The Narcissistic/Difficult Mother and Her Empathetic Daughter – 10 Signs You Suffer From the “Good” Daughter Syndrome

Sharing this blog from one of the leaders in the field of Narcissistic Mothers. Wow does it ever ring true for so many women I know. Read and then let me know your thoughts.

by Katherine Fabrizio

Your mother has issues. Boy, does she have issues..controlling, intrusive, boundary crossing and critical just to name a few. You, on the other hand, are the sensitive, attuned and empathetic daughter. Unlucky for you, this combination makes for a toxic dynamic that can be holding you back from living your best life. It could be stealing your happiness in ways that are hidden to you, until now.

When empathetic daughters of Narcissistic/Difficult mothers work to be good for mom, look good for mom, and make sure mom is good with them… their relationship is unbalanced. They are in danger of being “good” for mom at their own expense.

If you are in this role with your mother, chances are you have fallen into the “Good daughter” trap and suffer from what I call the “Good” daughter syndrome.

How many items on this checklist describe your relationship with your mother?

  1. No matter how hard you work for Mom’s approval, it’s never good enough. Try as you might, whatever you do, mom weighs in with criticism or ” helpful suggestions”.
  2. Mom gives you unsolicited advice. She micromanages you and tries to control your life. Mom acts like she is in charge of you into adulthood. She expects you to answer to her and take her advice even when you haven’t asked for it.
  3. Mom is never wrong and never sorry. You won’t hear, “I was wrong, and you were right”. She just can’t give it to you. By the same token, you won’t hear a genuine apology.
  4. Boundaries, what boundaries? You have a hard time setting healthy boundaries with Mom and a harder time sticking to them. This is a hallmark of being in the good daughter role. Setting a boundary feels like you are breaking a rule you never knew existed.
  5. You wish it were different… but you feel responsible for Mom’s happiness. This underlies many of the reasons you have such a hard time setting boundaries and standing up to mom. Deep down, you feel responsible for making your mother happy. If she isn’t happy, you fear it is your fault.
  6. Mom takes any push back as a rejection of her. Shutting you down, she says something along the lines of, “I was just trying to help. I guess I’m just a horrible mother.” It is almost impossible to have a reasonable conversation with mom. She gets so defensive and upset if you bring things up with her. You feel like it isn’t worth it.
  7. Mom thinks she knows what is best for you. Always. It goes without question, at least in her mind. There is an unstated rule. Mother knows best. If you imply otherwise, there is hell to pay.
  8. Although not explicitly stated, making Mom look good and feel good is your job. Whether you are picking out an outfit for a holiday meal, or choosing a profession or mate, you know mom will regard your choice as a reflection on her.
  9. Standing up to Mom is hard for you. You don’t want to rock the boat. Yep, more than hard, it’s almost impossible. You know the phrase all too well, ” If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”. Your mother’s mood sets the tone. You don’t want to mess with that.
  10. Plagued by self-doubt, you frequently feel guilty and second-guess yourself. It is hard for you to make decisions and feel confident about them. You’ve been taught that you can’t solely rely on your own judgment. You are often seeking external approval.

Do you see yourself in 7 out of the 10 statements?

As a psychotherapist of over 30 years, I keep seeing the same issues and patterns showing up in my most kind and compassionate clients, the daughters who care too much and get too little. I see my clients giving too much and getting too little in their intimate relationships, or feeling like a fraud in their professional lives. When I dig further, I find insecure-anxious daughters who are taking care of, or being good for, mom instead of looking out for themselves. Underlying their self-doubt and low self-esteem is the Good daughter Syndrome.

To see if you are the Good Daughter- go here to take the quiz- It’s quick and it’s free.

Katherine Fabrizio
Katherine Fabrizio, M.A., L.P.C. has treated adult daughters of narcissistic mothers, trapped in the role of the Good Daughter for over 30 years. Dedicated to empowering these women, she offers online help for clients and training (CE’s) for therapists at Her book, Daughters Rising: Rising Above the Shame, Guilt and Self-Doubt Mothers Pass Down to Daughters, is available on Amazon. Katherine lives in Raleigh N.C. where she raised two daughters and still speaks regularly with her mother. Do you suffer from the Good Daughter Syndrome? Find out here!

7 replies on “The Narcissistic/Difficult Mother and Her Empathetic Daughter – 10 Signs You Suffer From the “Good” Daughter Syndrome”

my mom fits every single symptom, i am 33 years old and she just can’t let go and when i do need her help she clings so hard that i feel like I’m suffocating… please help me

This is so tough. So much to talk about. What kind of support do you have other than your mother? You will be OK. Just remember that she can only control what you let her control. Women often feel guilty putting boundaries in place. They will say, “she’s my mother.” Unfortunately, a narcissistic mother sees you as part of her possessions. You cannot change her. You can only change yourself. Very difficult.
Any way we could set up a time to chat? Please just email me at and let me know your best days, times of days, and which time zone you are on. I will respond and set something up with you.

I’ve been soul searching in hopes to blog with regard to my own experiences and journey. I’ve gone down a rabbit hole today; reading the majority of your material.
I’ve never known anyone to hit the nail on the head.
As for the above, my mom is every bit of those statements. 10 for 10.
We are in a vicious cycle constantly and while it didn’t take me until my mid-late 30s to really identify the narcissistic traits; I’m undoubtedly suffering from the “Good Daughter” Syndrome whereas everyday feels like surviving just to avoid a lecture, an argument, the overwhelming feeling of her dissatisfaction when I’m not doing everything and anything she wants. It’s exhausting. I’m constantly parented in my adult life where I’m still being told at 41 years of age how I should behave, where I can or can’t drive….the list goes on….

I real so stupid that despite a psychotherapist telling me in my late thirties that my Mother is a narcissist, it has taken until my rent age of 59 and two years of therapy to realise the absolute truth. In your questions above I scored 10 out of 10, and now I feel sad and lost that I thought my Dad’s temper was the biggest problem in my childhood. I now know that not to be the case.

Sometimes we just want to believe it will be okay. Wisdom comes with experience. Now you know. I wanted to share with you that we have a support group on the 3rd Monday of each month for Daughters of the Narcissistic Mother. Also there will be a 6-week online course starting Sept. 6 for Daughters of the Narcissistic Mother. Registration should open in mid-July. Watch the website for more details. Please reach out if we can be of any help.

I have been walking on eggshells my entire life with my stepmom who raised me. She is 100% a narcissist and has a borderline personality disorder that I just realized today. I am 57 and a fairly new mental health therapist of 4 years, and I just realized this week after she physically attacked me that I have to step up and be the adult who can defend myself and set safe boundaries, whereas, as a child, I could not protect myself from her verbal, emotional, and physical abuse. I am somehow empathic, which makes it extremely hard to understand how a person who says they love you and loves Jesus can act just the opposite and call herself a woman of God and a pastor! I am thankful I found this website.

I am 75, retired and just found your site and realize that I was the good daughter. I was looking for self-help articles to help me get over the constant re-hashing of all the stuff my mother did to me, and I found this site. She was an alcoholic and kept telling me I owed her, that they got me to take care of them when they got old. I was literally her servant even to the extent that she had me buy alcohol for her when I was still underage. She had just recovered from the flu and didn’t want to go to the package store to buy her wine. When I reminded her that I was not old enough, her respond was “no one will every know”. She had two of my dogs put down, for no real reason, despite my father telling her so. My Dad protected me but after he passed, I was fair game. There were 8 out of 10 on the questionnaire. I never had time to think about all this because I worked 2 jobs, while attending college and taking care of her. My husband was no help because he was Narssistic. I was so busy workiing and studying for my degree in nursing and then working long shifts, that I didn’t think about what she had done. I fought her to get my college degree because she said “she was not going to waste money on me going to college”. Even my father could not convince her otherwise. I would just like to erase these memories and move on.

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