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

The Enmeshed/Appropriating Mother: 6 Ways She Takes Over Her Daughter’s Childhood

“Looking back, mom never let me have my own life. She tried to take over every aspect of my life…for all of my life. Although I had no way of understanding why at the time, any independence on my part was taken as a rejection of her. I never wanted to hurt her; I just wanted to live my own life.”

Susan, a client on my psychotherapy couch, couldn’t understand as a child that her mother was operating out of deep insecurity. No child can. Narcissism, borderline, or traits of those disorders all have, at their core, deep insecurity.  These disorders develop in an attempt to manage that insecurity. A child can’t grasp that the person they depend on is empty. So empty, in fact, she doesn’t have much to give and is psychologically driven to take.

The technical word for this is “appropriation”. A Narcissistic/borderline/histrionic mother psychologically appropriates her daughter’s life in order to meet her unmet needs. 

Most vulnerable is her empathetic, attuned daughter, trapped in the role of the good daughter. Her life is quietly appropriated as she tries to make her mother happy.

6 Ways the Enmeshed mother appropriates her daughter’s life throughout the life cycle, and the lifelong effects.

  • Infancy.  Guarding her role of primary caregiver jealously, mom has a hard time letting anyone else, including dad, become special to her daughter.  Her love has a possessive quality to it. She denies her daughter the richness that comes with being close to other family members.

As a result, her daughter ends up feeling guilty for wanting to be close to her father and other important family members.

  • Toddler and preschool years. When her daughter begins to exert independence, mom shows her displeasure. She resorts quickly to punishment and is likely to shame behavior she considers rebellious. Maintaining control is all important.

The shame her daughter feels, for acting autonomously, stays with her for a lifetime. She may have trouble asserting herself and pursuing her dreams.

  • School-age When her daughter enters daycare or preschool, mom sends mixed messages. On the one hand, she expects her to perform admirably at school. At the same time, she signals to her daughter that she isn’t safe with anyone but mom. This results in separation anxiety as her daughter tries to obey conflicting mandates.

As a result, her daughter has a hard time trusting anyone but mom.

  • Adolescent and preteen years. Mom inserts herself in all of her daughter’s friendships. Closely monitoring her daughter’s interactions with friends, she is quick to find fault with her daughter’s friends. Passing judgment and weighing in, mom evaluates and frequently forbids her daughter from remaining friends with anyone she doesn’t like.

Her daughter has trouble trusting her own judgment in friends and lovers.

  • Teenage years. When her daughter begins to date, mom sees boys, and any hint of burgeoning sexuality, as a major threat. What is normally a tense time between mothers and daughters escalates into a full-blown Armageddon. Her daughter often resorts to circumventing mom’s control by sneaking behind mom’s back. She frequently acts out and engages in risky behavior.

Daughters carry mixed feelings about sexuality into adulthood.

  • Marriage. When her daughter marries, mom’s needs, tastes, and preferences often dictate the wedding plans. Decisions are likely to be mother/daughter decisions instead of decisions made by the couple. Mom’s opinions usually prevail.

3 people in the marriage is one too many. By inserting herself into the wedding rituals, Mom sets a precedent that handicaps the couples union from the beginning.  The marriage may never recover.

  • Daughter’s first child. Mom’s first grandchild is a major event in her life, and she works hard to establish her importance as a doting, adoring grandmother. She gives unsolicited advice and frequently demands she be included in important family decisions. In doing so, she acts as a partner to her daughter.

As a result, the child’s other parent is marginalized.

This kind of engulfing, enmeshed mother uses her power to steal her daughter’s independence at every developmental juncture. She gets her own needs met at her daughter’s expense. The daughter, trapped in the role of the Good daughter, may feel depressed, frustrated, and hopeless- and not know why. When she has a chance to look more closely, she realizes the take over has always been there hidden in plain sight.

To find out if you suffer from the Good daughter Syndrome go here.


The Enmeshed/Appropriating Mother: 6 Ways She Takes Over Her Daughter’s Childhood

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). The Enmeshed/Appropriating Mother: 6 Ways She Takes Over Her Daughter’s Childhood. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 19, 2020, from


Last updated: 3 Sep 2018
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.