When we talk about toxic mothers we refer to those mothers who represent pillars in the education of their children, but are far from fostering their maturity and personal safety, anchoring them with heavy chains that prevent their physical and emotional independence. It is necessary to clarify that there are also toxic fathers, toxic grandparents, etc.

The bond of care that a mother establishes with her child leads her to have a very strong weight and influence in her growth through the emotional bond that she puts in place from conception and that day after day is strengthened more and more, the mother-child relationship becomes one of the strongest and most profound relationships there can be. However, as the child grows, he confidently sets out towards the world that awaits him, always maintaining that point of reference that has given him unconditional love, thanks to which he grows healthy and psychologically ready.

However, when we are dealing with a toxic mother, we will also find an immature and harassing child. And this is because the toxic mother, in order to be able to personally reassert herself and have the idea of ​​greater control over her life, needs to project her insecurities onto the children in the idea of ​​being able to control them because they are out of herself.

But what’s behind the personality of toxic mothers? Though difficult to conceive, love is behind a toxic mother’s behavior. But when we talk about love we all know that there are two sides of the same coin and that is a dimension capable of pushing and fostering the personal growth of the loved individual at the level of a couple, family, friendship, but also a more “sickly love” In which a selfish, interested, suffocating and often destructive feeling for both is exercised on the loved one. The most worrying aspect of all this is that parents who engage in toxic behavior do so at the expense of children. adolescents and often also young adults who are in a phase of very complex personal maturation in which self-esteem and everything related to a strong and confident personality is in full growth and stabilization. The attitude of a parent who pours anxieties and insecurities on the child does nothing but create in him gaps and insecurities in some cases irremediable.

Clearly, a toxic mother will have personality characteristics, experiences that differentiate her from a healthy or sufficiently good mother (Winnicott, 1974). A toxic mother often hides a clear lack of self-esteem and self-sufficiency that leads her to see in her child that lifeline to be modeled and controlled so that it remains forever by her side, mitigating her own deficiencies. The fear of being left alone in a toxic mother with these characteristics begins to arise when she sees that her child reaches a level of autonomy that he no longer needs her and is able to live his life alone. At this point the fearful toxic mother begins to implement a series of behaviors or “tricks” that aim to keep the children closer. Behaviors that in the case of children consist in projecting their own insecurities so as to make them in turn insecure and fearful in facing the world. In the case of adolescents or young adults (and in some cases adults) they aim to instill a sense of guilt for trying to grow away.

Another type is linked to the obsession with control. In fact, one of the characteristics of a toxic mother is a hyper-controlled life due to rigid, directive, pretentious parents who will lead her to do the same with their children. Control becomes synonymous with security, I am unable to see the limits of this behavior. The fact that everything always remains the same makes her feel good. They tend to exercise control thinking that with it they do good and show a love for their children; they think they are making life easy to control by relieving their children of many chores so that they are happy, in reality they do nothing but tighten even more that “knot” that keeps them tied to them: “I only want what is best for you and therefore I avoid you making mistakes… “.

Hyper-controlling mothers also have a strong tendency to projection, especially of unsatisfied desires. Attempting to prevent a child from making mistakes, having what she didn’t have, becoming what she couldn’t be leads a toxic mother to give him everything she wanted without wondering if that’s what the children want. children, without giving them a choice, thinking that by doing this they show them unconditional love. In reality it is a false love, a self-interested love.

At this point a question spontaneously arises: “What kind of treatment can be implemented with a toxic mother or any other family member who shows this type of relationship with another?”. If you find yourself dealing with the toxic mother’s “object” it is necessary to work on the subject’s awareness that the cycle of toxicity must be interrupted. Having lived in such a situation for a long time has certainly left wounds, but they won’t heal on their own. Encourage the patient to seek autonomy even if he is afraid, help him to be aware of saying “No” and putting his own needs in front of him, making a “big voice” when necessary and creating limits that no one should cross. Breaking a cycle of toxicity of this magnitude is not easy and will cause damage. Helping the patient to bring out what he feels, what he experiences, helping him to detect the limits of such a relationship will certainly favor in him that sense of growth that will push him to put boundaries between what is possible and what cannot be permission. It should be made clear that it is not a war, “dead and wounded” must not be created, but to affirm oneself it is necessary to pursue one’s own reasons.

Unfortunately, it is not easy to recognize manipulation either for those who suffer it and sometimes even for those who put it into practice. We must pay attention to every word, to every behavior that is used in a natural way by “toxic” people who want to create a bond in order to obtain their own advantage.

As for the other side, that is to say that of the person who carries out the manipulative behavior, it is much more complex since we find ourselves in the presence of a wounded, suspicious, hypercontrolling person, little interested in modifying a behavior that after all it helps to move forward. Therefore, first of all it will be difficult to establish a profitable therapeutic bond, especially if on the other hand it is perceived as a way to change a status that she tends to maintain as it is. The right strategy could be to create an empathic bond by focusing on the suffering that is the basis of his past, seeking an alliance with that person who for a whole life has never been able to fully express himself but has always had to control himself because he is controlled to turn.

© Dr. Pasquale Saviano
Psychologist – Psychotherapist