Toxic Mothers: These 12 Characteristics Make Them Unbearable

There is only one mother, but sometimes they can cause a lot of discomfort to their children.

Within the family there are all kinds of people who, in certain cases,  can turn education during our first years of life into a very negative experience.

And there is no natural law according to which the relationship with mothers and fathers must be easy. Many times, the context in which it is lived, or hard experiences lived in the past, cause the way in which we interact with some family members to distort. In this case we will talk about a phenomenon that can be known as “toxic mothers”.

How are toxic mothers?

Mothers, because of their traditional role as caregivers that is still preserved in many countries and partly also because of the special bond of attachment that they establish with their children during breastfeeding, are a fundamental element in this aspect, and their influence on the parenting is usually more decisive than that of parents. 

Those toxic mothers who are toxic voluntarily or involuntarily and who, moved by love or self-interest,  transform the education of some people into an ordeal, can leave a mark on the people raised by them.

These are people who establish a negative bond with their sons or daughters, to the point of making actions that in principle can be based on love and affection become a strap that limits the freedom and well-being of others.

Despite what it may seem, the responsibility that the relationship is not good does not have to lie entirely with the mother. Relationships are two-way roads, and as bad as a bond may seem, many times the two people involved could be doing something to improve it.

Now, what characterizes toxic mothers is that, although sometimes they are not the culprits of the bad relationship 100%, the sacrifice of having to carry this relationship can be such a heavy burden for the sons or daughters that, despite being able to find ways to improve the situation, that option is unaffordable, because it would require suffering much for a longer time. Therefore, many times the situation leads to loss of contact.

Voluntarily or involuntarily toxic mothers: their characteristics

Knowing how to identify the cases in which someone behaves like a toxic mother is very important to put a stop to the situation and make this adult re-learn to educate properly. 

 These are some of the signs that can be helpful in identifying them. Not all of them have to happen at the same time, but they do offer a guideline for their behavior.

1. Fixation with gender roles

Some mothers are toxic because they feel they must pass on to their daughters the cultural legacy of what being a woman is supposed to represent. That is why, inadvertently, they will pressure their daughters to adopt a submissive attitude towards men and to see household chores as their responsibility (regardless of their actual preferences). 

Normally, extremely conservative toxic father figures do not care so much about educating their daughters in this regard, but leave this task to mothers.

2. The illusion of “prince charming”

A problem derived from the previous one is that  toxic mothers with a very conservative profile educate their daughters in the idea that they will not be happy without a man by their side.  

In this way, they are educated to feel sadness and regret if for whatever reason they are single for a time that they deem excessive, and they become involved in relationships simply to escape singleness.

3. Controlling personality

This is a characteristic of toxic mothers that is reflected in the way they educate their sons and daughters. In these cases, mothers tend to assume that as a mother figure they should have the maximum responsibility for the education of their sons and daughters, to the point that the latter have no decision-making capacity about what they do. 

Of course, it is a very harmful idea that fuels a relationship dynamic in which any choice must go through the mother, leaving the little ones without the possibility of learning to be autonomous and learn from their successes and mistakes.

4. The projection on the sons and daughters

This is a characteristic shared by both toxic mothers and their male counterparts:  the tendency to believe that their offspring will become the “ideal self” that they never became. That is why, at times, many parents point their children to such a number of extracurricular activities that the latter end up exhausted and without time or desire to dedicate to what they really like.

Furthermore, as toxic mothers and toxic fathers perceive their offspring always bearing in mind the fact that they belong to a generation, they consider this as a race against time: they want to make their children perfect in the shortest possible time. For this reason, sometimes they begin to “train” certain capacities of these when they are very young, before 7 or 8 years, and they force them to continue practicing throughout the years.

5. Mistrusting friends

Some toxic parents can assume so much the role of protective woman that they prohibit their sons and daughters from making friends with people they consider suspicious, even for their simple appearance. This, of course,  produces intense frustration in children, who can learn that friendships are secret, thus creating a fence between the circle of friends and the family that in adult life can lead to the isolation of the latter.

Furthermore, in some cases, the criteria by which it is established that a friend is acceptable becomes a sign of racism, thereby instilling this discriminatory mental scheme in their offspring from their early years.

6. Passive-aggressive attitude

Toxic mothers do not adapt to the fact that the way they try to educate is totally rejected, and they will continue to try to behave as in the beginning, without learning from experience. 

What does usually change is their mood, which tends to become that of a frustrated person who refuses to change strategies to see if better results are obtained. Normally, in these cases, the help of another person is necessary so that these mothers see with perspective that their discomfort can be mitigated by trying new things.

7. Indifference

There are mothers who, instead of being controlling, are the exact opposite. On many occasions they disguise as permissiveness what in reality is indifference or little desire to manage clashes of interests between them and the children. 

The result of this is usually children who present the Emperor Syndrome and, as adults, defenseless people in adult life, who easily fall into frustration and with low tolerance to anxiety-generating situations.

8. Overprotection

Overprotection has a lot to do with the controlling personality, but it occurs through the fear that the sons or daughters face the challenges of adult life. This way of relating to the sons and daughters gives incentives not to take the initiative and stay within the comfort zone.

9. Competitive mindset

This is another of the characteristic features of toxic mothers that have to do with projection; In this case, an attempt is made to show to everyone that one’s own sons or daughters are better than those of the rest, either by buying them more things, putting more pressure on them to study, etc.This may have to do with the fear that children are unprotected in their adult and independent life, but it is psychologically exhausting. 

The important thing is that it is not done to satisfy the real needs of the little ones, but to achieve social status through them.

10. Habitual use of violence to punish

The habitual use of methods of punishment based on violence, whether physical or verbal through insults, is one of the most harmful phenomena that can occur in the family. Not only does it cause suffering in the specific moments when it is involved, but it also fuels distrust, resentment and fear.

11. Parental alienation

The act of trying to turn the children against a family member, usually the other parent after a separation or divorce, is one of the forms of manipulation with the most serious consequences. Of course, it can occur in both fathers and mothers.

12. The meddling

Even within families, privacy is important. Not knowing how to respect that generates a lot of discomfort in the long run.

Bibliographic references:

  • Bowlby, J. (1977). The making and breaking of affectional bonds. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 130 (3): pp. 201 – 210.
  • Fassin, Eric. (2002). La nature de la maternite: pour une anthropologie de la reproduction. Journal of anthropologues.
  • Fehr, B., Russell, J. (1991). The Concept of Love Viewed From a Prototype Perspective. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
  • Peusner, Pablo (2009). Criticism of the notion of family in The Suffering of Children. Letter Viva, Buenos Aires.

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