Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers [Book Review]

[photo credit: flickr user Stephanie Overton]

[photo credit: flickr user Stephanie Overton]

Some daughters grow up with a nagging sense of something not quite right in their relationship with their mothers, though the daughters can’t place their finger on what’s off exactly. It’s a vague, pervasive feeling of being unloved and ignored. They feel like somehow, in some way, the loving relationship that other people seem to have with their parents is eluding them.

These daughters may not even know they are being emotionally abused. They’ve been conditioned to endure—from their mothers—constant demands for the spotlight, attacks on their personhood, razor-sharp verbal abuse, debilitating mind games, the Greek chorus of belittling comments implanted in their heads by their mothers, and so much more. These daughters just want their mothers will treat them lovingly… but their mothers only care about being adored.

Perhaps you, too, have felt something was terribly wrong in your relationship with your mother. Something inside you whispered, “My mother is never very loving to me. She’s actually very mean and selfish. Why is everything always about her?”

As immediate as that thought maybe have been, your trained (by your mother) inner child immediately sprang to berate you for feeling that way. How dare you think such awful things about your mother! How could you demand anything, you worthless child? How could you ever say that your poor, dear loving mother is anything but loving? Everyone says she’s the best mom! Why would you ever think badly of her?

Yet that little voice was there, for one shining moment, and it has led you to seek answers and find help. And now you have the obligation to yourself to find out exactly what happened to you, what lifelong effects you now bear because of your upbringing.

How Do I Know Whether My Mother Is a Narcissist?

If you suspect that your mother is a narcissist (i.e., that your entire upbringing and beyond revolved around her needs), you are not alone.

The exceptional book “Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers” by Dr. Karyl McBride provides the guidance you need to determine whether your mother has narcissistic traits, understand the type of narcissist she may be, and, of utmost important to The Invisible Scar readers, how to break free from the narcissistic cycle and become emotionally healthier.

What’s particularly engaging about the book is how the author, a licensed marriage and family therapist, weaves a sub-narrative of her own relationship with her narcissistic mother into the book. McBride doesn’t reveal so much that the book becomes an exercise in navel-gazing nor reveal so little that the reader is left feeling cold and alone.

The book is written in the voice of a well-informed, caring, and understanding friend, who will support you in a better understanding of your upbringing and its effects on you. McBride’s guide is, at its heart, an optimistic one that focuses on the reader’s awakening and healing. It is not about picking at one’s emotional wounds and allowing hate or anger to fester.

“I do not believe in creating victims,” McBride writes in the introduction. (Don’t skip the intro. It sets the tone for the book.)

“We are accountable for our own lives and feelings. To be healthy, we first have to understand what we experienced as daughters of narcissistic mothers, and then we can move forward in recovery to make things the way they need to be for us.”

The book is divided into three parts:

  1. Recognizing the Problem
  2. How Narcissistic Mothering Affects Your Entire Life
  3. Ending the Legacy

1. Recognizing the Problemgood-enough-book-cover-290x441

The term “narcissist” is frequently misused in the media, but McBride’s book provides a professional, solid definition of what narcissism is. “Narcissism is a spectrum disorder, which means it exists on a continuum ranging from a few narcissistic traits to the full-blown narcissistic personality disorder.”

The nine traits of narcissism, as listed in the book, are…

  • Has a grandiose of self-importance, e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • Believes that he or she is “special” and unique, and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
  • Is interpersonally exploitive, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her ends
  • Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  • Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of her
  • Shows arrogance, haughty behaviors or attitudes

McBride then provides examples of each of those traits and a questionnaire that helps shed light on the existing relationship between mother and daughter.

Also in the first section, McBride discusses the 10 “stingers” of the narcissistic-mother/daughter dynamic. Those stingers are “ten common relationship issues that occur between mothers and daughters when the mother is narcissistic,” states McBride.

Examples include…

You find yourself constantly attempting to win your mother’s love, attention, and approval, but never feel able to please her.
Your mother does not support your healthy expressions of self, especially when they conflict with her own needs or threaten her.
In your family, it’s always about Mom.
Your mother is critical and judgmental.”

That constant lack of self-worth, that unending barrage of crippling self-criticism inside your head, is the voice of the narcissistic mother. And that criticism can manifest itself in different ways, as explored in the chapter “Faces of Maternal Narcissism.”

2. How Narcissistic Mothering Affects Your Life

If you’ve arrived to The Invisible Scar to learn more about narcissistic parents, you know that you’ve been deeply affected by having such a parent.

There’s the self-doubt, the “jumpiness” (from being trained, as a child, to hurry to your NPD parent’s every beck and call), the lingering sadness of the mother-sized hole in your heart, the lack of boundaries (or trust) within your other relationships due to your first relationship with your mother, illnesses… and so, so much more.

You probably aren’t even aware of all the ways that your narcissistic mother affected you.

Take time to read about what behaviors you might have learned and/or imitated.

For example, McBride discusses the high-achieving daughter (who will try to “win” Mom’s love), the self-sabotaging daughter (who will make herself feel as crappy as her mother says she is), and the myriad behaviors that the daughters of NPD mothers adopt, subconsciously or not.

Those behaviors can affect how the daughter mothers when she becomes a parent.

At The Invisible Scar, I receive so many emails about adult survivors terrified that they will become their mothers. “I won’t have kids! I refuse to become my mother!” and “I’m becoming my mother! Help me!” are common themes in those emails.

The good news is that daughters of narcissistic mothers aren’t fated to become their mothers. Daughters get to choose what sort of mother they will become.

In the book, McBride discusses the turmoil and issues those daughters have once they become others. Some overcorrect the deficiencies in their mother’s parenting (e.g., they become ultra-lenient in opposition of their mother’s ultra-control); some end up being like their mothers because they lack the blueprint for new parenting skills or simply have not awoken to the truth of their upbringing.

And some daughters do find a middle ground.

We strive to do the right things for our children, and none of us wants to pass along our own undesirable legacy,” writes McBride. “Breaking the cycle is a challenge when you have no positive role model as a mother. Daughters of narcissistic mothers often feel as if we are blazing our own trail of love in raising our babies.

If you see yourself making mistakes in parenting, don’t panic. You don’t have to be afraid even if you have learned or inherited some narcissistic parenting traits. This does not mean you are narcissistic. You can change. The best thing you can do for yourself and your family is to allow yourself the awareness of possible mistakes you could make or have made, and work to correct them.”

3. Ending the Legacy

In the last section of the book, McBride also provides a very detailed step-by-step guide to recovery from this mother-daughter relationship.

“Now that you have a solid understanding of the psychological dynamics you were subject to as a daughter of a narcissistic mother and how they have adversely affected your life, it is time for you to come to terms with the past, release your unrealistic expectations of your mother, and take charge of your life to heal,” writes McBride. “Now it’s your time to make your life more peaceful and comfortable.”

For the daughter of a narcissistic mother, the idea of life being peaceful sounds like a having a unicorn for a pet—yes, it’d be lovely, but such a thing isn’t possible.

But, oh, dear daughter of a narcissistic mother, yes, peace is possible.

The road to recovery is clearly outlined in McBride’s clear, unhurried but succinct writing. She details the various stages of grief (including grief for the relationship that you never had with your narcissistic mother and grief for the child you didn’t get to be).

To Invisible Scar readers who write me about how to become individuals rather than attachments or extensions of their abusive parents, “Chapter 11: A Part of and Apart From” is crucial. (Read it with your highlighters and sticky notes on hand.)

McBride stresses repeatedly the necessity of adult daughters to stand on their own.

“To be authentic and whole—this is the ultimate goal in recovering from a narcissistic mother,” writes McBride. “The next step for you to take toward this is to separate psychologically from Mother as an adult, so that you can grow your own internal emotional psyche. For when you grow your own internal emotion being, you become resilient and strong. You can stand on your own. You can sustain yourself in the face of maternal deprivation, bear up under any negative litanies from your mother, and withstand criticism from anyone in the external environment.”

McBride wraps up the book with guidance, a list of questions, case-study segments, and encouragement to help the daughters of narcissistic mother heal and, most importantly, lead a far more emotionally healthy and authentic life.

A Word About Toxic Mothers

The author avoids the trap of only discussing an active relationship between mother and daughter. McBride acknowledges (in Chapter 13) that some mothers are too toxic for any form of relationship.

“If your mother is indeed unchangeable and you find yourself being constantly abused by her, it is important to know that disconnecting from her can be healthy,” writes McBride. “When you decide to make this choice, however, make sure that you have completed your own recovery work. If you simply detach and remove yourself from your mother without doing your own work, you will not diminish your pain, and your true self cannot emerge to the peacefulness that  you desire.”

***

That recovery work, the healing journey, and the peacefulness of living in the truth are the focus of the work here at The Invisible Scar.

Because of McBride’s clear understanding of the reality of daughters of narcissistic mothers and her dedication to improving the emotional well-being of those daughters, I highly recommend this book to all women who suspect their mothers are narcissists and who want to break the cycle and become emotionally healthier and happier human beings.


 

Veronica Jarski is founder and managing editor of The Invisible Scar, a passion project dedicated to raising awareness of emotional child abuse and its effects on adult survivors. She has extensive editorial experience and a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Her work has been featured on myriad publications, such as Kapost, MarketingProfs, and Ragan.

 

How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren’t

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If you are an adult survivor of emotional child abuse, you probably have a hard time differentiating the “safe” people in your life from ones that are crazy-makers or harmful to your well-being.

In fact, you may not even grasp the concept of “safe people.”

That’s not your fault.

Raised by toxic people, you weren’t taught the vital skills of setting boundaries with people nor of discerning “safe people” from harmful ones. And in lacking those skills, you probably ended up in painful relationships, wondering how you’ve chosen yet again someone who has let you down, criticized you continually, or used you.

“Our blindness to who is good to us and who isn’t can cause tragedies like depression, compulsive behaviors, marriage conflicts, and work problems.” (Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend)

I’ve received emails from The Invisible Scar readers lamenting this “curse” or supposed “destiny of failed relationships.”

But you are not cursed, not destined for poor, unhealthy relationships. You just haven’t acquired the skill set to choose “safe people” or identify the unsafe ones nor looked deep into your past to find the common factors linking your relationships together. You haven’t acquired the skills yet.

The good news: You can learn these skills. You can break the cycle of painful relationships.

Put This Book on the Top of Your To-Be Read Pile

I strongly recommend the book Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren’t by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend for adult survivors of emotional child abuse.safe-people

The book takes the reader on a journey from identifying unsafe people and harmful behavioral patterns to understanding one’s need for safe people and how to find them.

The book is divided into three parts:

  • Unsafe people | Who they are, 20 identifying traits
  • Do I Attract Unsafe People? | Get to the origin of your problem and find out how to repair the issue.
  • Safe People | Who they are, why you need them, how to meet and relate to safe people

Each chapter briefly offers a real-life example of character-discernment issues, questions to help the reader dig deep inside him/herself to get to the heart of the issue, and well-grounded advice. (Note: The authors are Protestants, and the book is packed with Scripture verses and the authors’ beliefs. That said, non-Christians need not be put off by this angle, for the real-world advice is solid and comes from a psychologically sound place.)

Moreover, the advice in the book is very clear about people’s very natural and healthy need for one another. This might be shocking to adult survivors who—after enduring myriad painful relationships—decide to isolate themselves or vow from close relationships so that they can avoid being emotionally hurt.

“Many of you have tried again and again to connect with safe people, only to find pain and failure,” Drs. Cloud and Townsend recognize. “And now you’ve simply given up. You’ve stopped the attempt and the search.”

But don’t give up. An emotionally healthy relationship is worth fighting for.

The Natural Need for Relationships

“Our most basic and primary need is to be loved by God and people,” the authors suggest. “We can put that need off, we can meet it in crazy ways, and we can try not to feel it, but it’s a spiritual reality.”

Often, people will say that they are done with relationships or that they will just cut themselves off from people and focus solely on God. They say they are “strong enough” or “self-sufficient enough” to go through this life without close relationships. But that’s not being strong or self-sufficient.

We are social beings. We are made for community.

The Safe People book—for all its advice regarding awareness of unsafe people—is also a guide for the present, a book of hope for better and healthier relationships to come.

Do not despair about past relationships. Read Safe People to understand why you chose those types of toxic people and how you can stop doing so.

Edited to add:

If you find it difficult or triggering to read this book due to its Evangelical slant (for the sad reality is that sometimes abusive parents distort religion—of any kindto wield it against their children), you may enjoy these articles as a springboard for thinking about healthy relationships:

Onward to healing and an emotionally healthier life.

* The author of this article didn’t receive any monetary compensation for this review.

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