Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Raised by a Narcissistic Mother

Is Mother’s Day difficult for you?

Source: Taisa/Shutterstock

It’s a natural human feeling to long for a mother who loves everything about you absolutely and completely. It’s 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,” when you reach out for her. We all need more than the roof over our head, food to eat, and clothes to wear: We need the unconditional love of a trusted, loving parent.

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 them 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.

I believe almost all mothers harbor good intentions toward 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.

When this happens, and daughters begin to face the painful truth that maternal narcissism does indeed exist, daughters begin to address the disturbing emotional patterns that have developed in their lives. They ask these heartbreaking 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?
  • Why do I feel valued for what I do, rather than for who I am?

Mother’s Day becomes a psychological trigger for many adult children of narcissistic mothers. Television, radio, commercial outlets, and other people are suddenly talking about gifts for the mother. Daughters of narcissistic mothers talk about dreading the “Hallmark” search for the “perfect” Mother’s Day card; none of which fit the situation. They are once again dealing with the taboo topic they feel they can discuss with no-one. Feelings of guilt and sadness overcome the day.

Most of the daughters of narcissistic mothers I have treated or interviewed realize that they do love their mothers, but they are reacting to the mother’s incapacity to love them in the right way. Narcissists lack empathy and the ability to emotionally tune into their child’s feelings. The daughters and sons are having a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. If this is you, there is hope and recovery. And if Mother’s Day is difficult for you, here are five tips to help you through the holiday:

  1. Acknowledge and validate for yourself that your feelings are important, and they matter.
  2. Determine some self-care activities you can do for yourself on Mother’s Day.
  3. If you have children, practice empathic parenting with your kids and give yourself credit for your own parenting filled with empathy and nurturing.
  4. Only talk to people who understand this dynamic, so you don’t feel you have to defend or justify your feelings.
  5. Spend time with people who know how to love.

It is important to remember that confronting a narcissist is usually not fruitful for healing. It tends to bring more pain, angst, and disappointment because the narcissist will not be accountable and will likely turn your words back on you making you the wrong and crazy one. The recovery work is all internal and although difficult, YOU are worth it! There is a dawn of new freedom as you recover and no longer allow your past to define you.

More from Karyl McBride Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today