“Mom calls me multiple times a day. Many times I just don’t pick up. I put off calling her back as long as I can. Her feelings are hurt and I can’t stop feeling guilty. She just can’t let go and I can’t live my own life. This is driving me crazy.”
As a psychotherapist, I have heard this more times than I can count. Does mom have a full-blown personality disorder or does she need a little help letting go? Either way- When mothers look to their daughters to be their primary emotional partner, this interferes with the daughter’s emotional growth.
This level of clinging prevents daughters from leaving home and making a healthy separation.
Looking to daughters for this level of closeness is called parentification and holds daughters back from living their lives fully. Does Mom have an underlying personality disorder Narcissistic, Borderline or Histrionic or does she has traits of these disorders? If so, this difficult dynamic on put on steroids! Mom goes nuclear if she detects her daughter is pulling away. If mom is a Covert Narcissist her daughter feels suffocated by her mother’s needs but swamped with guilt for the resentment she feels. Either way, these daughters end up feeling guilty for their natural strivings for independence.
If a mother is troubled and clingy and her daughter has taken on the role of good daughter, she is trapped inside of an unhealthy position… taking on making mom’s needs instead of making a healthy separation for herself. This is very unhealthy for her daughter.
What does this mean for a daughter connecting with a life partner?
When a daughter leaves home and makes a healthy separation from mom and dad ideally she transfers her primary emotional connection from her parents to her partner. No doubt, leaving and being left is hard for mother and daughter. It involves loss and change for both. Moms need to let go and daughters need to grow up and leave. Each has her own separate emotional task.
Leaving and being left is a necessary developmental task for both the adult daughter and the mom. Letting her go is the greatest gift you will give your daughter and it will break your heart. I should know.
Yet, if this doesn’t happen the adult daughter will not be free to invest fully in her relationship with her adult partner. In other words, in health, the daughter needs to choose her partner over her mother. This may sound harsh but this is the healthy trajectory.
This transfer is vital to the health of the newly developed partnership.
- It is mom’s job to, let go and accept her daughter’s leaving.
- It is a daughter’s job to enter into an equal relationship with a peer and leave behind her role as a child.
This is the way of healthy development. Each task has its own challenges and responsibilities. Leaving home and making a home of your own is the healthy trajectory, one paved with both loss and gratification. Letting go is the path towards growth.
However, when mothers make their adult daughters feel responsible for their emotional well being, things are topsy-turvy. Only dysfunction and misery follows. Daughters resent having to care for mom emotionally. Underneath it all, they feel something isn’t right. When mothers look to their daughters to take care of them emotionally; to be the person they look to for closeness and connection as adults… they place an unnecessary burden on their daughters.
This emotional burden prevents them from making the healthy separation they need to make for themselves. This is especially true for the daughter trapped in the role of the good daughter and part of the good daughter syndrome.
Here is how this happens –
Hi, this is Katherine Fabrizio with help for the Good Daughter Syndrome. One thing I say that my clients talk about that’s, I see that happens really frequently … Many times mom doesn’t have a primary or a good connection with the partner. She may be married. She may be divorced. But in this scenario, many times she’s looking to the daughter for closeness and connection.
Well, why is this a problem? Well, if the daughter is trying to establish their primary connection with their intimate partner, there’s always this tension. Mom’s always pulling the daughter to do things her way.
It’s like a loyalty struggle that’s like of underground, and not really overtly talked about, yet can exert a lot of pressure on the good daughter’s marriage if what she needs to do is to establish her primary connection with her partner.
If mom is suddenly undermining it in some ways because she’s not maintaining her connection with her partner, or actively looking for one. This is Katherine Fabrizio with help for the good daughter who’s struggling with the Good Daughter Syndrome.
It is one thing for a mother and daughter to re-establish closeness after a period of healthy separation. If the period of healthy separation never happens then a genuine adult closeness can never take root.
However, if a mother clings to her daughter and doesn’t let go- her daughter can’t help but feel growing resentment that ends in a mother/daughter tension that is never-ending.
Can mothers and daughters ever be close in a healthy way?
Yes, but first, mom must let go in order to set the stage for a no strings attached adult relationship with her daughter. If you see yourself in this good daughter role there are steps you can take. If you need a script to tell mom to take a step back and stop giving unwanted advice here is one that is kind and respectful. If you suspect mom might be Narcissistic, Borderline or Histrionic, or has traits of these disorders here is a way to tell.
When you have awareness you can plan your next steps to living a life that is free.
Empowering women one mother/daughter relationship at a time.
To find out if you are trapped in the Good Daughter role -go here.
Raise Awareness TWEET IT OUT –When mothers look to their daughters to be their primary emotional partner, this interferes with the daughter's emotional growth. Click To Tweet It is mom's job to, let go and accept her daughter's leaving. Click To Tweet Mom must let go in order to set the stage for a no strings attached adult relationship with her daughter later in life. Click To Tweet No doubt, leaving and being left is hard for mother and daughter. It involves loss and change for both. Click To Tweet When a mother looks to her daughter to be her primary emotional partner, this is called parentification. This holds daughters back from fully living their own adult lives. Click To Tweet Leaving and being left is a necessary developmental task for both the adult daughter and the mom. Hard, but necessary. Click To Tweet
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DO YOU EXPERIENCE THE "GOOD DAUGHTER" SYNDROME?
Do you have a Narcissistic or Difficult Mother? Are you the "Good Daughter"? The Rebel? or The Lucky One? Take the quiz and find out!