Are You a Mary Marvel or a Self-Saboteur?

The self-saboteur is the high achiever’s internal twin.

Posted Apr 11, 2011

All daughters of narcissistic mothers are faced with internal combat along the way. The stressful environment calls for conscripting to the parental mold. For each one of us was but a child, not a seasoned warrior, when we had to begin to fight battle after battle for our own identity. Not one of us has been able to fulfill our mother's expectations. The effects of maternal narcissism are long standing but little known or understood. 

"I decided early on, like at age ten, that working hard was the only way to feel good about myself, and to compensate for all the "not good enough" messages. I wish someone had told me it wouldn't fill the bill as I imagined it would. The hard-work escape sounded good at the time."

Kerry, 35

"Chrissie too saw the advantages of the hard-work escape route, but did not take it. There was a perverse, wicked, rebellious streak in Chrissie, which has led her to a kind of liberation. She was a shrewd little thing, and she had seen what was happening. What good did it do you to work so hard, to pass your exams, to go to university like a good girl? You ended up miserable, cooped up, trapped just the same."

Margaret Drabble, The Peppered Moth

These two perspectives are quotes from Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers. They represent the polar opposite routes taken by daughters raised with maternal narcissism. Although taking different paths, with contrasting lifestyles on the outside, the internal landscapes and emotional issues are identical. The impact of the opposite is the same. For example, one daughter may experience a high-powered career and live in the country club while another daughter may be on welfare or struggle with addiction. However, they wave the same internal emotional banners.

Some daughters internalize the "not good enough" message and decide to show Mom and the world... "I am worthy and I can accomplish impressive things." These daughters become what I call "The Mary Marvels." Finding it difficult to love self for who she is, this daughter bases her worth on her accomplishment and busyness becoming almost a super hero in productivity.

Other daughters of narcissistic mothers take the same message of "not good enough" and say, "I can't be who you want me to be." They take the anger out on themselves and unwittingly sabotage their own efforts. They end up saying, "What's the use anyway?"

Both reactions to maternal narcissism end up being a survival response to an unhealthy upbringing. Both can be self-destructive in the end. Rarely does anyone make a conscious choice to self-destruct. But... if a child lacks maternal support and nurturing there is a price to pay in unconscious life patterns.

What happens then to the Mary Marvels and the Self-Saboteurs?

The Self-Saboteurs tend to:

• Give up
• Numb the pain with various addictions
• Stay stuck in self-destructive lifestyles
• Underachieve

The Mary Marvels tend to:

• Lack good self-care
• Seek external validation to define self-worth
• Have difficulty giving themselves credit even with amazing accomplishments
• Overachieve

But, there is recovery for all daughters and sons. There is a way out and a way to live an amazing, self-created lifestyle that feels right for you. We have to decide that we cannot take counsel from wounded people and allow them to define us. We have to define ourselves. If narcissistic parents raised you, you too can re-define yourself.

The recovery process involves first education and understanding of the problem, and then working diligently the 5-step recovery model to overcome. We are all marvels created for a purpose. We can find that purpose and learn to cherish ourselves in sound recovery.

If you find yourself in this post, I encourage you to reach out and get support, education, and assistance. You are so worth it. Only you can make that decision. Why not make it today?

Additional Resources for Recovery:

Resource Website:

Book: Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers

Audio Book:

Workshop: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers Virtual Workshop. Work recovery in the privacy of your own home, complete with video presentations and homework assignments:



Daughter Intensives: One on one sessions with Dr. Karyl McBride

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