Symptoms of Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers- Trapped In The Role of The Good Daughter

Find out if you are a Good Daughter!

*The symptoms of daughters of narcissistic mothers can be hidden- yet the damage is just right beneath the surface. * 

You might miss her unless you know what to look for. 

Plastering on a beauty queen/ camera-ready smile that functions more like a mask than an expression of joy is the smile that insists, “I’m fine, perfect in fact. Why would you ask?”

Look closer, and you will see there is little joy nor ease in that smile. It is more militant than confident. Designed to please, you, not her.

This daughter, trapped in the role of the “Good” Daughter of the Narcissistic Mother, must hide her true self behind a mask of faux perfection.

(Symptoms of daughters of narcissistic mothers)
( Symptoms of a Narcissistic Mother on her Daughter) 


If she could speak from behind her mask and let you know how she feels, she might say something like this-

“I’ll put up a facade rather than let you in on the dirty little secret that I feel trapped in my pretense of perfection. The truth is…  it’s all an act. I’m anything but perfect.


I appear on the outside to be people-pleasing, yet I don’t really trust people.


I explain and apologize when I haven’t done anything wrong in case I might do something wrong. It’s safest to get out ahead of any cirticism. I’ve learned to disarm people before they can criticize me.


You might ask how I got this way?


You see, I’m a good student. I’ve be trained by the best …and I’ve learned well.


Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers learn to be good instead of real. 

(Symptoms of daughters of narcissistic mothers)

Ask her, and she will tell you-

“In my house, we went by the motto, “if Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. And it was true; Mom’s happiness is what mattered. If she wasn’t happy, it was my job to fix it.


I don’t dare complain. I am always O.K. I’d better be.” Growing up with my mother there was no room for me to feel anything but ok.


That’s why, if I did complain, she told me, “You’re too sensitive.” So, I’ve learned to pretend that I’m ok, even when I’m not.”


Why can’t the daughter of the Narcissistic mother tell her mother how she feels?

(Symptoms of daughters of narcissistic mothers)

“I’ve tried to tell her what she does to hurt me, and it never does any good. It always ends up being my fault. I’ve learned it’s better to keep complaints to myself.


My real self is buried here underneath this mask. I might look alive, but honestly, I feel dead inside.


The Good Daughter’s real self is buried alive underneath Mom’s needs. 

(Symptoms of daughters of narcissistic mothers)

“Everyone says I am a “good” daughter. They don’t know what it costs me. When I’m not good, my real self threatens to breakthrough. It is safer to be put on a good show and not let anyone see the real me.


No wonder I feel like an imposter.


The problem is, I’m afraid if I let my true feelings out, I’d loss control. I’m afraid I can’t trust myself. So, I cut, exercise, or starve myself to get her under control… to let off the pressure.


I’m not always self-destructive. Sometimes it is enough to pull off good grades or get a job promotion. The trouble is when the good grades come in or the job promotion is handed down, I feel like a fake. I’m flooded with doubt. I think I don’t deserve it.


I’m just waiting to be found out- an imposter in my own life.”


 Success, for her, only feels like a stay of execution.


(Symptoms of daughters of narcissistic mothers)

“I can never let my guard down, not completely. If my teachers or boss could see behind my act, they would see what a loser I really am. They would know I eat a carton of ice cream and then go for a 5-mile run to stop the critical voices inside my head.


Those friends who think I have it all together would see I measure whether it is a good or bad day or by the number that registers on my bathroom scale.


I don’t leave the house without my makeup. I need the mask.


Everyone thinks I’m nice, but no one really knows the real me. I’m not sure they would like the real me if they knew me. So I hide behind this mask. Yet, it gets so lonely in here buried underneath.”


The reason the daughter of the Narcissistic mother stays trapped- 

(Symptoms of daughters of narcissistic mothers)

“I’m like a Disney character, smiling on the outside while sweating bullets and cursing under my breath inside the suffocating costume. The only difference is… I can’t take off the costume.


What’s worse, it isn’t even my fantasy- it’s Mom’s fantasy, and I’m just a prop in her magic kingdom.


Sometimes, I get so mad at her and feel resentful. But, after I calm down, I feel waves of guilt. I can’t tell her what this is doing to me. It will only hurt her.


That’s the real trap.


The thing is, I don’t think she can help the way she is. She had a rough childhood, much rougher than mine, even though she hardly ever talks about it. When I ask questions, the look that comes over her face is enough to make me stop. I don’t want to see her suffer anymore.”


But sometimes, I feel like it is her happiness or mine.

Why the Daughter of the Narcissistic mother never feels good enough-

(Symptoms of daughters of narcissistic mothers)

 “Mom seems pleased when I do well. How can I take that away from her? That is, she is happy for the moment. She beams when I am making the grades, winning the trophy, or acting like a plastic doll.


The Effects of a Narcissistic Mother on Her Daughter










Can’t she see it is a performance, not a life? As pleased as Mom can be at the moment, once I stop making her look good, the criticisms startup.


Trying to please her is exhausting and endless. I wonder if I’ll ever be good enough. So, I go on with the performance, mask firmly in place wondering if it will ever be my turn.


Was this or something close to it… your story?


If so, here are 3 ways this Good Daughter role is a trap.

(Symptoms of daughters of narcissistic mothers)

1. The daughter’s attunement traps her because she is the one who sees, feels and senses when mom is upset. 


Her closeness to mom and hypervigilence to mom’s moods may feel like love to her.


And, why wouldn’t it? It is all she has ever known.


If mom is upset, the Good Daughter feels it is her job to fix it. This is habitual and ingrained.


This dynamic that is rooted in childhood when daughter needed mom to be okay.


Because her own needs have been intertwined with her mothers, the Good Daughter has a hard time pushing Mom away -enough to establish her own independence and  causing mom upset without feeling her own security is jeopardized.


2. She is not only hurt by her damaged mother but she feels responsible for her mother’s well-being.


Growing up – the Good Daughter learns that care-taking is the only way for her to feel emotionally safe. Making sure mom is okay comes first.


Then and only then can she feel safe.


She has learned to shut down her own feelings in order to protect her mother’s fragile self-esteem.


3. The Good Daughter is frequently the one mom looks to- to be the example. 


Her mother’s defenses mandate she look “good” for mom or be “good” for mom. Mom’s need for self-preservation comes at the cost of her daughter’s developmental needs.


If you can relate, you might be becoming aware of the effects of a Narcissistic mother on her daughter.

What has happened or is happening with this destructive dynamic?


Let me break the effects of a Narcissistic mother on her daughter for you-


A daughter who has been raised by a mother with serious psychological difficulty is trapped by her mother’s needs in ways that cost her then & now. When Mom has NPD ( Narcissistic Personality Disorder) or  BPD ( Borderline Personality Disorder) or has traits of these personality disorders, her daughter will, on some level, adapt her functioning to accommodate her mother’s impairment.


The daughter who is most attuned to mom is frequently stuck in the role of the “Good Daughter.”


This role is good for mom but bad for her.


For the Good Daughter, rejecting mom is simply not an option.  She is not only hurt by her damaged mother but, on some level, feels responsible for her mother’s well-being. This adaptation to Mom’s distorted sense of self will affect every aspect of her daughter’s life.


Her mother’s defenses mandate she look “good” for Mom or be “good” for Mom.


Mom’s need for self-preservation comes at the cost of her daughter’s developmental needs.


(Symptoms of daughters of narcissistic mothers)

( Symptoms of a Narcissistic Mother on her Daughter) 


Growing up – the Good Daughter learns that caretaking is the only way for her to feel emotionally safe. She has learned to shut down her own feelings in order to protect her mother’s fragile self-esteem.


For emotional survival, she learns to disconnect from herself and tunes into Mom’s needs instead.


What does it cost her to be ‘good” for Mom instead of real for herself?


(Symptoms of daughters of narcissistic mothers)


The daughter in the role of the Good Daughter may look like she has it all together yet be flooded with self-doubt when met with the slightest criticism.


Years of looking good for mom and feeling that she has to be better than she is, leaves her with little emotional resilience. Consequentially, detaching from her essential self, while letting another person in is almost impossible.


Because of this detachment, her capacity for intimate relating can be severely limited.


Isolated and lonely, the Good Daughter is plagued by an emptiness she doesn’t understand.


(Symptoms of daughters of narcissistic mothers)

showing the Symptoms of a Narcissistic Mother on her Daughter) 


She assumes everyone feels it.


The acceptance she longs for frequently feels out of her reach. Tragically, when the Good Daughter feels the need to keep up an illusion of perfection, no one gets to see whom she really is at her core.


When a love interest gets too close, she may back away, fearing if she reveals her real self, she will be found lacking. This is her double-bind, show your true self, and you risk losing the love you need. Or, keep up a front, and you never really feel loved for simply being yourself.

Alternatively, she will pick partners who are in desperate need of Narcissistic mirroring themselves.


She may be surrounded by people but feel profoundly lonely and does not know why. Riddled with anxiety, she won’t measure up in some way, the Good Daughter often over-functions at work or at school. Rather than bringing a sense of satisfaction, she feels like an imposter only waiting to be found out.


The Good Daughter might exercise and starve herself to quiet the internalized critical voice that relentlessly calls her “fat,” “lazy,”.  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 down her guard.



( Symptoms of a Narcissistic Mother on her Daughter) 

In an effort to look good, she may keep it all together only to turn to food or alcohol when no one is looking.


In extreme cases, she resorts to cutting or other forms of self-harm to release the accumulated pressure she feels from keeping up the facade.


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. Every success sets an expectation she feels she has to meet every time.


The fake smile, the protective mask, and the relentless pursuit of perfection have crushed the little girl inside, who has learned to look good; her Narcissistically defended Mom instead of being real for herself.


Being real wasn’t good enough for Mom.


(Symptoms of daughters of narcissistic mothers)

The Good Daughter must look good and make sure everyone is okay with her, even when Mom is nowhere in sight. No one told her that this is an impossible task. Because 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.


What can she do?


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


Paradoxically, her discontent holds the breadcrumbs to trace a way back to herself. The Good Daughter’s unhappiness holds the impetus to unearth her full range of feelings.


The stifled anger, at last, given a 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.


Armed with awareness, the Good Daughter can use the map of her mother’s Narcissistic or Borderline wounds as a detailed guide to finding her power as a woman.


Understanding the roots of her pain is now the path to her empowerment.



Because living for your mother is no way to live.

To find out if you suffer from the Good Daughter Syndrome, go here.


Do you relate?

Discover – if you have The Good Daughter Syndrome Take the Quiz (It’s Free)

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  1. Charles

    I’m married to the Good Daughter. I would not wish her existence on my worst enemy. Fortunately, she is in therapy now, and I think that she’s got a very good chance of seeing a better life one day. It has taken hard work so far, and I expect that it will take hard work for years to come. I just wish that she could know that the effort is worth it, and that a happy existence is an extremely worthwhile goal.
    In order for us to have gotten where we’re at today, I had to reach rock bottom myself. With the help of a (different) great therapist, I was able to start to understand the dynamics that were affecting our relationship and my own thoughts and behaviors. Not fun, but worth it.
    To all those Good Daughters out there: you’re worth it. You are beautiful, intelligent, capable, and strong. Try to never forget that!

    • katherine

      I want to thank you so much for writing. It looks like your wife has a wonderful ally in you. Don’t ever underestimate your role in helping her get free. She will need your strength and steadiness to make the changes she needs to make. I think the damage this “good” daughter syndrome does to partners is tremendously underestimated if not ignored completely. Stay tuned to this blog as I plan on wrting more about the negative effects on the marriage &/or parternership. I think it helps couples realize just what is at stake if left unchecked. You have given it voice here and I thank you. My best to you and your wife as you battle this. I am putting my faith in you both!

  2. Diana

    Thank you to Charles and his comment above supporting his wife . What a kind man. Also Katherine thank you for these blogs and videos- they’re very enlightening . I would be commenting on each one if I had more energy , but it takes everything I have just to focus and gather my thoughts these days . Being the good daughter has slowly accumulated a weight of heaviness over the years that is hard to bear. But I have hope, that slowly , bit by bit the burden is being lifted by new knowledge that has opened up to me about my mother’s narcissistic ways . I hope to gain my creativity and freedom after the healing .

    • Katherine Fabrizio

      Thank you so much Diana- it hurts my heart to hear how you have suffered from this syndrome. I am warmed by the thought my content has brought you some understanding. Please know- where there is life there is hope. Stay in touch and keep growing and working to break free of this cycle.

  3. Christina Russell

    I cried reading this. Truth stung my heart like a double edge sword. It all makes sense now. I’m slowly starting to heal from all these deep wounds.

    • Katherine Fabrizio

      You can’t image how much your comment means to me. I am doing everything I can to bring this often overlooked phenomenon of the ‘good” daughter adaptation to the difficult mother to life. Thank you for your affirmation and keep checking back, I have lots of help and support for you here.

  4. Debbie Wood

    I’ve spent my whole adult life on and off anti-depressants. I’ve completely exhaustied myself trying to fill the emptiness, trying to be good, to the point of break down.
    I always knew there was something not right about my mother, but even in therapy I’d talk about everything except her.
    I convinced myself that I was just unluckily prone to depression. Two years ago I came across the concept of a narcissistic mother while researching online. I opened the page only to read MY story described by someone I’d never heard of! At 54 years old I suddenly understood the truth! My burden of guilt that had kept the real me in hiding all these years just fell right off as I read the real truth about myself – the good daughter who can never be good enough – I am not to blame, I can learn, understand, forgive and move forward. Two years on I’m happier and more content than I’ve ever been. I have an adult relationship with mother and I am in control of it. Don’t get me wrong, she still has the power to hurt me but now I’m able to walk away, guilt-free, dust myself off and choose how much I interact with her. I thank you Katherine for your great help in this transformation and for the years you have given to this terribly debilitating condition.

    • Katherine Fabrizio

      I cannot begin to tell you how much this comment means to me. Sometimes as a writer, you don’t know if you are reaching anyone or making a difference. I know in my practice the transformation I see, but online… you can wonder if anyone is listening or if what you have to say is making a difference.

      I just know these dynamics are real and that awareness is power.

      Good for you that you have taken these realizations into your own life and put them to use! I love it that you have been able to maintain a relationship with your mother- but have taken the reins of control in that relationship. When you know what you are dealing with —it is easier, never easy, but easier LOL. “I am not to blame, I can learn, understand, forgive and move forward.” That is gold to me. Thank you

  5. Randy Withers

    Great article and thanks for all of your hard work. Important topic that needs to be discussed more.

    • Katherine Fabrizio

      Thank you so much, Randy. I’m glad it is helpful.

      I wonder why it isn’t talked about more. I imagine the good daughters are the ones who are holding it all together at their own expense. Often times their pain is overlooked.
      Thanks again for writing.


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