The Legacy of Distorted Love

Recognizing, understanding and overcoming the debilitating impact of maternal narcissism

Mother's Day and Daughters on Trial

Mother's Day and Daughters on Trial

Motherhood is still idealized in our culture, which makes it especially hard for daughters of narcissistic mothers to face their past. It’s difficult for most people to conceive of a mother incapable of loving and nurturing her daughter, and certainly no daughter wants to believe that of her own mother. Mother’s Day is this country’s most widely observed holiday, celebrating an unassailable institution. A mother is commonly envisioned as giving herself fully to her children, and our culture still expects mothers to tend to their families unconditionally and lovingly, and to maintain an enduring emotional presence in their lives--available and reliable no matter what.

Even though this idealized expectation is impossible for most mothers to meet, it places mothers on a heroic pedestal that discourages criticism. It is therefore psychologically wrenching for any child or adult child to examine and discuss her mother frankly. It is especially difficult for daughters whose mothers don’t conform at all to the saintly maternal archetype. Attributing any negative characteristic to Mom can unsettle our internalized cultural standards. Good girls are taught to deny or ignore negative feelings, to conform to society’s and their family’s expectations. They’re certainly discouraged from admitting to negative feelings about their own mothers. No daughter wants to believe her mother to be callous, dishonest, or selfish.

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I believe almost all mothers harbor good intentions towards their daughters. Unfortunately, some are incapable of translating those intentions into the kind of sensitive support that daughters need to help them through life. In an imperfect world, even a well-meaning mother can be flawed and an innocent child unintentionally harmed.

But, what do we do if we can’t discuss this? In this culture, good girls do not talk bad about their mothers so the daughter is on trial.


We must be able to open this discussion so that mothers and daughters can have a point of connection to heal. If not, daughters will continue to internalize the “not good enough” message and think it is their fault. They have flunked childhood. There is something wrong with them.


We will be discussing Mother’s Day for adult children of narcissistic parents on “Good Enough Rocks Radio,” this coming Saturday, May 8th. Go to the book website at and tune in. Our guest is Peg Streep, author of Mean Mothers. It’s ok to talk about this taboo topic. It’s the only way we can heal and begin to live the life we are supposed to be living in our true authentic selves. As the rehab counselor said in the movie: Postcards From the Edge: “ Deal with your feelings before they deal with you.” 


Karyl McBride, Ph.D., is a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers.


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