Buried by Maternal Narcissism: The ‘Good Daughter’s’ Plight

Rear view of person with shoulder-length auburn hair sitting by the water's edge at harbor and looking out over waterThe “good daughter” of the narcissistically defended mother may be frequently concerned with either looking good or making sure everyone else is good with her. This is often her only way of feeling emotionally safe. After all, she has learned to shut down her own feelings in order to protect her mother’s fragile self-esteem.

The “good daughter” frequently needs to disconnect from her authentic self for emotional survival. She disconnects from herself and tunes into mom’s needs instead.

Frequently appearing untouchable, self-doubt may flood her sense of self when she is met with the slightest criticism. Years of looking good for mom and never experiencing acceptance of her real self, the “good daughter” may be left with little emotional resilience.

Unfortunately, when she detaches from her essential self, letting another person in is almost impossible. This severely limits her capacity for intimacy and leads to a deep sense of loneliness. The acceptance she longs for in another may seem out of reach, leaving her feeling empty both interpersonally and intra-psychically.

Tragically, when the “good daughter” feels the need to keep up an illusion of perfection, no one gets to see who she really is. When a love interest gets too close, she may back away, fearing the real her wouldn’t be enough. Or she picks partners who are in desperate need of narcissistic mirroring themselves.

Riddled with an anxiety that she won’t measure up in some way, she often over-functions at work or at school. Rather than bringing a sense of satisfaction, her successes feel to her a mere stay of execution.

She lives in fear of the day she will be found out.

She might exercise and starve herself to quiet the inner critic that relentlessly calls her “fat,” “lazy,” and other unsavory labels. If she obeys the internal critical voices and gives of herself enough, she can sometimes calm the voices to a dull roar.

Still, the internal tyrant is always there, lying in wait—waiting to hunt her down the minute the “good daughter” lets her guard down.

In an effort to look good, she may keep it all together during the week, only to numb it all out with drugs or alcohol on weekends. Or she may resort to cutting or other forms of self-harm to release the accumulated pressure she feels from keeping up the facade.

Perhaps she is a suburban mom who can’t pull herself away from the shopping channel or Chardonnay, her only escape from the relentless tedium of making her life and family look better than it is.

Keeping up the facade is exhausting and never-ending.

The “good daughter” may not know how to fail in small ways and bounce back. There is no middle ground. Her so-called successes are both a pedestal and a prison.

Paradoxically, her discontent holds the breadcrumbs to a way back to self. Her unhappiness holds the impetus to unearth the full range of feelings. The stifled anger, at last given voice, can free her from the shackles of living inside of a false self.

The fake smile, the protective mask, the relentless pursuit of perfection crushes the little girl inside who is trying to be good for her narcissistically defended mom instead of being real for herself. Because being real isn’t and wasn’t good enough for mom.

She must look good and make sure everyone is okay with her. No one told her that this is an impossible task. Or that happiness, even her own, is an inside job.

As a result of trying, she may feel overwhelming shame, guilt, and self-doubt. These oppressive feelings threaten to bury her alive.

She needs to hear that her buried self is still there, waiting to be reclaimed and brought back to life.

Paradoxically, her discontent holds the breadcrumbs to a way back to self. Her unhappiness holds the impetus to unearth the full range of feelings. The stifled anger, at last given voice, can free her from the shackles of living inside of a false self.

Plugging back into the current of her true range of feelings—not merely the “nice” ones—can energize her passion and creativity. With that energy, she may finally be able to shake off the shame, claim her true feelings, and find her way back home—to her essential self.

Note: The generalizations above may not apply to all dynamics in a family affected by parental narcissism. Also, although this article refers specifically to a mother and daughter for the purpose of narrative cohesion, any gender combination of parent and child can be similarly touched by narcissism.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Katherine Fabrizio, MA, LPC, therapist in Raleigh, North Carolina

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Shelby

    December 13th, 2016 at 12:05 PM

    This is spot on. I have spent all of my adult life worried that I was letting other people down because that is how I was raised, by someone who made me feel all of the guilt when things didn’t go her way.

  • katherine fabrizio

    katherine fabrizio

    December 16th, 2016 at 1:07 PM

    I hear your pain Shelby. The mother template certainly is powerful and can affect all other interactions that follow. You might find some relief if you try “checking in” with the important people in your life to check out your assumption. Still, I know it is hard. Thank you for responding.

  • reynolds

    December 13th, 2016 at 2:23 PM

    Tell ya what… convert into the bad rebellious daughter and then you don’t have to worry about any of that

  • katherine fabrizio

    katherine fabrizio

    December 16th, 2016 at 1:20 PM

    I hear you Reynolds. It is too bad that any child has to create some sort of personna against their mothers insecurities. I have found daughters tend to adopt either the good daughter role or the rebel. In my experience both roles can box you in. Thank you for responding.

  • Shelley

    December 16th, 2016 at 11:56 PM

    That’s what I did as a teenager, still working out the effects of it 25 years later.

  • Felix

    December 18th, 2016 at 9:47 AM

    I disagree; there is no escape, no free pass for either. Narcissistic mothers (and fathers) breed the same and such a narrative as this author has described sets the stage for the next generation of Narcissistic PDs to continue to perpetuate dysfunction and damage.

  • Cam

    December 14th, 2016 at 2:09 PM

    I will tell you one thing though- when you finally do get the courage to break free of that parent who has held you down and truly held you back for so long, you don’t know how good that feeling will be.
    I know that the temptation is always going t o be there to be the good child, to be the one who can always be depended on, but why will that ever do anything good for you? It might help out others, but that is what they are in it for, b=not what it can do to help you.

  • katherine fabrizio

    katherine fabrizio

    December 16th, 2016 at 1:22 PM

    Cam- good for you! Living to make someone else happy is such a limiting way to live. Thank you for responding and giving others encouragement.

  • ashlyn

    December 15th, 2016 at 7:46 AM

    I never fully feel like anyone knows the real me because that is something that I keep shrouded and covered. Years of doing this fr my family has now left me without the ability to do anything other than that.

  • katherine fabrizio

    katherine fabrizio

    December 16th, 2016 at 1:23 PM

    Ashlyn- I hear you. You know it is never too late. The journey to find your voice can be challenging but well worth it. Thank you for responding.

  • Leda

    December 15th, 2016 at 4:28 PM

    Hardly fair to mention only mothers. Narcissistic fathers, siblings and friends can have the same effect.

  • katherine fabrizio

    katherine fabrizio

    December 16th, 2016 at 1:27 PM

    Boy, isn’t that the truth. Hurt people, hurt people. I have found ( and thus written about here) that daughters tend to experience a special kind of constriction and pain in regard to their narcissistic mothers. I agree with you that all of the narcissistically defended people close to you will hurt you. Thank you for reading and responding.

  • Evan

    December 21st, 2016 at 10:22 AM

    I don’t know what more to say but that this article really stands out for me mostly because living with people like this in your life, it very much resonates when you see someone else going through all of the very same things that you have.
    It can be such a catch 22 between loving someone and really wanting to make them happy but doing it at the expense of your own self.

  • Paige

    April 14th, 2017 at 3:32 PM

    I can relate to this fully, though in a different way. My mother had a brain aneurism when I was 3, so she stayed in the same mind set of a 17-20 year old my entire life. She was always very negative and I never had any structure in my life. No structure/secure-ness at home plus being insanely bullied at school (because I was different) lead me to be a perfectionist, OCD, people pleaser who could never be herself. I’m now into my early 20s, holding resentment to my mother, and even more angered at her now, because having a love life is truly hard on me and being raised by someone with a brain injury isn’t easy either. But not only my love life, it’s hard to have a relationship with my mother because now that I’ve surpassed her aneurism age I feel like I am now the mother… This explained it perfectly. All through college (I’m now a registered massage therapist) if I got anything lower than 95% on any assignment or exam I would tear myself down. I’ve always been a very healthy weight (never under or over) though have ALWAYS struggled with self esteem and have called myself fat and/or ugly. My spouse loves me dearly but the closer we get in our love life the more I want to push him away. I’ve been going through a lot of emotional strain, bitterness, anxiety, depression, you name it…and have done a lot of research through self help books, counselling, meditation, and exercise (not including the medication I am on for depression/anxiety and hypothyroidism) to help further me in my growth to let go of my past and the reigns it has me tied to. I just found this entire blog today and couldn’t be more happy! Many articles I can relate/connect to and this one specifically. Thank you! I know I just rambled off but felt very good to get off of my chest ❤️

  • Katherine Fabrizio

    Katherine Fabrizio

    April 25th, 2017 at 12:42 PM

    Thank you so much for writing Paige. Your comment makes a brilliant point. That is …. a Narcissistic Mothers behavior is from a deficit, not a moral failing. You have come so far and have so much insight. Check out my website daughtersrising.info. I have so much for you- including free resources. Best of luck to you in your journey. Know that you are not alone.

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