9 behaviors that suggest your mother has a manipulative streak

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The bond between a mother and child is often hailed as one of the most sacred and enduring. Yet, nestled within the folds of maternal love, there can sometimes lurk shadows of manipulation.

Have you ever felt the weight of a mother’s words bearing down on you? “After all I’ve done for you, you still let me down,” or perhaps, “If you loved me, you would have studied harder.”

Let’s be clear: it’s natural for a mother to express vulnerability to her child, but these phrases aren’t merely innocent venting—they’re calculated strikes aimed at guilt and control.

While the notion may initially seem unsettling, it’s essential to recognize that maternal manipulation, though less acknowledged, is not unheard of.

In fact, it’s a phenomenon that transcends societal norms and familial roles, quietly shaping the contours of our emotional landscapes.

Up next, we’ll look into 9 signs that suggest a mother might have have a manipulative nature.

1) Frequent guilt trips

The world of mother-child relationships is ripe with emotional moments. And one tool that a manipulative mother might use to control her child is the guilt trip.

Guilt trips are all about making you feel bad for not doing what your mother wants. They’re a way for her to exert control and get her way, without having to openly express her desires.

For example, she might say things like: “I worked overtime every night this week just so you could have nice things, and this is how you repay me?” or “You never call or visit anymore. I guess I’m just a burden to you.”

These tactics are often a way for mothers to express their own emotions and seek validation or attention from their child.

2) Backhanded compliments

A common tactic of manipulative mothers is the use of backhanded compliments. These are comments that sound like a compliment on the surface, but actually contain a hidden insult or criticism.

I remember when I experienced this first-hand with my own mother. I’d just landed my first job after college and I was excited to share the news with her.

Instead of congratulating me, she said, “That’s great, honey. It’s about time you found a job. Your friends have been working for years.”

Ouch. That stung. Instead of celebrating my achievement, she had subtly compared me to my peers and found me lacking.

If your mother regularly delivers compliments that leave you feeling deflated rather than uplifted, it might be a sign that she has a manipulative streak. It’s important to recognize this pattern and understand that it says more about her than it does about you.

3) Being overly critical

Mothers who frequently criticize their children’s every move are not just being nitpicky. This behavior can be a form of manipulation, meant to undermine your self-esteem and make you more susceptible to their control.

This isn’t just about harmless nagging over unwashed dishes or unmade beds. It’s a consistent pattern of criticism aimed at your personality, your choices, your lifestyle, or even your dreams and aspirations.

Did you know that according to psychology, constant criticism can actually reshape the way our brain works? It can lead to increased levels of stress, anxiety, and can even alter the way we view ourselves and our abilities.

4) Emotional blackmail

One of the more harmful behaviors of a manipulative mother is emotional blackmail. This happens when your mom uses her emotions, or yours, to force you into doing what she wants.

This tactic could take the form of threats, ultimatums, or even playing the victim. She might say things like, “If you really loved me, you would do this” or “I can’t believe you would hurt me like this.”

The goal here is to make you feel guilty or scared so that you give in to her demands. It’s a form of control that can lead to an unhealthy and imbalanced relationship.

5) Excessive control

A clear sign of manipulation is when your mother insists on having excessive control over your life.

This could range from decisions about your career or relationships, to smaller things like what you wear or eat. If she’s trying to dictate every aspect of your life, it’s a red flag.

Yes, moms often have their children’s best interests at heart. But there’s a difference between giving advice and forcing choices.

The key here is autonomy. You should be allowed to make your own decisions, even if they lead to mistakes. That’s how we learn and grow.

6) Conditional love

The love between a mother and child is often considered the purest form of love. It’s supposed to be unconditional, unwavering, and nonjudgmental.

But in the case of a manipulative mother, love can sometimes feel like a tool used for control. The love seems conditional, given or withdrawn based on whether you’re following her wishes or not.

Let’s say a mother constantly reminds her daughter of all the sacrifices she’s made for her: “I’ve given up my career, my dreams, everything for you.”

Whenever the daughter expresses a desire that goes against what the mother wants, such as pursuing a different career path, the mother responds with emotional manipulation: “After everything I’ve done for you, this is how you repay me?”

In this scenario, the mother’s love appears conditional. She uses guilt and emotional manipulation to control her daughter’s decisions and ensure compliance with her own agenda.

7) Constant competition

If you often feel like you’re in a constant competition with others in your mother’s eyes, it could be a sign that she’s manipulating you. 

Imagine your mother always compares your achievements to those of your siblings or peers, highlighting where you fall short: “Look at your sister, she’s already excelling in her career. What have you accomplished?”

This constant comparison creates a sense of competition, where you feel you must constantly prove yourself to be worthy of her approval.

This dynamic could erode your self-confidence, as comparisons fuel insecurity and reliance on her validation. What’s more? Positioning herself as the ultimate authority perpetuates dependency, ensuring her influence over your decisions and perceptions.

8) Invasion of privacy

In a healthy mother-child relationship, there’s a mutual respect for each other’s personal space and privacy. But a manipulative mother might cross these boundaries, treating your personal life as an open book.

This could look like going through your belongings without permission, reading your messages, or even demanding to know every detail of your personal life. It’s a way of maintaining control and keeping tabs on you.

Don’t forget that everyone has a right to their own privacy. It’s an essential part of maintaining a healthy and respectful relationship. If your mother frequently invades your privacy, it might be a sign that she has a manipulative streak.

9) Disregard for your feelings

Above everything else, the most telling sign of a manipulative mother is a consistent disregard for your feelings.

When she dismisses or belittles your emotions, it erodes your sense of self-worth and autonomy. This disregard creates a power dynamic where your needs and emotions are consistently sidelined in favor of her own agenda.

Whether through invalidation, gaslighting, or outright neglect, her actions reinforce her control over you, leaving you feeling unseen and unheard.

Ultimately, this disregard for your feelings perpetuates a cycle of manipulation, where your emotional well-being is sacrificed for her own desires.

Arm yourself with awareness

To those grappling with manipulative mothers, know this: you’re not alone in facing such challenges.

It’s crucial to set firm boundaries and prioritize your mental well-being. While it’s tough, remember to extend compassion to yourself; this isn’t your fault. Seek support from trusted allies who validate your experiences.

Most importantly, refuse to internalize her manipulation and reclaim your autonomy. It’s a journey, but you’re capable of breaking free from her manipulative grip.  

Ava Sinclair

Ava Sinclair is a former competitive athlete who transitioned into the world of wellness and mindfulness. Her journey through the highs and lows of competitive sports has given her a unique perspective on resilience and mental toughness. Ava’s writing reflects her belief in the power of small, daily habits to create lasting change.

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