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The Good Daughter Syndrome
with Katherine Fabrizio, M.A., L.P.C.

Afraid To Set Limits With Mom? This Could Be Why


Transcript- ( This story may surprise you)

This is Katherine Fabrizio with the Good Daughter Sessions.

A Good Daughter client of mine was working hard to be reasonable in response to her mother’s unreasonable request of her.

Here’s what happened; 

A client’s mother wanted her daughter’s help her with something which was important to the mother… but the daughter had other plans. In response to her mother’s request, the daughter changed her flight plans to accommodate the mother, but this wasn’t enough for the mom.

No matter how much the daughter inconvenienced herself it wasn’t enough for mom.

00:37   So the mother insisted that she ( the daughter) be free the whole weekend to help the mother. The daughter tried to be reasonable with the mom. She changed her plans again and again. She went to considerable trouble to accommodate this mother.

Here’s what I suspected was going on.

The mother, in my estimation, was threatened by any autonomous action on the daughter’s part.

As the daughter asserted her autonomy, her mother became more and more agitated.

Mom kept upping the ante and getting more and more emotional as the daughter was trying to be reasonable with her mother.

Mom got more and more emotional as the daughter resisted doing her mother’s bidding.

01:21  Just hearing this, as her therapist, my blood pressure was going up. I was feeling so angry at this mother who was basically holding her daughter hostage. I wanted to say to the daughter, “you’re the one who being reasonable, and you keep on caving again and again and again to your mother’s demands.”

At this point, I thought the daughter would cave.

01:48   But instead of jumping in I just listened.. and the daughter actually did stand her ground… after about, I would say the fourth or fifth accommodation to this mom. She finally said, “no mom, you know, that’s it.  I’m not budging anymore. I’m not giving anything more up for you.”

The daughter finally stood her ground & here’s what happened.

02:13  Mom fell silent. And here’s the thing that surprised me. As a side note- this daughter was a very competent professional, was in high-level negotiations all the time as a professional person. When it came to mom, however, she had trouble finding her voice.

Did she feel relief or guilt?

02:35  Uh maybe both.

And I should know this because I’ve heard it a million times… When the mom finally stopped arguing she feel silent and got off the phone. That’s when the daughter tried to call her she got no response. Mom wouldn’t take her phone call.

“Are you okay mom? Are we okay?” the daughter wondered.

Mom didn’t answer. She would wait a couple minutes, then a couple of hours and still mom didn’t answer.

The daughter was filled with anxiety with this terrible fear. She thought, “something is wrong with my mother.”

Was something really wrong with mom or was this a game the mother was playing?

03:15   Now. Ninety percent of her felt like, “I know mom’s just playing a game. She just, you know, is paying me back. This is what she does.” But the 10 percent of the daughter felt truly terrified that the mother was not OK.

And I think we can’t overestimate how hard it is to set those kinds of limits and how hard it is to truely wonder if mom is OK.  Because this anxiety has a logic all its own; a logic rooted in childhood.

This particular client’s mother was divorced, and she was an only child. The only way for her to feel OK and safe as a child… was if mom was OK.

Why did mom’s feelings matter so much?

04:09   This particular mom had a pretty fragile emotional constitution. It was terrifying to the little girl inside of this daughter who just wanted to be good for mom and made sure mom was good.

But she didn’t want to be held hostage to her mother’s emotional blackmail.

It was necessary for this daughter to set a limit and stand her ground if anything was ever going to change.

And I have no doubt over time that the mother will accommodate the daughter if she sticks to her guns. In reality, the daughter holds all the cards.

But in the meantime,  the daughter had to set these limits and endure this terrible anxiety.

What’s the lesson here?

05:10  I just want to remind all of you, when you embark on what I call changing these patterns, and when you set a limit of any kind, even if they look like nothing to your best friend, or they feel like such a small step, be prepared for this, say, implicit unconscious part of you to feel absolutely terrified.

What is the payoff?

Coupled with awareness and resolve there are tools that help you dissipate and tolerate this anxiety. In time, I  think you find that limit setting gets easier. In the meantime, but be ever so gentle with yourself when you first set these limits.

It’s going to be hard, but it is going to be worth it.

It is essential to your well-being that you learn to be good to yourself instead of being merely good for mom.

Go here for a meditation to help with that anxiety.

Are you the Good Daughter? Go here to find out.

Afraid To Set Limits With Mom? This Could Be Why

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!

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APA Reference
Fabrizio, K. (2018). Afraid To Set Limits With Mom? This Could Be Why. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2020, from


Last updated: 13 May 2018
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