How A Toxic Mom Can Affect You As An Adult, According To Experts
As a child, you might not have realized how deeply having a toxic mom affected you. But now that you're an adult, you might recognize subtle, lingering issues that are a result of your childhood. According to experts, there are a number of ways that this can have lasting effect long into adulthood. But rather than trying to just work through these issues on your own, it's really best to turn to other people who can help and support you as you heal.
"Confronting a toxic parent is often best done after therapy in which processing the relationship, one’s needs, and elements of emotional safety of confronting can be thoroughly discussed," Brittany Bouffard, LCSW, CYT, a psychotherapist who specializes in relationships and healing, tells Bustle. "Confronting a toxic parent is different than a typical confrontation with someone who is healthy enough to hear your concerns. No surprise, but a toxic parent will likely push the boundaries you set, deny the hurt they’ve caused, and not offer sound, lasting change." Whether you have experience with therapy or not, this kind of professional support can be incredibly helpful in navigating this new chapter of your life.
Here are some subtle ways that growing up with a toxic mom can affect you as an adult, according to experts.
1. Not Trusting Yourself
"Children need to learn to trust themselves, and when they're taught that what they see, hear, and feel isn't real, this can lead to a lifetime of struggle with self-trust, caused by self-doubt," Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, MFT, ATR, a licensed psychotherapist and owner of Create Your Life Studio, tells Bustle. "Children who grow up with a gaslighting mother lose the ability to trust their own perceptions, to trust their own bodily cues, and to make clear decisions based on their own somatic experience."
If you have a hard time trusting yourself as an adult, spend some time intentionally listening to your body's cues. If you can't tell whether you're feeling anxious about a situation, for example, tune in to whether your palms are sweating, your heartbeat is faster than usual, or your stomach feels queasy.
2. Trouble Sharing Your Feelings
If you grew up with a toxic mom, you might now be worried about expressing yourself emotionally. "If your mother frequently suggests, states, or makes you feel as though your feelings and reactions are overdramatic, out of proportion, or unnecessary, and minimizes and invalidates them, you may be dealing with a gaslighter," Scott-Hudson says. This effect can be especially strong for you in adulthood if your mom has invalidated your feelings ever since you were a child.
This is probably a good time to bring in a third party, who can help you learn to open up in a healthy way. A trusted friend or partner might be able to help you share what you're feeling, but for some extra support, you could always speak with a therapist.
3. Difficulty With Healthy Relationships
Are you someone who finds yourself drawn to toxic partners? Do you have a hard time maintaining healthy relationships? If you had a toxic mom growing up, your current relationship difficulties could be a result of that.
"It can be difficult for adults to form and sustain healthy relationships growing up with a toxic mom," Vanessa Watson-Hill, LCSW, owner of a psychotherapy practice specializing in caregiving and parent issues, tells Bustle. "Toxic moms are often emotionally unavailable to model healthy relationships for their children."
Now that you're on your own, you might find that you can't effectively communicate or identify your needs in relationships. This is not an issue that you want to try to resolve on your own.
"It’s important for adult children to seek the help of a licensed mental health professional with a toxic mom," Watson-Hill says. "A therapist can help adults gain understanding, and tools to start establishing healthy boundaries to experience healthier relationships."
4. Doubting Your Value
As a child, your toxic mom might have made you feel like you were never quite good enough. But even as an adult, her impact can be lasting.
"Having a toxic mom can make us doubt our own value as a person," Shannon Thomas, LCSW, a certified trauma therapist and author of Healing from Hidden Abuse, tells Bustle. "This level of uncertainty happens because toxic mothers send the message our decisions, opinions, and core personhood are wrong."
If you're having a hard time recognizing your incredible worth, be sure to surround yourself with people who love you. While understanding that you have value might take a mental health professional's guidance, walking through life with people who care for you beside you can help you feel validated.
5. Being Indicisive
If you're the kind of person who can't decide whether to choose ice cream or cake for dessert, you might assume that your indecisiveness is just one of your innate qualities. It might be, but it can also be an effect of growing up with a toxic mother.
"Having a toxic mom will impact our decision-making skills," Thomas says. "Indecisiveness becomes a regular part of our adult life. We subconsciously fear making mistakes."
When you have trouble making up your mind about something, you might want to try asking yourself what the stakes are. If you're deciding between something big, like whether to move or not or whether to switch jobs, it might be worth taking your time to consider your options. But if your dilemma is something that won't affect your life in the grand scheme of things, try just going with your gut.
6. Tension With Siblings
If you're an only child, you don't have to worry about maintaining healthy relationships with your siblings as an adult. But if there's one or more of you, growing up with a toxic mom can have a lasting effect on how you interact, even to this day.
"A toxic mom will triangulate our siblings and create tension in the relationships," Thomas says. "This is done so she can maintain control over her children."
Every group of siblings has its share of squabbles, but if your differences seem more intense than most, take some time to talk about your experiences with your mom. If you voice your concerns clearly to each other, you and your siblings might be able to grow closer and overcome childhood tensions.
7. Lack Of Identity
Folks who had a toxic parent in their childhood generally grow up wondering who they are. "Much of a toxic mother's focus is on herself, not the growth and emotional support of her child," Bouffard says. "And while many adult children believe that their past is simply in their past, their experience has impact on who they are regarding self-worth and enough-ness."
Maybe you were so concerned with pleasing your mom growing up that you made choices simply to gain her approval, not to develop your own sense of self. If your relationship with your mom is making it difficult for you to become your own person, it might be time to set some healthy boundaries with her.
8. Not Being In Touch With Your Emotions
Are you someone who's very in tune with your feelings? Or do you have trouble recognizing your own emotions? People who grew up with a toxic mom might need some help with getting in touch with themselves.
"They may have taken care of their toxic parent’s extreme needs or intense emotional states in such a daily way that they don’t really know what healthy emotions are within themselves," Bouffard says. "Many adult children have suppressed their own feelings because there wasn’t enough room essentially while growing up, since their parent’s emotions were so big."
Work with a mental health professional to re-learn the healthy ways to feel emotions and to deal with them. This will both improve your relationship with yourself and your ability to connect with the people in your life.
If you grew up with a toxic mom, there's no need to try to deal with the effects on your own. Turn to your friends and therapist to help you reach a place where you're truly flourishing.