The Ultimate Guide for Daughters
“Sure, Mom… me too. See you soon.”
You hang up the phone and a tsunami of anxiety sweeps over you.
You look around, and the cosy kitchen feels suddenly distant and unreal, as if you’re looking through a dirty glass. So does your hand, still clutching the phone – is it even your hand?
“Honey, what’s wrong?” Your partner’s voice cuts through a thick jelly of numbness.
“Nothing… um… Mom’s coming for a weekend.” You manage to exhale the words, grabbing your jacket on the way out the door. “I forgot to buy milk,” you explain unconvincingly.
“And I need fresh air,” you think.
You meander through the neighbourhood hastily but aimlessly until you feel exhausted. You sit on a swing in an empty playground, feeling temporarily relief.
“It can’t go on like this.” The anger raises its voice in your head. Being with your mom makes you sick.
Back home, you put on a kettle and tell your partner that you want to change your relationship with Mom. He promises to support you – it hurts him, too, he says, to see you suffer.
However, later in bed, a suffocating doubt cripples your heart. “How can I change it? What can I do? Will I lose my mother?”
It’s going to be a long night.
Becoming the Captain of Your Ship
Many women know how it feels – being a prisoner of her love to Mother, who doesn’t know how to love her child. You are tired of being controlled, manipulated, and following her orders, but somehow saying no to your toxic mother feels scarier than submitting to her.
You want to own your life and yourself, but where do you start?
Let me show you.
Accept your present reality.
You were born into this family – that can’t be changed or undone. Asking yourself rhetorical questions like “why” and “what if” will keep you stuck in the past. Acceptance is the key to taking control of your life.
In the words of Russ Harris, author of The Fantasy Trap:
“Acceptance does not mean putting up with or resigning yourself to anything. Acceptance is about embracing life, not merely tolerating it. Acceptance literally means ‘taking what is offered.’ It doesn’t mean giving up or admitting defeat; it doesn’t mean just gritting your teeth and bearing it. It means fully opening yourself to your present reality—acknowledging how it is, right here and now, and letting go of the struggle with life as it is in this moment.”
Accept your mom as she is and don’t try to change her – it won’t work. Focus on your own growth, and in time, your mother might alter her behaviour as a response to that. And if not, there will always be an option to retreat, recover, and replenish yourself while you rethink other options.
Give yourself time to grieve.
Grieving is an essential part of moving forward. Allow yourself the time to process your feelings of loss, anger, and shame. It’s painful to realize that your mother is unable to support and love you unconditionally. Process the pain and let it go when you are ready.
Please don’t force it, though, and don’t force forgiveness. Forgiving out of duty means bypassing emotions that remain unprocessed, and chronic anger, denial, and numbness will be the price. It’s essential to follow the process in the right order.
Don't normalise abusive behaviour or fall for intermittent reinforcement.
Growing up with a toxic mother, you may believe that this kind of behaviour is normal. That everyone lives like you, but it’s not true. Stop finding excuses and rationalising your mother’s behaviour, and instead use your energy to become free.
Occasionally, your mom might choose to treat you nicely for a change. Please don’t fall for it. Stay on guard to prevent more hurt and disappointment, because we know from experience that she will withdraw her kindness just as quickly as she bestows it upon you.
Know who you are and build strong boundaries.
Your mother probably sees you as an extension of herself, expecting you to have the same thoughts, intentions and feelings as her. Perhaps you have been hiding your true self for so long that you have trouble remembering who you are. Boundaries are essential to reclaiming your sense of self.
Clear your mind of false beliefs. Find your own values, what you believe in, what you like and dislike, what is acceptable for you and what’s beyond your limits. When you know it, stick to it.
Separate yourself from your mother and build new, healthy boundaries with her. Exercise your new limits in baby steps. For example, when you disagree, calmly tell your mom: “You have the right to your opinion, but I don’t have to agree with you.” Leave it at that.
Take responsibility for your life.
Building firm boundaries with your mother and other people allows you to take responsibility for yourself – your needs, your choices, your actions, and your life.
We are deeply influenced by our upbringing and stressors we’ve encountered along the way, but what we do with our lives as adults is still our responsibility. It’s a part of our personal freedom.
Identify problems as yours – for example, boundary problems. Then, take responsibility and start doing the work.
Treat yourself as you want other people to treat you.
Self-love and self-respect are essential for happiness. How we treat ourselves reflects our self-worth. Loving yourself after being used as a scapegoat or as the ugly darkling in your own family can be challenging.
Start with loving your inner child – that hurt, lonely, wronged little girl who lives inside you. She helped you survive when you were little, and now she needs your help. Give her compassion and kindness, acceptance and unconditional love.
Hold her in your adult arms when she is sad and lonely (use a stuffed toy to represent her if you want). Tell her that she will be all right, and that you will be taking care of her from now on.
Take care of yourself.
Learn how to self-regulate your feelings in healthy ways: how to calm down, relax, and de-stress, and how to cope with anger, self-blame, or shame.
Make time to do things you love – reading, drawing, playing with kids or pets. Take a bath or go get a massage. Dance, sing or redecorate your room. Have fun!
It’s crucial to stay physically active. You can go to a fitness studio or for regular walks in your neighbourhood; try swimming or playing tennis. Dust off your old bike and ride it to the store.
Nurture your soul through religious or spiritual practices. Try gratitude and affirmations to keep up your spirits.
Grow good relationships with other people.
How can you trust someone when your own mother has let you down so many times?
It’s scary, I know, but the only way out of bitterness and loneliness is to open your heart to good people. You may still get hurt, but in time, you will learn who to trust and you’ll become more resilient.
You also will need to be connected to good people to heal. Ask for help when you need it – a trusted family member, a friend or a therapist. Making big changes is scary, and you need all the support you can get.
On the other side of this, research tells us that helping other people, especially strangers, will make you feel happier. Witnessing other people’s pain may also set things in another perspective.
Learn to disarm your mother and stay in control.
When you know who you are and what you want, learn ways to communicate with your mother without losing control. To say no when she disrespects your limits, to reply calmly to her toxic comments, and to disarm her attempts to manipulate you.
What you also have to learn is that sometimes the best way to communicate your point to your difficult mother is to go away.
Don’t expect too much, though – your mother is not going to change her behaviour as soon as you change yours. It will most certainly become worse before it becomes better. However, the alternative is staying in her prison for the rest of your life.
So be patient and forgive yourself when you fail.
Drive Safe and Enjoy the Ride
I won’t lie – you need courage in order to break free and build yourself an independent life. To say no to the known, even though it resembles hell, and yes to an unknown.
Setting boundaries with your mother will be painful for you both. She will protest and try to turn you back into a submissive, yes-saying child. It may even lead to a breakup, but what will your life be if you continue on with this unhealthy dynamic and never even try to become your true self?
One last thing. Healing takes time, but don’t wait for some sunny day in the future to enjoy your life – learn to enjoy the journey itself. Live today, now, this very moment. Even in dark places, there is light – find it.
Don’t know where to start and need help?
Check out our new course How to Cope With a Toxic Mother and Reclaim Your Life (SOS Course for Daughters) and we will take you through the first steps of your healing journey.
To find more joy in your life, download our free course The Ultimate Guide to De-stressing and Enjoying Life Now and tap on the fresh and funny ideas. See you there?