When Mothers Don’t Bond With Their Daughters

“If my own mother can’t love me, who can?”

Posted May 30, 2011

With motherhood so idealized in our culture, it is 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.

Cerena, a beautiful 30-year-old, was chatting with me one day about her mother and also telling me about her therapy. She encapsulated the longing for maternal love in her statement, "When I am talking to my therapist, sometimes I want to jump into her lap, curl up on the couch with her, and pretend she is the mommy I never had."

My client, Gayle, shared with me her writing about this reoccurring dream that started in childhood and continued into her adult life:

"I'm dancing through a summery green meadow carpeted with delicate wildflowers and shaded with stately trees. There's a melodic brook whispering through the tall grass. In a clearing, I spy a beautiful, spirited mare, a flawlessly white horse, which is grazing unperturbed by my approach. I run to her joyously, anticipating her whinny of appreciation and approval as I offer the apple I pick from a nearby grove. She ignores me and the fruit and viciously bites my shoulder instead, then returns to her foraging with complete indifference."

Gayle came to understand that the horse in the dream represented her longing for a fantasy mother, the one she wished she had, as well as her real mother who typically turned away and did not respond to her needs for love and approval. It is a natural feeling to long for a mother who loves everything about you absolutely and completely. It is normal to want to lay your head on your mother's breast and feel the security and warmth of her love and compassion. To imagine her saying, "I'm here for you baby." We all need more than the roof over our head, food to eat, and clothes to wear. The importance of the unconditional love of a trusted, loving parent can never be underestimated.

After studying maternal narcissism for years, I have found that daughters have a difficult time facing the painful realization that this disorder does exist. With 1.5 million American women being officially diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, non-clinical narcissism is a more pervasive problem. Because narcissism is a spectrum disorder, there are many women who have a high level of narcissistic traits and can damage their children just the same. When a mother is unable to love, it causes the children to question themselves. "If my own mother can't love me, who can?" They ask, "Is there something wrong with me?"

When we allow ourselves to face the painful truth of the past, we can then start to address the disturbing emotional patterns that can develop throughout one's life. It takes courage to heal. When we embark on that journey, we can embrace with honesty the following questions:

  • Why do I feel unlovable?
  • Why do I never feel good enough?
  • Why do I feel so empty?
  • Why do I always doubt myself?

The good news is that recovery works. You can feel better and find a better way to live. You can understand maternal narcissism and decide to nurture yourself and feel good about who you are, in spite of it. You can also prevent your own children from undergoing what you went through. Every woman deserves to feel worthy of love. As Jan Waldron explains in Giving Away Simone, "An adult woman can hunt for and find her own value. She can graduate herself into importance." 

Find additional resources for recovery here; follow Karyl McBride on Facebook and Twitter.