Family relationships between siblings can become toxic

8 things poisonous mothers have in common

Source: Photo by Eli Difaria. Copyright free. Unsplash.

Not so long ago I received the following message from a reader:

"Well, I did. After a year of no contact I felt down and I called my mom and she sounded happy to talk. So I got amnesia right away and went to see her on Saturday. How could I have been so clueless?" didn't take more than 15 minutes to become the same old as the old. Did she memorize a script? I left after an hour, completely scaled down. Am I more than stupid or did someone else do that? "

If you're curious about how I answered, I told her that it happens so often that I actually have a sentence for it in my letter: Back to the well. The phrase conveys the inequality between what you know intellectually - that the well is dry - and what you emotionally desperately want, which is a well of motherly love that is replenished and flowing. If you've found yourself setting boundaries and then tearing them down, having too little or no contact, and then re-establishing communication only to be confronted with the same scripts, you know you are not alone. When there is help, I've been doing it for almost 20 years between the ages of 20 and 40. Research has shown that this back and forth - escaping your mother's orbit and then coming back - is more typical than not.

The bigger problem is that your mom wrote a script and you're a bit of a gamer. Yes, there is a writer / director and she owns the stage.

Power and the mother-daughter relationship

Understandably, we believe, since we prefer to believe in the universality of maternal love - a myth that pervades culture shyly away from the inherent power of a parent and the possibility of abuse of power; We like to see mothers as benevolent and caring rulers, guardians of a peaceful kingdom, but this is not always the case. As Deborah Tannen wrote so forcefully in her book, You wear that Mothers and daughters in conversation, A parent not only creates the world a child lives in, but also determines how it is to be interpreted. As young children, we understand what goes on in our families - things that are said and done, how people act and react - because our mothers interpret for us.

And not surprisingly, interactions and behaviors - including abusive and toxic ones - are normalized. As children, we assume that every household is quite similar to ours, and the realization that other families function differently can slowly come. In addition, this recognition may well go hand in hand with our continued acceptance of the situation in our family. We justify our mothers yelling at us: we're bad, or too sloppy, or not listening. We accept being called names because we mistakenly believe that these words reflect who we are - "difficult", "lazy", "disobedient", "stupid". We think that our brothers or sisters are treated differently from us because they are good, admirable, and lovable and we are not.

Detection occurs at the rate of molasses, not lava.

Adulthood and the core conflict

Most unloved daughters believe that adulthood will free them from the pain of being unloved, as I certainly have; It is a great surprise to move into the bigger world and leave her childhood room, doing little to suppress either the pain or the lingering need for her mother's love and support. I call this “the core conflict” in my book. Daughter Detox: the conflict between the daughter's growing appreciation of how she was wounded by her mother and her hunger for her mother's approval and love. As long as the daughter remains in conflict, she is more likely to normalize, explain, or utterly refuse treatment to her mother and do everything possible to suppress her perception of her mother's behavior. This is the part I call the "dance of denial".

By the way, this dance can last for years or as long as the daughter remains in conflict. I have readers who have been in conflict for six and seven decades of their lives.

8 common types of maternal toxic behaviors

Keep in mind that once you get used to them, you may be prevented from recognizing these behaviors as toxic. The metaphor I always use is that of the pile of boots and shoes left out the door in winter. It doesn't take long to get so used to seeing the pile that you no longer notice it, and sadly, abuse really isn't any different. To keep the peace, go with to get along, or if you are still not sure how to deal with your family situation, you can openly rationalize your behavior and say, “She doesn't really mean it "Or" It's just the way it is. “You may be encouraged by other family members to do just that, if you don't rock the boat and keep the status quo.

That said, these are all abusive and toxic behaviors. Don't make a mistake.

1. Shame and guilt

This can begin in childhood by turning small mishaps into scale disguises in front of other people, or simply blaming the daughter for her mistake by attributing it to her faulty nature; Shame is very personal and is usually expressed as "you always" or "you never". Done often enough, these messages are internalized by the child in the form of self-criticism, the habit of the mind ascribing mistakes or failures to fixed character defects; This habit becomes a permanent part of adulthood until it is recognized and addressed.

Many studies show that primarily self-criticism and poor mental health depression go hand in hand.

2. Guilt tripping

This is the mother who plays the victim and the child who is reminded of how dilapidated she is, mostly after "everything" the mother has done for her. While it has its roots in the daughter's childhood, it is used even more heavily in the daughter's adulthood, especially when trying to set boundaries or regulate contact with her parents. "Adele's" experience, as she related, is reminiscent of many others:

"Every time I talk back or try to say something about her malice, she hangs up. Within a few days, I hear from someone else in the family - maybe my aunt, father, or cousin - that my mother is sick is and distraught, and it's my fault. The messenger then criticizes me for my cruelty and lays the foundation for my mother's "poor me" saga. It's crazy. And yes, part of me always feels guilty. Also when I know that it is me Will be played. "

Adele's story is fairly typical because the guilt is compounded by cultural expectations and a biblical commandment. It's easy to squeeze.

3. Play the comparison game

Family favoriteism isn't just limited to Drama Queen's mothers. It is often enough even in healthy and loving families that parental differential treatment has an acronym for ease - PDT. But PDT is usually not deliberate, even though it affects the children in the family; sometimes it has to do with the mother's own "adaptability" to one child rather than another (she finds it easier to deal with a child whose personality is more like hers, for example) or is more comfortable with a child who needs less support than one who needs more (or vice versa).

The poisonous mother plays favorites to maintain control over her children - to manipulate their need for preference - and to shape the relationship between and between siblings. It's conscious and deliberate and usually streamlined. (She mercilessly criticizes you so that you don't become too full of yourself. She compares you to your siblings to motivate you, etc.) By the way, being an only child does not set you free; There are always cousins, neighbors, or even celebrities who make a negative comparison ("Why don't you like her anymore? Why can't you make me proud of who her mom is?").

4. Covert or Passive Aggression

The mother can passively or covertly show aggression towards her child - most of the behaviors listed here do not involve screaming or screaming - but I included this because children's development is directly related to how parents interact with each other and with other family members. A longitudinal study by Patrick T. Davies and colleagues examined children at three intervals - kindergarten, second and seventh grade - and compared the effects of overt and covert interparent conflicts at different ages. The differences were instructive and should be kept in mind when considering how your parents worked out their differences and how that might have affected you.

While children exposed to overt hostility, including verbal anger, stone walls, nonverbal anger, and physical aggression, internalized symptoms in the second grade and demonstrated behavioral deregulation and the avoidance of conflict, the children exposed to covert hostility externalized theirs Symptoms in the same interval and were emotionally reactive and involved in conflict. The young adolescents exposed to open hostility continued to internalize themselves through seventh grade and were also anxiously withdrawn, had trouble sleeping, and were depressed. The adolescents exposed to the more covert parental conflict had problems regulating behaviors such as paying attention in class, were aggressive and tended to break rules.

5. Gas lighting

While it's usually associated with adult relationships, the sad truth is that parents also set their children on fire with gas. A child's gas light is incredibly simple and terribly effective because parents are authority figures in every way and if they tell you something didn't happen, you are very likely to believe it. (I might have been the exception to the rule because I knew by the age of 6 or 7 that my memory of events or things that had been said was okay, thank you very much. Unfortunately, it had the effect of turning me on make me think that either my mom or I were crazy and the idea that I might be crazy was absolutely terrifying.)

Gas light is extremely harmful to a child who, in the best of all possible worlds, should learn to trust their emotions and thoughts and improve their reading skills to other people. Instead, gas light works like a machete. Cut down their early efforts and instead replace self-doubt and guilt. This was Robyn's experience:

"My mother would make promises, break them and tell me she never made them. I now know the gas light is on. If my brother hit me, she would accuse me of inciting him, and then, if I did protested, she'd say it was my fault. That's gas light too. Or she'd just deny anything happened. Period. She'd stand in the kitchen with her hands on hips and call me a wild or ask you why I was a liar. Impressive. Therapy gave me eyes. "

The good news with parental gas light - as opposed to partner gas light - is that getting older helps you see it.

6. Marginalize or ridicule you

Highly controlled mothers or narcissistic traits orchestrate relationships between and among the children in the family - that's part of what preference is about - but making one child the butt of family ridicule is another way to reconcile everyone. Mocking a child's feelings or thoughts, either through words or contemptuous gestures such as rolling eyes or laughing, is not only cruel but abusive and helps them develop self-doubt and even self-loathing.

Even in adulthood, being told that your opinion is silly or stupid, or that "Nobody cares what you think" is all about power and manipulation and should not be excused or tolerated. Caring for someone means mutual respect.

7. Scapegoat

In my opinion, the most resonant observation on the scapegoat was offered by Gary Gemmill, who found that the presence of a scapegoat enables a group or family and its members to believe that they are healthier than they really are. When you have someone to blame - be it a permanent or a rotating role - you can imagine that things would be perfect if that one person weren't there. The scapegoat enables the mother, who is in control and has to polish her image, to have a ready-made and reassuring explanation on hand. No wonder narcissistic mothers rely on it.

8. Stonewalling

Acting as if someone hadn't spoken and refused to answer is a direct way of expressing extreme contempt. While it is humiliating and painful as an adult, it is utterly devastating to a child, especially from a parent. One reader shared her experience:

"The silent treatment when my mother did it was terrifying; it could go on for days, which is pretty much an eternity when you are six or seven years old. She would look through you like you weren't there and feel It Pretending to be out of the world. I did what I couldn't to anger her and keep me out of her line of sight. I said little and did less because I was scared. Panic attacks When a teacher called me, he started in high school and it was a therapist who linked me with fear of speaking or asserting myself about my mom's treatment when I got into college. "

Once you understand these behaviors and how they affect you, you need to figure out how to set boundaries for your mother. Abuse is not okay.

Facebook photo credit: Aaron Amat / Shutterstock


Fir trees, Deborah. You wear that Mothers and daughters in conversation. New York: Ballantine, 2006.

Gemmill, Gary. "The dynamic of the scapegoat in small groups, Small group research (November 1989), Vol. 20 (4), pp. 406-418.

Cummings, E. Mark, Melissa R. W. George, Kathleen P. McCoy, and Patrick T. Davies, "Interparental Conflict in Kindergarten and Adolescent Adjustment: Prospective Examination of Emotional Security as an Explanatory Mechanism". Development of the child (2012), 83 (5), 1703-1715.

Davies, Patrick T., Rochelle Hentges, Jesse L. Coe, Meredith J. Martin, Melissa L. Sturge-Apple, and E. Mark Cummins. ” Journal of Abnormal Psychology (2016), 125 (5), 664.-678.