6 Signs You Have A Toxic Relationship With Your Mom

A toxic mother-child relationship influences us throughout our adult lives.

mother and adult grown up daughter sitting separately fizkes / Shutterstock

Toxic relationships deeply affect us at any age, but our greatest period of vulnerability exists in childhood. And when we're put in toxic situations, especially with a parent or caretaker, we may have experiences that harken back to those memories.

A toxic mother-child relationship, specifically, influences us throughout our adult lives if not dealt with in a healthy manner. The first step is recognizing the signs of this toxic dynamic.


Here are 6 signs you have a toxic relationship with your mother

1. You harbor negative emotions

If you've acknowledged your mother's maltreatment, you've also acknowledged how it makes you feel.

When you're confronted with thoughts of your mother, a cauldron of negative emotions boils inside of you. These negative emotions are often some mixture of dread, fear, anxiety, rejection, suffocation, or generalized emotional pain.

You have a tough time identifying with friends and associates who derive pleasure from their relationships with their moms. You might even fantasize about what it would be like to have a mother who evokes positive and loving feelings.




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If you excuse your mother's behavior, you're suppressing your negative emotions and still shouldering some of the blame. You might say to yourself:

  • "I wasn't an easy kid to raise."
  • "I could have done more to help her."
  • "She had a lot of her own problems to deal with."
  • "That's just how mom is."
  • "She did the best she could."

These expressions are okay if they come from a position of healing, but they're not okay when they're used to avoid reality and suppress your inner trauma.


2. You react to conflict with submission or aggression

Toxic parenting causes children to develop dysfunctional conflict resolution methods to cope with a hostile authority figure.

If your mother broke your spirit when you were growing up, you learned to deal with conflict by submission at all costs. You likely thought to yourself: What's the purpose of standing up if you're just going to be knocked down?

Because of the way you were treated as a child, now, as an adult, you avoid conflict, neglect to stand up for yourself when necessary, and shrink back from defending others so as not to cause any disputes.

However, if your mother failed to break your spirit, but stomped all over your heart, you learned to remain passive in your position of weakness, but developed and internalized pain-induced aggression.


You've determined that no one will hurt you that way again. As an adult, you meet conflict aggressively and might lash out with little to no provocation. The toxic relationship with your mother incites you to throw the first and the last punch when you feel emotionally vulnerable.

6 Signs You Have A Toxic Relationship With Your MotherPhoto: Maria Orlova / Pexels

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3. You withhold affection

Toxic mothers withhold affection from their children as a form of punishment. They learn that their mother's love is conditional, based upon how thoroughly they please her.

Some mothers may offer little to no affection, even when the child has done well. In response, some children will constantly seek approval, hoping to receive the slightest sign of affection.

Others decide not to bother, isolating themselves emotionally and avoiding contact. In both cases, children are emotionally manipulated and learn that loving affection is a conditional and scarce commodity.

One of the strongest signs you have a toxic relationship with your mother is your inability to accept affection in a healthy way.


For example, as an adult, you don't know how to deal with freely-given affection, and you live in anticipation that it will be snatched away suddenly. Your joy and fear produce extreme emotional mood swings that your romantic partner doesn't understand.

It's not uncommon for you to withhold affection as a means of self-defense or to punish your partner for the slightest indiscretion. It's your way of protecting your vulnerable emotions and communicating your pain.

Signs You Have A Toxic Relationship With Your Mother

4. You seek codependent relationships

Codependent relationships involve a passive and a dominant partner who both find fulfillment in the passive partner's emotional and/or practical dependence on the dominant partner.


The passive partner feels loved when someone else is willing to do everything for them. The dominant partner feels loved when they are needed. The greater their partner's dependence, the more loved this person feels.

In this toxic relationship between mother and child, the mother acts as the dominant partner. She resorts to extreme measures to ensure her child will always need her, hampering healthy development.

Codependent parenting produces emotionally and/or practically codependent children. A child will become the passive or dominant partner as an adult, depending on their personality and the strength of their will.

In the case of an adult who has a toxic relationship with their mother, this rings true. But there are also staunch differences between a passive or dominant codependent.


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Passive Codependents

As an adult, if you're the passive partner, you feel loved when your spouse or companion manages your life for you. It's also common for you to expect your partner to meet all your emotional needs.

You feel that you need your partner to live, and in your passive-aggressive style you demand your partner demonstrates love in this manner. You feel unloved and rejected when your partner can't or won't go out of their way to meet every need you have.

Dominant Codependents

As an adult, if you're the dominant partner, you have an insatiable need to be needed and might even create situations that ensure you're indispensable.


Your partner's dependence upon you, practically and emotionally, makes you feel secure. If you're needed, you won't be cast aside. You have strong controlling tendencies concerning the outside world, but you remain emotionally dependent on another person.

Your emotional well-being hinges on how much others need you. If your partner asserts some independence, you experience feelings of fear and insecurity, and may even feel unloved.



5. You're a critic of everyone, especially yourself

Toxic parenting unloads mounds of criticism on children. These mothers harshly critique every behavior that doesn't please them, and the tiniest infraction unleashes disproportionate scolding or punishment.


Psychology has long taught us that we all develop an inner voice, and for many adults, their inner voice belongs to one of their parents, whether they realize it or not.

As the child of a toxic mother, you always feel monitored, as if someone is watching and critiquing your daily performance. You harshly judge yourself for every mistake or setback.

Failure brings an emotional crisis for you, as your self-worth rests solely on your successes.

You constantly battle the voice in your head that relentlessly repeats that you're not good enough or successful enough. You have perfectionist tendencies and lofty expectations of others, becoming not only your own worst critic but everyone else's as well.


6 Signs You Have A Toxic Relationship With Your MotherPhoto: Ryan Arya / Pexels

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6. You need constant validation

Children raised by toxic mothers become adults with low self-esteem. Their childhood environment was marked by criticism, withheld affection, conditional love, dominance, and conflict.


They're plagued by feelings of worthlessness and seek validation from those closest to them. They primarily desire frequent validation through recognition for good behavior or achievements and/or reassurance that they're loved.

As an adult, because you grew up with a toxic mother, you believe you're inherently unlovable and fear that others will soon realize it. When you do well, you ensure those around you know about it.

You need to give your inner circle a reason to continue loving you. Your low self-esteem drives your desperate need for accolades and words of approval from your family and friends. Their praise helps you feel more secure in your relationships with them. Often, this is mistaken for pride, but in your case, it's a trademark of insecurity.

If you don't receive their validation, you feel worthless. In your vulnerable state, you subconsciously assume others love as your mother loves.




You monitor your spouse or partner, family, and friends for indications that their love is diminishing. As a result, you often overreact to minor transgressions, interpreting them as proof that you're not worthy.

Your need for validation keeps you on an emotional rollercoaster because you rarely feel content with yourself and look to others for emotional fulfillment.

Healing from toxic relationships takes time, especially if it's a parent.


You can't control the world around you or those in it, but you can have power over your reactions. Choose to seek wise counsel and discover how your past and your emotions affect your present life.

You don't have to live in yesterday's chains. Instead, choose to take daily steps toward a new future.

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