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Toxic relationships: ‘Why walking away from my mum was the best thing I could have done’

by Amanda Cassidy
05th Sep 2020

Singer Ellie Goulding has described her relationship with her mother as ‘unfixable’. But turning your back on the ‘only mother you have’ is a lot more complicated than people can imagine, writes Amanda Cassidy in conversation with those who have done similar.

In an interview with the Independent this week, Ellie Goulding revealed that she hasn’t spoken to her mother, Tracey Goulding in over a year and that her relationship with her is deeply troubled.

“Deeply scarring”

The Love Me Like You Do singer spoke out about her relationship with her mum. “I haven’t seen my mother since my wedding last year. I’ve done a lot of therapy about it because what I thought was fixable isn’t fixable. I think a lot of women have difficult relationships with their mothers and we find it hard to talk openly about that.

“I was talking to another woman earlier today who isn’t in contact with her mother and finds that deeply scarring. I hope one day I’ll be able to get this off my chest. But for now, I know it comes bubbling through my subconscious, through my music.”

It is unusual to have a lack of a relationship with the person that brought you into the world and who nurtured you as a vulnerable child, but the reality is that sometimes that intimacy, for whatever reason, breaks down — sometimes irreconcilably. The trouble is that outside of that toxic bubble, other people just don’t get it.

Louise, 37, confides that her mother ignored her for most of her adult life. “She left the family home when I was just 13 years old. I could never forgive her because, ultimately, she chose her own happiness at that moment, but it was at the expense of mine. My brother and I would go see her over the years because she moved in with a new boyfriend just 15 minutes away but as I got older the resentment grew that she hadn’t been there for me.”


“People are very judgemental”

Louise says that the relationship finally broke down completely over legal issues over the family home. “The day I got her solicitor’s letter was the day I knew I had to completely untie myself emotionally from her. I walked away. It is a very unnatural process, no matter how angry I was, and it is something others really don’t understand.”

Millie agrees. After years of dealing with her mother’s alcoholism and personality disorder, she realised that by trying to fix someone else, she was left broken. “I don’t feel guilty because I feel I did everything I could before finally severing the relationship. It came down to her abusing my kind nature and preying on my bleeding heart. It was so one-sided. It was starting to affect my own relationship with my children. Walking away was the best thing I could have done. But people are still very judgemental.”

Louise says that she’s had friends lambaste her for “letting” the relationship with her mother unravel. “I get a lot of ‘oh, but you only have one mother’ and ‘you should just call her’ but they don’t understand that I don’t have that same bond that they do. I could never count on my parent as others could. I feel healthier mentally without this relationship in my life.”

But psychologists say that such strong primal instinct is hard to override. “Human offspring are hardwired to seek proximity to their mothers,” explains Preg Street, “and therein lies the problem: the daughter’s need for the relationship is biological, natural, essential. And love isn’t diminished by the mother’s dismissal or refusal to ‘play her part.'”

In other words, it hurts a lot more. Because as much as we can be disappointed, afraid, or upset by the actions of our mothers, love is impossible to deny. That’s part of why it is so complicated.

We live in a world where the images of motherhood are based around patience, kindness and gentleness. From Bambi onwards, we are conditioned to believe that motherhood is selfless and endlessly self-sacrificing.

But we also live in a world where mental health problems, addictions and personality disorders have sometimes skewed that saintly vision. The results are wounded daughters like Millie and Louise.

“You don’t have to be heartless to sever a bond — even if that bond is supposed to be sacred”


Meghan Markle’s relationship with her father has been written about extensively in the media after Thomas Markle sold images to a tabloid newspaper ahead of her wedding to Prince Harry. All observation in the media has held an undercurrent of implied callousness that a daughter, gasp, could turn her back on her dear old dad.

You don’t have to be heartless to sever a bond — even if that bond is supposed to be sacred. Sometimes it is as a protection mechanism and rather than being cruel, you are choosing to be kind to yourself — to survive the pain of what’s gone before. But bear in mind that such a choice is never made easily. No matter how things might look to those on the outside.

Singer Ellie Goulding has now incurred the wrath of the press who ask how she can be so cold-hearted. The 33-year-old has three siblings who grew up in a single-parent family after her father left. “It’s frustrating,” admitted Goulding, in the interview.”Because I really want to talk to you about it. But [my mother] became quite threatening when I did talk about her in the press. Discussing her was a disaster.”

56-year-old Tracey Goulding responded also via the press, explaining that she doesn’t know what her daughter is referring to. “It’s very, very upsetting. I don’t know what to say. I am not that type of person.”

Avoiding such a mess isn’t always straightforward; you can’t change your mother but you can work on your relationship with yourself. Instead of dreading family meet-ups, you should set boundaries that make you gain some control over the situation.

Family dynamics are challenging and complicated. Having a toxic mother even more complex. Finding healthy ways to cope with such an unreliable connection can be healing and eventually freeing.

Image via Goulding Tours

Read more: ‘Help, my narcissistic mother-in-law is ruining my relationship’

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