Showing the distance between a mother and her child

It’s coming up to Mother’s Day weekend a time of gifts, flowers, and cards to show mum how much you care, and how great she is, but what if you struggle in your relationship with your mother? How do you cope then?

As a psychotherapist and fellow survivor, I work with women who have difficult relationships with their mothers to recover from the trauma and to lead happier lives. I believe it’s time we started a new conversation around toxic parenting and how we can be emotionally wounded by our mothers, and this is my contribution.

When I talk to my clients about their relationships with their mothers there are several similarities that make up a difficult or toxic relationship, here’s what I found women I work with experienced:

  • Lack of praise as a child and adult
  • Mum is overly critical
  • Mum’s needs and wants comes first
  • Role-reversals, where we parent our parent
  • Isolation from friends and family for you and her
  • Boundaries between you are blurry and you may have little privacy even as an adult
  • Your needs for emotional security, safety, and to be heard aren’t met
  • There is gaslighting and denial
  • Nothing you do is good enough
  • Constant comparison and competition with others
  • Mum erodes your relationship with your siblings if you have them

These difficulties can feel normalised as it is all we have experienced since we were very small, it may have taken you until your teens or later to realise not every mother is like this.

This toxicity exists on a spectrum with some women experiencing mild difficulties and others outright physical, mental, emotional, and sexual abuse.

The problem is our relationship (or lack of) with our mother is foundational in helping us to understand ourselves and our place in the world. Her words and actions are internalised by us into our core beliefs about who we are and how we should show up in the world. These beliefs can affect areas like work, sex, relationships and money.

For example, if all we hear is criticism, we learn to have a strong inner critic who can silence and censor us so we struggle to express ourselves, say ‘No’, or have any boundaries.

If we learn to accept a certain level of aggression or emotional turmoil in our relationship with mum, we are more likely to tolerate it in our romantic relationships. We know there is a link between toxic parenting and women experiencing relationships that involve domestic violence and abuse.

What I am saying is what we learn about ourselves from mum becomes our beliefs, which become our feelings, which become our actions.

Belief > Feeling > Action

My work, and this conversation is about beginning to repair the damage, to replace those toxic beliefs with supportive ones through meditation techniques, inner child work, education, awareness, and empowerment.

I do this by offering a safe and supportive space, for women to explore these difficulties and to be part of a community which understands and doesn’t stigmatise them for not worshipping at the altar of the perfect mother.

This Mother’s Day I want you to know:

  • It’s okay to want to distance yourself from your mum
  • Buying gifts to keep the peace doesn’t make you a hypocrite
  • There are other women who feel the same way you do
  • Abuse is not okay, and it’s not your fault
  • You don’t have to take responsibility for mum’s feelings or reactions