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.

 

ACoNs Speak Out: The Highlights of a Recent Study About Parental Narcissism

[via flickr user Raul Liberwirth]

[via flickr user Raul Liberwirth]

Editor’s Note: This May, research project manager Valerie Coles emailed me about giving adult children of narcissists (ACoNs) an opportunity to participate in her study (along with Dr. Jennifer Monahan) about parental narcissism. Tonight, she sent the highlights of the summary and news. Note that the researcher used the term “perceived” not to invalidate ACoNs’ experiences but to show objectivity. She explains this in an email: “The term ‘perceived’ is used since we are operating out of an academic lens and objectively we are testing perceived narcissism. The only way to not include perceived and have the scale go anywhere to be of use is to test the narcissistic parent directly and then the entire point of the study (assessing narcissism from the child’s perceptive) is eliminated.”

Her email regarding survey highlights follows:

Thanks again to everyone for helping us develop and validate a measure of parental narcissism! The response from the ACON community was tremendous, and we are the envy of our colleagues that so many of you took time out of your lives to help us with this research.

We currently have a paper from the questionnaire out at an academic journal for review. If it is accepted for publication, we will update this message with a link for the article.  Below is a brief and general review of some of our findings. When the scale and findings are published, you will have the opportunity to look at more specifics.  Please note that some of the results may seem “common sense,” but we needed to build off a foundation of empirical research since, as you know, there is presently no published scale that measures parental narcissism behaviors from the perspective of the adult child, and very little research in general. Thank you again!

Scale Development and Study 1

Our goal was to develop a measure of parental narcissism. We started with 36-items. A total of 1,236 people took this original scale, 976 of which were ACONS from 34 countries. We examined whether the 36-items worked together as a scale.  We eliminated items that were problematic and ended up with 18 items that assessed four dimensions of parental narcissism: lack of empathy/indifference, negative grandiosity, center of attention, public versus private personas.

  • Lack of Empathy/Indifference
    A lack of empathy is a key characteristic of narcissism. On the ACON sites, the lack of empathy is often described behaviorally as indifference and examples given by ACONS of parental indifference include the parent minimizing the feelings of the child and a lack of interest in the child’s feelings.
  • Negative Grandiosity
    Grandiosity is “an inflated appraisal of one’s worth, knowledge, importance or identity.” Measures that assess grandiosity from the narcissists’ perspective, not surprisingly, focus on the positive side of grandiosity (“I am the best!”). From the ACON perspective, however, it is the negative grandiosity, that occurs especially when the narcissistic parent feels under attack and, thus, vulnerable. From the ACON perspective, when a narcissistic parent fails or is in the spotlight for not being a good parent, her/his insecurity can result in grandiose statements that reflect the parent is “the worst parent in the world” or “no one loves me.”
  • Center of Attention
    Center of attention dimension reflects the positive, inflated, self-absorbed, and individualistic disposition of the narcissist. For the narcissist, the world is about “I” and “me” never “you” or “we.” From the ACON perspective, nothing is about the child unless it benefits the parent in some way. ACONs also write about how conversations focus around the parent’s interests rather than the child’s.
  • Public versus Private Personas
    Narcissists can carefully construct their self-presentation in public such that they appear less negative in public than in private, at least in the short term. While differing public/private personas is not a characteristic typically measured by narcissism scales, it is a behavior often noted by ACONS who write of parents who present a friendly, charming persona only in public.

These 18-items formed into these four dimensions of parental narcissism behavior (lack of empathy, negative grandiosity, center of attention, and different public/private personas). The four dimensions all correlated highly with each other and together the four formed a final “Perceived Parental Narcissistic Behavior” (PPNBI) scale. 

To create the PPNBI scale, we summed up the scores on the 18 items.

What is the PPNBI Related to for the ACON?

ACONS who took the parental narcissism scale also completed some scales about themselves. 

Here are some of our findings:

  • Higher scores on parental narcissism (PPNBI) were positively associated with ACONs feeling depressed as a teen and also with feeling depressed within the last year.
  • Higher scores on parental narcissism (PPNBI) were negatively associated with feelings of well-being as a teen and with feelings of well-being in the last year.
  • ACONS with higher scores on the parental narcissism scale were more likely to indicate you don’t trust other people, in general.

What other measures of the narcissistic parent is the PPNBI related to?

Scores of parental narcissism are…

  • Negatively associated with feeling that your parent cares for you and negatively associated with feeling like your parent gave you freedom to be yourself/do what you wanted to do.
  • Positively associated with idealizing one child in the family (aka: a golden child) and with devaluing a child (aka: a scapegoat).
  • Very strongly related to verbal aggression.  The higher the scores of parental narcissism, the more verbally aggressive the parent acted.

Study 2

In study 2, we tested the 18-item scale again to see whether it worked the same way and generated the four factors (lack of empathy, center of attention, negative grandiosity, and different public/private personas). In Study 2, 625 participated (505 were ACONS from 34 countries).

We did replicate the findings from Study 1 that found these four factors and that the four factors all worked together to form the Perceived Parental Narcissistic Behavior Index (PPNBI).

What other measures of the parent is the PPNBI related to?

In Study 2 we found further evidence that the PPNBI is a valid and reliable score. For example, that the PPNBI was positively associated with a typical measure of narcissism (Narcissistic Personality Inventory).  This was good news as it provides us evidence that our scale IS capturing narcissistic behavior.

Additionally, we found that the PPNBI was negatively related to a parent being perceived as agreeable and positively associated with a parent being perceived as extraverted.  For the ACON, we found that those who rated their parent high on the PPNBI were more likely to negatively associate with the secure attachment style and positively associate with the fearful attachment style.

Finally, parents who score high on the PPNBI were also more likely to score highly on parentification, which is a term for making the kids do the work of a parent.  The more narcissistic your parent, the more likely the parent had expectations that the kids would take care of things a parent would normally do.

* * *

In conclusion, the goal of this research was to develop and provide initial validation data for the Perceived Parental Narcissistic Behavior Index (PPNBI). The identification of perceived parental narcissism is critical to gain a better understanding of and illuminate the unique challenges ACONs encounter. Before the PPNBI, no measure allowed family members to assess whether a parental figure was narcissistic. The PPNBI is an 18-item measure that taps into four types of parental narcissistic behavior: lack of empathy, center of attention, negative grandiosity, and different public/private personas. The PPNBI correlates with a known measure of narcissism and correlates with being verbally aggressive and caring less about one’s children. The PPNBI is positively associated with ACONs depression and negatively associated with their well-being and ability to trust others.

Across both studies, 1,481 ACONs worldwide from 48 countries participated and many webmasters generously posted the study URL on their web pages (THANK YOU!). This is the first study for either of us where we received over 100 emails from participants thanking us for doing the research and letting us know how meaningful it is that researchers are paying attention to the ACON population and their family dynamics.

As we mentioned above, the full research from this study is under review at a journal.  If it is accepted and published, we will be delighted to send you a link to the research (we can’t do this until the work is published).  We can’t thank all of you enough for helping out with our research. The $100 gift cards were selected by a random drawing and have already been mailed to the winners.

Again, many thanks!

Valerie B. Coles, MA
PhD Student, Research Project Manager
University of Georgia


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, Loyola Press, MarketingProfs, and Ragan.