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

When A Mother Undermines Her Daughter’s Success Because She Feels Threatened

It is a valuable and beautiful thing when two people who have done the work of developing a mutually respectful relationship based on honesty and authenticity are able to tell each other difficult truths.

A sister who has your back and wouldn’t let you walk into the board of directors meeting with toilet paper hanging out of your pantyhose gets a thumbs-up.

The girlfriend who tells you gingerly that the guy who puts in a 3:00 a.m. booty call is not honoring your best goddess self, and that your new leopard print safari pants are not your best fashion choice, is golden.

She’s a keeper.

However, when individuals use their power to imply or say to you that they are more “in the know” in order to put you down, they have abused that closeness. Thumbs decidedly down.

How does this apply to mothers and daughters?

Let me break it down- as a child, your mother had the responsibility and privilege to guide and instruct you; because of that responsibility, she had the power to instruct you.

As an adult, Mom doesn’t have the responsibility for you and therefore does not have the power to instruct you.

What, would happen if you told your mother something, “for her own good?”

If it goes well, well, good for you and good for her. Commune and communicate all day long.

But if she becomes defensive and angry your relationship may be less than healthy.

Here is a psychotherapeutic case example. 

My client Jennifer (not her real name) enjoyed phenomenal success outside the home. She ran a successful business and gave back generously to the community. Her mother, however, never missed a chance to criticize her. Jennifer felt genuinely confused. She was fond of saying, “My mother loves me, but I don’t think she likes me.”

Despite the accolades at work, Jennifer could never get her mother’s approval. There wasn’t a single area in which she received praise. Jennifer’s mother was always criticizing her children’s diet, the standard of cleanliness in her home, even the way she dressed. Although no one could be completely sure of her mother’s thinking, it seemed very likely that Jennifer’s mother was threatened, on some level, by Jennifer’s success.

Whether she was terrified Jennifer wouldn’t need her anymore if she didn’t keep her daughter under her thumb, or whether Jennifer’s mother was jealous of Jennifer’s considerable accomplishments, something was very wrong. Jennifer felt as though she could never get it right. No matter what she did, Mom always had something to say about it.

You might assume a woman like Jennifer would distance herself from her mother’s toxicity. Surprisingly, this isn’t always the case. There is more to this relationship than meets the conscious eye.

Here is where the underpinnings of the unconscious dynamics come into play. Let’s take a look behind the psychological curtain. Despite significant evidence to the contrary, Jennifer couldn’t shake the feeling that she wouldn’t survive without her mother. Jennifer often said that she felt “chained to her mother with invisible handcuffs.”

These are the handcuffs of the unconscious. And why? Because she knew, deep in her heart (aka the recesses of her unconscious mind) her mother needed to be needed in order to feel relevant. She learned (at the unconscious level) in her childhood as Jennifer’s mother over-parented, doing for Jennifer what Jennifer could do for herself.

Jennifer felt consciously her mother was being helpful. She also feared that her mother needed to squash her successes. Jennifer’s successes were reminders, of her own mother’s unfulfilled life. Jennifer put up with her mother’s constant criticisms, but they were sucking the life out of Jennifer’s confidence.

When she challenged her mother’s criticizing, Jennifer’s mother always retorted that she had Jennifer’s best interests in mind and that she told her these things “for her own good.” The thing was, it never felt very good to Jennifer. It undermined her confidence and eroded her self-esteem.

In psychotherapy, as Jennifer bravely shone a light into the dark corners in the basement of her unconscious,  Jennifer revealed a part of her felt she must remain dead and lifeless in order for her mother to live.

When Mom feels so badly about herself that she undermines her daughter’s successes—that, sister is a witchy brew. Lacing the “for your own good” sweet tea with a smile and a spoonful of arsenic. This mother-daughter dynamic is lethal.

Many daughters, trapped in the role of the “good daughter,” are kept under their mother’s thumb and told it is for their own good.

Do you suffer from the “good” daughter syndrome? – Find out here



When A Mother Undermines Her Daughter’s Success Because She Feels Threatened

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). When A Mother Undermines Her Daughter’s Success Because She Feels Threatened. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Oct 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.