Dealing with a Difficult Mother

Dealing with a difficult mother can leave a daughter wondering if she is worthy of love.

From infancy and beyond every daughter learns who she is, how to love, and be loved, first from her relationship with her mother. This relationship is the foundation of attachment and identity.

 If this relationship weren’t loaded enough… from the beginning mothers and daughters are tasked with the intricate dance of attaching and letting go.

Every step taken is a step away from mommy. If all goes well, mom is working herself out of a job and daughter is growing into her own. In health, the adult daughter stands on her own strong, confident, and independent.

However, for many mothers and daughters, this dance becomes complicated and convoluted

If mom has a narcissistic, borderline, or histrionic personality disorder has traits thereof, or… is just plain difficult there will be trouble. The difficult mother’s mothering will be woefully impaired and daughters can have a lifetime of suffering because of it.

The attuned empathetic daughter frequently falls into the trap of the “good” daughter. 

She puts her mother’s emotional needs ahead of her own in ways that are hidden even to her. If the good daughter remains unaware of the traps laid for her she will never reach her full potential and step into the life she was meant to live.

dealing with a difficult mother

Table of Contents

What’s Wrong With My Mother?
What Is The Good Daughter Syndrome?
How Should I Deal With Mom?
How Can I Practice Self Care?
How Can I Be A Better Mother?
How Do Mother Issues Affect My Romantic Relationships?
Culture & Feminism

What’s Wrong With My Mother?


You’ve noticed something is wrong with your mother. You know you are dealing with a difficult mother you just don’t know exactly what is wrong with her- if anything.

Her emotions are up and down, and, in many ways unpredictable. Controlling, defensive, and, at times self-absorbed, her emotional lap is not a safe place for you to land and never has been.

You just can’t seem to make mom happy.

You learned to walk on eggshells or not rock the boat.

When you look back you realize how much of your life you tried to make mom feel better about herself? Before you realized it was an impossible thankless job, you spent much of your childhood being good for mom so mom would be happy?

You didn’t, you couldn’t, have known any different.

Today I am going to pull back the psychological curtain.

Not in a harsh blaming way but a reasoned scientific way to help you understand what you were up against and are dealing with as you try and relate to your mother.

I have been where you are and have raised two daughters to adulthood. At times I have been the difficult mother, at other times the wounded daughter Having been on both sides of the aisle, and, as a psychotherapist spending over 30 years listening to mothers and daughters, I’ve learned why the buck stops with Mom.

Here’s why

Deep insecurity drives the difficult mother’s behavior.

She covers this insecurity up to herself and others through a set of psychological defenses. These defenses impair her ability to mother her children in a way that puts their needs first. Her children develop an insecure attachment style that affects her in all aspects of life.

These defenses may be pervasive enough for her to warrant the diagnosis, narcissistic, borderline, or histrionic or she may have traits of these disorders.

Either way, the defenses are designed to hide the terrifying emptiness she feels inside.

They make it hard for her to be supportive of her daughter. She may cover her deficits with her overinvolvement or helicopter parenting as a cover for covert narcissism or be super clingy and not let you go weighing in on your life with criticism and judgment. She may even make you her emotional partner, a process called parentification.

“Mom calls me many times a day and I don’t pick up. I put off calling her back as long as I can. I know this hurts her feelings but what she doesn’t realize is this – although I am swamped with guilt, I feel suffocated and resentful. Where did I sign on to be her emotional partner? I wish she would let me go to live my own life. “

  Where it comes from

Your mother’s problems are a result of her childhood wounds compounded by a patriarchal culture that hasn’t valued women.

If she didn’t get what she needed at critical points in her development, she carries these wounds into adulthood. If she was deeply damaged she can be nearly impossible to deal with.

Can you relate?

Mom just can’t take criticism. Regardless of how carefully you put your complaint, mom can’t admit any wrongdoing.


No matter what you say, she always has a comeback. Does she think she is untouchable or perfect? That would be an easy answer, but you know, that’s not the whole story. Despite what looks like arrogance on the outside, you know she is an unhappy person on the inside. It pays to have an understanding of the underlying reasons of what makes mom difficult.

Learn what you are dealing with and come up with a strategy

What Is The Good Daughter Syndrome?

Feeling they are never good enough, daughters typically respond to a mother who can never be pleased by taking on one of two roles.

1) They rebel against mom’s demands and adopt a black sheep role or scapegoat and shrug off any attempt at pleasing mom.

2) They take on the good daughter role and buckle under to mom’s demands, working endlessly to be for good for mom in order to gain her approval and love. The attuned empathetic daughter frequently takes on the role of the Good daughter.

This pattern of placing mom’s needs at the center of the mother/daughter relationship while squelching her own will result in what I call the Good Daughter Syndrome.

Are you suffering from the Good Daughter Syndrome?

Take the Quiz

What the GDS looks like specifically

The empathetic attuned daughter of the narcissistic/difficult mother frequently takes on the role of the good daughter to shore up her mother’s deficits. Driven to look good for mom and be good for mom, she does so at her own expense.

The daughter, covering for her mother’s fragile self-esteem she is caught in the good daughter trap. Although she is held back by her mother’s problems, she wonders if her mother can help being the way she is. Tasked with the impossible job of making mom happy, she suffers from feelings of inadequacy and works endlessly to please everyone.

Tragically, she isn’t fully conscious of what she is doing or what this dynamic is doing to her. Hard to face head-on consciously she may struggle with food issues, or establish co-dependent relationships with men.

Anxiety is her constant companion as she struggles with the impossible demands of a mother who can’t be pleased.  What she doesn’t know is that she is carrying her mother’s insecurities into her own life and it is costing her dearly.

This Syndrome goes far beyond the normal tensions involved in a daughter’s separation and individuation.  The ways this narcissistic/difficult mother appropriates her daughter’s life is apparent throughout her childhood. Although she may not be aware of the full scope of the problems involved in the Good Daughter Syndrome she may know she –

  1. Never feels “good enough” no matter how hard she tries
  2. Struggles with self-doubt and second-guesses her decisions.
  3. Let’s others have way much control over her
  4. Feels guilty when she says ‘No”

& more ….

Maternal Narcissism: Trapped in the Role of ‘Good Daughter’

Like a bucket with a slow leak, the narcissistically defended mother’s good feelings about herself are in constant need of a refill.
Read more…

Behind the Mask: What the ‘Good Daughter’ of the Narcissistic Mother Would Tell You if She Could (World of Psychology)

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.
Read more…

How Should I Deal With Mom?

When you are dealing with a difficult mother, the truth is- she is operating from a deficit. Chances are, she hasn’t reflected or psychologically can’t reflect on how her behavior has affected you. Do I say let her off the hook? Certainly not, but hoping she will change is not a strategy.  If you don’t do something to break out and break the cycle nothing will change. Here is why most strategies don’t work and what will work.

Enabling mom’s difficult ways will not help you, nor will it help your mother. Awareness is your first step to freedom. Then you need is a plan to stop enabling her and free yourself.

Finding Health

Your problems with your mother mirror your problems in life. Instead of simply blaming mom you can raise your awareness, find your voice and claim your life.

What if you had a strategy for getting out of the Good daughter trap

  How Can I Practice Self Care?

Waiting around for mom’s permission to take your life back will get you nowhere. You need to learn how to stand up for yourself and embody self-confidence. Any change in your relationship with mom is going to involve letting go in the service of moving on and moving forward with your life. It is your turn when you say it is.

When to Break Free & How

How long will you put your own life on hold and let mom’s needs dictate your life? Do you swing between resentment and guilt, get angry with mom only to back down out of guilt? Do you get so frustrated you wonder if you should go no contact or low contact?

How Can I Be A Better Mother?

Now it’s your turn. You have your own daughter and you are calling the shots. With each developmental stage, you are reminded of what you didn’t get, reminded of the painful feelings you had to endure.

You vow you will be a better mother.

You tell yourself, the cycle stops here. You won’t be passing down the limiting messages you got in childhood. The ultimate healing comes from giving your daughter the self-esteem you never got in childhood.  You can turn the pain of your childhood into sensitivity and compassion for your daughter. By turning this around, you restore and heal a part of yourself. This is the ultimate positive outcome.

The problem, however, is that you have no idea how to do it other than do the opposite of what was done to you. This can backfire in some predictable ways. Before you know it, you are in danger of indulging your daughter the way you indulged your mother- leaving you exhausted and rung out. You need to learn ways of connecting and supporting your daughter while modeling self-worth and promoting resilience.  It is the ultimate win-win. Empower her as you empower yourself. Tap into your Feminine energy and soar.

How Do Mother Issues Affect My Relationships?

The good daughter syndrome has far-reaching consequences for the good daughter’s romantic relationships. Let me break it down for you.


Dating consequences

By establishing an unhealthy relationship template during childhood, the difficult mother sets up her daughter to choose bad boys and settle for far less than she is worth in her dating relationships.


Marriage consequences

When the good daughter chooses mom over her partner she undermines her romantic adult relationship. This happens in ways that are subtle but deadly, particularly when it comes to her sex life.

Mothers & Sexual Traumas

A daughter’s first line of protection against sexual assault and abuse needs to be her mother via the messages a mother gives to her daughter.  When a woman’s own mother does not believe nor validate her daughter’s experience of sexual assault or abuse, her daughter’s trauma is compounded.

Motherhood & Feminism. It wasn’t that long ago we were in the fire as the patriarchal fires sought to silence our internal voices. As a result, we carry deep in our psyche’s the marks of the patriarchy. Unless we wake to the ways this mark is passed down we will continue to pass down this oppression at the unconscious level.  To break this cycle of oppression we need to stand up to our mothers. As the daughters of the awakening, daughters rising, liberate ourselves, and reclaim our feminine power. This is good for all mothers and daughters. Won’t you join me?

Back to Top

Do you relate?
If so, here are some ways I can help on your journey from Good Daughter to Empowered Woman:

Do you have The Good Daughter Syndrome? Take the Quiz (It’s Free)

Read the first two chapters of The 4 Good Daughter Traps- Break Free of Your Difficult Mother and Take control of Your Life …for Free- Go here! 

Watch & Learn Video Course Practical Strategies for Dealing with a Narcissistic, Borderline, or Difficult Mother That Work Tips honed from working with daughters of difficult mothers for 30 years, as a psychotherapist.

What Kind of Good Daughter Are You? Conflicted? Independent? Obedient? Take this (Free) Quiz

Consult with Katherine- Private Coaching – When it’s time to tell your story.

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