Is It Okay To Stop Talking To My Toxic Mother?

Updated October 13, 2021

Many children—whether grown adults or younger— have a healthy relationship with their mother, but some people have a parent who makes them feel inadequate, worthless, or like they did something horrible. If your relationship with your mother sounds like that, you may have a toxic parent.

The term “toxic” indicates poisonous or dangerous. When combined with the word “parent,” it means that your mom’s or dad’s words or behaviors are unhealthy for your emotional wellbeing. When you realize you have toxic people in your life, you may wonder how to manage the relationships. 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, there can be complexities, attachments, and history that 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.

If you are experiencing distress or difficulties in any relationship—or if you or a loved one has any mental health concern—please know that help is available. For compassionate, effective support and therapy, you can conveniently connect with licensed mental health professionals at BetterHelp.

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What is a Toxic Person?

There is not a single definition for what a toxic person is. Basically, 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 aren’t able to 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 towards 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.

What does a toxic mother-child relationship look like?

Each relationship is as unique as the people in it. While a toxic mother does not have a single definition or official diagnosis, she likely makes you feel guilty, fearful, or bad about yourself. Her behaviors aren’t isolated incidents, but form a pattern that may have these traits:

  1. She is constantly critical of you.
  2. She makes you feel guilty.
  3. She does not respect your emotions—or she invalidates them or dismisses them.
  4. She humiliates you.
  5. She is passive-aggressive.
  6. She ignores boundaries.
  7. She considers you her friend, but it’s one-sided, and she may be overdependent on you.
  8. She puts her own needs over your wellbeing.
  9. She lacks empathy for you.

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Ways to cope with a toxic parent-child relationship:

  1. 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 to her about how you feel. Toxic people are typically not self-aware. However, communication may be a starting point for you to break negative patterns. 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 being prepared so that you don’t get 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 put an end to me feeling bad.” If she still displays her harmful behaviors, remove yourself from the situation. This is an example of a healthy boundary.
  2. 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 and hang up the phone or move to another room. Speaking up for yourself consistently and persistently can be challenging and 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 the time you spend 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 areas that are most harmful to you 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.
  5. Keep your distance, emotionally and physically. You can limit what and when you share with your mother.
  6. Be prepared for your mother’s response and plan ahead of time how you’ll handle it. Your mother might cry, guilt or shame you, shout, or threaten. 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 try taking a pause from the relationship
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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. While disengaging from a parent-child relationship can be emotional, challenging, and sad, protecting your mental health and wellbeing is not selfish or mean; it’s a necessity. If a toxic parent is significantly affecting your mental health or negatively impacting your healthy relationships (such as those with a spouse, partner, or your own children), no longer having contact with them may become the right thing to do.

Handling family gatherings: If you have made the difficult decision 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 to you, you can still attend and even 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, give yourself permission not to and avoid feeling guilty. You can give a polite no. Expressing yourself firmly and simply can leave no room for misinterpretation. On the other hand, saying “maybe” or giving lengthy explanations leaves the door open for more interactions and possibly more negative exchanges.

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 a necessity, a short email may be the least confrontational way to get in touch. If the toxic parent lives near you and unexpectedly shows up, you can try to keep interactions to a minimum and to avoid getting drawn in by simply say that you aren’t available or need to leave.

Control What You Can Control:

When you’re dealing with a toxic relationship, it’s important to stay calm and firm during interactions and to remember that you are not at fault, nor are you 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. Please reach out for help—compassionate and effective therapy is available through ReGain. A licensed therapist can help you create healthy boundaries and take care of yourself.

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