A mother’s jealousy distorts a daughter’s normal development.
Normal or healthier mothers are proud of their children and want them to shine. But a narcissistic mother may perceive her daughter as a threat. If attention is drawn away from the mother, the child suffers retaliation, put-downs, and punishments. The mother can be jealous of her daughter for many reasons: her looks, her youth, material possessions, accomplishments, education and even the young girl’s relationship with the father. This jealousy is particularly difficult for the daughter as it carries a double-message: “Do well so that Mother is proud, but don’t do too well or you will outshine her.”
I have found that daughters of narcissistic mothers typically find it hard to discuss envy from their own mothers, and find it even harder to come to terms with it! They usually do not see their own goodness enough to recognize maternal envy for what it is. Instead they believe that they have yet again done something wrong. If they have internalized the “not good enough” feeling, they don’t see themselves as someone anyone would envy. The whole situation is crazy-making for the daughter’s feelings. It creates hurdles to healthy development and the building of sense of self.
Meanwhile, what’s going on with mom? Envy allows the insecure mother to feel temporarily better about herself. When she envies and then criticizes and devalues the daughter, she diminishes the threat to her own fragile self-esteem. Envy is a powerful tool in the narcissist’s repertoire, and you will see this in the mother’s interactions with other people as well. But, when directed at the daughter, it creates a feeling of helplessness and painful self-doubt. Although there are many ways in which a mother’s jealousy creates hurdles for the daughter, let’s look at just a few.
While the young girl is growing up she uses her mother as her primary example of how to be a girl, woman, friend, lover, and person in the world. If this same mother is putting her down, and jealous of her accomplishments, the child not only becomes confused, but often gives up. Because it is the job of the parent to fill each developmental stage with nurturing, love, support and encouragement, the daughter finds an emptiness that she cannot explain. Most children want to please their parents so if given this mixed message, it is easier and perhaps even safer to do nothing and therefore not expose oneself to criticism. The message from mom is: “if at first you don’t succeed, give up!”
Distorted Relationship with Father:
Of course, children need to have healthy relationships with both parents. If mother is jealous of the relationship the daughter has with the father, what does the daughter do? She wants both of her parents to love her. Who does she please? How does she handle this delicate balance? More complicating is the question of what the father does? Often men in relationship with female narcissists choose to cater to the mother so as to maintain the adult relationship. So that leaves a father unable to connect with his daughter and of course this leaves the daughter with a lack of emotional connection with both parents.
The Pain of Being Unloved:
In all cases of maternal jealousy towards the daughter, the daughter is left with little support for who she is as a whole person. She feels unloved and as Mother Theresa so aptly writes, “the most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.” Envy is like an anger that destroys a young developing woman. It is terrifying for the child at any age.
Your recovery process allows you to individuate so that you are no longer defined by anyone but yourself. Using self-compassion, self-understanding, and working your recovery is worth the time and energy. Creating your own exciting and significant life is gratifying and the more you tune into the woman you were meant to be, the better it feels!
Karyl McBride, Ph.D., is a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers.