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How to Deal with Your Bully Mom

Who is Your Bully?

A bully is a person who habitually seeks to harm or intimidate those whom they perceive as vulnerable.1 Bullies control their victims from a position of power and authority. They dominate, dismiss, discount, and demean others. This includes destructive rather than constructive criticism of others, whether public or private.

The insidious reality of abuse, whether physical or emotional, is that it leaves a victim. A victim is someone who has suffered physically or emotionally as a result of someone else’s actions, words, or beliefs.

Bullies come in different sizes, ages, genders, and occupations. Is the bully your boss at work? Your child’s classmate? A troll online? Or does the bully live in your family?

Although bullies can be classmates, family members, colleagues in the workplace, or total strangers in cyberspace, this article focuses solely on the Bully Mom and her son or daughter as the victim.

Why Does Mom Bully?

Bully Moms need to feel superior to those they bully. In some way, they feel inferior or threatened. Wanting to feel better about herself, she abuses others to elevate her self-esteem. Through abusive words or actions, she attempts to remain dominant over and in control of the bullied.

How Does Bully Mom Impact You?

As a victim, you may feel:

  • Attacked
  • Insulted, demeaned, discounted
  • Unvalued, unappreciated, unsupported
  • Unwanted, unloved, disliked
  • Helpless
  • Alone

How Do You Deal with Bully Mom?

When the bully in your life is your Mother, you can take steps to protect yourself from her toxic behavior. The ones listed below I found especially helpful.

Expect Toxic Behavior to Continue

I spent my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood resisting my Mother. I could not accept her verbal, emotional, or physical abuse. Further, I could not accept the person she was—even her positive attributes. Yes, she had some! Yet, all I could hear was the berating and her overly controlling and overly critical voice. I saw her as a big blob of black with no white or shades of gray. With that vision and no toolkit to use to deal with her, I remained locked in a series of unending battles. Before my introduction to 12-step programs, therapy, and self-help books, I had no clue how to deal with my obsession called Mom which permeated my entire life.

Know that your Mother will not change her behavior toward you unless she is motivated to do so. This means she will continue her hurtful ways. Accept it now. You cannot change her. You can only change your reaction to her.

Set Boundaries

Number of Interactions: Limit the number of interactions with her in a given period. If phone calls twice a month are better than weekly, then set a less frequent talk schedule.

Amount of Time: Limit the amount of time you talk to her, whether in person, over the phone, or via digital tools. If a 15–20-minute conversation is more apt to remain civil than an open-ended time period, then opt for the former.

I found that the ideal time limit for an in-person visit by my Mother who lived two states away was two days. For the first two days, we were both cordial and polite. But by the third day, the old Mother-Daughter dynamics crept in. Invariably, an attitude would develop by one of us, followed by an argument. Like clockwork! I learned for me; a three-day visit was risky business.

Specific Issues: Establish limits for specific issues on which you disagree. It’s pointless to bring up or discuss topics that you know will lead to an argument. Sensitive issues can be anything—your job or career, your schooling, your partner, your kids, or your political or religious views. Choose not to discuss it!

Geographic Boundaries: If you know that you want to live far away from your Mother to save your sanity, move when you can! After graduating from college at 21 years of age, I left home in Seattle, Washington for Hermosa Beach, California. That was 52 years ago.

Assert Yourself

I did not confront my Mother until I was 50 years old while home to attend my Dad’s memorial service. Then, I finally told my Mother to her face how I felt about the way she treated me for decades. Half a century waiting for the opportune time, which finally presented itself.

Confronting your Mom’s verbal or emotional abuse and asserting yourself as one adult to another or as one adolescent daughter to Bully Mom is not easy to do. It’s uncomfortable because Bully Mom expects and demands compliance. But learning how to stand up for yourself, say “no,” or negotiate with her is a critical life skill.

Instead of waiting 50 years for the opportune time, address her toxic behavior as it occurs. Whatever the situation may be, identify it, and address it.2  Remain calm, and stand your ground.Have a talk with your Mother and tell her honestly how you feel and how her behavior has a negative effect on you.3 By addressing toxic behavior as it occurs with the goal of resolving or mitigating the issue, you may save yourself decades of hurt and anger, if not eventual estrangement. As you assert yourself by confronting Bully Mom, she may modify her behavior. Your perception of her may change from a big black blob to a less scary human being.

Speak Calmly and Respectfully

If Bully Mom is yelling or berating, it takes a lot of self-restraint to remain calm and speak respectfully. But if you can speak calmly, it may have a calming effect on her. She’ll get the message that her hurtful speech is not affecting you.

Instead of arguing with her and making accusatory statements that start with “You <did this, that, and the other thing>,” use “I” statements, such as “I feel angry when you berate me about my career choice.” If you and your Mother agree to use “I” statements when arguing, you are both accepting responsibility and accountability for the issue.

Define Yourself

Focus on defining your own values, beliefs, and self-image. Do not let Mom’s negative words about you stop you or hold you back from attempting what you want to do in life. It’s your life, not hers, and only you can decide how to spend it.

Carol Ann’s Bully Mom

When I was six years old, my Mother’s bully persona launched with unrelenting regularity. I was afraid of her angry outbursts when she got mad. The first physical abuse incident occurred at age seven. Since she was bigger than I was, she knew that I could not retaliate physically.

For decades, Mom successfully controlled me with her anger, or if she wasn’t angry at the moment, the prospect of it. I wanted to avoid her angry tirades at all costs. That meant complying consistently with all requests and commands. Or else.

As I progressed from grade school to junior high, her anger took the form of verbal abuse; nasty negatives consisting of belittling, unsupportive comments, and periodic berating sessions. Facing the prospect of this behavior, it became critical for me to determine her mood as soon as I woke up because her mood determined how my day would start. My hypervigilance of her behavior led to an underlying, low-grade anxiety disorder that I’ve experienced for a lifetime.

Later, in high school, college, and as an adult, my fear of her turned into resentment, anger, and rage. The years of accumulated verbal abuse created in me an emotional time bomb, just waiting to explode.

Carol Ann’s Geographic Boundary

As a child, I could not stand up to my Mother’s verbal, emotional, or physical abuse. I was dependent on her for providing me with daily sustenance. But as I grew into my teens and young adulthood, my angry obsession with her grew. I began to gradually pull away from the relationship.

Born and raised in Seattle, Washington, I intentionally chose a college on the East side of the state to increase the mileage from her. Then, instead of spending all semester breaks at home, I chose to spend two-semester breaks and one summer break elsewhere.

After graduating from college, I moved from Washington State to California and landed my first job. Initially, I went home during my work vacations, but after two years, I stopped.

When I stopped drinking alcohol at age 35, I could no longer see my Mother at all. Without the crutch of daily or nightly drinking to numb old wounds, I was too raw and wobbly in my new-found sobriety to deal with my unresolved issues about her.

Sobriety led to a 15-year estrangement from my Mother with no in-person or phone contact whatsoever. The estrangement period, however, was not the ending, but the beginning of my journey to resuming a healthy relationship.

References

1 Dictionary. Definitions from Oxford Languages. https://languages.oup.com/google-dictionary-en/

2 Psychology, “How to Deal With a Toxic Mother.” By The Editors. Expert contributor: Niche Brislane. Updated on February 9, 2023. https://upjourney.com/how-to-deal-with-a-toxic-mother

3 Psychology, “How to Deal With a Toxic Mother.” By The Editors. Expert contributor: Michelle James. Updated on February 9, 2023. https://upjourney.com/how-to-deal-with-a-toxic-mother

Additional Reading

Daughter Detox: Recovering from an Unloving Mother and Reclaiming Your Life by Peg Streep.

Narcissistic Mothers: How to Set Boundaries and Protect Yourself From Emotional Abuse, CPTSD & Toxic Shame by Melanie Parker.

Adult Survivors of Toxic Family Members: Tools to Maintain Boundaries, Deal with Criticism, and Heal from Shame After ties Have Been Cut by Sherrie Campbell Ph.D., and Wendy T. Behary, LCSW.

Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Susan Forward and Craig Buck.

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