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

Daughters of Narcissistic/Difficult Mothers- Trapped in the Role of the “Good” Daughter


“My mother drives me crazy!”

Is this just any daughter complaining about her mother or is it an indication that something is fundamentally wrong with the relationship?

The daughter in the role of the Good Daughter is trapped in a dynamic that she feels… but just can’t put her finger on.

When is good for mom, bad for her daughter?

A daughter who has been raised by a mother with serious psychological difficulty isn’t just bitching about mom. She is trapped by her mother’s needs in ways that cost her. 

When mom has NPD ( Narcissistic Personality Disorder) or BPD ( Borderline Personality Disorder) or has traits of these personality disorders, her daughter will suffer.

This destructive Good Daughter dynamic is often hidden.

Here are 3 ways this Good Daughter role is a trap.

  1. The daughter’s attunement traps her in the role of the Good Daughter.  She is the one who sees, feels and senses when mom is upset. 

Her closeness to mom and hypervigilance to mom’s moods may feel like love to her. Why wouldn’t it? It is all she has ever known.

If mom is upset, the Good Daughter feels it is her job to fix it. This is habitual and ingrained.

This dynamic has it’s roots in childhood when daughter needed mom to be okay.

Because her own needs have been intertwined with her mothers, the Good Daughter has a hard time rejecting mom or causing mom upset without feeling her own security is jeopardized.

2. She is not only hurt by her damaged mother, but she feels responsible for her mother’s well-being.

Growing up – the Good Daughter learns that caretaking is the only way for her to feel emotionally safe. Making sure mom is okay comes first. Then and only then can she feel safe.

She has learned to shut down her own feelings to protect her mother’s fragile self-esteem.

3. The Good daughter is frequently the one mom looks to- to be the example. 

Her mother’s defenses mandate she look “good” for mom or be “good” for mom. Mom’s need for self-preservation comes at the cost of her daughter’s developmental needs.

For emotional survival, she learns to disconnect from her essential self and tune into mom’s needs instead.

What does it cost the Good Daughter to be ‘good” for mom instead of real for herself?

The daughter in the role of the Good Daughter may look like she has it all together yet be flooded with self-doubt when met with the slightest criticism.

Years of looking good for mom and feeling that she has to be better than she is, leaves her with little emotional resilience.

Consequentially, detaching from her essential self and letting another person in is almost impossible.

Because of this detachment, her capacity for intimate relating is severely limited.

Isolated and lonely, the Good Daughter is plagued by an emptiness she doesn’t understand. The acceptance she longs for feels out of reach, and she doesn’t know why.

She keeps thinking that perfection will be the fix that she needs when what she needs is connection.  

How does being good for mom get in the way of closeness with a partner?

When the Good Daughter feels the need to keep up an illusion of perfection, no one gets to see who she really is. When a love interest gets too close, she may back away, fearing if she reveals her real self, she will be found lacking.

This is her double-bind, let your true self-show, and you risk losing the love you need.

Ironically though- if you keep up a front,  you are never loved for yourself.

Alternatively, she will pick partners who are in desperate need of narcissistic mirroring themselves.

The Good Daughter may be surrounded by people but feel profoundly lonely and not know why.

How does this Good Daughter role cause her to feel like an imposter?

Riddled with anxiety she won’t measure up in some way, the Good Daughter over-functions at work or at school. Yet, rather than bringing a sense of satisfaction, she feels like an imposter only waiting to be found out.

The Good Daughter might exercise and starve herself to quiet the internalized critical voice that relentlessly calls her “fat,” “lazy,.”  If she obeys the internal critical voices and gives of herself enough, she can sometimes calm the voices to a dull roar.

Still, the internal tyrant is always there, lying in wait—waiting to hunt her down the minute the Good Daughter lets down her guard.

To look good, she may keep it all together only to turn to food or alcohol when no one is looking. In extreme cases, she resorts to cutting or other forms of self-harm to release the accumulated pressure she feels from keeping up the facade.

Or she feels a chronic sense of self-doubt, never able to relax and let down her guard. 

She might be a suburban mom who can’t pull herself away from the shopping channel or the Chardonnay, her only escape from the relentless tedium of making her life and family look better than it is- emptiness and anxiety haunting her every footstep.

For the Good Daughter, keeping up the facade is exhausting and never-ending.

The Good Daughter may not know how to fail in small ways and bounce back. There is no middle ground.

Her so-called successes are both a pedestal and a prison. Every success sets an expectation she feels she has to meet, every time.

The fake smile, the protective mask, the relentless pursuit of perfection has crushed the little girl inside who has learned to look good her narcissistically defended mom instead of being real for herself.

Being real wasn’t good enough for mom.

The Good Daughter must look good and make sure everyone is okay with her-even when mom is nowhere in sight.

No one told her this is an impossible task. Because happiness, even her own, is an inside job.

As a result of trying, she feels overwhelming shame, guilt, and self-doubt.

Her essential self is buried under the Good Daughter facade.

What can the Good Daughter do to help herself?

She needs to know her buried self is still there, waiting to be reclaimed and brought back to life.

Paradoxically, her discontent holds the breadcrumbs tracing a way back to herself.

The Good Daughter’s unhappiness holds the impetus to unearth her full range of feelings. The stifled anger, at last, given a voice, can free her from the shackles of living inside of a false self.

Plugging back into the current of her true range of feelings—not merely the “nice” ones—can energize her passion and creativity.

With that energy, she may finally be able to shake off the shame, claim her true feelings, and find her way back home—to her essential self.

Armed with awareness, the Good Daughter can use the map of her mother’s narcissistic wounds as the detailed guide to finding her power as a woman.

Understanding the roots of her pain is now the path to her empowerment.

To Find out if you suffer from the Good Daughter Syndrome go here.

Daughters of Narcissistic/Difficult Mothers- Trapped in the Role of the “Good” Daughter

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). Daughters of Narcissistic/Difficult Mothers- Trapped in the Role of the “Good” Daughter. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2020, from


Last updated: 13 May 2018
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