother – The Bitter Truth

In a world where the ideal of motherhood is often portrayed as a selfless and nurturing figure, the reality is that not all mothers embody these traits.

Parents, while well-intentioned, are only human and can make mistakes from time to time. For example, a loving mother may occasionally lose her temper or unintentionally hurt her child’s feelings.

However, it’s vital to differentiate between a mom with an off day and a mother who fosters a tense home environment or dysfunctional family relationships.

Regrettably, identifying signs of a toxic mother-child relationship isn’t always straightforward. Like some of the most venomous plants can appear beautiful, toxic mothers may seem affectionate on the surface.

Phrases such as “I only criticize you because I want you to be perfect and succeed in everything you do.” or “If you loved me, you wouldn’t hang out with your friends so much. You should be spending more time with me.” can sound caring, but they can mask a more insidious reality.

A toxic parent, unfortunately, can cause emotional harm to their children and negatively impact their development. Unfortunately, children may blame themselves and accept this unhealthy parent-child dynamic as normal.

This issue deserves attention, as understanding the characteristics of toxic mothers can empower individuals to identify and overcome the detrimental effects of such maternal behaviour.

We will explore toxic behaviour, such as emotional, physical, and manipulation tactics commonly used in toxic relationships. We’ll discuss how these experiences can impact adult relationships regarding trust issues, boundary-setting difficulties and post-traumatic stress disorder.

What Is a Toxic Mother

a toxic mother emotionally abusing daughter

A toxic mother is a parent whose parenting style causes emotional or psychological harm to their child. A toxic mother consistently engages in negative behaviours that undermine their child’s well-being.

This type of parent may appear caring and supportive, yet their actions often stem from controlling, manipulative, or emotionally abusive intentions.

A toxic mother can significantly impact a child’s self-esteem, emotional growth, and ability to form healthy relationships

Toxic Traits & Signs

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse by a toxic mother can take many forms, such as negative behaviour, such as belittling your achievements, invalidating your emotions, or making you feel guilty for expressing your needs.

This abuse often leaves lasting psychological scars affecting self-esteem and other mental health issues.

  • Name-calling or insulting language directed at the child
  • Constantly comparing the child to others in a negative way
  • Making fun of the child’s interests or dreams
  • Guilt-tripping the child for normal behaviour (e.g., spending time with friends)

Physical Abuse

In addition to emotional mistreatment, some toxic mothers resort to physical violence against their children. This form of verbal abuse might involve hitting, slapping, pushing or other aggressive actions that cause harm to the body.

Physical mistreatment by the toxic person can have far-reaching repercussions on mental health and interpersonal relations beyond the initial pain it inflicts (PTSD).

Manipulation Tactics

Toxic mothers often use manipulation tactics to control their children’s lives even into adulthood. Some common methods include:

  • Gaslighting: making the child doubt their memories or perceptions
  • Emotional blackmail: using guilt, fear, or obligation to control the child’s actions
  • Taking credit for the child’s accomplishments while blaming them for failures
  • Withholding love and affection as a form of punishment

By grasping the harmful characteristics of a mother-parent-child relationship, one can identify and address them to enhance connections with those close.

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The Impact on Adult Relationships

Individuals who have experienced toxic parental relationships often struggle to develop and maintain healthy connections with others, as they may have difficulty trusting and expressing vulnerability.

They may inadvertently replicate toxic patterns in their relationships, perpetuating a cycle of emotional turmoil.

The negative home environment and toxic relationship stress such mothers create often lead to trust issues, difficulties establishing boundaries, and emotional challenges extending beyond romantic partnerships into friendships and professional connections.

By recognizing and addressing the lingering effects of a toxic upbringing in parent-child relationships, adult children can work towards cultivating more secure, fulfilling, and emotionally balanced relationships.

10 Signs

  1. Difficulty trusting others: A history of toxic parenting may lead to wariness in forming close relationships, as trust has been consistently undermined.
  2. Low self-esteem: Repeated criticism and emotional manipulation can result in a negative self-image, affecting various aspects of life.
  3. Fear of abandonment: Constant emotional instability from a toxic mother may instill a deep-rooted fear of abandonment in adult relationships.
  4. Inability to set boundaries: Growing up with a toxic mother may hinder the development of healthy boundary-setting skills, leading to imbalanced and dysfunctional relationships.
  5. Emotional detachment: As a self-protective measure, adults with toxic mothers may struggle to form deep emotional connections with others.
  6. Attraction to unhealthy relationships: Unresolved issues stemming from a toxic upbringing can lead to a pattern of seeking out similarly toxic partners.
  7. Difficulty expressing emotions: A lack of emotional validation during childhood can result in challenges articulating and sharing feelings in adulthood.
  8. Codependency: In an attempt to gain approval and love, individuals with toxic mothers may develop codependent tendencies, prioritizing others’ needs over their own.
  9. Perfectionism: To cope with unrealistic expectations and constant criticism from a toxic mother, some adults may develop perfectionistic traits, striving for unattainable standards.
  10. Mental health disorder: Emotional abuse and neglect from a toxic mother can contribute to developing anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions in adulthood.

Tips To Deal With It

Toxic parents can immensely impact child development and adult relationships, making trusting and establishing boundaries with others difficult.

Why Do I Have a Toxic Mom

Understanding the reasons behind having a toxic mother can be complex and multifaceted. However, toxic behaviour often stems from the mother’s upbringing, where she may have experienced emotional neglect, abuse, or unhealthy family dynamics.

Additionally, unresolved personal trauma, mental health issues, or external stressors can contribute to a mother adopting toxic parenting patterns.

Here are some of the reasons and mental disorders associated with toxic parenting:

  1. Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): This disorder is characterized by unstable moods, behaviour, and relationships. It can lead to impulsive actions, intense anger, and difficulty maintaining healthy relationships with children.
  2. Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD): Individuals with NPD exhibit a grandiose sense of self-importance, a need for constant admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. These traits can contribute to emotional manipulation and neglect of their children’s emotional needs.
  3. Bipolar Disorder: This disorder involves extreme mood swings, ranging from depressive lows to manic highs. During manic or depressive episodes, a mother may struggle to provide consistent emotional support or engage in toxic behaviours.
  4. Postpartum Depression : This form of depression occurs after childbirth and can lead to feelings of sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion. Mothers suffering from postpartum depression may struggle to bond with their newborns and exhibit toxic behaviours.
  5. Substance Use Disorders: Addiction to drugs or alcohol can lead to erratic behaviour, emotional instability, and difficulty in fulfilling parental responsibilities. Children of parents with substance use disorders often experience neglect or abuse.
  6. Antisocial Personality Disorder: This disorder is characterized by a persistent disregard for the rights of others, deceitfulness, and a lack of remorse. A mother with an antisocial personality disorder may exhibit manipulative or abusive behaviours toward her children.

It is important to remember that the presence of a toxic mother is not a reflection of one’s self-worth or deservedness of love; rather, it is a manifestation of her struggles and emotional turmoil.

Breaking Free

The first step in a healthy relationship and breaking free from toxic patterns is acknowledging how your past experiences with a toxic mother have influenced your current behaviour.

For example, if you find yourself constantly seeking approval from others or struggling with low self-esteem, this could result from excessive criticism during childhood.

  • Journaling: Writing down your thoughts and feelings about past experiences can help you understand how they impact your present-day actions.
  • Mindfulness practices: Engaging in mindfulness exercises such as meditation or deep breathing techniques can assist in becoming more aware of negative thought patterns and emotions.
  • Talking to someone: Sharing your story with a therapist can provide valuable perspective on how past events continue to affect you today.

Setting Boundaries With Your Toxic Mother

It isn’t easy, yet essential, to prioritize oneself and create a secure atmosphere where you can emotionally prosper. This section will emphasize the need for boundaries and guide how to establish them successfully.

The Importance of Setting Boundaries

  • Maintain control over your emotions and reactions
  • Avoid falling into manipulative traps set by your toxic mother
  • Prioritize self-care without feeling guilty or selfish
  • Create distance between yourself and the negative influence of your mother’s toxicity

Key Takeaways

  1. Recognizing toxic mother traits: Understand the difference between a loving mother having a bad day and a toxic mother consistently causing emotional harm.
  2. The signs of a toxic mother: Emotional abuse, physical abuse, and manipulation tactics are some common toxic behaviours.
  3. Impact on adult relationships: Trust issues, boundary-setting difficulties, and emotional challenges can stem from a toxic upbringing.
  4. Understanding the reasons for a toxic mom: A mother’s upbringing, unresolved personal trauma, or mental health issues may contribute to toxic parenting patterns.
  5. Mental health disorders associated with toxic parenting: Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Postpartum Depression, Substance Use Disorders, and Antisocial Personality Disorder are some examples.
  6. Breaking free from toxic patterns: Acknowledge past experiences, engage in journaling and mindfulness practices, and talk to someone for support.
  7. Setting boundaries with a toxic mother: Establish and maintain healthy boundaries to protect your well-being and ensure emotional growth.

Get Help

If you’re struggling with the effects of toxic mother traits or toxic relationships, seek professional help today at Well Beings Counselling.

Our counsellors create a secure environment for those seeking to examine their feelings and learn techniques for managing complex circumstances. So don’t let toxicity hold you back – take control of your mental health today.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

While change is possible, a toxic parent often must acknowledge her harmful behaviours, seek professional help, and commit to personal growth and healthier parenting practices.
Yes, emotional neglect can be unintentional, as caregivers may be unaware of their child's emotional needs or lack the skills to provide appropriate support.It can be challenging to maintain a relationship with a toxic mother, but setting boundaries and prioritizing your well-being can help you navigate the relationship more effectively.

A toxic mother may have moments of love and affection, but their consistent negative behaviours undermine their child's well-being and emotional growth.

Get matched with a counsellor

video therapy appointments

Want online therapy? Start sessions instantly— Stress-free and easy to use.


  1. Dolz, L et al. “Mother-child interactional patterns in high- and low-risk mothers.” Child abuse & neglect 21 12 (1997): 1149-58.
  2. Räikkönen, Katri and Liisa Keltikangas-Järvinen. “Mothers with hostile, Type A predisposing child-rearing practices.” The Journal of genetic psychology 153 3 (1992): 343-54.
  3. DeGroot, Jocelyn M. and Tennley A. Vik. ““Fake Smile. Everything is under Control.”: The Flawless Performance of Motherhood.” Western Journal of Communication 85 (2019): 42 – 60.
Picture of Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen’s career began in Behaviour Therapy, this is where she developed a passion for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy approaches. Following a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Psychology she pursued a Master of Counselling. Pareen is a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC) with the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors. She specializes in CBT and Lifespan Integrations approaches to anxiety and trauma. She has been published on major online publications such as - Yahoo, MSN, AskMen, PsychCentral, Best Life Online, and more.

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