What is The Good Daughter Syndrome & Do I Have It?

Find out if you are a Good Daughter!

.The Good Daughter Syndrome- When good for Mom is bad for you.

If you struggle in your relationship with your mother, you might wonder…

 “Is there something wrong with Mom, or is it me?” If you’re the Good Daughter of a Difficult Mother, that’s a question you’ve probably asked yourself a million times.

There must be a reason why, you think. While most women you know enjoy normal, loving relationships with their mothers, you can’t even get through a phone call with yours without feeling judged, guilty, and confused.

You just have no idea what it is?

Scouring every conversation, you wonder if you’ve misunderstood her or if you’re just too sensitive.

You swing between resenting your mother and feeling guilty about resenting her. Ugh…

Here’s what I know

If you are an attuned, empathetic daughter and put your mother’s emotional needs ahead of your own, chances are high you are caught in The Good Daughter Syndrome.

Ask yourself this one simple question-

 If you need Mom to be okay and Mom to be okay with you in order to feel settled and good about yourself, you could be suffering from the Good Daughter syndrome.

Let’s break it down- 

Specifically, if you’re always trying to please Mom, and no matter how hard you try, it isn’t good enough, or if you feel guilty when you want to say “no” or set boundaries, your relationship is out of balance.

If the inner critic in your head is your mother’s voice and you have difficulty believing in yourself, the relationship is unhealthy for you.

If Mom comments, intrudes, and gives you ideas “for your own good,” and it never really feels good, you could suffer from the Good Daughter Syndrome.

A daughter contemplating if she has the good daughter syndrome

 The Good Daughter Syndrome- the backstory

The Good Daughter Syndrome doesn’t just develop overnight. Both a difficult mother and her attuned daughter have a backstory and a developmental history.

In the beginning, Mom is everything to her baby: the sun, the moon, and the stars. Mother nature does everything in her power to help you connect with your primary caregiver to ensure your survival.

Not long after this period of complete dependency, there is a plot twist in toddlerhood—Mother Nature calls this toddler out into the world.

In health, she protests being “done to.” Cries of “I’ll do it myself” rule the day.

Mom is called upon to dig deep and find resilience within herself. Mom has to reach inside and find the fortitude to let go over the course of development.

However, not every mother is psychologically up to the task.

And while releasing a daughter into her own life is tough for any Mom- it is next to impossible for a mother who has used her daughter as a source of supply all her life.

A narcissistic mother may be used to getting her supply of good feelings from her daughter. The borderline mother may be using her daughter as a buffer against her fears of abandonment.

This is where Mom’s deficits conflict with her daughter’s need for individuation– her developmental need to leave the nest and claim a life and a voice of her own.

Little by little, an empathic daughter orients herself to her mother’s needs and gives pieces of herself away—even if this process is mostly unconscious to both of them. Mom is just being herself, and her daughter is just trying to be ” good,” not upset her mother, and stay out of trouble.

Eventually, caring for Mom’s needs becomes second nature to both of them. Neither is fully aware of the cost to the daughter. This is where good for Mom becomes bad for her daughter.

It isn’t evil; it’s just psychology.

A daughter who suffers from the good daughter syndrome

The Good Daughter Syndrome


What does The Good Daughter Syndrome look like in real-time?

 Mom –

-Expects you to be her beck-and-call girl.

-Weighs in on all your life decisions

-Feels free to criticize your life choices, your parenting, hair and everything in between

-Gives you unwanted advice

-Tries to direct your life

-Thinks she knows what’s best for you

-Controls your father

-Doesn’t respect your boundaries

-Makes you feel guilty

-Says jump, and expects you to say how high?

-Can’t give you a genuine apology

You –

 -Chase her approval (even though it rarely comes)

-Don’t like to rock the boat

-Work hard to be “good girl” and stay out of trouble

-Can’t say no to Mom without feeling guilty

-Can’t fully trust what she says- instead you try to read the subtext

-Are conflict-avoidant and people-pleasing

-Are terrified of leaving Mom out or disappointing

-Can’t set boundaries or have trouble sticking to the ones you set

-At times feel trapped or suffocated wit ha closeness that don’t feel good


In summary – here’s the formula for The Good Daughter Syndrome

 An empathic, attuned, sensitive daughter raised by a mother with immature, rigid, or pathological ways of relating frequently culminates in a daughter who strives to be good for her mother in ways that are destructive to herself. 

Why are boundaries so tricky for the daughter trapped inside the Good Daughter Syndrome?

The act of setting a boundary goes against everything you’ve been trained to think and do. Even the idea of boundaries flies in the face of the mythology that underpins the Good Daughter Syndrome.

The myth is that you and Mom have the same needs—what’s good for Mom is good for you. Although it is patently untrue, that’s the dysfunctional false assumption in operation. Setting a boundary illuminates the fact that you have a set of needs and an existence outside of your role as your mother’s daughter.

As a rule, the harder it is for you to set a boundary, the more boundaries are needed.



What are the different kinds of Good Daughters? What do they all have in common?

Some daughters stay and spend their lives being obedient. They never speak up or rock the boat. Many never move out or establish their own lives independently from their mothers.

Some leave the first chance they get. They seem more outwardly rebellious, but deep down, they wonder if they are unlovable.

By far, the most common adaptation is the conflicted good daughter. She tortures herself between complying with Mom’s demands and feeling frustrated. She yearns for freedom but doesn’t know how to get there.

All of these kinds of daughters suffering from Good Daughter Syndrome have an unbalanced relationship with their mothers. This relationship revolves around the Mom’s unmet needs instead of what the daughter has needed and currently needs.

What is the impact of being stuck in the role of the Good Daughter on the rest of your life? How are romantic relationships/self-confidence/self-doubt all impacted?

Because Mom is your first love, your original attachment template is activated when you fall in love as an adult. Your unconscious brain says– boy, does this feel like home? Without consciously knowing it, you read from a script you inherited- a script that puts the other person first.

This treatment has become normalized; you don’t know not to trust it. Not until it’s too late, and your partner’s exploitive ways become apparent, and your heart is already stomped on.

When you are unaware of the dysfunctional relationship with Mom, you are easy prey for bosses who would take advantage of your eagerness to please and reluctance to stand up for yourself. You might find yourself on the short end of the stick of friendships, always giving more than you get.

It isn’t your fault- you don’t know any better- and why would you? It’s all you’ve ever known.

Despite all the trouble, some will say, “But she’s your mother.”

Strangely, motherhood is both revered and denigrated. Women have had to fight tooth and nail for actual practical help with the practicalities of mothering. At the same time, the culture tends to idealize motherhood and poo poo anyone who recognizes that not all mothers are up to the task.

In my estimation, It does an extreme disservice to daughters who have received cruel, abusive treatment from their mothers and insist that what their mothers are exhibiting is love.

As a culture, we greatly sympathize with children who are treated badly. But when those children grow into young women, those same parents are sometimes given a pass. Those daughters are frequently told to forgive and forget.

To compound the feeling of being ganged up on, many time a family with a narcissistic mother will include a passive-enabling father.  wh

While I’m sure there are daughters who enter into therapy to blame or complain about their mothers, in 35 years of treating daughters in psychotherapy, I have yet to run into one daughter for whom that is the case.

More often than not, they are so desperate to feel love from their mothers that they err by giving their mothers every conceivable chance – only to be let down again and again.

What do you owe your mother?

While I wouldn’t presume to answer that for you- I’m fairly confident that you would agree that you don’t owe her your every waking moment, nor do you owe her your lifelong emotional servitude.

Bethany Webster writes extensively about how the mother wound is both a personal and cultural phenomenon passed down from generation not generation.

In short, daughters in the Good Daughter Syndrome have been programmed to accept unhealthy treatment from their mothers or else risk the wrath of the culture’s condemnation. Some of the mothers I am referring to here are products of psychological trauma, and some are merely passing down oppressive cultural or religious disempowering ways of treating women and daughters because it is all they know.

I maintain that mothers hold the power and, as such, bear the responsibility. As a mother of two grown daughters, I don’t recommend anything I am unwilling to abide by myself.

Why Is It So Hard to Break free of The Good Daughter Syndrome?

The Good Daughter Traps

Simply stated, you can’t escape what you can’t see. Watch this video to learn more about the traps that keep Good Daughters unconsciously attending to their mothers’ needs while neglecting their own.


Let me explain further.

After helping thousands of “Good” daughters break free through in-person psychotherapy and online counseling, I have discovered four unconscious traps, made in childhood,  that cause attuned daughters to put their mother’s needs ahead of their own.

They are as follows-

The Never Good Enough Trap– A Mother defending herself from feelings of unworthiness needs to appear superior, grandiose, and special. Sensing her mother needs this, her daughter agrees to assume an inferior position, aka never good enough. She tells herself, some version of “Mother knows best. I will be lesser”.

The Guilt Trap– A Mother defending herself from feelings of abandonment will be clingy, needy, and dramatic. Her daughter adapts by putting her mother’s emotional needs first. She tells herself that she is responsible for her mother’s feelings. The resulting agreement she makes is, “I must never upset, disappoint or reject my mother. I am responsible for my mother’s feelings. “

The Self-doubt Trap. When Mom projects her fear and doubt onto her daughter, her daughter feels pressure to carry them. She will make the agreement, “I will internalize my mother’s worry for me. If Mom is worried, I will worry.”

The Mixed Message Trap– If Mom is carrying shame from intergenerational wounding or trauma, her daughter will agree to carry this shame for her mother. She will take on her mother’s hostility without questioning her mother nor calling her out. It may not even register consciously as hostility. She will tell herself, “I will go along with Mom’s subtle put-downs and swipes.
If Mom shames me, it is for my own good.”

Do you need to “break up with Mom” to recover from The Good Daughter Syndrome?

Not necessarily. More importantly, you need to RECONNECT to yourself.

Here is what I mean.


Recovering from this syndrome can open up a whole world of possibilities. Not the least of which, you can grow beyond your mothers limitations and love a life that you love.


What are the benefits of breaking out of the Good Daughter Syndrome?

What can you do?

I know these traps and how to break free from them. In fact,  I’ve written a book about it.

The Good Daughter Syndrome: Help For Empathic Daughters of Narcissistic, Borderline, or Difficult Mothers Trapped in the Role of the Good Daughter


Do you relate?

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

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