Daughters of Narcissistic/Difficult Mothers and Romantic Relationships: When Anxiety Feels Like Love

Find out if you are a Good Daughter!

For daughters of Narcissistic, (Borderline or personality disordered)   mothers, romantic relationships are set up for trouble, real trouble.

* Having never learned what a secure love feels like, they understandably mistake their anxiety for love.
It isn’t your fault; it is programmed into your attachment template. 
If a Narcissistic mother raised you, and things aren’t going so well in your love life, I’d like to help you make sense of your experience.

showing how daughters of narcissistic mothers and romantic relationships begin

First, let’s start with how you are set up for struggle.

Because Mom is your primary attachment figure (read, your first love), your experience with Mom is your template for love.

Let me explain:

Biologically, mother nature primes us for attachment. In this extended state of dependency, we are one big love machine. Because we can’t feed ourselves, walk or talk on our own for almost a year, we literally can’t survive without a mothering (or caregiving) presence. Yep, that includes your Mom.

Children are cute for a reason, an evolutionary reason.

insecure attachment template

Mother nature ensures our survival by making us irresistibly cute and undeniably taken with our primary caregiver. We are, in fact, wired to love the one we are with. So baby (that would be you) is going to make the best of it… with all she’s got.

One of the brain’s primary functions at this stage is to bond…which is to fall deeply and completely in love.

Your first love is Mom. The first meal you enjoyed was at Mom’s breast or the bottle while gazing into her eyes. As her arms cradled you, this was your first bed. The voice you first heard was hers in utero and later cooing you to sleep. After that, you were wired for attachment to your particular Mom.

And home to you was… wherever Mom was.

The nest she created, your room, and the house you grew up in was an extension of Mom. The way the kitchen smelled when she cooked your favorite food…. her perfume, the touch of the blanket or teddy bear that she gave you- all an extension of Mom. We encode all of these things, which become elements of our attachment template.

That’s all well and good, but…

What happens if Mom is depressed, narcissistic, or borderline?

daughters of narcissistic mothers and romantic relationships

You may have looked into your mother’s eyes only to find emptiness or worry rather than delight.

If she was fighting off anxiety, she might have been unable to be present in a way that soothed you. Perhaps your needs overwhelmed her, not because you were too much but because she felt inadequate as a mother. If she was depressed, she couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to give you a loving gaze in return. Instead, you got the flatline of indifference.

If she was unable to self-regulate, she could not be a soothing presence for you.

It should come as no surprise, Daughters of Narcissistic mothers have a completely different experience of romantic relationships. It is directly related to their experience of their first love, Mom.

Ask yourself:

What was going on with Mom when you were born?

Did she have enough food? Was your father out drinking, and Mom jumped every time she heard a police siren or the phone ring? Perhaps your brother or sister was challenging to handle and distracted Mom so much that you lost her loving attention. Or she was unmothered herself… to such an extent that she didn’t have it in her to give to you.

All of the above and more are possible.

If you were an attuned, empathetic, “good” daughter, the chances are excellent that you did more than your fair share of the emotional work to make the relationship work. If Mom were Narcissistic, she had significant deficits in her sense of self and was unable to mother you in a way that made you feel safe and secure.

The bottom line for Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers and their template for romantic relationships: This is what you have come to expect from love.

It isn’t your fault; it is your experience.  

Why on earth would you expect a later love to be any different?

When you fall in love-

When you fall for that beautiful boy, handsome rogue, or irresistible same-sex partner, your attachment systems go all out. The same system activated to ensure your survival is now activated to make sure you pair, bond, and reproduce.

Mother nature wants what she wants.

She doesn’t care if he or she is right or wrong for you.

Mother nature has her way with you.

This is why the whites of the eyes show as lovers gaze at each other. The pupils dilate, and the heart pounds. You call each other, baby. You coo and feed each other, hold and caress. Simply gazing into each other’s eyes causes a cascade of feel-good hormones.

This template etched in your unconscious is the operating system running the show.

The script from which you speak is what you unconsciously bring into your relationships. Mother nature is trying to ensure the perpetuation of the species, and your brain is calling it love!

What happens when you meet the not-so-nice guy or gal?

Because of this unconscious template, others might see it as a deal-breaker when you are dropped, ignored, or dissed by your romantic interest. But you, you see it as a challenge that you need to meet.

Better yet, if they are unavailable, addicted, self-absorbed, or opportunistic – you insist they are misunderstood. They haven’t encountered your brand of loving. The loving that will make it all better. You go all in; you’ve got this.

That heart-pounding shortness of breath is just proving to you that this is true love. You just know it.

Then you go into over-drive, working like hell to make it work. Your well-meaning friends try to talk sense into you, but your unconscious isn’t listening. They just don’t understand. You’ve been here before, and it feels like home.

Hell, you were born for this!

How did you get so unlucky?

While some people (with a different attachment template) might avoid or disengage when faced with an unavailable or not-so-nice partner, this isn’t you. You love love, love, a project. You go all out as if your life depended on making this relationship work.

Once rooted in your childhood experience, it is now buried deep in your unconscious brain, telling you dangerous lies. Lies that only put your hurtful experience on repeat.

How do you experience it consciously?

Waiting, waiting for that next phone call, the next text….. you might misinterpret your anxiety as butterflies… telling you this is the one instead of telling you the more appropriate message-RUN FOR THE HILLS!

When you experience this anxiety, you feel that your very survival is in question on a deep primal preverbal level. When you don’t feel the other’s attention or love in a dependable, consistent way, you feel anxiety.

Your attachment system makes you an addict in need of a fix of attention.

You lose sight of considering whether the other person is a suitable partner.

We joke and say you lose your mind. But this is true. You look for ways to keep the “other’s” attention. Instead of looking out for yourself, you work to elicit signs of their affection &/or caretaking from the other.

 You start to confuse anxiety with love.

This can be a slippery slope, anxiously working to keep the other person’s attention. But, do it enough, and you only reinforce the idea that you are in love.

Before you know it, love hurts.

What you call love, is, in fact, primarily anxious bonding from an insecure attachment.

While the baby in you is trying to ensure survival, the good daughter in you is working too hard and settling for more than she should.

Here are 8 lies you might tell yourself.

*You aren’t doomed, and you aren’t broken.

You deserve to be loved and to give love.

To find out if you are caught in the good daughter trap, go here.


If you resonate with this post, you have GOT to read this one –[Here are 8 lies Daughters of Narcissistic mother and 8 lies they tell themselves and what they should be asking instead ]

What has your experience been? Let me know in the comments.



Do you relate?

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

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  1. Bernie

    Hi there,
    My mother was much more subtle than some of your descriptions in the quiz. I felt guilty when I became engaged- as if I was disloyal. I was so connected and controlled by her that I did not recognise it. I carried this to my marriage and became caretaker for my unfaithful husband. My mother was very clever and worked on breaking my relationship with my new man, the love of my life, who felt I chose her over him. My sister has strong narcissistic tendencies and even worse behaviour towards me. I am heartbroken losing the one person who loved me for me. He is very hurt and wont talk to me.

    • Katherine Fabrizio

      Hi Bernie-
      It sounds like you are hurting so much. Finding someone who loves you for you is so valuable especially when love has felt so conditional in your family.
      Maybe it isn’t the end?
      Maybe, as an adult, you get to choose?

      Here’s wishing you strength,
      Take care,

  2. Dany

    I took your quiz. I´m not the good daughter, I go my own way. My first relationship – I had to flee from my parents, he was a friend, but I didn´t love him and didn´t like sex with him. I lived with him several years until I could give myself freedom from this relationship. Second one, I loved him really, but I didn´t want any commitments at that time – I was just happy to be free from everybody. Last 13 years – I only had relationships with men, who then turned out to be incapable of relationships….

    • Katherine Fabrizio

      Hi Dany,
      I hear you. You aren’t in the Good Daughter role yet are still “unlucky in love”.

      The Good Daughter role isn’t the only adaptation to a negative parent experience. I’d advise you to keep on searching for answers. Parents that you “had to flee” sounds pretty rough. One way of never risking closeness again (because it was so risky the first time) can be choosing unavailable men or losing interest in the ones that are interested in you.

      And the hell of it is… you don’t even know you are doing it. You might get some useful information by researching attachment styles- including both avoidant and disorganized attachment. Best of luck. With awareness you can heal and make more satisfying choices. This was just the first stop along your journey. Don’t give up.

      Take care,


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