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

Hidden Ways A Mother Creates Self-Doubt in Her Daughter

Can you spot the ways this mother creates self-doubt in her daughter?

“You look great, but I wonder if that dress comes in a larger size?”

“Are you sure you want to put the kids in daycare all day?”

“The apartment is great but can you really afford something so fancy?”

Yeah- it’s not that hard… but it may be familiar.


Does Mom offer up a question that’s not really a question? Is it a judgment disguised as a question?

Do you need to pay attention to what is not said, but implied to decipher the real message?

Do you look to tone & facial expression for the truth?

Does mom have trouble being upfront, transparent, or real?

Why is this a problem?

When criticism isn’t direct, it is difficult to process or recognize the insult hidden within. You feel it, but your mind argues against it.

There is an incongruency.

When a question isn’t a question but an indictment of a choice, you have already made, the “question” is designed to produce self-doubt, or at the very least pass on the conflict, she feels, down to you.

In my 30 years of counseling women in psychotherapy, I am here to say this is amongst the most destructive ways mothers relate to their daughters.

When mom tells you directly, she doesn’t agree with a choice you’ve made or an action you have taken, it might be unpleasant or unwelcome, but you deal with it as such.

It is the mixed message that creates self-doubt.

The toxicity in mom’s mixed messaged double-speak is all too often ingested – like the shiny apple offered to Snow White.

You swallow it whole, and its sharp edges cut away at your self-confidence.

This way of relating leaves you on the lookout for the subtext, the razor blade hidden in the shiny apple in every encounter.

Do you feel you have to play nice despite being treated poorly?

Everyone says how nice you are. At the subconscious level are you just playing nice to get along? This, in itself, feels like a trap. You want to be nice, but you feel that you can’t be real…. and get away with it.

You feel like you have to choose between nice and real. You wonder, where do doormat end and bitchy, ungrateful daughter begin?

As a psychotherapist, for 30 years I have seen woman after woman struggling with the spell of mixed messages they were put under by their mothers.

This is ugly and far more common than you would guess.

Some daughters in the role of Good Daughter have seriously impaired mothers, Narcissistic, Borderline or Histrionic who cause serious damage.

Other daughters are hurt by mothers who are passing down what they have suffered. They bear the mark of the patriarchy and can’t help but mark their daughters if they follow cultural expectations.

They feel conflicted and unknowingly pass that conflict down to their daughters. 

Either way, it is very hard to face the fact that the person hurting you and undermining your self-esteem is your very own mother.

Hurtful, even if mom is unaware of the hurt she is causing.

With these mixed messages, you internalize these insults.

Without conscious awareness, these ugly mommy barbs become incorporated as self-talk. This self-talk is part of your identity as a woman and serves as a dysfunctional template for relating.

What will it cost you if you don’t break the spell?

If you can’t consciously face that your mother is serving up arsenic-laced apples, you will never be able to tell which relationships, and life situations are good for you.

You will need to repeat those relational patterns in close intimate relationships. You will take one shiny apple after another, ingest the poison therein, and tell yourself this is what you deserve.

You will unconsciously need to keep yourself in shady situations and tell yourself that you are in sunshine.

You will convince yourself that the problem is yours. The apple tastes good, not bitter, and that the shadows are only in your imagination.

You are too sensitive, that’s all.

So you constantly people, please, apologize, and explain, even when there is no need.

Underneath it all, you work to get out from under a cloud of guilt even when you have done nothing wrong.

That is why it is both hard to face, and so important to face this for yourself.

You must face this consciously, to break the spell of self-doubt, give up the role of the good daughter and become real. 

Then you can step out of the shadows, call a spade a spade, and an insult an insult.

You hand back the poison-laced apples along with the backhanded compliments.

When you do this work, you can send congruent, empowering messages to your own daughter.

Breaking this spell is at the heart of healing the difficulties between mothers and daughters.

Heal this one, and you will heal so very much in your life.

Go here to find out if you are trapped in the Good Daughter role.


Hidden Ways A Mother Creates Self-Doubt in Her 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). Hidden Ways A Mother Creates Self-Doubt in Her Daughter. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 13 May 2018
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