Questionnaire: Do You Have a Toxic Mom?

Was your mother emotionally abusive toward you? Did she shame you constantly? Do you think she would qualify for being a “toxic mom?” Answer the following questions with a “Yes” or a “No” to find out.

  1. Do you constantly hear your mother’s voice in your head telling you things like, “I can’t believe you messed up again,” or “No one is going to want to marry you”? When a child is subject to constant criticism he or she cannot help but take these critical messages inside. It is as if your critical parents’ voice becomes your own inner voice. This critical inner voice can become as relentless and demanding as any abusive parent.
  2. Before giving an important presentation at work or a speech in front of a class or group do you hear a voice inside your head: “You should have prepared more, you’re going to make a fool of yourself,” or “Everyone is going to see how nervous you are”? This means you have taken your mother’s critical voice and made it your own.
  3. Are you a perfectionist? Are you never pleased with anything you do and do you find fault with everything you do? When a child has been deeply shamed he or she will put up a wall to protect themselves from being further shamed. It is like they are saying, “I am filled up with shame and I can’t take anymore.” Striving for perfection is an attempt to avoid being shamed ever again.
  4. Do you hear your mother’s critical, cruel or abusive words coming out of your mouth (toward your partner or children)? When a child is deeply shamed he or she can either internalize the shame, meaning that he or she comes to believe that he or she is unworthy, unlovable, damaged, or inferior to others, or he can externalize the shame by projecting it onto others. It is important to recognize that this decision to take on the shame or defend against it is an unconscious decision. The following are examples of externalized shame: rage (expressed outwardly), contempt for others, striving for power, and the transfer of blame. Striving for perfection, internal withdrawal, self-blame, and developing a victim mentality are examples of internalized shame.
  5. Do you hear your mother’s voice inside your head negating every success you have? For example, “Who do you think you are, you don’t deserve this.” Some Toxic Moms don’t want their children to succeed and so they downplay or even sabotage any success their children have.
  6. Do you sabotage anything good that comes your way (a new job, a loving partner)? If you had a toxic mom who shamed you and made you feel like you didn’t deserve anything good, deep down inside you will still believe her.
  7. Do you feel so bad about yourself because of the things your mother said or did to you that you punish yourself with self-mutilation, by smoking, taking dangerous drugs, or getting involved with people who will treat you badly?
  8. Do you hear your mother’s critical voice in your head every time you try something new? “You’re going to quit just like you have quit everything else you ever started.” When you hear messages like this you end up believing them.
  9. Are you are attracted to partners who are critical, cruel, abusive or difficult to please—just like your mother? Freud called this the “repetition compulsion” because we are unconsciously drawn to people who are similar to an abusive parent in an attempt to “get it right this time.”

If you answered even one of these questions with a “Yes” you were likely shamed and or overly criticized by your mother or other caretakers. But if you answered more than one question with a “Yes” it is likely that you had a Toxic Mother.

Ways to Move On

After a lifetime of treating yourself like you were treated as a child it is may not be easy to change your habit of shaming yourself, but it can be done.  There are strategies that will help you stop having unreasonable expectations of yourself and to replace them instead with more reasonable ones. You can learn strategies that can help you step out of this negative mindset and begin treating yourself with the patience, kindness, love, forgiveness, acceptance and open-heartedness that you deserve.

Start by doing the following:

  • Work on discontinuing behaviors that induce shame, including: being self-critical and/perfectionistic and comparing yourself with others.
  • Begin to recognize that we all have weaknesses, shortcomings, and character flaws—this is part of being human. This does not mean that you stop trying to become a better person, but that you come to recognize the difference between what you are able to change and what you need to accept.
  • Confront your beliefs that you should be good all the time, never makes mistakes, never hurt anyone’s feelings and never break the rules. The reason this is so important is that by adhering to these beliefs you set yourself up for continual shaming.
  • Work on accepting yourself in spite of the fact that you will likely continue to make mistakes or poor choices at times