How to Set Boundaries With a Toxic Mother

How to Set Boundaries With a Toxic Mother

Written by heidimcguirk

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December 9, 2021

If you have a relationship with a toxic mom, you know exactly how painful that is. Especially when we have society telling us how we are supposed to deal with our mom. Oh, well, that’s your mom. Oh my God. You’re not talking to your mom. Well, you’re thinking about not talking to your mother. You only have one mother. Oh my gosh, that must be so hurtful to her. You get the opinions of other people around you and how we are portrayed as mothers. Mothers are portrayed in this society that; how dare you actually think about taking a stand. What’s wrong with you? Maybe you’re the problem? Maybe you’re the toxic one. Maybe you’re the narcissist.


In fact, your mom might have even said that to you in a moment where she was feeling like you were taking control of your life and it was all about you and not about her anymore, that she projected that image onto you. I can’t tell you how many students and clients I have, walk into my programs and tell me and wonder, am I the fucked up one? Am I toxic? Am I a narcissist? Very rarely does a narcissist come into a coaching program and wonder if they’re the narcissist. They’re not coming into coaching programs, number one and they’re certainly not asking that question, number two.


It can be really confusing. Is my mom toxic? Is this normal? Is this even dysfunctional? Do I have a right not to wanna talk to her anymore? How do I say this so everybody’s okay? How do I deal with my siblings’ opinions around this? Do I have a relationship still with my father if he’s still alive? How do I navigate the dynamics? If you’re here, I’m gonna guess that it’s gotten bad enough where you wanna know how to put down some boundaries around this situation so that you can have your peace back. It’s excruciating. I don’t think there’s a relationship that’s more painful when you don’t have the approval or love or feel like you have a close connection with your mom. The kind that you envision that you should have, especially if you have your own children.


You have a barometer of how that bond is supposed to be. It could be really painful when you’re looking at your relationship with your mom and thinking that’s far from what I have. You could have been in and out trying multiple times throughout the years to try to navigate this relationship and you just find over and over, you continually get hurt or rejected or any number of the ways that the flavor, the toxic flavor that your mom is doing with you in this dynamic. I want to clarify first, because if you are in a relationship with a toxic mom, you might be thinking to yourself, is this even really that bad? You’ve heard other stories where people have been abused by their mom or their moms have been really violent and maybe your mom’s not kind of like that.


You’re like, well, is it really toxic? I’m going to go through with you. You might be wondering, is this toxic?It’s not overly abusive. If it is overly abusive by all means you definitely need to be here too, to set a boundary. But some of the other things that are less, like she’s hitting you or swear, verbally annihilating you. Some of these other ways that you still know it’s toxic, I’m going to walk through. I think it’s good to have that confirmation. I know it makes you crazy wondering. It’s really good to have that level of validation. Does somebody come alongside of you and go no, that’s not okay?


Especially if you have a toxic mom where you verbalize to her, Hey, what you’re doing or how you’re behaving is not okay and she straight out gaslight you and said you’re crazy. This is how all families are. All mothers behave this way. Nobody treats me like you treat me. Why I bet you their daughters don’t act like you do. You’re the one with all the problems and you’re the reason she’s acting that way. Let me clarify a couple things. One of the first ways you know that your relationship with your mom is toxic is that you feel like you’re always walking on eggshells. You feel like you’re on a trip wire and you never know what’s going to set her off. A lot of toxic moms have a zero to sixty, just like this.


They have a rage thing they go into and you never know. One minute you’re having fun and then the next minute you said the wrong thing, or you did the wrong thing and you set her off. Now look, do we all have the potential to have a bad temper? Can we all get really angered? There’s a big difference between somebody who every now and again is having a bad day and erupts and then comes back immediately and says, I’m so sorry. But this type of person, when they’re toxic and they’re blowing up at you and they’re going from zero to sixty. They’ll look straight at you and say, it’s all your fault I’m behaving this way. If you didn’t do what you did, I wouldn’t have acted this way towards you and again, that’s gas lighting.


That’s taking their abusive behavior and blaming you for them acting the way that they’re acting and they’re trying to justify, rationalize their own behavior through you as the scapegoat. If you’re constantly walking on eggshells and you feel like you can’t be yourself, that’s an indicator that this is a toxic situation. That is a toxic mom. Mothers have an idea of how they want their daughters to be. When any child is born, they have an idea, oh, I have such hopes for her. I want her to be this way or wouldn’t it be great. There’s a big, big difference between that, a normal, healthy, prayer request that your kid’s gonna turn out okay and feeling like she’s a constant disappointment to you and vocalizing that to you. Oh, you’re constantly disappointing me.


You feel like you can never do anything right. That comes in with the kind of toxic mom that has a lot of judgment. It’s one thing to have discernment. Well, honey, this doesn’t sound as right for you as this. Cuz I’m listening to what you’re saying to me and this path doesn’t seem to align with what you really want. I’m making a judgment there, but I’m making a wise judgment based upon the discernment of all the moving pieces. Versus I can’t believe you did that. I would never do something like that. Why would you think that? Why would you behave that way? What’s the matter with you that you think that that’s okay? That’s the kind of judgment that I’m talking about that has this tone of condemnation, constant criticism over you.


You might be afraid to share things with your toxic mom.  You’re afraid to say anything to her because you know, it’s gonna be criticized. Well, you shouldn’t have done it that way. If you have a letdown with her and you’re afraid to… Now there’s a difference some moms would just say, Hey, I’ve been hurt. I have these women I’m dealing with. They’re judging me and they’re acting terrible and healthy mom might say, well, honey I could have told you those women weren’t, you know. Come on, come over here. What do you need to feel better? Versus, well you fall for it every time because you just don’t think. You just don’t use your brain. What’s the matter with you? I told you a long time ago. What did you do to make them not like you? You see the difference here.


I’m spending a lot of time going over this with you because it’s very helpful to hear from another living, breathing, human being. Oh yeah. That’s kind of fucked up. We don’t know. We lose our sense of what’s normal and what’s okay. Especially if you’ve been subjected to this kind of stuff your whole entire life. To any degree. You’re going to ask yourself, well, yeah, that doesn’t seem normal. That’s why I’m making that delineation. That distinction. This seems like this is kind of normal and this is above and beyond. Toxic land, dysfunction train ‘toot toot’. Another thing is control. Can people be controlling? Yeah. There are lots. I can be controlling. All right. Well, I, don’t want you to do this cuz you might hurt yourself and let me try to orchestrate this so it works out perfectly.


There’s a big difference between that and I’m not going to let you do anything. I’m going to control every single aspect of your life. Who you talk to. Where you go. We’ve all had situations if you grew up with a toxic mom. Likely you had a toxic man at some point in your life too, that was very controlling as well and it originated there. Just constantly trying to control every single situation. Want to know everything about your life. Want be involved in every single aspect of your life and not trusting your own judgment. Not allowing you to make your own decisions and then when you do make your own decisions, judging those decisions, very harshly.


Criticizing you and saying that was the wrong decision. You shouldn’t have made that decision. Even if there’s fallout from your decision and it wasn’t the best decision for you. A non-toxic person, a healthy person doesn’t say told you so dipshit. They don’t say, yeah, you shouldn’t have done that. No, a healthy person says, I’m so sorry it didn’t work out for you. They’re not gonna pour salt in the wound. That’s already there. Any kind of victim playing is extremely toxic. That’s the gaslighting where you can be hurt about something and they’ll say, well, you shouldn’t be hurt about that and I only said that or did that because you did that thing.


If you confront your mom and you say, you know, mom, I don’t like the way that you’re talking to me. I don’t like always walking on eggshells. I don’t like having to be constantly filtering everything I say, because I’m afraid it’s going to be judged or criticized. I just wanna be able to share with you. Now a healthy person’s going to be hurt by that probably. Nobody wants to hear anything about themselves. She might say, well, that’s hurtful, but I’m gonna take it in. I’m gonna take a look at it. People can do these things and still be healthy people. People can overreact and criticize and be judgmental, because we’re human beings. We can do that thing.


Here’s the difference. When I say that to a toxic person, I say, “hey, you’ve got this behavior. This is bothering me. This is hurtful to me. A toxic person, a toxic mom will then say something like, oh, that’s right. Oh I guess it must be so nice to have a perfect mother out there. I guess, you know, everybody’s dysfunctional in some way. I guess I can’t do anything right. You’re right. I’m a terrible mother. I’m the worst mother in the world. Oh, woe is me. There’s no responsibility there. That’s total victim mentality.  Blaming you for bringing something up. Well, oh, I’m so terrible. I know.


A grownup, a mature, healthy person is going to say, you know, I don’t like to hear that. I certainly don’t like to hear that. That’s hurtful. I don’t want to be that way. I don’t like that. I don’t even see that. I don’t even see that about me. But if you see it, I’m going to respect that and I’m going to work at it and I’m going to be aware of it. That’s a healthy response, not, oh, I can’t do anything right. And then you’re afraid to take your criticism or your opinions. You’re afraid to voice them because the reaction that’s going to come out of that is going to be this big blow up. Or if you criticize those anger, how dare you say something to me about the way that I am. Do you know what I went through for you? Do you know who the only person ever is there for you? I took care of you. You only remember the bad stuff. You never remember the good. How dare you have an opinion of me after everything I’ve been through for you.


People can have done a lot for you and you can still have an opinion that the way they treat you is not okay. They could be paying your bills. They could be buying. Hallelujah, I know somebody just said, amen. I said it to too. Amen. Somebody can actually be taking care of you and still be a dick. Somebody can actually be helping you and still be an asshole. They don’t have to be so bad that it’s like everything’s falling apart. This is where your guilt comes in. Where you feel guilty for even bringing anything up. In a healthy relationship, you don’t feel guilty for saying, yeah, you’re an amazing human and this doesn’t work for me. This is not okay with me.


A healthy person’s going to say, okay, I don’t like that, but I’ll work on it. A toxic person is gonna say, how dare you? How dare you have an opinion of me, that something’s fucked up. You see the difference there. There’s a big, big difference there. There’s so much more, another thing that toxic people do is when you’re not giving them what they want, they withhold or they reject or abandon. We can all be guilty in this. Especially women, in our relationships, when our needs aren’t met. We naturally do not want to be in one way. Intimacy is a way this shows up.


We all have that potential to pull back a little intimately when we’re not getting our needs met emotionally. We feel like, okay, that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about when you make a mistake or do the wrong thing or say the wrong thing and they totally say you’re dead to me. I reject you. I abandon you. You’re outta here. I don’t want anything to do with you. You’re no daughter of mine. You’re no son of mine. No son of mine would behave that way. How dare you behave that way? I wish I had a different son. That’s toxic and not okay. But if you’re guilty about that, because they did take care of you or they did do some good in your life. You’ll be thinking, man, am I a dick for acting this way? Should I be a better son? What is a good son? Being good sons and good daughters is what signs us up for perpetual abuse in these toxic mother, daughter, mother, son dynamics.


There comes a point where you get to say I’m not okay. The first thing, the first step in setting a boundary with a toxic mom is deciding what it is that you want. What kind of life do you want moving forward? Many of my students and clients, when their mother calls and they pick up the phone before they even pick it up, their anxiety starts. They start to like, oh, they get a pit in their stomach. Oh God, it’s her again. Fuck, what are we gonna talk about? What are we gonna say? She’s gonna judge. What can I tell her? What can I not tell her? The anxiety already starts for them.


A healthy relationship, when your mom calls, you might be annoyed. You might be in the middle of something. You might be like, God, I just talked to you like five minutes ago, but you love your mom. You’re like, hi mom.  Hey, I’m busy right now. Can I call you back? Anxiety and trauma response doesn’t come up in a healthy dynamic. That level of anxiety is like, oh shit, you shouldn’t feel that way when your mom calls. If you do feel that way, then that’s a big red flag to you. Decide what is it that you want? What kind of a relationship do you want? Many of you are going to say that is my mom. I want some kind of a relationship with her, but I don’t want the other stuff with it.


That’s like kind of saying, I want McDonald’s without the calories. It is what it is. I don’t know how much you’re going to be able to suss it out. I know with my alcoholic father, I wanted him around, but not when he was drunk. So obviously that was kind of hard to do.  He was drunk a lot because he was an alcoholic. But I would get sober moments and then when he would start to drink, I would leave. So that was how I set the boundary with him. The boundary went like, hey dad, I love you. I wanna spend time with you. I wanna be around you. But when you drink, it makes me really anxious and uncomfortable and it makes me upset. So when you start to drink. Not, so if you drink, I’m not. No. So when you drink, I am going to leave. I love you. I just wanna have a sober connection with you and then guess what? When he would start to drink, I would leave and then I wouldn’t get upset that he chose drinking over me because alcoholics don’t choose drinking over you. They choose to drink cause that’s the drink. They need to drink.


You can do that with a toxic parent. You just have to expect it. It’s gonna rain and McDonald’s is McDonald’s. What I’m saying is you could say, I’ll be around my toxic mom but as soon as she’s toxic, I’m gonna go. You’re gonna be going a lot. I wanna talk to my mom until she is toxic and then when she’s toxic, I’m gonna hang up the phone. You’re gonna be hanging up a lot. All right. Hey mom, I’m loving to talk to you, but you know what? Right now I feel like I’m criticized and I feel like I don’t wanna. I’m feeling criticized and feeling judgment may or may not be your intention. However, that’s the way I’m feeling. She doesn’t need to agree with you. Well, I’m not doing that. You think that I’m judging you and criticizing you. I’m not doing that. Mom, I get that’s not your intention. I’m feeling that way. So when I feel that way, that’s my cue to go on and take care of myself. So if I continue to feel this way, I’m gonna go ahead and hang up the phone and we can talk again another day.


You’re totally owning it. She’s gonna continue on. How many times are you gonna have to do that? Hey mom. Right now I’m feeling like the way you’re speaking to me is not okay with me because it’s triggering me up. I’m feeling anxious. I’m feeling hurt. And I don’t wanna feel that way. I wanna feel peace. And so if you continue to speak to me that way I’m gonna hang up. She continues to do it. What are you talking about? This is so, oh God, what are you like a psychoanalyst? What did you listen to Oprah? You’re watching Dr. Phil. You’re gonna start to do her thing and you’re gonna go, exactly, I’m gonna go ahead and hang up now. I love you. Goodbye. How many times are you gonna have to do that? 500,000,222. A lot of times.


If you decide to have her in your life, you have to understand. You’re signing up. You’re going in now as a willing participant. This looks scary. Eyes wide open. You’re going in eyes wide open. You don’t get to go in and complain when she does her toxic thing. You don’t get to say, how is she so toxic? Oh my God. Why does a dog bark? Fuck. Why does a hotdog taste like a hotdog? It’s a toxic person cause it’s a toxic person. So now you have going eyes wide open. You go, ah, a toxic person to be expected. She’s acting toxic. What do I need to do now? Ding, ding, ding leave. And you leave. Guess what happens, as soon as you start to say stuff like this, hey mom you’re acting, you know, the way you’re talking to me is not okay with me. It’s hurtful. I feel judged. I’m going to remove myself from this conversation.


What do you think’s gonna happen? Oh my God. Wow. How smart of you? You’re really healthy. You’ve really grown a lot. Teach me your ways Yoda. You’re gonna get, who the fuck do you think you are? What is this? What is that? They’re not gonna agree. You cannot set a boundary with a toxic mom and expect her to go. I like that. That is good for you, honey. You’re in your power. She doesn’t want you in your power. She wants to snuff it out. She doesn’t wanna ignite your self-esteem. She wants to kill it. Maybe she doesn’t want to kill it, but she does. I don’t care if there’s intent or not. I know there’s a difference between manslaughter and murder intent. Doesn’t matter. We still dead. We still dead.


Toxic moms are death by a thousand cuts. It’s like, Ooh, ouch, fuck here. Oh, should do it again. Oh God. How many cuts do you wanna get? I don’t know. It’s up to you. The first thing you have to do is really decide what it is you want. Then you gotta get the language around it to be able to articulate to her as kind of role playing that out a little bit with you. And then by God, you gotta pull that trigger 552,000 trillion billion times and keep doing it until the dance is done. Until we part ways. If you decide, I’ve set the boundary. And you know what, a little toxic is too much. It’s just like a little cyanide. I don’t have a taste for it anymore. It’s just not in my wheelhouse. The flavors. Okay. I’ve outgrown the tastes for cyanide. I do not want contact. You better talk to your mom. You don’t know how long she has left. And that’s when you have to detach from other people’s opinions about what you’re supposed to do.


Moms do this with their kids all day long too. Children that are killing themselves with addiction and don’t know how to help them anymore and their kids are really dangerous and they have to put them out of the house, help the other children be okay. There are tough decisions that we make all the time in our families to have to go no contact for whatever reason. Because it’s not safe. In your case, if you’re not feeling safe from your mom, from this toxic dynamic and you make the decision to go away and stay away, then it’s about maintenance. It’s about maintaining no contact when it’s tough. You can miss somebody and love somebody and still not wanna be with them at the same time.


We call that complex grief in the therapy world. Complex grief is whenever you have these multifaceted feelings around this. You love her and you’re angry at her at the same time. You wish you had a mom. You’re resentful you didn’t have it and you’re working through that kind of resentment and hurt and you feel longing and a missing at the same time. You feel a gratitude for the love that she gave you at certain times. You remember this time when she hugged you and man, you felt that and she told you she loved you or she did whatever and you’re feeling so good about it. You feel so nostalgic and then you remember when she banged your head into the wall. You’re like, ah, you’re like a game of ping pong in your head and that’s why you need support.


This is a complex situation, but I’m gonna tell you something. This is where I say support. This is where I say to you, you are picking up when I’m laying down. You are smelling when I’m stepping in. We are sisters on a path. Let me come alongside you and support you as somebody who’s walked through it all the ways. All the ways that I just talked about, all the ways. Let me try to do this. Let me set the boundary. Lemme go into a contact. All the ways and healing, continually healing. I’m teaching from the scars and not open wounds. Two years ago, flesh wound, gaping flesh wound, blood spurting out. Would never talk about this. To this degree, with this amount of certainty. Now here we are, scars it would have helped. It would be a Sherpa, guiding you through the valley.


I wanna come alongside you. That’s what my programs do. That’s what life school is. Life school is the place where you come learn everything you need to know, but nobody ever taught you about dealing in shit shows. Dealing in people. Dealing in codependence. Dealing in people’s stuff and how to set your boundaries. How to root down in your power and find your truth. Be you and do all the things that you set out to do but didn’t feel allowed to. Didn’t have the permission to. Didn’t have the fanning of your flame. Let me come fan your flames for a while and figure out who you really are and root down in yourself.


Life school is where we do that. If you want to learn more about it, go to and learn more there. Send me a private message. But this is what we do. We make a decision, how we want to be in this dynamic and then we find the way to do it. I’ll give you the steps. We practice the role play. You learn real time. What she says, here’s what to say back. You send me the text. I know exactly how to… We process it in group with other women going through the same thing and then once you make this move, here’s the magic that happens. You know how you’re confident in most things, but you don’t have self-esteem in other areas. Your relationship suck, but your work is good or your relationship’s good, but you’re not making enough money.


You have this self-sabotage button and you can’t figure out. Do you know this is where this comes from? Is this early relationship. I have to tell you something. Once you rectify this wounding and you really come to terms with this. I have processes to do it. I’ve invented processes to help you. It’s not just like, let it go, let it go. I am whole and healthy. I am love. I am. No, no, no, no. That’s not how that works. You’ve gotta do the work. Gotta get in there. Get some processes rolling so that you can be fully healed. I’m gonna tell you what happens when you do. Wow, you become unleashed. You become all of you and guess what? Nobody can tell you nothing unless it’s helpful. And we wanna be humble. We wanna take in feedback where it applies to us. Nobody can knock you off your axis again. Nobody can make you fall to pieces like she could where you’re feeling good and then the phone rings. Fuck.


I love you. I wanna help you walk through this. Go over to and send me a private message. Schedule a complimentary consultation and let’s get to work.


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