As a psychotherapist treating Adult Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers, I see how her daughter, trapped in the role of the “Good daughter,” hides her true self behind a mask of faux perfection. In this article, I explain how she becomes disconnected from her essential self to please her mother and lives a life that is not her own. 

You might miss her unless you know what to look for.

Plastering on a beauty queen, camera-ready smile that functions more like a mask than an expression of joy. It’s the smile that insists, “I’m fine, perfect in fact. Why would you ask?”

There is no joy, nor ease in that smile. It is more militant than confident. The smile is designed to keep you out rather than invite you in.

This daughter, trapped in the role of the “good daughter” of the Narcissistic Mother must hide her true self behind a mask of faux perfection.

If she could speak from behind her mask and let you know how she feels, she might say something like this:

I’d rather take a razor blade to my arm than let you in on the dirty little secret that I am flawed and hurting.

I don’t trust myself to be anything but people pleasing, yet I don’t trust people.

I apologize when I haven’t done anything wrong. It’s safest that way.

She’s learned to be good instead of real.

Listen closer, and you will hear her say:

In my house, we went by the motto, “if Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

And it was true — Mom’s happiness is what mattered. If she wasn’t happy, it was my job to fix it.

I don’t dare complain. I am always OK. I’d better be.

You see growing up with my Mother there was no room for me to feel anything but ok. That’s why, if I did complain I was told,  “You’re too sensitive.” So, I’ve learned to pretend that I’m ok even when I’m not.

Why she can’t tell her Mother how she feels? 

I’ve tried to tell her what she does to hurt me, and it never does any good. It always ends up being my fault.

I’ve learned it’s better to keep complaints to myself.

Besides, any discussion about me always ends up about her.

My real self is buried here underneath this mask. I might look alive, but honestly, I feel dead inside.

The good daughter’s real self is buried alive underneath Mom’s neediness.

Everyone says I am a “good daughter.” They don’t know what it costs me.

When I’m not good, my real self-threatens to break through. The problem is, my true self is angry and out of control.

I’m afraid I can’t trust myself. So, I cut, exercise or starve myself to get her under control… to let off the pressure.

I’m not always self-destructive. Sometimes it is enough to pull off good grades or get a job promotion. The trouble is when the good grades come in, or the job promotion is handed down, I feel like a fake. I’m flooded with doubt. I think I don’t deserve it. I’m just waiting to be found out.

Success is only a stay of execution. I can never let my guard down completely.

If my teachers or boss could see behind my act, they would see what a loser I really am. They would know I eat a carton of ice cream and then go for a 5-mile run to stop the critics inside my head.

Those friends who think I have it all together would see I measure whether or not it is a good or bad day or by the number that registers on my bathroom scale.

I don’t leave the house without my makeup. I need the mask.

Everyone thinks I’m nice, but no one really knows the real me. I’m not sure they would like the real me if they knew me. So I hide behind this mask. Yet, it gets so lonely in here buried underneath this pretense of perfection.

 The reason she stays trapped:

I’m like a Disney character, smiling on the outside while sweating bullets and cursing under my breath inside the suffocating costume. The only difference is… I can’t take off the costume.

What’s worse, it isn’t even my fantasy — it’s Mom’s fantasy, and I’m just a prop in her magic kingdom.

Sometimes, I get so mad at her and feel resentful. But, after I calm down, I feel waves of guilt. 

I can’t tell her what this is doing to me. It will only hurt her. That’s the real trap.

The thing is, I don’t think she can help the way she is. She had a rough childhood, much rougher than mine, even though she hardly ever talks about it. When I ask questions, the look that comes over her face is enough to make me stop.

I don’t want to see her suffer anymore. But sometimes, I feel like it is her happiness or mine.

 The ‘good daughter’ never feels good enough.

Mom seems pleased when I do well. How can I take that away from her?

That is, she is happy for the moment. She beams when I am making the grades, winning the trophy or acting like a plastic Barbie doll.

Can’t she see it is a performance, not a life?

As pleased as Mom can be at the moment, once I stop making her look good, the criticisms start up.

Trying to please her is exhausting and endless.

I wonder if I’ll ever be good enough.

So, I go on with the performance, mask firmly in place wondering if it will ever be my turn.

Can this ever change?

After treating adult Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers for 30 years, the daughter, trapped in the role of the “good daughter” can be the hardest to spot and the trickiest to treat. Yet, a rupture in the facade or a crack in the mask can also be an opportunity for growth. What looks on the outside, like a tragedy can be a much-needed cry for help and a path to the essential self.

A cry that can be answered.

A therapist who knows what to look for and what to do can help bring the daughter of Narcissistic Mother, trapped inside the role of the “good daughter” back to life. 

Because living for someone else is no way to live.