A book review: “Will I Ever be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers” by Karyl McBride, Ph.D.

I am reading the book “Will I Ever be Good Enough- Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers,” by Karyl McBride, Ph.D. I decided to write a blog about it since I so commonly see children, adolescent, and adult females who complain of many of the same issues – perfectionism, anxiety, need for external validation, lack of self-esteem, guilt, being “overly sensitive,” relationship issues (especially dependence) with one’s spouse or children, self-sabotaging behaviors, etc. The book suggests that the focus on the mother/daughter is extremely important and that, although sons may struggle just as well, daughters face certain unique struggles. McBride (2013, pp. 7) explains, “A narcissistic mother sees her daughter, more than her son, as a reflection and extension of herself rather than as a separate person with her own identity. She puts pressure on her daughter to act and react to the world and her surroundings in the exact manner that Mom would, rather than in a way that feels right for the daughter. Thus, the daughter is always scrambling to find the “right” way to respond to her mother in order to win her love and approval.”

I certainly don’t mean to say that the common difficulties I listed are the result of having a mother with narcissistic traits, and feel it would be ignorant to assume so. However, I do feel it can be important to understand one’s self…And take a look at what could have shaped us into feeling so guilty all the time or feeling like the victim all the time, for example. Where did these common experiences within ourselves stem from? Is it possible that the persistent feeling of guilt I experience or often feeling like a victim developed when I was a child and is related to my relationship with my mother or to someone else? In my opinion, having more understanding of ourselves and why we are the way we are can help us move from the place where at – the place of persistent guilt, for example – so that can feel happier and healthier.

So, how do you know if your mother has narcissistic traits and if these traits might have negatively impacted you? In her book, McBride (2013) lists many traits and explains that mothers with only a few of these traits can negatively affect their daughters in insidious ways.

Questionnaire: Does your mother have narcissistic traits?

1. When you discuss your life issues with your mother, does she divert the discussion to talk about herself?

2. When you discuss your feelings with your mother, does she try to top the feelings with her own?

3. Does your mother act jealous of you?

4. Does your mother lack empathy for your feelings?

5. Does your mother support only those things you do that reflect on her as a good mother?

6. Have you consistently felt a lack of emotional closeness with your mother?

7. Have you consistently questioned whether or not your mother likes you or loves you?

8. Does your mother do things for you only when others can see?

9. When something happens in your life, does your mother react with how it will affect her rather than how you feel?

10. Is your mother overly conscious of what others think?

11. Does your mother deny her own feelings?

12. Does your mother blame things on you or others rather than own responsibility for her own feelings or actions?

13. Is your mother hurt easily and does she carry a grudge for a long time without resolving the problem?

14. Do you feel you were a slave to your mother?

15. Do you feel you were responsible for your mother’s ailments or sickness?

16. Did you have to take care of your mother’s physical needs as a child?

17. Do you feel unaccepted by your mother?

18. Do you feel your mother is critical of you?

19. Do you feel helpless in the presence of your mother?

20. Are you shamed often by your mother?

21. Do you feel your mother knows the real you?

22. Does your mother act like the world should revolve around her?

23. Do you find it difficult to be a separate person from your mother?

24. Does your mother want to control your choices?

25. Does your mother swing from egotistical to depressed mood?

26. Does your mother appear phony to you?

27. Did you feel you had to take care of your mother’s emotional needs as a child?

28. Do you feel manipulated in the presence of your mother?

29. Do you feel valued by your mother for what you do, rather than for who you are?

30. Is your mother controlling, acting like a victim or martyr?

31. Does your mother make you act differently from how you really feel?

32. Does your mother compete with you?

33. Does your mother always have to have things her way?

The book goes on to describe narcissism in greater detail, and also provides an in depth description of how these traits can affect a woman. It is written from McBride’s experience, as well as those of many of her clients (she is a psychologist herself). I liked how she did not generalize that every woman with a narcissistic mother is impacted the same way, and instead wrote about possible common experiences. This was in line with my view that all of our experiences are unique and it is not possible to generalize that “all women with narcissistic mothers have low self-esteem,” for example. Everyone is different, even if our mothers had similar characteristics, and we are all at different places in our own process of growth.

A HUGE piece of the book that stood out to me is the concept of empathy. McBride states, “many daughters who didn’t get empathy from their mothers do not know how to give it to their children. The ability to empathize is the most important parenting skill there is. Nothing makes you feel more real, heard, and understood than someone who empathizes with you in a time of need” McBride, 2013, pp. 128). I must say that I whole-heartedly believe in this idea. As a parent myself, I of course have doubts at times as to whether or not I am a good enough parent. However, I do believe that the more often I am empathic to my children, the better. The more likely they will trust in their own feelings and in themselves, have good self-esteem, be less dependent and more independent, have better relationships throughout life, be good at understanding themselves and others, and the list goes on and on. Empathy requires being able to set your own feelings aside, without losing them, in order to respond to someone else’s emotional needs. In my opinion, it is the opposite of narcissism.

Finally, McBride writes about the process of recovery and moving forward towards a healthier life. She focuses on being one’s own person, separating from the mother and learning to embrace the person that the daughter truly is. McBride (2013) describes true recovery as feeling free from any feelings of victimization associated with the mother and she focuses on techniques, steps, and ideas to keep in mind for the daughter to be able find peace. I must say that found most all aspects of the book to be warm and inviting. Reading it helped me to be aware of and keep important parenting beliefs in my forefront. I imagine others would find this book helpful for many different reasons, and I highly recommend it!