Every mother-daughter relationship has its bump in the road. As we grow older, it may become increasingly difficult to be on the same page with our mothers. But if your relationship with your mom is one based on emotional manipulation, anger, hurtful and negative feelings, then it toxic. Most times, we find it difficult to recognize this toxicity owing to how used we are to them. These traits below will help us identify toxic maternal behavior [1].

“A mother’s role is to provide unconditional love, safety and support” – Kate Hershenson

8 Varieties Of Toxic Maternal Behavior

1. Blaming and Shaming
Often characterized by dress-downs in front of other people or, attributing a simple mishap to the daughter’s flawed nature, blaming and shaming result into self-criticism which may last into adulthood unless it is recognized and addressed.

2. Guilt- Tripping
Ever heard the after ‘all I’ve done for you’ phrase usually accompanied by tears?

This is your mother playing the victim. It is a systematic way of reinforcing guilt. Although it has its roots in the daughter’s childhood, it is used in greater effect in the daughter’s adulthood especially when she is trying to enforce boundaries.

3. Playing the Comparison Game
To maintain control over her children, toxic mothers manipulate their need to be favored. Although Parental Differential Treatment(PDT), as it is called, happens in loving and healthy families, it is usually not deliberate. Toxic moms, on the other hand, consciously and deliberately employs this tactic.

4. Covert Or Passive Aggression
A toxic mother may display covert aggression toward her child. As revealed in a study by Patrick T. Davies, adolescents exposed to the covert type of parental conflict were aggressive, prone to breaking rules and had trouble regulating behaviors like paying attention in class.

5. Gaslighting
An insidious form of control, gaslighting leads its victims to question what they know about themselves and what they know to be true. Gaslighting a child is easy because parents are authority figures whose decisions and versions of happenings are not to be questioned, however, it is extremely damaging to a child as it hurts their sense of self-worth and identity.

6. Marginalizing or Mocking You
This is another variety of toxic maternal behavior. Psychologist Tanisha M. Ranger explains [2], “Often times when we are dealing with toxic people, we can’t put our finger on [what went wrong, but] conversations with them always seem to end with us feeling badly in some way.”

Mocking a child’s thoughts and feelings can cause self-doubt and loss of self-confidence. Even in adulthood, no one likes being told that their opinion is ‘stupid’ or ‘silly’.

7. Scapegoating
Uncomfortable feelings such as envy, shame, guilt, and insecurity are redirected or displaced onto another, often more vulnerable person. While it may be convenient for the mother, the effects on the daughter can be devastating.

8. Stonewalling
Aggressive stonewalling is a common tactic toxic mothers employ to ensure they dominate or control their daughters. Cold shoulder, silence, and emotional isolation are painful for both a child and an adult, especially when coming from a parent [3].

Creating boundaries

Recognizing these behaviors and their effects on you will help you reassess and decide on whether or not to continue to be a part of it.


  1. 8 Types of Toxic Mama Drama You Need to Recognize“, Psychology Today. May, 2019.
  2. 11 Surprising Signs Your Mom Is Toxic — And What To Do About It“, Bustle. February, 2018.
  3. How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Relationship“, Psychology Today. December, 2012.
  4. The Multiple Faces of Interparental Conflict: Implications for Cascades of Children’s Insecurity and Externalizing Problems“, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, PubMed. July, 2016.
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