Is It Okay To Stop Talking To My Toxic Mother?

Updated April 1, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

Many people have a healthy relationship with their mothers, but this is not always true. Some people have a parent who makes them feel inadequate, worthless, or like everything they do is wrong. If this sounds like your relationship, you may have a toxic mother.

The term “toxic” indicates something poisonous or dangerous. While this article focuses on toxic mothers, any relationships in your life can be toxic. 

A toxic mother is unhealthy for your emotional well-being, and you may wonder how to manage the relationship. You may even ask, “Is it okay to stop talking to my toxic mother?” The answer, in short, is yes. But with a parent-child relationship, complexities, attachments, and history can make cutting a parent out of your life challenging. Learning more about toxic relationships and how to cope with them can help you navigate challenges.

Toxic relationships can be difficult to manage

What is a toxic person?

There is not a single definition of what a toxic person is. A toxic person tears you down and causes you pain and doubt. There are some commonly-accepted characteristics of people who are considered toxic:

  1. Manipulation: You feel like they are manipulating or controlling you.
  2. A goal to confuse you: Their behavior confuses you and leaves you wondering where you stand with them.
  3. Sparking feelings of discomfort: You don’t feel comfortable around them.
  4. Fueling self-loathing: You feel bad about yourself when you’re around them.
  5. Prompting defensiveness: You feel like you have to defend yourself when you’re with them.
  6. Critical: You may feel constantly criticized by them.
  7. Guilt-trippers: They may make you feel guilty for no valid reason.
  8. Passive-aggressive: They may be passive-aggressive, making thinly veiled microaggressions toward you.
  9. Dismissive: They may dismiss your emotions or feelings.
  10. Humiliating: They may make you feel humiliated.
  11. Crossing boundaries: They may ignore personal boundaries.
  12. Lacking warmth: They may withhold love, affection, or approval.

Ways to cope with a toxic parent-child relationship

How does one work with a toxic parent? Here are some of the most common ways: 

Try an open, honest conversation, but manage your expectations

If your mother engages in toxic behavior, she may not be receptive to your genuine communication about how you feel. Toxic people are typically not self-aware. However, communication may be a starting point for you to break negative patterns. That's especially true if you don't hate your mom and want to save the relationship. You might start by letting her know that you need time to talk and for her to listen without interrupting. Let her know how you feel. Try using “I” statements. If she responds by making you feel guilty or with anger or tears, try to avoid getting drawn into the negative emotions. You can try to end the conversation and the interaction rather than get into an argument, be sent on a guilt trip, or begin second-guessing yourself. You can also try using compassion by saying something like, “I recognize this might be hard to hear. My intention is not to hurt you but to heal our relationship and end my feeling bad.” If she still displays her harmful behaviors, remove yourself from the situation. This is an example of a healthy boundary.

Consider confrontation, but—again—manage your expectations

Each time your mother criticizes or manipulates you, for instance, you might try simply saying, “I feel like you’re criticizing me. Please stop. Now let’s move forward.” If she pursues the conversation or dismisses your feelings, you can say goodbye, hang up the phone, or move to another room. Speaking up for yourself consistently and persistently can be challenging. It will likely come with backlash from a toxic person, but if it’s tolerable for you, it may be a way to change the power dynamic.

Try using “detached contact” 

With detached contact, you can try being physically present but emotionally unavailable to a toxic person. It can take practice, but you might be able to deflect attempts by a toxic parent to engage you.

Set strict and clear limits and boundaries

Try making it clear that if your mother behaves in a certain way or does certain things, you won’t tolerate it and will limit your time with her. A toxic parent is likely to push back—after all, they are probably in the habit of ignoring your boundaries—so you will likely need to be strong, firm, and consistent, even when she pushes the limits. What you choose to limit is personal, but identifying the most dangerous areas may be most helpful. Examples of limits include letting your mother know that if she criticizes you (or your spouse or child, for instance), you’ll end the conversation. Another example is letting your parent know that certain topics are completely off-limits for discussion.

Keep your distance, emotionally and physically

You can limit what and when you are with your mother.

Be prepared for your mother’s response and plan how you’ll handle it

Your mother might cry, guilt or shame you, shout, or threaten you. She might try to engage others to “take her side.” How will you react? Deciding ahead of time can help you avoid getting drawn into more toxicity.

Regularly reevaluate

If a parent continues to disrespect your boundaries or still engages in toxic behavior, you may need to pause the relationship.

When (and how) to stop having contact with a toxic parent

When communication and setting boundaries don’t work, it may be time to take a break from interacting with a toxic parent. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll cut ties forever, and you don’t need to make that decision right away.

Reconciliation may be possible, or you may be able to find closure and healing in other ways. If a toxic parent significantly affects your mental health or negatively impacts your healthy relationships (such as those with a spouse, partner, or children), no longer having contact with them may become the right thing to do.

Handling family gatherings

If you have decided to stop talking to a toxic parent, you don’t necessarily need to avoid family gatherings or withdraw from positive relationships with other relatives. If family gatherings are important, you can still attend and enjoy them. You might need to prepare yourself for some awkwardness and discomfort—and you might need an escape plan if a toxic parent’s behavior becomes intolerable—but you don’t need to cut yourself off from things you want to do. However, if you don’t want to go, avoid feeling guilty about it. You can give a polite but firm no. Expressing yourself firmly and simply can leave no room for misinterpretation.

Avoiding interactions and coping with unexpected encounters

A toxic parent may be very persistent once you’ve withdrawn from the relationship. Making yourself unavailable might be necessary. Screening calls and texts can be wise. If communication is necessary, a short email may be the least aggressive way to contact. If the toxic parent lives near you and unexpectedly shows up, you can try to keep interactions to a minimum and avoid getting drawn in by saying that you aren’t available or need to leave.

Online therapy can help

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Toxic relationships can be difficult to manage

When dealing with a toxic relationship, it’s essential to stay calm and firm during interactions and remember that you are not at fault or responsible for others’ actions or feelings. You can’t control anyone else, just yourself. You deserve to be treated with respect.

The parent-child bond can be one of the strongest in life. Even if a parent is toxic, separating from them may lead to a sense of loss or sadness because things were not as you wished they would be. Be sure to take care of yourself emotionally. A licensed mental health professional can be an excellent resource to help you heal and navigate relationship challenges, supporting you as you create healthy boundaries and care for yourself.

Online therapy is a convenient and effective way to seek treatment. You can attend sessions from anywhere you have an internet connection and don’t have to worry about commuting to an office or being on a waiting list. When you sign up, you’re matched with a licensed counselor who is available to start helping you right away.

One review of 14 studies found that online therapy is just as effective as in-person treatment. If you’re having trouble dealing with a toxic mother or another toxic person in your life, please reach out for help—compassionate and effective therapy is available through Regain

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It can be hard to overcome the effects of having a toxic mother. If you feel ready to take the necessary but difficult step of cutting ties, online therapy can support you as you navigate this decision.

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