Guilt-Tripping Mother? 10 Steps to Break Free, Guilt Free

Find out if you are a Good Daughter!

Daughter feeling guilty from a guilt tripping mother


Does your guilt-tripping mother say-

“I guess I’m just a HORRIBLE mother…”

“After ALL I’ve done for you …”

“I won’t EVER give you my advice again…”

“I was JUST trying to help…”

“I guess you didn’t THINK about how I might feel…”

“I don’t know WHAT you are talking about I’m just FINE…( door slames, rage cleaning, ices you out)”


No one can guilt-trip you like your mother-am I, right?

When you go to set boundaries, say no, speak up, stand up, disagree, or dare to live your own life, you are stopped in your tracks by GUILT!

That sinking, sickening, slightly nauseating feeling you will do almost ANYTHING to get rid of. UGHH. It sabotages your best efforts to deal with your difficult mother.

If you can relate, you aren’t alone.

First, there is a difference between healthy guilt and toxic guilt, a significant difference-

A mother-daughter relationship can be so close that daughters can’t bear to upset their mothers when that same mother has been a steady source of comfort and support. While awkward and somewhat problematic, this guilt comes from a place and is a product of love.

In contrast, toxic guilt is induced in another as a means of manipulation and control-

 What I’m talking about here is toxic guilt.

…the kind that can strike at your core, and you know you are in trouble with Mom in a nanosecond.

The kind of guilt that makes you feel like you are 5 instead of 25, 35, 45 or 55, or 65.

effects of a guilt-tripping mother

If you are one of those daughters struggling with this next-level toxic guilt that never seems to end or get resolved … well into adulthood… this article is for you.

As a psychotherapist, this toxic guilt gives my clients the most trouble. It is what I hear most from my clients -especially those in the Good Daughter role. The number one reason they struggle with making changes in their relationship with their difficult mothers.

Changes they need to make, want to make.. but just can’t bring themselves to make, except for this one (stop them in their tracks) feeling.

Their mothers can be blatantly abusive, over the top unreasonable, and these daughters still have massive trouble calling them out.

Daughters who wouldn’t put up with such treatment in any other relationship can choke when it comes to setting limits and boundaries with their guilt-tripping mother.

Is it because they are wimpy, weak, or less than bright?

No, no, and no…

That isn’t the reason.

To understand…

Let’s start with an understanding of the healthy trajectory of a healthy mother/daughter relationship. As a child grows from dependence to independence, each step she takes is a step away from Mom. This dance towards independence challenges Mom to let go and release her daughter into her own life.

While not easy by any means, most mothers who are psychologically healthy are up to the task.

Daughters have to meet the challenge of venturing out on their own and increasingly taking on more and more independence. Like a kite string, daughters feel the tug of their mother’s presence… until it almost disappears out of sight.

In health, that’s the way it’s supposed to go.

But, if you resonate with what I’ve written so far… you don’t have a healthy mother; you have your mother.

And, if mom is more of a cloud over your head hovering.. tracking you… controlling you with guilt. You’ve got a problem.

And the problem isn’t you.

 If Mom has a Borderline personality disorder, a Narcissistic personality disorder, or is high in the traits for either or both… what is a challenge for any daughter becomes a losing battle with these mothers.

See if you recognize yourself…

As you try to pull away, Mom pulls her guilt-tripping. In response, you then sink further and further into the quicksand of your mother’s needs. And if you give in, your resentment builds and builds until all you feel is resentment.

OR, you protest or assert your independence, only to unleash a tsunami of guilt-inducing guilt-tripping pushback from Mom.  You try and argue your case to get Mom to see your side of things, but no matter how hard you try… it doesn’t work. Mom clings tighter and tighter.

Like one of those finger traps, the harder you try and pull apart, the more trapped you become. Either you become deathly afraid to reject Mom in any way- you end up feeling like it’s just not worth the blowback.

Or you are locked in endless back and forths that eat up your time and energy but get you nowhere…

You wonder why the hell it has to be so darn hard?


when Mom makes you feel guilty

When it gets this bad, and you feel this frustrated, I’m here to tell you something else is going on.

It’s time to consider that Mom has a personality disorder or traits thereof-


The psychological coping mechanisms in these personality disorders give Mom a black belt in relational weaponry– Guilt tripping you is like child’s play for her. Persistent and habitual ways of acting characterize personality disorders. This is how Mom gets her way.

And she can do it with both hands tied behind her back and blindfolded.

(Go here for more on personality disorders, borderline, and narcissism and the effect they have on you.)

In the meantime, let’s get down to some practical (but grounded in psychological theory) ways you can deal with the guilt-tripping mother.. without feeling guilty.

The first point I’d like to make is that guilt is a reflexive/biological emotion- not necessarily thought out or rationale. In my work with clients as a psychotherapist, I am fond of saying… “ Just because you feel guilty doesn’t mean you are guilty.

So with that in mind…

When Mom guilt trips you-

1. Reevaluate-  what you owe Mom.

This is a big one. You may feel on a gut level that you owe her everything. She gave you life, and so you owe her anything she asks of you- right? I would say wrong.

A mother’s job is to work herself out of a job, thus supporting your growing independence. Therefore, when you pull away, you are only following the healthy trajectory.

You owe it to yourself to move in the direction of independence.

When Mom guilt trips you-

2. Realize- guilt is a sensation before it registers as a thought.

guilt-tripping mother

Most of the time, we feel a guilty sensation, and then we create a matching thought that goes along with that feeling.

Many times, that thought is a miss match for the feeling.

So when you feel guilty, check in with your body. Locate the source of the sensation and try to calm that place in your body. Once you calm your nervous system, you are able to think about whether or not you have harmed anyone or if your feeling of guilt was more reflexive and not a mandate for action.

When Mom guilt trips you-

3. Reconcile– your responsibilities to yourself.

guilt tripping mother


You are an adult now.

And, as we’ve established, you have a responsibility to yourself to grow up and away from Mom’s influence. You owe it to yourself to pursue your life without taking on responsibility for your mother’s feelings.

Both of your needs count, not just hers.

When Mom guilt trips you- 

4. Reset-  expectations

guilt tripping mother

Proactively tell Mom what she can expect from you… instead of always reacting to her requests. Lead with intention instead of always being on the defensive.

When Mom guilt trips you-

5. Recognize – the subtext or the gesture that brings on the feelings of guilt.

guilt tripping mother

Does Mom say one thing and mean another?

She says she wants you to be happy, independent, and speak your mind…. but the eye-rolls, the side-eyes, the competitive, snarky, backhanded compliments tell quite a different story.

These mixed messages are designed to make you feel guilty while flying under the radar of plausible deniability.

If you let these covert displays go unchallenged, you walk away with a gut full of guilt and may not know why.

Not knowing why makes it harder to shake. When you know what hit you, you are more able to get an

appropriate distance from it.

When Mom guilt trips you-

6. Reassess – whether or not you are actually guilty of harmful behavior or if you are acting on implicit assumptions.

guilt tripping mother


Assess if you have an underlying agreement to be responsible for Mom’s emotional well-being. If you can’t bear to disappoint her, this could be the case.

These are unfair and frequently unconsciously held assumptions that are an unreasonable burden to place on an adult child.

When Mom guilt trips you-

7. Reframe – the more guilty you feel about speaking your mind, setting boundaries, and taking care of yourself, the more your relationship is out of balance.

when mom makes you feel guilty

And as such, is in need of an adjustment. The level of guilt you feel may indicate how out of balance the relationship you have with your mother is.

In that way, your overblown sense of guilt is telling you something. It might be telling you that you have been assuming the responsibility for Mom’s needs over your own.

When Mom guilt trips you-

8. Resist – fighting fire with fire and guilt with guilt.



You may feel like turning the tables back on Mom, but it will just keep you stuck. Making Mom feel guilty for making you feel guilty is a never-ending cycle.

Instead, keep your cool and don’t take the bait.

When Mom guilt trips you-

9. Remember– you have needs too.

when mom makes you feel guilty


In adult mature relating, there needs to be room for the needs of both adults. If Mom’s needs are the only ones that count, you need to stop looking to her to take your needs into consideration.

When Mom guilt trips you-

10. Refuse -to accept fault for growing up and wanting to live your own life.


When Mom makes you feel guilty

It is your developmental task as an adult to take your place in the adult world. If Mom can’t accept her task is to let you go and respect you as a sovereign adult- that’s on her.

( If you’d rather watch- see below)

I know it is popular to say no one can make you feel guilty. Except when you are dealing with the person you were dependent on for your entire childhood, there are underlying misplaced feelings of responsibility for her.


Especially if your Mom needed you, you couldn’t say “no” then, and it’s hard to say “no” now.



Yes, you can get to the place where she can’t make you feel guilty, and I’m all about helping you get there.

However, there is lots of work between here and there. It is not easy, but it is possible, And it starts with understanding the unconscious programming that makes your default feeling-guilty.

As unpleasant as the feeling of guilt is … when you sit with it and examine what lies underneath the feeling, you can unearth plenty of dysfunction.

But your life can be much better when you understand the unconscious traps that keep you stuck in the dysfunction and how to escape them.

And yes, you can get to the place where your mother can’t make you feel guilty. You can learn it isn’t your fault. You aren’t guilty, even though you may feel you are. Instead, You are operating under an old, outdated imbalanced dynamic. One I call The Good Daughter Syndrome.

Good for Mom, bad for you.


If you prefer to listen to this blog

Technically no, However, since daughters have a history with their mothers, in which they were dependent on their mother’s (or others) caregiving for survival, mothers hold a special power over their daughters. It takes a great idea of awareness and fortitude for a daughter to overcome being controlled by a mother who unfairly guilt trips her.

Yes, when mothers use guilt to manipulate their daughters into doing what they want them to do, the relationship isn’t healthy.

Healthy guilt can serve a healthy purpose in a loving and respectful relationship. When we care about another person who has treated us well, we don’t want them to suffer from our actions, intentional or not. In contrast, toxic guilt is used as a manipulation to provoke a feeling of shame in another in order to control them.


Healthy guilt’s ultimate aim is to increase intimacy and enhance trust, whereas toxic guilt aims for control.

Toxic guilt is used to shame a child/daughter who pulling away from her mother’s influence or to provoke the daughter into taking care of the mother’s emotional needs.


Because it is a misuse of the power differential a mother has over her daughter. Besides, daughters may comply, but eventually, they will build up resentment towards their mother, negatively impacting their relationship.

If you resonate, I’ve got so much more help for you.



Do you relate?

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