Triggers with Mother Daughter Couples

How To Deal With Triggers In Mother-Daughter Relationship. 

Mothers and daughters want to improve the relationship with each other and are struggling with how to do this.

There is much misunderstanding, not hearing each other, yelling or talking over each other. They each feel frustrated and exhausted by these interactions.

One of the biggest points of conflict between mothers and daughters is not feeling heard by the other which results in feeling misunderstood. I hear from daughters that their mothers don’t listen to them, and from mothers that their daughters don’t understand them.

Trying to get a point across to the other, raising voices, digging down into the argument and not listening to the other’s point of view, not getting to the crux of the argument, results in triggering each other. Each feels shut down. Anger, disappointment, hurt ensues.

Expectations and Disappointments

Another big point of contention is the expectation from mothers and daughters of how the other could change. Brene Brown said, “Disappointment is unmet expectations. The more significant the expectations, the more significant the disappointments.”

When mothers and daughters expect more from each other than what each of them is capable of giving, there is a huge disappointment. Each feels criticised, judged, dismissed. They don’t feel listened to or understood. They feel their needs are minimised.

Mothers and daughters blame themselves, or blame each other for the conflict they experience. If a mother and daughter are not getting their emotional needs met, then they fight about who gets to be heard in the family.

They each keep their distance, creating a wider disconnection. Frustration and hurt turns into silence.

Different personalities is another reason given to rationalise the mother-daughter conflict. These differences shape interactions between a mother and daughter, yet this is not the true underlying issue that affects their relationship. It is a generational cycle of expectations and hurt.

Triggers and Labels

When I talk with mothers and daughters, each feels disrespected, ignored and unheard. As we dig deeper, a regular comment I hear is about their own mum who wasn’t emotionally present for them when each of them was a girl. Both feel a lack of emotional support.

A mother may put pressure on herself, trying to be the mum that her mum wasn’t. This is often a trigger for many mothers raising girls through the tween and teen years and into adulthood.

Daughters can be pigeon-holed as being the ‘nice girl’ or ‘being too sensitive’ or ‘highly strung’. Labels do not enrich the mother-daughter relationship.

The reality is that mothers have learned these labels from their generational family. It runs along the female line of her history.

A daughter wants the love of her mother, wants to lean into her mum, she wants to know that mum has ‘her back’, will be her protector, her guide, a safe, loving and warm presence. A daughter wants to be known, be heard and be visible to mum.

Therapist and author, Esther Perel, said, “Listen, just listen. You don’t have to agree. Just see if you can understand that there’s another person who has a completely different experience of the same reality.”

Life Transitions with Mothers and Daughters

Moving out, getting married, having babies are important transitions yet mothers can have difficulty accepting the transition of their little girl becoming an independent teen and into her twenties and beyond. Daughters can find it stifling with mum hovering nearby and feel criticised for the choices she makes. These can be crucial times when mothers and daughters are triggered.

Reacting to what your mother or daughter says is triggering a part of yourself that shows there is a part of yourself that needs healing.  When the adult daughter feels her mother doesn’t respect the daughter’s autonomy, doesn’t respect her skills in decision-making, doesn’t understand that the daughter is a capable adult, the daughter increasingly feels frustration.

The daughter doubts herself, she feels unworthy, she judges herself. This trigger goes right back to when the daughter was a child and her mum would give her a list of verbal instructions, or misunderstand her daughter’s temperament, or become anxious of her growing daughter’s independence and the mother would stifle her daughter’s freedom.

You may tell yourself, “If she didn’t do that, or say that, I wouldn’t feel so angry.” These triggers originate from the past, causing you to react in an unreasonable manner when a specific comment or action happens.

How To Be Less Reactive in Your Relationship 

  • Learn about your history, gather information about your mother, your grandmother, the female line in your family. You will see patterns of behaviour from generation to generation. Gather information about the men in your family and other family members, which will inform the impacts of others on the women in your family.


  • Write down what triggers you. How do you react when triggered? What did your mother or daughter say or do, for example, that caused you to react? This will help you be more aware and more prepared when the event occurs again. This is what a trigger is – it’s a recurring event.
  • Write a script. If you feel that your mother or daughter makes the same comment every time you meet, write a script for yourself to memorise. You don’t need to memorise word for word, but a basic outline of how you’d like to respond.
  • Set boundaries. Express to your mother or daughter that boundaries are important to make you feel comfortable and happy, as well as strengthening the relationship between you. If your mother, for instance, gives her opinion on many things you do, you might want to set a boundary on the advice you want from her. You could ask that she doesn’t tell you how to discipline your kids or cook a certain meal unless you ask for her help.
  • Exit strategy. Tell your mother or daughter that you need a break of say, thirty minutes or one hour. This will lower your stress, giving you space, so you can respond respectfully. Take time to breathe, to read, to chill and calm down.
  • Extricate yourself. If at a family gathering, for instance, introduce someone nearby into the conversation and then remove yourself. Perhaps going for a walk or to another room to give you space and help to breathe. Ask your partner or a friend to be watchful and step in when you are with this other person.
  • Plan ahead. If you know from your history that it can be overwhelming to spend too great a time with your mother or daughter, spend a specific time with her. It may be 1 hour, it may be a bit more, or a bit less.

The relationship difficulty with your mother or daughter has been occurring for years. It means awareness and planning, as often triggers happen with the same person or a similar situation, or both. Family history plays a big part in your relationship with each other and in triggering each other. In a previous blog, I wrote about 12 Tips to Get Your Mother To Listen to You, for ideas on healing the past and improving your mother-daughter relationship.

Contact a Mother-Daughter Coach who can guide you in resolving your relationship triggers.

Image:  Pexels, Liza Summer

Janice WIlliams Counselling


Janice Williams is the only Certified Mother-Daughter Relationship Specialist in Australia and the South Pacific region.

Janice offers in-person and online appointments. Online sessions are available across Australia and worldwide.

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