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10 Tips on How to Deal With a Toxic Mother or Father

A toxic mother or father can foster a harmful home atmosphere, adversely affecting a child’s self-perception and understanding of interpersonal relationships. To deal with a toxic mother or father, recognize their harmful behaviors, maintain firm boundaries, stop seeking their approval, avoid arguments, protect your mental health, and take control of your relationship. 

Healing from such an upbringing involves creating a support network, seeking professional guidance, crafting your personal story, practicing self-compassion and self-care, ceasing to repeat past patterns, developing stress management techniques, and breaking the cycle, especially if you’re a parent. 

When living with a toxic mother, financial readiness and meticulous planning are key. Distancing yourself for your mental health is valid. It’s not the responsibility of a child to rectify their parent’s behavior. Establishing a support system and engaging in self-care is crucial for recovery from a traumatic childhood.

toxic mother yells at daughter about homework

What is a toxic mother or father?

A toxic mother or father creates a negative home environment where unhealthy interactions and relationships damage a child’s sense of self and their views of relationships with others. Toxic mothers or fathers are often abusive physically, emotionally, or both. Over time, toxic mothering increases the risk of poor development in the child’s self-control, emotional regulation, and social relations.​1​

How to deal with a toxic mother or father

Here are 10 steps to deal with a toxic mother or father as an adult.

Recognize the toxic behavior

You have a toxic mother or father if they show signs of a toxic parent or if you are under chronic stress caused by them, known as toxic stress.

Know that this is not normal. 

And also, this is not your fault.

Set your boundaries and stick to them

State your limits and ask them to be respectful in your interactions. If they refuse or if you see signs of trouble, disengage and leave the conversation. Be firm and resist being drawn back.

Stop trying to please them

It’s easy to fall into the habit of trying to make them happy, but you don’t need their approval. Live your life according to what makes you feel fulfilled and content.

Don’t engage in arguments

Arguing or reasoning with a toxic parent is often a dead end. Toxic parents are set in their ways, and no matter how good your arguments are, it’s tough to change their minds. Most of the time, you feel worse – not just because you didn’t win the argument but also because it takes a toll on you emotionally and mentally.

Protect yourself

If the abuse continues or your toxic parent persists in making toxic remarks, it is time to think about severing your relationship with them.

Setting boundaries is easier said than done.

Your toxic mother or father probably won’t change, and they may even blame you for everything. Limit how much they can interfere with your life and affect your emotions.

Cutting off a toxic parent is a drastic measure. Although it is difficult, you must protect yourself emotionally and physically if you cannot establish reliable personal boundaries.

Let go of the guilt

Cutting off parents is a significant decision often accompanied by guilt. But your responsibility is first to your health and well-being. You’re not responsible for fixing or tolerating harmful dynamics. There is no need to feel guilty for taking a step towards healing and self-preservation.

Recommend therapy to them

Communicate your firm boundaries and suggest therapy to your parents. Make it clear that their commitment to treatment is essential for maintaining or improving your relationship.

Accept that you cannot change them

Your parents are the only ones who can change themselves, and it often involves professional intervention. While you can recommend therapy, accept that they ultimately decide to make the change.

Take charge of your relationship

Although you cannot change your parents, you have the power to transform your relationship and interactions with them. You can decide whether to spend holidays with them or be available to needy parents.

You can do it. Start now.

Keep explanations brief

Have a brief response ready for questions about not being in contact with your parents, like, “I’ve chosen not to communicate with my parents because of emotional abuse.” People often question or criticize your decision because they assume your parents are normal and non-abusive, similar to theirs, which isn’t true in your situation, and your answer makes it clear.

Sometimes, well-meaning individuals might attempt to probe your reasons and persuade you to reconsider your decision. In such instances, it’s okay to state, “I’d prefer not to discuss the abuse.”

How to deal with a toxic mother or father as a child

If you are a child and think you have a toxic mother or father, talk to your school counselor, your teacher, or a trusted adult. If an adult doesn’t trust your words, keep sharing your story with another trusted adult until you find someone who does believe you.
If you are a teenager, check out How to deal with a strict parent as a teenager.

Am I the only one with a toxic mother or father?

No, you are not the only person with a toxic mother or father. Unfortunately, many children suffer in childhood but are not given the help or recognition for surviving a toxic upbringing by society.

Is it my fault my mom hates me?

No, it is not your fault if your mom doesn’t like you. A child is not responsible for their parents’ feelings. Parents decided to have kids. Kids did not decide to have parents. If your parent regrets their decisions, it is their responsibility, not your fault.

How to heal from having a toxic parent

Here are 7 strategies to heal emotionally from a toxic upbringing.

Establish a support network

Relationships can heal relational wounds. It’s important to have a network of support. Studies have found that having positive social support is associated with recovery from a traumatic childhood.​2​

However, survivors of toxic parenting often deal with feelings of shame, self-blame, and powerlessness, which affect their ability to relate positively to others.

If you have cut ties with your mother or father, some well-meaning people may encourage you to reestablish contact, making you doubt or feel bad about your decision.

Not everyone can understand your unique emotional experience and brave decision to separate. You can still be friends with those who cannot empathize with what you are going through. But avoid discussing this topic with them to protect your emotions.

Establish a support network with people who can provide you with love, support, and affection, things you should have had as a child but didn’t. Join a support group or look for those who are from similar toxic families and can be positive role models in relationships.

Seek professional help

Getting help from an experienced therapist or psychologist is an excellent way to find emotional support and guidance in healing.

There will be a lot of healing to do after a lifetime of toxic stress.

You may feel guilty about saying “bad things about your mother.” Individual therapy can be a safe place to share memories or get support without being judged.

With professional help, you can identify and replace false thoughts and destructive patterns with healthy ones.

Those who suffer from anxiety, depression, PTSD, drug abuse, or other psychological issues must receive medical help from mental health professionals.

Write your own narrative

Research shows that revisiting and re-narrating trauma histories is a starting point for healing. Examine your past and where the hurt comes from to make sense of it. Understanding the pain and how it has shaped you pave the way to healing.​3​

By doing this, you take charge of your narrative and turn those tough times into lessons that help you grow and become stronger.

Have self-compassion and self-care

Self-compassion is being kind to yourself. If you’ve grown up constantly criticized by a toxic parent, you might be hard on yourself, too. To change this mindset, start by recognizing your inner critic and consciously choosing to be more understanding and gentle with yourself. Shift from being your toughest critic to becoming your supporter.​4​

Acknowledge your struggles and practice mindfulness to stay connected with your feelings without being overwhelmed. Engage in activities that enhance well-being and happiness, like pursuing hobbies or spending time in nature.

Self-care is about creating a balance that fosters physical and emotional well-being. Exercising, meditating, and eating healthy food are all great ways to care for yourself.

Stop reenacting

Research shows that people with unresolved childhood trauma often reenact past experiences in current relationships.​5​

For example, survivors of childhood abuse are more likely to be involved in abusive relationships, either as the abuser or the abused. 

To stop reenacting, identify and disrupt the toxic patterns, thinking, or behavior that you may have inherited from your parent or your childhood.

If you are currently in an abusive relationship, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233, or text START to 88788.

Develop stress management skills

Growing up with toxic parents likely means you didn’t have the chance to learn effective emotional regulation or stress management techniques. Now is the ideal time to start acquiring these skills and finding ways to reduce or manage stress effectively.

Taking deep breaths, chatting with a friend, engaging in mindfulness practices, or enjoying a warm bath are all excellent for stress relief.

Break the cycle if you are a parent

Toxic mothers or fathers can leave deep emotional scars, but don’t let the scars define you or turn you into a toxic parent yourself. 

Learn about child development and positive parenting and break the cycle of intergenerational trauma for good.

How do you recover from authoritarian parenting?

Recovering from authoritarian parenting involves re-educating yourself about the world and how to make decisions, finding ways to validate your feelings, and identifying triggers.

How do you deal with a toxic mother when you live with her?

Dealing with a toxic mother while living together can be challenging. If leaving is an option, take it. If it is currently not possible, make a plan.

Here are 7 factors to consider when planning your departure.

  • Financial Preparation: Saving money, securing a job, or having a steady income source.
  • Find a Place to Stay: Look for a safe and affordable place to live. This could be with a friend, relative, or a rental space within your budget.
  • Gather Essential Documents: Collect all necessary documents, such as your ID, passport, birth certificate, and other important paperwork.
  • Seek Support: Reach out to friends, family, or support groups who can offer emotional or practical assistance.
  • Plan the Move: Plan the logistics of your move carefully, considering the timing and the help you might need.
  • Pack Essentials: Prepare your belongings discreetly, focusing on necessities and items important to you.
  • Emotional Preparation: Prepare yourself emotionally for the move. Leaving a toxic environment is a big step and can bring mixed emotions.

Can having a toxic mother cause trauma?

Yes, having a toxic mother can cause trauma in childhood. Toxic parenting creates a chronically stressful environment that activates a child’s stress response repeatedly. This constant activation can lead to an imbalance in the child’s emotional regulation and stress management. 

Over time, this prolonged exposure to stress can alter brain development, affecting areas crucial for emotional control and resilience. The child may grow up with heightened vulnerabilities to anxiety, depression, and difficulty in forming secure attachments. 

How do you tell your parents they traumatized you?

You don’t tell your parents they traumatized you because it likely won’t help anything. If they’re not open to understanding or acknowledging their actions, bringing it up can sometimes reopen old wounds and cause more pain. It’s often better to focus on your healing journey.

Is cutting ties with my toxic mother OK?

Yes, cutting ties with your toxic mother is OK if she is negatively impacting your mental and emotional well-being. Prioritize your health.

When should you cut ties with toxic parents?

You should cut ties with toxic parents when you have tried to address the issues through communication, therapy, or setting boundaries, but the toxic stress continues.

Why do I feel guilty for cutting off my toxic parent?

You feel guilty for cutting off your toxic parents because society has conditioned you to accept and love your parents unconditionally. In addition, bonding with parents is hard-wired into humans, even if the parents do not treat them well. Despite being mistreated, many children still hope to gain their parents’ complete approval and acceptance. 

However, unconditional love should be reciprocal. If your toxic parent is causing you harm emotionally or physically, prioritizing your well-being by distancing yourself or ending the relationship is not only justified but necessary.

Is it my job to fix my toxic mother or father?

No, it is not your job to fix your toxic mother or father. You may talk to your parent about how you feel or reach out and have a better relationship with them as an adult. However, don’t expect toxic parents to turn into parents you always wanted.

Will my toxic parent change?

Some toxic parents will, but many will not unless they seek help. If your toxic parent is open to individual or family therapy, that may help.

What do you do when your mother plays the victim?

When your mother plays the victim, acknowledge her feelings without getting drawn into guilt. Maintain firm boundaries, respond calmly, and avoid arguments. Focus on managing your emotions and reactions. Avoid contact or limit interactions if they affect your well-being.

How does a support system that understands help you recover from a toxic mother?

A support system that understands provides emotional validation, shared experiences, practical advice, and a safe space for expressing your feelings. It reduces stress, offers motivation, diminishes feelings of isolation, and brings new perspectives, significantly aiding in coping and personal growth.

How does counseling help in recovering from a toxic mother?

Counseling helps in recovering from a toxic mother by providing a safe space to process emotions and experiences. It offers professional guidance to understand and heal from past trauma, develop coping strategies, and build self-esteem. Counseling also assists in establishing healthy boundaries and improving overall mental well-being, facilitating a journey toward healing and personal empowerment.

How does self-care help in recovering from a toxic childhood?

Self-care helps reduce stress by lowering cortisol levels and activating the body’s relaxation response, which is crucial for mitigating chronic stress from a toxic upbringing. 

Engaging in self-care enhances neuroplasticity, allowing the brain to form new connections and repair pathways damaged by stress. It also aids in emotional regulation by improving the functioning of the prefrontal cortex, which is essential for managing emotions. 

Neurochemically, self-care boosts neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, enhancing feelings of happiness and well-being and counteracting the effects of prolonged stress. 

Additionally, self-care strengthens the immune system, often compromised in those with a stressful childhood, and improves sleep patterns, essential for physical and mental recovery. 

What are some ideas for self-care and stress relief?

Here are 10 ideas for self-care and stress relief.

  1. Exercise Regularly: Boosts physical and mental health.
  2. Healthy Eating: Nourishes body and mind.
  3. Quality Sleep: Essential for overall well-being.
  4. Mindfulness: Reduces stress and improves focus.
  5. Hobbies: Engage in activities you enjoy.
  6. Journaling: Helps process thoughts and emotions.
  7. Spending Time in Nature: Calms and rejuvenates.
  8. Socializing: Connect with friends and loved ones.
  9. Coloring: Coloring in an adult coloring book.
  10. Pampering Yourself: Bubble baths, massages, or music.


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    Tummala-Narra P, Kallivayalil D, Singer R, Andreini R. Relational experiences of complex trauma survivors in treatment: Preliminary findings from a naturalistic study. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Published online November 2012:640-648. doi:10.1037/a0024929
  3. 3.
    Aho KLT. The Healing is in the Pain: Revisiting and Re-Narrating Trauma Histories as a Starting Point for Healing. Psychology & Developing Societies. Published online September 1, 2014:181-212. doi:10.1177/0971333614549139
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    Braehler C, Neff K. Self-compassion in PTSD. Emotion in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Published online 2020:567-596. doi:10.1016/b978-0-12-816022-0.00020-x
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    * All information on is for educational purposes only. Parenting For Brain does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician. *