Toxic Mom Toolkit: Control Tools – What Did Your Mother Use? What Still Works?

11 Feb

As part of our ongoing journal project at Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook, here is our next question.

How did your mother control you when you were a child? What doesn’t work anymore? What still works?

Children look to their mothers for clues on how to behave. Daughters of Toxic Moms often get confusing or hurtful messages about how to behave at home or in public.

It doesn’t make sense to act one way at home – to be as quiet or invisible as a little mouse – and then be expected to smile and be talkative outside of the home. But that’s what many daughters of toxic moms had to deal with growing up.

Our mothers teach us to ignore bad behavior of adults, to lie and keep secrets and to pretend to others. It’s the reason so many of us face life-long impulses NOT to ask for help or support. Everything is always wonderful, so who needs help?

In the Toxic Mom Toolkit questionnaires I’ve grimaced reading the types of things some mothers do to control their little girls.  They can include constant demands for oaths of loyalty, sharing inappropriate adult information, lying, and pinky swears to keep awful things secrets. Rules of behavior are often enforced with delayed punishment, public embarrassment, pinches or slaps, neglect or physical abuse.

A mother’s eyes, a raised eyebrow, a curled lip, or a nervous laugh that telegraphs a threat can silence children.

What did your mother do to control you as a child? Does she still control you in these little ways? What doesn’t work any more? Why?

21 Responses to “Toxic Mom Toolkit: Control Tools – What Did Your Mother Use? What Still Works?”

  1. d.m.o. March 5, 2012 at 2:03 am #

    Mother was often very indirect. She used icy tones, terse remarks and tight-lipped glares. Then there was the hyper-critical scolding lectures after an event or occurrence where I didn’t behave according to her standards. If I tried to explain my side of a story, she’d cut me off by yelling over me and drowning me out followed by a terse “We will not discuss it.” fearing a resolution that might not be to her liking. If we were on the phone, she’d hang up on me. If it was face-to-face, she’d cover her ears and walk away. She could add theatrics if she still didn’t get the outcome she demanded and shake her head back and forth, sometimes swaying, with hands clasped to her ears, with her back turned to me.

    It was nearly impossible for me to stand up for myself because I was taught to doubt myself, and disregard my opinions. There was no physical abuse, but she left plenty of emotional scars in her wake. (Why would she want to scold a shy little girl for saying “Hi” to a teacher rather than the proper “Hello.” Sounds trivial but I felt very ashamed after this scolding. And why would you tell an insecure child that she’s “no genius” when she asked what her placement test results were? I was told not to wear my hair parted down the middle because it drew attention to my nose. I was not to wear short skirts because my legs were too skinny and I should stand with my legs together so you can’t see the hollow between them. I couldn’t wear black because that was for grown-ups and I was too skinny. I had to wear pleated skirts to give me “some shape.” I shouldn’t wear my hair behind my ears because they stick out too much and I shouldn’t wear round glasses frames because it emphasized my round face.)

    I had the bad luck of being born with a shy, hyper-sensitive nature and be raised by an insensitive bully of a mother. (Don’t even get me started on the famous dressing-down I got after a Mother’s day fiasco. My brother did not get the scolding tantrum she gave me.) I was sick to my stomach my entire childhood and wanted therapy but she refused saying they “always blame the mother!” and that I’d grow out of this phase. I did, after about 30 years.

    I apologize for all this ranting. I’ve reached a point in my middle age where all the hurts have bubbled to the surface. Family members (what’s left of them) and friends wouldn’t understand because she focused her venom on me and they often didn’t see this side of her. So when a question about my mother is posed here, the floodgates open! I’m sure anyone reading this thinks I should grow up and quit whining. I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m finally coming to terms with all her poor parenting, acknowledging she was wrong, not me, and attempting to move on. In the mean time, I’m getting things off my chest. So, bear with me and thanks for listening.

    • collectingjourneys March 5, 2012 at 8:31 am #

      Dear d.m.o – Don’t apologize for ranting – ranting is encouraged at Toxic Mom Toolkit. It’s not unusual for a TM to focus her wrath
      on one member of the family only. That’s why I hear of so many instances of one sibling feeling a mother is toxic while the other siblings, even the father think the mom is normal and nurturing. I have heard a hundred stories of one child being picked on in secret and later in life when this long string of abuse is discussed the other siblings think that one has lost her mind! Everyone is right, but there is no agreement on the subject of mother – and that can be very painful.

      I hope you are keeping a journal, writing about anything you want to. Make lists. Keep track. Remember. Draw. Sing. It’s your story and you need to understand it. I hope the questions posted each Friday inspire you to keep sorting out this stuff until YOU are at peace.

      Thank you for visiting and posting your comments. You help others when you tell your truth here.

      • d.m.o. March 5, 2012 at 2:30 pm #

        Thank you for your kind replies. I hope to find peace at some point. In the meantime, I’m reading some great posts at this site while wading through the deep water issues that have stirred up my brain for far too long! I know it helps me to read other posts I can relate to. Knowing we are not alone in this strange, frustrating mother/daughter journey is a comfort and hopefully the beginning of some healing. Thanks again.

  2. thelondonflowerlover March 18, 2012 at 9:35 am #

    love it

  3. dianmarie March 24, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

    We should have our own rubber Awareness bracelet with “Toxic Mother (or TM) survivor” or the motto “It’s not you. It’s her” imprinted on it. A little reminder to give us an extra nudge of strength while being around them! 🙂 Not sure what color would be best. It seems all the colors are represented by multiple causes now. But it is something I’d be interested in getting!

    • collectingjourneys March 25, 2012 at 1:08 am #

      Awareness bracelet! I’ve considered it but I always talk myself out of it. What color? BLACK is my first choice, but black rubber is kind of too harsh. Maybe a lovely camel color? I’ll think about it!

      • dianmarie March 25, 2012 at 1:38 am #

        Yes, I had a tough time deciding on a good representational color! Black was my first choice, but maybe too somber. Grey, to represent the fog we are coming out of? I thought of two-tone, like black/red (anger?) or pink/red (the mother/daughter connection?), or black/blue or purple for our battered spirit, but that might make it too pricey. I’m not a fan of brown, so as long as the camel color isn’t too dark, maybe that could work… something to think about.

    • Jennifer June 28, 2015 at 8:18 am #

      I love that bracelet idea! This is my first time at this site, I stumbled upon it trying to make sense of all my mother issues. So comforting reading all these posts!

  4. Aileen May 24, 2012 at 5:15 am #

    Hi, I found your site while searching so I do hope it’s ok that I comment! My mum passed away last year and to be honest I felt relief but now feel guilt about that and angry that I’m still letting her get to me! I’m the youngest of three and have spent my life being a people pleaser jst to be accepted! For years I “thought” I was very close to my mum bt I couldn’t see what was happening! She would complain about my dad constantly to me growing up and could be really nasty about people. She’d always say she was the only one who would be honest with me and other people would never really want me so I was lucky to have her! I know it sounds crazy bt I actually felt lucky! Friends were never encouraged. I know she probably had a hard life herself and her own mum died just before I was born.

    My sister was the eldest and hadn’t an easy life either but she married young and left home. My brother was the golden boy and could do no wrong and I just tried so hard to please everyone because I hated the conflict! I never answered her back or stood up to her and to this day I can’t have a row with anyone! Pleasing people is not a good way to grow up and led me into trouble at about 13! I couldn’t tell because I wouldn’t be believed and she’d twist to be all my fault anyway! For years, and even now I do take some responsibility but cringe when I think about it! I’d never had a hug from anyone as a child!

    Oh she was so suttle tho…. Like a dripping tap, “why on earth would anyone be bothered with you”, “people are only laughing at you”.

    As I got older and married myself I was still devoted to her but slowly tried to build a life for myself away from home but I honestly spend every day off, Christmas, holidays etc. with her, doing her shopping and taking to drs appointments etc. But it was never enough! Every single night of my life I phoned her, if I hadn’t been with her during the day! It was always a litany of complaints and criticisms…. My dad was alive at this time so she didn’t live alone or anything but it was as if she was the most neglected person in world!

    As she got older she got worse or maybe I just became more aware. Then I was diagnosed with breast cancer and was so dreading having to tell her, thinking how upsetting it would be but her concern was for herself and how it would affect her! “why on earth did I start this now just with Christmas coming”. I put it down to her way of dealing with it but I do really think that was her concern was herself! When she was in a real bad mood with me she would comment “how lucky my husband was to have me and all my problems!!!” as I’d had fertility problems previously!

    I feel bad now for all this complaining because she did have good points but sometimes I think and good slap would have been easier to delay with than the constant negative messages and emotional put downs.

    She once told me that my sister was my father’s favourite and my brother was the only one she cared for!! Then I’d just tried harder to please and then maybe I’d fit in somewhere!

    All this has led to me being kinda used by the rest of my family even now I still strive to pleas them just to prove I’ worthy some how! It’s as if it’s my role in life to be used! After all it better than being ignored!

    Gosh I really do need to get over this and move on!!

    I know It’s wrong to speak ill of someone who has passed and as I say she did nave good points and I know I’m going to be feeling sooo guilty when I post this but no backing down now!!

    So sorry for ranting.


    • collectingjourneys May 24, 2012 at 7:18 am #

      I love it that you are venting! This is the exact right place to vent. Vent all you want. Vent on every post! Get it out! Purge it! Then you can see it for what it was. Then you can get the perspective you need to move on. Please visit us at Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook and check out the Toxic Mom Toolkit channel on YouTube where we have videos. So glad you found us. Remember: It’s not you. It’s HER.

  5. Liz March 30, 2013 at 9:08 pm #

    One of my favorites was she could make me cry by the look she gave me over the phone!

  6. Laurie June 3, 2013 at 7:17 am #

    My mother would withdraw to control me. Sometimes this was behind her closed bedroom door. Other times she would just look through me as if I wasn’t there. She would avoid speaking to me and pretend not to hear me if I asked a question. It always worked.

    • collectingjourneys June 3, 2013 at 7:34 am #

      My mother use to sleep during the day to avoid all children-related responsibilities. In therapy I realized she wasn’t just sleeping. She was passed out from drinking.

  7. cc July 9, 2013 at 10:18 pm #

    Oh my word, my mother was quite volatile and ruthless and would use any means possible to manipulate. I would say, “all of the above,” but probably the most effective for me was screaming. She had a mighty powerful voice that I’m sure the neighbors in our quiet, but respectable, neighborhood could hear, and I sure didn’t want the neighbors to think I was such a bad child.

    Just an odd remembrance that occurred to me, though. There were two other families with children right next to us. Not a peep out of their houses while the children were growing up, but after the children left for college, both couples divorced, and the well-to-do, professional husbands left the nice houses to the wives. One lady chopped off her hair and turned into a screeching lunatic like my mom, but she would only yell at the dog, but she was always kind to me from when I was a child and later when I was an adult as well. The other lady I only had one interaction with my entire life, but she acted as if she knew all about me. One year my grandmother sent me off on my own to deliver Christmas presents, and the lady opened the door and her one comment to me was, “I haven’t been hearing you practice the piano lately,” really in a tone to belittle and shame me as I was doing a benign task to spread holiday cheer. As if she was my mother! As if I needed yet another toxic mother! I don’t think either of us wished one another a Merry Christmas. I, for one, was shocked by such a reception and mumbled that I did practice and left, as she certainly had nothing else to say to me. Was she trying to set up a competition, one which she hoped I would never win, with her two children, who also played piano and went to a much more elite prep school, but who I actually never really met, but maybe only once barely saw in passing when we delivered Christmas presents. I don’t think she wanted me to have anything to do with her children. Then again, not as if my mother cared if I practiced. She didn’t care about any of my endeavors. I should have said to that lady, “I do practice, but I don’t care for you to hear.” Ha, ha. I wonder if that lady didn’t like the humble cookies my poor grandmother bought with her meager Social Security check and carefully wrapped with her arthritic hands because my mother certainly didn’t care a hoot about giving anything to anyone else. Then in a strange turn of events, one Christmas when I was home after being accepted to a prestigious college, her son delivered a Christmas present to us, and it crossed my mind whether the lady had a change of heart and was trying to set up her son with me. Whoa, crazy lady! Come to think of it, there was yet another toxic mother the next house down, whose talons against me came out later in life when I was successful. It makes me wonder if possibly the only non-toxic mother in our neighborhood ended up going somewhat mad. Because the really toxic ones know how to cover it up good under a general cloak of normalcy and respectability.

  8. infjreflections August 17, 2014 at 7:50 am #

    Started therapy yesterday for this very reason, and stumbled across this blog..I’m so glad I did! I feel a little less alone now. My mother uses guilt trips. Always has, and still does. She is always the victim, and her depression is always mine or my sister’s fault. I moved out 10 years ago, and still get dramatic emails about how I left home and didn’t even care, and she was so depressed, blah blah blah. Moving out at 18 is NORMAL. Her depression over it is not MY burden to carry; she is responsible for her own emotions, not me. I couldn’t be sad about it, because ONE of us had to be the strong one! She was guilt tripping me until the day I left. She was physically abused, and that is her excuse for everything. We were told things that kids probably didn’t need to hear, and we had to keep them a secret. It was our responsibility to uphold the “family reputation”. There was strict “no back talking” policy, so we had to take our punishments and lectures and not say a word. She lectured us for HOURS when we did something “wrong”. It felt horrible. I cannot recall a time where she ever apologized for anything or admitted to ever making a mistake at all. It took me 25 years to realize that I’ve been manipulated my whole life. 😦

    • collectingjourneys August 17, 2014 at 8:01 am #

      I am SO happy that you found Toxic Mom Toolkit. Be sure to check out the page on Facebook. Best, Rayne

    • Jennifer June 28, 2015 at 8:24 am #

      I had recently told my sister that when our mom passes, I plan on writing the word guilt on a small piece of paper and putting it in the coffin, because the guilt is getting buried with her.

  9. Josephine February 15, 2015 at 3:49 am #

    My mother used to tell me “you are grown up now!” but in therapy I realised she was trying to make an adult of me when I was a child to hide her irresponsible behaviour, masked with the push to make me take responsibilities in life…..

    • collectingjourneys February 15, 2015 at 9:08 am #

      That’s a great insight!

  10. eckraemer1989 September 14, 2015 at 7:59 am #

    That “look”. The sideways look, pursed lips, mean look in her eyes that said, “Just wait until you get home. You’re going to get it.” I still sometimes have nightmares about that look. It’s frightening. I’m 46 years old and just the thought of that look gives me the shivers.

    • collectingjourneys September 14, 2015 at 8:11 am #

      Yep. I know that look.

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