Toxic Relationship with Mother

Sometimes it can be really hard to get along with our mothers. How do we improve the relationship? How do we know when enough is enough? How do we know if we are in an emotionally abusive relationship. I try to answer these questions in a response I wrote to a young teenager who views her relationship with her mother as toxic. Check out the original post on the Stone to Bridges website or scroll down to read below.

Whether you are a young teen or an older adult, relationships with parents can be tricky! If you are having a difficult time with your mother and could use some guidance on how to handle the relationship contact me to schedule an appointment.

Muslims Youth Question: Please Help

Dear Fatima,

I’m a teenage girl who occasionally wants to leave home. I live with my mom and her boyfriend and I swear she makes me feel unwanted, pathetic and like she hates me. It’s hard because I love her to death and don’t want anything to happen to her but I feel she doesn’t feel the same. She kinda treats me like trash. Yeah, sometimes I mess up but when I do she acts the world is ending and I caused it. When I do end up doing well she tells me it needs to be like this all the time. I wish sometimes she could be in my place and know how I feel and know how much work we get in school. She makes me feel like a waste of space. Please, this is a cry for help. I need help dealing with my mother and her toxicity but just don’t know how.

Dr. Afshana Haque Response:

Assalaamu Alaikum Sister,

Relationships with mothers can be very complicated. On one hand, if we are alive today we know it would have not been possible without her. But at the same time, a strained relationship can induce feelings of pain, frustration, anger, guilt and worthlessness. Since I do not know the details of your relationship, I will offer you some recommendations for a few different scenarios.  My first suggestion would be to have a heart to heart with your mother, and let her know how you feel. Parents tend to displace their distress from other aspects of life (couple relationship, work, etc.) and direct them toward their children without even realizing that they are doing so, or how deeply it can affect their children. Sometimes an honest and vulnerable conversation with your mother alone can be a catalyst for change. In this conversation I would primarily focus on your feelings of being unwanted by her and how much you need her understanding, love and affection. Working towards developing a secure relationship with her first will make it easier to resolve additional issues. If you find she is not receptive to conversations like this, I would encourage you to speak to other trusted adults who can advocate for you, and/or be a source of support and comfort for you when there is tension. Sometimes the best approach with difficult, and critical parents is to be firm yet loving. Let her know how much you love and respect her and at the same time let her know very clearly that there are certain behaviors that are damaging to your relationship and well-being.

In cases of emotional abuse where a parent is using emotional manipulation as a tool for control, I would do everything you can to protect yourself. Again, be very firm about your intolerance for yelling, insulting, etc. and disengage from these types of interactions as much as you can. A very good article on identifying and coping with emotional abuse can be found here:

In cases where the abuser is not changing, there is intense emotional abuse, and you have no where else to go, you need to lay low. Try to create a support network and a long-term plan for becoming financially independent so you can distance yourself from the situation as quickly as realistically possible. It is easier and more plausible to improve a relationship when both parties are on somewhat of an equal footing and one person is not entirely dependent on the other. At which point you would work on establishing boundaries in the relationship.  It is in our religion to be respectful toward our parents. But there is no obligation upon any soul to be trapped in a situation where they are being treated unjustly, and their mental health and well-being is compromised. No matter where your relationship with your mother lies on the spectrum of distress and conflict, I highly recommend working with a therapist or a counselor to help facilitate these conversations. Additionally, your mother’s boyfriend being in the picture adds another layer of complexity which can also be best navigated with a professional. May Allah grant you the wisdom, strength, and courage to improve your relationship and ease your pain.

Afshana Haque, PhD, LMFT-S (Fatima V)

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