Break Free of Mother Daughter Guilt

mother and daughterThis article is for you if you are caught in the mother daughter guilt triangle! I’m no expert on guilt, so I turned to someone who is – Dr Doris Jeanette. Click here  to read her article on Living a Guilt Free Life and to access the resources on her website.

Here is my take on what she has to say about guilt.

  • What is guilt?

Guilt is that icky feeling that makes us feel tied up in knots and unworthy. Guilt is not a real emotion. Guilt is caused by thinking that we have done something wrong. We think we have done something wrong because we judge ourselves or someone else judges us.

It throws us straight back in time when we felt like a “bad” little girl. A child does not “feel guilty” until someone tells her that she has offended someone or hurt someone’s so called “feelings.” When a child is judged in this way she feels “bad” and unworthy. “Feeling guilty” is a conditioned response to being judged, not an authentic emotion. When guilt is used on someone else it is manipulation, to make them do what we want them to do.

  • What is judgment?

Judgment in this sense is when we feel better than someone else, or not as good as someone else. We judge when we want to control a situation and defend ourselves against feeling our true emotions.

Parents use judgment in order to control their children. The intention comes from feelings of insecurity and fear that the child will not be safe, not be accepted or will get into trouble. The intention comes from a mother’s urge to protect, but unfortunately it sows the seeds in the child of feeling unworthy and “bad.”

  • Why do people judge and use guilt?got guilt?

When someone judges you as wrong, they are defending against their own feelings. Your behavior puts them in touch with feelings inside of themselves that they are blocking and do not want to feel. Judging is a defense mechanism. They choose to judge you to feel better about themselves.

When someone judges you it is because you have triggered their own internal judgment about themselves. You are a mirror reflecting back something they are not facing. And so, they say or do something that makes them feel more in control and puts you down… which then triggers your own insecurities and judgments about yourself.

It really is a lose lose situation. Two people defending themselves by making the other person feel bad in the hope that they will feel better. Hurting … reacting …. judging …. blaming …. and throwing in guilty manipulation keeps everyone  in the same power struggle and drama.

Tips for Dealing with Mother Guilt Trips

According to Denise McGregor in her book Mama Drama, there are 4 key motivators behind mother’s guilt and criticism. These motivators come down to the unmet needs of the judging person.

1. Competition. She doesn’t feel good about herself compared with how she perceives you. She wants to pull you down a peg or two so she feels better about herself. Daughters of narcissist mothers can certainly relate to this. Daughters of mothers who feel they have missed out on a good life, can also relate. In this case she wants you to feel as badly as she does.

The need behind her judging is to feel better about herself, to feel reassured that she is “enough”. Tell her it isn’t a competition and that she is fine just the way she is.

2. Over Protective. She wants you to be safe and perhaps not have the painful experiences she has had or has been avoiding in her life. She is afraid that you will get into trouble, hurt yourself or not fit in. She is still treating you like a child.

Tell her its time to cut the apron strings while reassuring her that you love her … and you are in charge of your life.

3. Unmet emotional needs. Her own needs are not being met in her relationships and/or life. She may feel insecure, unappreciated, lonely, or no longer useful.

Stick with the facts. For example you have an other engagement and can’t stay for dinner. You have your own life and commitments –  and yes, you love her. Encourage her to have her own life too. You can be a role model for her as well as a support.

4. Control. She feels out of control, feeling fearful or anxious about her self. Using guilt makes makes her feel more in control.

Dealing with someone who needs to feel in control isn’t easy. Rather than reacting to being controlled, step back, switch gears to think about what she really needs and reassure her fear. Stick with the facts and tell her you love her.

Break Free of Guiltbreak free

Instead of allowing ourselves to react like children afraid of how she feels, how we have let her down, how disappointed she is, how she’ll never appreciate us, how we don’t want to hurt her … we must step into our adult shoes and shift gears.

As an adult you can break this cycle of guilt with understanding, setting boundaries and dealing with your own internal judge.

  • Understand the need that isn’t being met behind judgement and guilt. Rather than reacting, take a deep breath, step back and consider what the missing need is behind her behavior.
  • Deal with the icky feeling and address the situation there and then. Breathe into the discomfort, rather than avoid feeling it. Stick with the facts and come from a respectful and loving place. Don’t get sucked into the drama or retaliate at the same level …. unless you want this drama to continue forever!
  • Recognize what is going on within yourself. If someone judges you and you feel guilty, then they have triggered your own judging self. Its isn’t really about them, it’s all about you!

Become conscious of your judgments of yourself, so you have the means to stop judging yourself. Once you stop making yourself wrong, it will be easier to deal with other people’s judgments of you.

When we let go of judging ourselves and are truly happy with the way we are, we no longer feel guilt when someone else tries to use it on us. The more accepting of ourselves and the more authentic we are, the less guilty we will feel.

Remember that you only feel guilt when you judge yourself. If you have done something you truly regret, apologize and stop doing it, otherwise dispense with guilt. Do not let guilt rule your life.

Letting Go of Self Judgment

This can be a tough journey for many of us. I know that I judged myself for years for being so judgmental!

When you notice that you are judging yourself as “bad” for being a judger, its your ego kicking in to keep you from changing. Your ego will fight it and tell you “You’re selfish. You’re crazy!”

The bottom line is that when you judge yourself you hurt yourself. The feelings of doubt, unworthiness and being “bad” will stay with you until they are replaced with feeling good about yourself.

Look beyond the judgment to your own unmet needs. Ask yourself “What do I need that I am not getting? What is missing for me?” Bring awareness to your own needs and start working on them to get them met. Honor the needs that you have rather than feel bad that you have them. We all have them! Its not something to feel ashamed about. We all need to feel loved, to belong, to feel worthy, and to be respected and validated.

Love yourselfInstead of joining in with the harsh critical voice in your head, go to your heart. Imagine that small child who was made to feel unworthy and “bad”. Open your heart to yourself and feel compassion towards your hurt inner child. Give yourself a hug and hold yourself softly.  Then you will start to heal and break free from the cycle of guilt.

The only way to resolve guilt is to cease the self judgments, then you will be able to relax and love again.




Please make an appointment to talk about what's going in your relationship and to see if coaching or our services would help!