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

Why Daughters of Narcissistic/Difficult Mothers Mistake Anxiety For Love

The empathetic, sensitive daughter of the narcissistic or otherwise difficult mother… never learns what love really looks like.

The lessons she learns about love trap her into mistaking anxiety for love.

(*disclaimer- this will apply in varying degrees to each individual- see what is applicable for you) 

How does this happen? 

Because mom is your primary attachment figure (read, your first love) the way you learned to love is your template for love. Biologically we are primed for attachment. In this extended state of dependency, we are one big love machine. Because we can’t feed ourselves, walk or talk on our own for almost a year, we literally can’t survive without a mothering (or caregiving) presence.

Babies are cute for a reason, an evolutionary reason. Mother nature ensures our survival by making us irresistibly cute and undeniably taken with our primary caregiver. We are in fact wired to love the one we are with. So baby ( that would be you) is going to make the best of it… with all she’s got.

Mother nature has her way 

One of the brain’s primary functions at this stage is to bond…which is to fall deeply and completely in love.  Your first meal was at Mom’s breast or the bottle while gazing into her eyes. Your first bed was found in her arms. The voice you first heard was hers in utero, and then later cooing you to sleep.

Home to you was wherever mom was. The nest she created, your room, and the house you grew up in was an extension of mom. The way the kitchen smelled when she cooked your favorite food…. her perfume, the touch of the blanket or teddy bear that she gave you- all an extension of mom.

What happens if mom is depressed, narcissistic or borderline? 

 You may have looked into your mother’s eyes only to find emptiness rather than delight. If she was fighting off anxiety, she might have been unable to be present in a way that soothed you.  Perhaps your needs overwhelmed her. Not because you were too much but because she felt inadequate as a mother.

If she was unable to self-regulate, she was unable to be a soothing presence for you.

  Did she have enough food? Was your father out drinking and she jumped every time she heard a police siren or the phone ring? Perhaps brother or sister was challenging to handle and distracted mom so much that you lost her loving attention. Or she was unmothered herself… to such an extent that she just didn’t have it in her to give to you.

As the good, attuned, empathetic daughter you did more than your fair share of the emotional work to make the relationship work- especially if mom was psychologically impaired.

(To find out if mom is narcissistic, borderline or histrionic go here. )

When you fall in love-

 When you fall for that beautiful boy, that handsome rouge or that irresistible same-sex partner your attachment systems go all out. The same system that activated to ensure your survival is now activated to make sure you pair bond and reproduce.

Mother nature wants what she wants. She doesn’t care if he or she is right or wrong for you. Indiscriminately, all attachment systems are set on go.

Mother nature is having her way with you.

This is why the whites of the eyes show as lovers gaze at each other. The pupils dilate, and the heart pounds. You call each other baby. You coo and feed each other, hold and caress. Simply gazing into each other’s eyes can cause a cascade of feel-good hormones.

This template etched in your unconscious is the operating system running the show.  The script from which you speak is what you unconsciously bring into your relationships. Mother nature is trying to ensure your next meal and protection from the elements, and your brain is calling it love!

What happens when you meet the not so nice guy or gal. 

Because of this unconscious template, when you are dropped, ignored or dissed by your romantic interest you automatically feel… it is your fault.

This isn’t true, but your faulty attachment system is telling you it is true.

How did you get so unlucky? 

While some people (who have a different attachment template) might avoid or disengage when faced with an unavailable or not so nice partner, this isn’t you. You love, love, love, a project. You go all out as if your life depended on making this relationship work. 

What was once rooted in your childhood experience is now buried deep in your unconscious brain telling you dangerous lies.

How do you experience it consciously? 

You might misinterpret your anxiety as butterflies… telling you this is the one instead of telling you the more appropriate message- run for the hills.

You feel on a deep primal preverbal level that your very lovability is in question. And associated with this is your very survival. When you don’t feel the attention or love from the other in a dependable, consistent way, you feel anxiety.

Your attachment system makes you an addict in need of a fix of attention.

You lose sight of considering whether the other person is a suitable partner. We joke and say you lose your mind. But this is true.  You look for ways to keep the “other’s” attention. Instead of looking out for yourself, you work to elicit signs of their affection &/or caretaking from the other.

And you start to confuse anxiety with love- 

This can be a slippery slope anxiously working to keep the other person’s attention. Do it enough, and you only reinforce the idea that you are in love. Before you know it, love hurts.

What you call it love, is in fact, primarily anxious bonding from an insecure attachment.

While the baby in you trying to ensure survival, the good daughter in you is working too hard and settling for more she should.

*You aren’t doomed and you aren’t broken. You deserve to be loved and give love. If you find yourself trapped in a pattern of mistaking anxiety for love know it isn’t your fault. Healing begins with awareness.

To find out if you are caught in the good daughter trap go here.



Why Daughters of Narcissistic/Difficult Mothers Mistake Anxiety For Love

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. (2019). Why Daughters of Narcissistic/Difficult Mothers Mistake Anxiety For Love. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 10 Feb 2019
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