11 Signs Of An Emotionally Abusive Mother And How To Cope

Updated June 18, 2024by Regain Editorial Team
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In many cultures, a strong relationship between mother and child is not only normalized, but often expected. While popular media and societal norms tend to push the narrative of an unbreakable bond between children and their mothers, in reality, many of us experience ongoing turmoil surrounding our maternal relationships. 

Oftentimes, we think of abuse from a purely physical standpoint. When a mother or parent mistreats us, we may tell ourselves that the absence of physical violence justifies their actions. In many cases, an emotionally abusive mother will reinforce this sentiment.

Emotional abuse comes in many forms

Due to the often subdued nature of emotional abuse, recognizing and addressing the signs can be extremely difficult, especially if you have been living with the behavior long-term.  Emotional abuse is a form of manipulation and control that can take many forms, from constant criticism and belittling to gaslighting and manipulation.

In many cases, emotional abuse at the hands of a mother or parental figure can have long-lasting effects on your emotional well-being and relationships. In this article, we will explore some of the common signs of an emotionally abusive mother, how they can affect you, and how you can begin the process of healing and establishing healthy boundaries.

11 signs of an emotionally abusive mother

Victims of toxic or emotionally abusive parenting often experience intense emotional hurt that may negatively affect their day-to-day lives and relationships. They may believe they are the ones at fault for their poor relationship with their mothers, or even feel undeserving of love overall. 

A deep sense of discomfort, dread or anxiety surrounding your relationship with your mother may be a sign that your mother exhibits emotionally abusive behavior. The process of identifying a toxic mother or parent can be grueling and painful, but doing so may serve as an initial step toward healing. 


Below are 11 possible signs of an emotionally abusive mother:

Constant criticism and belittling

An emotionally abusive mother may constantly criticize and belittle you, making you feel like you can't do anything right. She may call you names or make hurtful comments about your appearance, abilities, or personality.

Withdrawal or withholding of affection

She may withdraw or withhold affection as a way to control you or punish you, using affection as a reward for good behavior, creating an unhealthy dynamic where you feel like you have to earn love and approval.

Blaming and scapegoating

She may blame you for her problems or use you as a scapegoat for her own mistakes, making you feel responsible for her emotions by blaming her feelings of anger or unhappiness solely on you. 


An emotionally abusive mother may attempt to isolate you from friends and family in an attempt to keep you close to her, or under her control. She may also discourage you from pursuing your own interests or hobbies.

Using threats or intimidation

She might use threats or intimidation to control you when you attempt to stand up to her or refuse to bend to her will. 


She may employ manipulative tactics in order to control you, such as making you feel guilty for things that aren't your fault, or using “emotional blackmail” to get you to do what she wants.


Similar to manipulation, an emotionally abusive mother may use gaslighting as a way to make you question your judgment or perception of reality. In order to do this, she may tell you that you are “imagining” hurtful things she has said or done, or insist that you are misremembering things. 

Undermining confidence and independence 

An emotionally abusive mother may undermine your confidence and self-esteem in an attempt to foster dependence. She may criticize your achievements or accomplishments, pit you against a sibling, or tell you that you'll never be able to succeed on your own.


An emotionally abusive mother may show love and affection one day, then anger and hostility the next for seemingly no reason, creating distrust and making it difficult to know where your relationship stands. 

A lack of empathy

An emotionally abusive mother may be extremely self-centered or seem to believe that she can do no wrong. If you have attempted to address poor treatment from your mother and have been met with anger or hostility in return, this may be a sign.

Refusal to let go of grudges

An emotionally abusive mother may hold tightly to a victim mentality, using things from the past against you in order to guilt trip you when she doesn’t get her way. She may show an unwillingness to let go of incidents that occurred days, months or even years prior.

Growing up with a toxic or narcissistic mother is undoubtedly challenging and oftentimes traumatic. While the process of recognizing emotionally abusive behavior is often difficult, it may lead to the realization that your value is not defined by another person’s toxic behavior, even if that person is your mother. 

Coping with an emotionally abusive parent

Coping with an emotionally abusive mother can be an extremely challenging and painful experience, but it is possible to cope and heal. Typically, the first step toward healing comes from identifying the reality of your mother’s behavior, then learning to accept that your mother’s behavior is no fault of your own.

Emotional abuse comes in many forms

While there are a number of support groups available online for those of us with emotionally abusive or narcissistic parents, the complex and painful nature of growing up with a poor maternal relationship is typically navigated best through therapy and mental health treatment. 

A therapist or mental health professional can often provide individualized guidance in the matters of navigating or healing from a toxic maternal relationship. In many cases, it is possible that online therapy may provide a more accessible, and comfortable option than typical in-person therapy. Additionally, research has proven online therapy to be equally as effective as in-person therapy.


When looking to heal from your relationship with an emotionally abusive mother, it can be important to remember that seeking support is a brave step toward healing. Whether that support comes in the form of therapy, a support group, or trusted loved ones, it's helpful to prioritize your emotional well-being through patience, self-compassion, and the utilization of mental health resources. 

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