This Is How To Avoid Becoming The Toxic Mother That You Had

This Is How To Avoid Becoming The Toxic Mother That You Had

Not too long ago, someone asked me if there are things that particularly trigger me (that I have to work overtime not to show that they do) whenever I’m in a session with clients. Y’all, the list ain’t short (LOL); yet what tops it, hands down, is hurting individuals who try to justify the toxic parents they had, thinking that it’s “just how parents are,” when that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Unfortunately, so many people grew up in a mentally, emotionally, and/or physically unhealthy environment that they don’t even realize just how dysfunctional it actually was…and that’s why many of them are repeating those same patterns with their own children.

How do I know that they don’t know? Take an article that I once read on Bored Panda’s site entitled, “50 People Are Sharing The Signs That Made Them Realize They Were Raised By Toxic Parents” as a stellar example. It provides live and in living color reminders that if you grew up with parents who couldn’t care less about your boundaries; treated you like you should be their on-call therapist (oversharing is toxic); kept you walking on eggshells; were controlling as literal hell; constantly played the victim (even when they were dead-ass wrong); would overreact when it came to damn near everything; competed with you; compared you to other people (including your very own friends); found some way to make everything be about them (lawd) and/or were energy or emotional vampires (and this list really is just a starting point) — yes, you had quite a bit of toxicity in your developmental space (especially if it happened on a consistent basis).

Keeping these 10 things in mind, today, we’re gonna deal with toxic mothers. One reason is that, for a myriad of reasons that I can’t get into right now, we live in a culture that tends to want to give them a pass far more than toxic fathers — although they absolutely should not be. Because when it comes to feeling safe and respected by your parents, both as kids and once you become an adult, no one should get a gender pass.

Yet again, since moms so oftentimes do, I thought it would be important to address how to “break the curse” if you happen to have been a victim and now a survivor of a toxic mother — so that you can break the cycle…once and for all.

What Are You Doing…Just Because Your Mama Did It That Way?


Is it just me or are you also noticing more videos where little children, who can barely even talk, are cussing folks straight out? SMDH. I recently watched one and the mom was in the background just a cackling away; it was borderline vile. Yeah, it’s another message for another time how folks are so obsessed these days with getting online attention/validation, that they will do literally anything — including humiliating their own kids (like that slap-eggs-onto-their-head “challenge”) or teaching them toxic behaviors.

And not to get too deep (because it’s an article all on its own) yet, the reason why most kids will subject themselves to those types of things is, aside from not knowing any better (because their parents are supposed to properly guide them), they want their parents’ validation and approval; that’s how we’re wired. And that’s why we have to be careful about what we teach our kids to do — and not do.

Because when they think certain things will make us happy, it creates patterns that create habits that they will carry well on into their adulthood…oftentimes without them even really thinking about if they actually should do those things or not.

So, take a moment to think about some of the things that you currently do that you know you got from your mother. Let me be more specific: think about things that you do that you’ve never even really stopped to consider if they are right or wrong, if they actually work for you and/or, if you do have kids, if they triggered you on some level when you were their age. Now ask yourself if you’re only doing them because that’s what you’re used to doing and nothing else (substantial).

Because as much as folks are out here talking about, “Well, that’s how my mama always did it,” a part of what comes with being a responsible and accountable adult, is you don’t say and do things because that’s all you know — you say and do things because they are what’s best and right for you and your family. Whether your mama did them or not.

Are You Ready to Draw Some Firm Lines in the Sand?


When I tell you that I’ve got some relatives and older adults, in general, who wouldn’t know a boundary if it kicked them…HARD? I mean, well into my 30s and 40s, they’ve acted like it was a personal mission of theirs to hear me state a limit and then see how quickly they could move past it. SMDH. For years, I would endure that nonsense because I also grew up in an environment that was full of spiritual narcissism and manipulation. What I mean by that is, they thought that so long as they found some snippet of a Scripture to justify their behavior, I should allow their words and actions to go on.

When you add that to the residual fear that I had of the possibilities of what could happen if I stood ten toes down on my nos, I would allow them to disrespect me. That is until I really took in the fact that they were literally…disrespecting me. And no, I don’t fall for the crap that you love me if you don’t know how to respect me in the process; that is actually gaslighting at its finest.

You don’t have to take my word for it either. Better Help once published an article on toxic mothers (that you can read here) that said that two ways to know that you had/have one is if she invalidates your feelings or disrespects your boundaries (whether as a child and/or as an adult) — which, at the end of the day, are basically one and the same. And really, why do you want to have an intimate relationship with anyone who intentionally disrespects you?

And before you try and defend her by saying something along the lines of, “I don’t think she knows that’s what she’s doing” (chile), here’s your way of confirming it: set some firm boundaries now. If she ignores them, is flippant about them, or tries to throw Scriptures at you to devalue them (like in order to honor her, you shouldn’t tell her “no”…which isn’t even remotely biblical) — guess what? She’s disrespecting you. And if you wouldn’t tolerate that from a partner or friend, how does your mother get a pass?

Not only that but, if you keep allowing the disrespect, what makes you think that it’s going to be easy for you to respect other people’s boundaries? And listen, I’m asking you that question from very up close and personal experience. It can’t be said enough that we oftentimes do what’s familiar not what’s right…so, if you want to be respectful of others, including your own children, you have to walk the talk — you have to require that others respect your boundaries so that you can learn how to respect the boundaries of those around you.

If you don’t, it’s easy to invalidate others’ feelings…even if it’s just because you end up (possibly inadvertently) taking your frustrations and feelings of suffocation out on them because you’re so sick and tired of your mother invalidating yours.

Do You Have Some “Healthy Mother” Mentors?


One definition of a bitter person is someone who speaks in gross generalities. One man hurt them and suddenly all men are trash. One friend betrayed them and now they live on an internal island. Their mother was toxic and now they’re afraid to have kids because they assume that they will be just like her.

If this is something that you can personally relate to (especially that last point), something that can help to heal you in the generalities/bitterness department is to surround yourself with some mothers who are more like the mom you wish you had or are like the mom you’d like to be someday. If you don’t, you could “program” yourself into thinking that everyone is like your mother is/was and that simply isn’t the case. Or you could end up acting just like your mom in ways that you actually, well, loathe.

As my own journey goes, my maternal grandmother died in her early 50s and my paternal grandmother couldn’t have been more self-consumed and negative (my dad couldn’t stand her and…on some levels, feared her). Interestingly enough, I had some pretty cool great-grandparents yet I had to look for some older women — women who could be walking proof that some women do provide a “warm and cozy” feel and nurturing environment — to teach me how a grandmother is actually supposed to be.

What that did was keep me from expecting my grandmother (and my paternal grandfather’s wife who also was a real trip) from giving what they either couldn’t or didn’t want to (when it comes to toxic people, it’s usually a bit of both). It kept me from constantly feeling angry, resentful, and like life had full-on gypped me in the grandparenting department.

Is it fair that I had to go looking for emotional surrogates to do what my blood should’ve done all along? Eh, probably not. However, I have stories for days on how “love family” can heal you in the very areas where blood family has done a lot of damage — in ways that you would never dream of…if you’re just willing to do a little seeking and remain open in the process. So yeah, it’s totally worth it to seek out some healthy mom (or grandmom) mentors.

Have You Gone to Any Type of Therapy? If Not, Why Not?


There’s a guy I know who, the more I hear about his childhood, the more confident I am that, not only would therapy help him, but he’s actually repeating certain patterns with his own children because he refuses to get some help. So many people think that so long as they pray and go to church, their childhood trauma will miraculously resolve itself — even though there are verses in the Bible like, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise” (Proverbs 12:15 — NKJV).

Y’all listen: since your mom was probably your greatest influencer and source of information while growing up, in order to break free from whatever dysfunction she handed down to you — shoot, in order to understand what actually was dysfunctional for you — it’s very wise to seek a professional who is trained to help you unpack and process it all.

Another example? I know some older women who are very verbally abusive with their grown children. It’s an occupational hazard for me to “coach folks,” even sometimes when they’re not paying me and so, most of them have told me that their own mother had a very sharp tongue that resulted in them having a sense of low self-worth.

When I ask them if they’ve connected the dots between that and how they speak to their own kids, they will usually say something along the lines of, “I’m not nearly as bad as she was” (umm, you don’t get to decide how you impact another person) and/or “God had delivered me” (umm, not if your kids are telling you that your mouth is off the chain). And when I then mention therapy as a way to make sure that they’re good, they act like I said that they should be institutionalized or something.

You don’t have the time and I don’t have the space to get into how unfortunate it is that so many people within our community have a very unhealthy perspective on therapy. What I will say is, as I’m currently in the process of getting certified to deal with trauma recovery (so that I can take my life coaching to another level), if you want a safe space to deal with your own issues in the area of having a toxic mother as well as be provided with skills to not repeat what you are a survivor of, therapy can help you to do that. It can give you a safe space to speak freely.

It can help you to identify your triggers. It can help you to create beneficial boundaries. It can give you coping skills if you “have to” continue dealing with those who caused you the trauma in the first place. It can also get you on the path of some real healing so that your own children don’t have to bear the brunt of your internalized pain.

I know some people who live by the motto of, “I heal myself” and/or “Church is all I need” — and to both resolves, what I will say is this: If you’re stuck in your pain or inflicting some part of that pain on others, you need to find some other methods of dealing. Therapy has proven benefits, should you decide to go that route.

Go into Your Own Form of “Witness Protection” If Need Be


For years, my friends have teased me about the kind of boundaries that I have. It’s not uncommon for me to change my number often. I can count on less than five fingers how many people have my address. I don’t deal with a lot of people who deal with folks who have dishonored my boundaries in the past — especially if I have made them aware of that being the case.

In fact, when it comes to some of my own family members, I’ve had to release many people who associate with those same individuals because folks keep trying to “fix” what I have no desire to — and they end up violating my boundaries and wishes as they strive to make what they think is best for me more of a priority than what I have already told them I’ve decided to do. Yep, in many ways, removing yourself from toxicity can feel like you’re in your own version of a witness protection program — oh, but it is so well worth it.

Does this mean that going to this kind of extreme won’t cost you? I mean, it’s cost me. There are funerals I have missed. There are people’s emails I’ve ignored. There are places I don’t go to anymore because, if my violators aren’t there, somebody who is friends with them is trying to revictimize me by putting pressure on me to do more work to “fix things” than the person who actually caused the harm in the first place.

Yeah, one day we’ll have to get into what you should do about people who are close to the individuals who’ve harmed you because, oftentimes, they can do a helluva lot more damage than even your abuser did (by the way, enduring a toxic mother is a form of abuse; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise).

You know, one time, when I did an interview about how firm my boundaries are, the person asked me if I was running away from my demons (so to speak) and letting them win by being as private as I am. My response was, “No. Some of the places where I no longer go had a dark energy to begin with. Why keep being in environments where you have to defend or explain your pain to people who are hellbent on defending or explaining why you shouldn’t do what you need to do to heal and move on from it?”

I’m pretty sure you’ve heard the saying, “In order to get something you’ve never had, you have to do something that you’ve never done.” I agree. That’s why I recommend, taking some time to totally disconnect from your toxic mother — even if it’s just for a couple of months. When you’re able to get her voice out of your head, you can hear your own and that can help you to figure out what you need…not what she says that you need. Once you become an adult, she doesn’t get to make those kinds of calls. Once you become an adult, you don’t have to explain why to her either.

Case in point. There’s a life coach in my world who has a horrible relationship with her mother. For months, I made this very recommendation to her and she said that it was too extreme. One day, she hit me up to let me know that her mom went too far with something; in response, she told her that they needed to go a month without speaking. “Shellie, it’s like I can breathe again! That woman had me so on edge all of the time and I realized that it was nothing but fear that prevented me from doing that sooner. That and her always holding, ‘What if I die?’ over my head. She was killing me emotionally and now my husband and kids say that I’m so much easier to be around because she’s not consuming me all of the time.”

You can’t really expect a toxic parent to protect you; if they were able to do that, they probably wouldn’t be considered “toxic” in the first place. As a child, you probably didn’t have any power over your space. As an adult…now you do. And for the sake of yourself and those around you…you should take advantage of that.

This brings me to my final point for today.

Give Those Around You a Voice…About You


If you were looking for my final tip to be that you should forgive your toxic mom, I’m hoping that goes without saying. Indeed, I’m a huge fan of forgiveness (which is why I wrote, “Are You A ‘Bad Forgiver’? Read This And See.”) because, I promise you, that when it comes to dealing with toxic people, while you’re thinking that weaponizing forgiveness is getting back at them, more times than not, they couldn’t care less (they’re too unwell to care). Forgiving them is about releasing the hold that they have on you.

Forgiving them is accepting that the past can’t be changed, no matter how much you wish it could. Forgiving them is about knowing what it can do to your physical, emotional, and spiritual health and well-being if you don’t (and it ain’t good — unforgivingness is so bad for you). And forgiving them is maturing yourself to a point where you can hear from others about places where you could stand to improve — so that you don’t end up becoming just like the source(s) of your pain.

Because here’s the thing: more times than not, your mother was/is toxic because her mom was as well…and quite possibly, the mom before that and the mom before that. And you know what? There’s a good chance that all of them said they wouldn’t do what was done to them when they have kids of their own.

Yet because they didn’t apply any of what I’ve already mentioned and because they didn’t humble themselves to hear where they could stand to personally improve…they just kept repeating the cycle and passing the drama and trauma down. And because everyone involved became some level of human wounds, everyone also became too sensitive to hear about the harm that they are causing others as a direct result. And now everyone and everything is a mess.

Here's the thing about that, though — if you’re indeed serious about not being the kind of mother that you had, there’s something you’ve got to do. You’ve got to be willing to listen to those who may tell you that your temper is short, that you are moody as hell, that you don’t seem to take correction well, that you don’t respect their boundaries or some other habit that would be filed under the definition of being “toxic.”

You’ve got to be willing to look into some dark places that your mother didn’t have the courage (or humility) to. You’ve got to be willing to be corrected by those who love you and want to see you win — because that is a part of the process too. Let those who care about you show you some areas where you could stand to grow and evolve. You won’t always like it; still, it can be a real game-changer and lifesaver, on so many levels; especially when it comes to your children (or future children).


Clearly, this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart (I mean, look at how long it is). And while this doesn’t cover all of the ground of how to not become the kind of toxic mother you had, I hope this article does 1) scratch the surface; 2) remind you that you are not alone and 3) give you some hope that you can end the cycle and become 10 times the mother that you had.

It’s not easy yet it is possible. There are too many women I know who are living proof.

Because they were willing to do the work. The kind of work that’s worth it.

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