“Will I Ever Be Good Enough” by Karyl McBride helps you understand -and cure- the pain and harm that narcissistic mothers cause on their children.
I found it a wonderful, incredible book.
It made clearer for me how my mother’s behavior impacted me and it opened new doors of understanding in human psychology.
- Narcissistic mothers are all about themselves and give no love to their children
- Children of narcissistic mothers take all the blame for the lack of love and internalize the idea they are not good enough
- Daughters carry the damaging self-limiting beliefs for their whole life
- Daughters can have problems getting in touch with their own feelings as well
Will I Ever Be Good Enough? is a book on narcissistic mothers. So we will start by defining what’s narcissism.
What Is Narcissism?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) describes narcissism as a spectrum disorder, which means it exists on a continuum: either full blown narcissist or has some traits to a certain degree.
Here are the nine traits that define narcissism:
- Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from other people
- Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
- Self-perception of being unique, superior, and associated with high-status people and institutions
- Needing continual admiration from others
- Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
- Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
- Unwilling to empathize with the feelings, wishes, and needs of other people
- Intensely envious of others, and the belief that others are equally envious of them
- Pompous and arrogant demeanor
Lack of Love = Not Good Enough
Daughters of narcissistic mothers don’t get love. And love and affection is something every child needs.
Without enough love and affection, psychological issues develop.
Daughters internalize the message that they are not good enough for love. They believe their are not worthy of love.
And they carry that message within themselves for years and years.
The idea of not being worthy of love leads to two opposite path. Which one the daughter takes, says the author, depends on whether they had someone else in the family who gave them love.
Albeit the paths seem polar opposites, they have the same roots:
1. The Achievement Daughter
The achievement-oriented daughter wants to prove mother and herself that she is good enough (and deserving of love). But the only way she knows how to do that is by doing more and more, and achieving more and more.
She tries to fill the void with awards, money, great grades etc.
And when she cannot manage to achieve, she feel worthless.
2. The Self Destructive Daughter
On the other end of the spectrum the self-destructing daughter tells herself “what’s even the point, I’ll never amount to anything anyway”. The expectations of mother were so high and she was never happy anyway, so why bother.
She sometimes gets addicted to alcohol, drugs or food (read Hunger by Roxane and Bright Lines). And strings a bunch of very poor relations (also read how self esteem creates a loop of bad relationships).
Note: the author doesn’t mention it, but in my opinion some children my self-sabotage on purpose to prove their independence. This might be more true for men.
I know it was the case for me.
For both the path to healing is finding internal validation.
Mother-Daughter Relationship Dynamics
Karyl McBride details a few traits peculiar to the mother-daughter relationship:
- You always try to win her affection but you can never please her. The little approval is about who she wants you to be, not who you are
- Mother emphasizes the importance of how it looks more than how it is
- She is jealous of you (for looks, age, partners, relationship with fathers, life opportunities, taking attention away etc.)
- Mother suffocates expression of yourself, especially if they conflict with her own needs
- It’s always about mother
- Mother is unable to empathize (and daughter feels her feelings don’t matter)
- Mother cannot deal with her own feelings. If confronted, she will likely stonewall, clam up or lash out
- Critical and judgmental (uses daughter as scapegoat for own unhappiness and insecurity)
- Treats you like a friend, not a daughter (can discuss personal intimate stuff and use daughter as emotional props)
- Mother does not respect your boundaries
Dishonesty and Appearances
Narcissistic families and mothers sacrifice honesty for what it looks like to others
You’re There For Her
Daughters of narcissistic mothers believe they are there for the pure benefits of their mothers. And the opposite is not true: the mothers don’t care much for their daughters.
Daughters grow up believing that if they only try hard to be “good girls” they will get the love they need and crave. That if they really manage to please people, then they will get some love.
Daughters Suffer More
Daughters suffer more than sons.
A narcissistic mother sees her daughter as her own extension and puts pressure on her to either be exactly like her, or to be exactly like she wants.
The daughter is raised to try to be exactly like her mother wants her to be.
And they can also often be jealous of their daughters while they rarely are so of their sons. Indeed the author says that most daughters who have brothers report their being favored over them (exception being if they get married and bring a woman in the family)
Two Types of Narcissistic Mothers
The authors outlines two types of narcissistic mothers:
- Absent mother (under-parent)
- Engulfing mother (over-parent)
The two styles sometimes overlap and a mother can swing from one side to the other.
Both types of mothers make individuation -or the development as self as as a separate person- difficult.
She is an example of a typical engulfing mother. Notice the obsession on achievement and “looks”
Mother Never Gets to Know You
Narcissists have a superficial approach to emotional life. Their world is image-oriented, concerned with how things look to others. She doesn’t care and doesn’t focus on who you really are.
But she cares about how you look, how you make her look and what you can do for her.
The Six Types of Narcissistic Mothers
- Accomplishment (success is what you do, not who you are)
- Psychosomatic (uses illness and aches and pains to manipulate others)
- Secretly mean (nice in public, mean in private)
- Emotionally needy (expect their daughters to take care of them)
The achievement mother can be especially confusing at times. When the daughter works to achieve the goal the mother is not supportive because she it not living for her.
Then once she achieves the goal, the mother gloats and uses her to show off.
The daughter the only way to get a positive reaction is to achieve more.
What About Fathers?
Fathers are often subservient to their mothers and pander to their needs. The revolve around mother like planets around the sun.
The author says the narcissist needs a supporting partner, or the marriage will not survive.
The husband accepts the role and, often, enables the narcissist mother.
The father, for pandering on the mother, can look narcissist. However, when in alone time with the daughter, it’s likely that he can love. And that can make a difference for the daughter.
In Terms of Endearment she is a narcissistic mother. And he would have ended up being the perfect father/enabler to a narcissistic mother
Dependent or Codependent Relationships
The daughter learns that she can’t depend on her mother.
She grows up anxious, fearing abandonment, and expecting deceit at every turn.
She is more likely to develop an anxious attachment style, which makes her look for partners who either can depend on her or a partner that she can take care of.
The tends to end up in relationship that are either dependent or codependent.
Dependent relationship: when she is in a dependent relationship she hopes to get the love that she never got from her mother. In the beginning she’s on cloud nine. But then she starts becoming too demanding, jealous and needy. She will want him at all times to fulfill her emotional needs.
When the relationship starts going south, she will blame him for it.
Even in codependent relationships she will switch back and forth with dependence because co-dependence is a front anyway. When under stress, her neediness will surface and she will look dependent.
Read: codependent no more.
Other Relationship Dances
Daughters also end up in different types of dysfunctional relationships.
Some other times she might choose emotionally unavailable men because that’s what she’s used to and because she herself is not in touch with her own feelings.
And in some cases the daughter can pick men who are not nearly as accomplished, driven or assertive as they are. When she can control them, she can’t get hurt.
Relationship failures only deepen her low self esteem.
Steps to Cure
- Understand the issue you had and what it caused you
- Grieve and process the feelings (allow yourself to feel the pain, the anger, the sadness and depression. And cry a lot)
- Begin healing
Steps of Grieving
When you are angry you might feel guilty as in our culture it feels like a sin to harbor bad feelings towards mothers. Don’t worry, it’s ok. Some narcissistic mothers only feel free after their mothers die.
Steps to Healing
- Accept your mother’s limitations, and allowing yourself to grieve
- Separate psychologically from mother
- Reframe the negative messages
- Develop your own self and personality
- Deal with mother in a healthy way (stop expecting love. It could mean in a detached way and in extreme cases no contact at all)
- Treat your own narcissistic traits
Could Have Been Shorter
Some concepts repeat a few times. It could have been shorter in my opinion. But again, I have this complaints on almost most books.
Small, Small Detail on Mothering
The author says that healthy men don’t want to be mothered. True… Up to a certain point.
Some men who look like they don’t want to be mothered might regress instead, which makes it a potent seduction technique (works with women as well, of course).
Will I Ever Be Good Enough is a book that will directly help anyone who’s had a narcissist or emotionally unavailable parent.
Deep Wisdom To Understand Human Mind
Even if you didn’t have a narcissist parent, it all makes sense in this book. And you will better understand human psychology.
Positively Touching At Times
The work of Karyl McBride is a positive contribution to humanity.
There was one part which was especially touching.
McBride is talking about a little girl she was curing, daughter of a narcissistic mother:
I’ve had many children ask me to take them home, such as one darling eight-year-old who said, “Dr. Karyl, do you know how to cook? How many bedrooms do you have at your house? Do you have any toys?” Then she quietly added, “If I can come home with you, I will do the dishes every day and even wash all your windows!”
Touching, isn’t it.
Will I Ever Be Good Enough goes straight to the top of the best psychology books I have ever read and becomes one of my absolute favorites.
It made me understand more of people, parenting and my own life and psychology.
I realized that my mother had that kind of “I’ll love you more if you are like this” attitude that conditioned me for a long time -and is still conditioning me-.
This book will explain you exactly how it is conditioning you. And what you can do to fix it.
If that rings a bell, you must grab a copy of Will I Ever Be Good Enough.
And even if that’s not your case, you will still understand so much more of human psychology.