Mothering Ourselves: Adult Survivors of Abusive Mothers

“If I could go back in time, I would want to tell myself…You are beautiful. You are perfect. You are loved”– Katrina Mayer

In 2019, nearly 62% of victims of child maltreatment were perpetrated by their mother, making mothers the most common perpetrators of child abuse (US Department of Health & Human Services, 2019). It is important to note that these are only the cases that are reported to child protective services and many cases go unreported.

Sometimes emotional abuse by mothers is not recognized as such because these parenting methods are less overt and seem more “acceptable.” When compared to physical or sexual abuse, emotional abuse may not be considered as harmful. However, research now shows that children that suffer emotional maltreatment suffer effects equal to or greater than children who are physically or sexually abused.  These behaviors may also be overlooked because a mother is single and does not have support or the has been abused herself and may not recognize her actions as abusive. Unfortunately, just as with other forms of abuse, emotional abuse can leave life-long scars on all members of the family (Spinazzola, et al., 2015).

Here are some behaviors or actions of an abusive mother that may not be easily recognized (Mayo Clinic, 2018):

  • Overly critical
  • Blaming the child for the mother’s stress
  • Expressing that the child is not able to do anything good enough
  • Making it the child’s job to keep her happy
  • Responding in an inconsistent and erratic manner
  • Limiting interactions with others
  • Demanding an inappropriate level of performance in school, at home, etc.

Mother’s Day can be a day of struggle for many people who have a history of being abused by their mothers. This day can bring up many painful memories and feelings of conflict about having or not having a relationship with your mother at this time in your life.

If this struggle resonates with you due to your relationship with your mother, please know that you are not alone. As a child, you did not have a choice. Abused children are usually quite loyal to even the most abusive of mothers, which is logical because a child counts on their mother for survival. As adults, although you may have the choice to have a relationship with your mother or not, either way can cause a significant amount of pain. Sometimes the psychological consequences of reconnecting with your mother can be so great that it outweighs attempting to repair the relationship. This can be a difficult boundary to set, as many other family members/friends may not support you in this decision.

If you have experienced maternal abuse, it may be helpful to intentionally set what Mother’s Day will look like for you. Here are some ideas and feel free to add as many as you think will work  for you:

  • Set boundaries and be okay with your decision
  • Put space between yourself and your mother/family
  • Make plans with a close friend
  • Give yourself permission to grieve
  • Ask for support from friends, family you are close to, or professionals
  • Engage in an activity that brings you joy
  • Plan for self-care (walk in nature, work-out, meditate, get a massage)
  • Give your inner child the grace, love and compassion that you have always deserved

Resilient Retreat is here to support you. We have many programs and support groups focused on self-care such as trauma-informed yoga, meditation, therapeutic art/movement/writing, empowerment, boundary setting, etc. We also have a Kind Line available Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm. Please feel free to call for one on one support!  You can also see our current programs on our website at