Dealing with a Difficult Mother
"..Who am I? Am I 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 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, putting 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.
What’s Wrong With My Mother?
You’ve noticed something is wrong with your mother. Her emotions are up and down, and, in many ways unpredictable. 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.
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.
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 to 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 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 it 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-
What happened in mom's childhood, how it looks today and how it affects you. I have created a guide that explains it all.
The guide to understanding if your mother is Narcissistic, Borderline, or Histrionic
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, work 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?
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 which she covers up with a mask of faux perfection.
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 struggles with food issues, suffers from a co-dependent need to please and sells herself out in her 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 -
- Never feels “good enough” no matter how hard she tries
- Struggles with self-doubt and second guesses her decisions.
- Let’s others have way much control over her
- 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.
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.
How Should I Deal With Mom?
No matter how irritating or enraging your mother’s behavior towards you 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.
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.
Christmas, Hanukkah, Birthdays or simply an overdue visit home; there is no escape. How are you going to survive?
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 knew a better way to stand up to mom even if you struggle?
- What if you could ask her to stop giving you unwanted advice and what to do instead?
- What if you stopped worrying that you were too sensitive and asked instead if mom too intrusive?
- What if you knew how to handle those difficult visits home from a place of power.
- What if calling mom out was made easier?
- What if you could tell mom why you avoid her calls and what she could do- so you’d pick up?
What if you had a strategy for getting out of the Good daughter trap?
The Good Daughter's Guide to Freedom
5 ways to break free and take your life back
Create life on your own terms; separate, independent and confident. You can rise up, find your voice, and break free of the Good Daughter Syndrome. The way free is not easy but it is possible and necessary. I can show you how. I’ve learned the way forward for myself and the women I’ve counseled for the past 30 years.
You How Can I Practice Self Care?
Waiting around for mom's permission to really take your life back will get you nowhere. You need to learn how to stand up for yourself and embody self-confidence even when you don’t feel it. 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.
Here is a meditation that will help you come home to yourself and reset.
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?
At what point do you say ENOUGH! Enough abuse, dysfunction, bullying, drama, intrusion, insults, and toxicity for one lifetime. At what point do you decide going “no contact” with your difficult mother is the way to go? Almost every daughter of a difficult mother I see struggles with where to draw the line, and if […]
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” I know what I should do. I just can’t make myself do what I need to do.” After 30 years of listening to women in psychotherapy, I have heard the same problems over and over. The mother, who can’t stop micromanaging her child and wonders why she is floundering. The wife, who is […]
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 resilence. It is the ultimate win-win. Empower her as you empower yourself. Tap into your Feminine energy and soar.
Do you want to give your daughter the self-esteem you never got from your own mother? Counseling women in psychotherapy for over 30 years, I hear this one wish mothers have above all others… ” I just want my daughter to feel good about herself.” What if I told you there are 3 ways you can profoundly enhance your daughter’s […]
Growing up, did you feel lost and alone… dreaming of a mother who never showed up? You needed love and acceptance as a daughter- instead what you got was criticism & conditional acceptance. This left you anxious and insecure. You learned to be “good” for mom instead of real for yourself. Still, no matter how […]
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.
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
You might say I am all about holding mothers’ feet to the fire, and you would be right. I seek to warn and to warm, not to burn. 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.