5 Signs You Have a Toxic Mother-Daughter Relationship
Raising teenagers is a challenge, and parents seem to report there is unique tension between themselves and their teen child of the same gender. It is very common for the teen years to spiral into a toxic or unhealthy relationship as parents grapple for control and daughters attempt to assert their own needs and desires.
Having been a teenage girl, I remember thinking everything I was experiencing was the most important thing ever. However, now a mom whose child (albeit a son) is swiftly approaching the teen years and watching friends and close family parent their teens, I understand how easily the parent-child relationship can become tense.
Most tense moments as parents set boundaries and rules eventually fizzle out, and relationships strengthen and re-bound. So what do you do when your relationship contains unhealthy boundaries and toxic behavior? How do you stop bad behavior on both sides and re-establish a healthy relationship?
This article looks at how to recognize typical patterns in a toxic mother-daughter relationship and advice on how to repair your relationship.
Related: My Kid is Nothing Like Me. What Do I Do?
5 Common Signs of a Toxic Relationship
The first step in repairing a toxic relationship between family members is recognizing it. Toxic relationships can occur between any two people, whether family or friends, and once you’re in the cycle, it can be challenging to see or release yourself from it. In addition, toxic relationships affect both individuals' mental health and cause high-stress levels.
Below are the classic signs of a toxic relationship.
1. Poor Boundaries
A lack of healthy boundaries is a sure sign of a toxic relationship. Unhealthy boundaries can manifest themselves in a variety of ways. Mothers and daughters can rely too heavily on the other person. Toxic mothers often use their children as therapists and emotional support. Children may manipulate their parents into serving their every whim or desire.
Another example of poor boundaries is mothers can overstep their daughters by attempting to micromanage their lives; what they wear, who they see, where they go etc.
Both parents and children can lay guilt trips when they feel their “needs” are not met, and these guilt trips and poor boundaries can easily lead to co-dependency.
Codependent relationships have a taker and a giver. The taker consistently crosses boundaries asking for needs and wants to be met, and the giver often ignores their own needs in an attempt to make the taker happy.
How to Establish Personal Boundaries
Establishing personal boundaries is the first step in separating yourself from toxic people, even if it's your own mother. But, in the beginning, setting boundaries is complex and will take time and perseverance.
First, you need to establish what your boundaries are. For example, it could mean specific topics are not up for discussion, or you may need them to stop telling you what to wear or how to organize your room.
When establishing boundaries, start small. Pick something important that you feel your parent may be receptive to. Even healthy parents and adult children need boundaries established from time to time.
- Communicate the boundary to your mother and be prepared for a negative response
- Use respect and understand that overstepping often comes from a place of love.
- Communicate boundaries firmly and without judgment
- Enforce the boundary
- Much like toddlers, parents will test boundaries
- How you enforce the boundary will depend on what behavior you’re attempting to stop.
- Use respect but stay firm when enforcing the boundary. For example, “Mom, I know you want to help, but I have asked you to stop coming into my room when I’m doing my homework because it disrupts my concentration.”
2. Lack of Support
Lack of support is another classic sign of a toxic relationship. Lack of support can be displayed as a lack of empathy or understanding for your problems. Toxic parents often blame their children for their problems and overreact to minor mistakes children make.
Lack of support leads to low self-esteem and a child’s emotional needs not being met.
Parental support and validation are essential to a child’s well-being and sense of self.
3. Lack of Open Communication
It's possible that your mother may not be aware of how much her lack of support is affecting you. She may even know that she is failing to support you. Even adult daughters need support from their moms, so speak up if you need something!
Lack of communication is a significant reason there is stress within a relationship. Start with small declarations like which movie you want to watch or which dress you prefer. Expressing your needs is one way to begin to take control of your relationship and own life.
4. Constant Negativity
A third significant sign of a toxic mother-daughter relationship is constant negativity in words and actions. Negativity can show up in demeaning your self-worth, negative comments about your appearance or skills, and constant criticism.
Negativity can also appear in silent treatment, passive-aggressive comments, and back-handed praise.
Gaslighting has been a term trending in the last few years. Gaslighting is when someone attempts to make you believe something isn’t true but is. For example, if you took the trash out the night before and your mother attempts to convince you the next day that you forgot. This type of behavior is emotional abuse, causes self-doubt, and affects a person's overall mental health.
Tips to Take Care of Yourself
Taking care of yourself is essential when dealing with a narcissistic mother or a toxic relationship.
Figure out what things relax you and ways to take care of yourself. Unfortunately, people who grow up with a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship struggle with self-care.
When choosing self-care activities choose things that make you feel physically and mentally sound. For example, walking, meditating, yoga, aroma therapy, listening to music, journaling, napping, and venting to your best friend are all forms of self-care.
If you’re old enough, consider talking with a counselor or therapist. In the post-COVID-19 world, many counselors will talk with patients over Zoom or even phone calls.
Toxic relationships can go both ways, and teens who were never taught to respect boundaries, follow routines, or respect others can also be the toxic person in a parent-child relationship and will eventually grow into toxic adults.
It is possible to repair a toxic relationship even late in the game, but it requires work from both sides to heal the relationship entirely. Even if your mother is resistant to working with you, you can separate yourself from the toxic relationship and work on healing yourself through the help of a counselor.
The first step in healing a toxic relationship is recognizing the signs and attempting to establish boundaries and healthy communication. Start small and work your way to the bigger issues.
Don’t expect perfectionism from yourself or your toxic family member. Take each challenge one day at a time as your work towards building a healthy relationship between mother and daughter.
For more ways to build stronger relationships with your kids, no matter how old, check out: 10 Tools for Parenting Happy and Healthy Children.
Was this article helpful?
About L. Elizabeth Forry
L. Elizabeth Forry is an Early Childhood Educator with 15 years of classroom experience.