Never Good Enough for a Narcissistic Mother

by Michelle Piper

When a client tells me they never feel “good enough,” I know there is serious pain in that person’s life. As I listen, I hear how the person’s thoughts go moment-to-moment, scouring recent experience to see how he or she can be better somehow. The patient asks, compulsively, “How can I be more?”

This is especially common for children who grew up with a narcissistic parent. That habit of hyper-vigilant self assessment was needed to survive childhood. Think of it—if you need to anticipate what a narcissistic adult wants from you next, hoping to avoid negative consequences or gain much needed attention, how could you avoid learning to self-tune and quickly adjust to the narcissist’s needs?

As a result, adult children of narcissistic mothers unintentionally carry forward many unreasonable standards that mom had for them while they were growing up. Though you may no longer tolerate another adult treating you as your narcissistic mother did in the past, you may replicate that same pattern in how you treat yourself. Are your expectations of yourself fair? Do you ever meet the mark you set? Do you feel satisfied with your day more often than not?

When we get stuck in never-good-enough, we become worn out by the constant search to be more productive, valuable, loved, and attractive. Yes, self assessment is a valuable skill. But, when we constantly scan and measure our worth only by what we can do, what role we play, or who approves of us, we become increasingly empty. Instead of accepting our inherent worth as a perfectly imperfect living being, we become driven by our fears.

Never-good-enough feelings can sneak into our lives in many different ways. Here are some examples:

1. You end a long day of work where nothing went wrong and no one acted negatively toward you, but you still don’t feel that your boss or fellow employees were satisfied with what you did.

2. A friend of yours thanks you for the birthday gift you just gave her, but you think you detect some small disappointment in her voice.

3. Someone says you look good that day and you automatically tally that it has been over a week since anyone has complimented you on your appearance.

4. You have leisure time but you don’t use it because you feel you must be productive. You are baffled by friends who say they are “just going to relax.”

The self-doubts can feel never ending. It is awful to feel apologetic just for being alive, but sometimes that’s how we feel when we are in a never-good-enough state. Notice: Do you treat yourself with care and love? How often?

If not, there are ways to do so. Starting now, find opportunities to be kind to yourself. The next time you feel the anxiety of a negative opinion, end your self-reflection with naming at least one thing you did right. Or, at a minimum, one thing you did not do wrong.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Tamela October 20, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Hi Michelle,
We met at the book conference in L.A. I’m loving your blog. This topic was perfect as this is what I’ve been doing to myself very badly this week. Some weeks I’m not so bad, some weeks I even find things to like about myself, but others I am pretty cruel to myself.

Here’s a related topic for a blog that I’d love to see…

When I get down to the real pain that I feel from my mother (or parents, since both are narcissists). It’s not that they didn’t love me. I get that they are sick and can’t love me. What really hurts is that I love them. And my love for them is continuously regarded as if it were disgusting and slimy. My attention is required, but my love is unworthy.

I think everyone has felt the hurt of having their love rebuffed by someone. It’s painful. But when it’s your parents, you take on a core belief that something is innately wrong with you and that if your love is not good enough for your parents, then there must be something very wrong with it.

I push so many men away, because I’m terrified that if they get close, they will see the monster that I must be. They’ll see the completely unworthy, slimy love that I have to offer. Of course, I’ve been attracted to narcissistic men in my past, so that only reinforced the idea.

But now that I’ve changed my attraction to healthier men, I find it terrifying to actually date them. I’m not afraid they won’t love me. I’m afraid I won’t be able to make them happy. I won’t have love that is worthy of them. And I wonder why they think they love me (because clearly they are delusional). If they are in love with me, then maybe there is something wrong with them? But most likely, they just think they love me because they haven’t gotten to know me well enough yet. So I’ll protect these nice guys from every having to deal with the likes of me by not even trying to date.

Fabulous circular thinking.

That is something I’m not sure how to change. I can separate from my outward abusers and see them clearly. But how do I heal the person inside who has bought and paid for the belief that I’ll never be good enough for anyone good?

Still trudging along the healing path…
🙂

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Michelle Piper October 27, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Hi Tamela,
I’ve been mulling over your comment even though you said you did get some answers from the post you mention a bit later. A helpful way into this topic or another resource with which to look at intimate connection is the book “Attached,” by Levine & Heller. It looks at how we experience attachment when we try to partner. Let me know what you think.

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Tamela October 20, 2012 at 12:42 pm

I just needed to read more blog posts. You addressed a lot of this here:
http://www.narcissisticmother.com/adult-children-of-narcissists

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Michelle Piper October 26, 2012 at 11:46 am

Hi Tamela,
It is scary to consider investing in an intimate relationship after identifying how narcissism affected you in your life. I will answer more where you posted the initial question. You are kind to read so many of the posts and to refer that link as a resource for other readers. I am working on more posts for this issue, too.

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Roger January 18, 2013 at 2:48 pm

I always had that ‘never good enough’ feeling but didn’t know why. I got good marks in school, was fairly athletic, and had lots of friends in school. Still, there was always something that made me feel that I had to do more. My NM never acknowledged my accomplishments and whenever I did anything well, it was brushed off or undermined. This feeling continued for so long, even to the point where it was affecting my relationships and work. Once I came to conclusion my mother was a narcissist, everything started to make sense and I’m now realizing that what I have to offer is good enough and that the only person I need to value me, is me.

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Former Scapegoat September 16, 2013 at 12:38 pm

By the time I hit 30 I’d realized that I would never be good enough. Up until that time, I was constantly trying to please my malignant NM. After going LC and being forced to erect boundaries for my own safety, and finally going NC, I no longer have her negative messaging.

Now I’m nearly 50, I still second guess myself (which ultimately leads to not feeling good enough.) But you know what? I’ve learned to tune out that voice. As a result I haven’t had days, weeks, and months of dread because I instinctively knew (my instinct was trained by a very sick woman) I’d done something wrong to someone. When I hadn’t.

It’s a small victory, but it gives me loads of peace. And I wish the same for all children of narcissists.

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Outsidelookinginn December 12, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Hi Michelle.

I appreciate the download you sent with the quiz. I scored a 70 so I know that I have more work to do. My mother is a classic N and It also happens that she was reluctantly diagnosed by a Psych therapist as part of a family counseling class my brother “Golden Child” (oldest) was completing as part his Masters degree in Counseling and Divinity. The students in the class were asked to invite family members to attend counseling sessions. My mother went one week and my ex and I went another week; my younger sisters and father refused to go. The therapist would not tell my mother that she was NPD, but he did share it with my brother and me. I was furious that he wouldn’t say it to her. I wanted her to know that other people saw through her cover-up. I understand now that this would only have driven her more underground and may have caused more harm to my younger sisters.

As a child I always thought that something was wrong with me. It had to be me because how could a mother not love her daughter? All my friends mothers loved their daughters; “what’s wrong with me?” My mother was very skilled as an abuser both physically and emotionally. It amazes me, with the amount of planning and skill it took on her part to mask her NPD, that it would not have just been easier to seek help. But she didn’t and I need to untangle my mess.

I was the scapegoat for as long as I can remember and had no problem confronting my mother with the truth. Also I have very little memory of 99% of my childhood except for some of the moments she embarrassed me on purpose in front of my teachers or friends or the severe beatings (with the Big black belt or neon pink plastic jump rope). I know this true, but even as I write this I feel like I am being “too sensitive” or exaggerating (of which I was always accused) or dishonoring my mother. She quoted the bible so she could have God as her accomplice to the crime who not only approved of it, but commanded I should honor through it. It took me many years to separate God from my mother.

I am 56 years old and have no idea of anything I ever wanted to do or be when I grew up. Other than my teddy bear Pickle Puss (he understood because he had a tear coming down from his sad eyes) I do not remember having any toys that I enjoyed (I know I had toys). I
see pictures of me during my childhood years and they might as well be someone else, as I do not remember the event, location or most of the people. My birthday parties only show children present if their parents were my mothers’ friends or accepted relatives. My father was there and I loved him, but always wondered why he would not stand up to my mother for himself and us children.

I am trying now to learn different emotions ( I was only familiar with fear, anger and shame). Believe it or not I have managed to be somewhat successful in the business world, but always feel like if people knew who I really was they would not like me or think I was good at my job. These feeling have prevented me from going as far as I would have liked in some jobs. I have also met a few NPDs in the corporate world that have become my managers and it brings up memories and reactions from the past. I am currently unemployed, but am ok financially since I do not have any debt and have always saved money for a rainy day (my childhood was a rainy day). So now I will spend time trying to learn things I should have learned as a child and unlearn things that no child should have to learn.

Thank you for your website and sorry this note is so long.

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Tom Hall February 8, 2014 at 12:58 pm

This is my story told better than I could. I am 68 and was 64 before I realized I needed counciling, then it was to deal with the life style changes Fibromyalgia was causing. One of major causes of Fibromyalgia is stress as a victim of a DNP I sure know stress. I had been seeing my Psychologist twist a month for almost a year when I was sharing how my mother had acted while helping with dad that she literally jumped out her seat and said you were reared by a DNP mother. She started looking for a book for me
, when I told her I could get my information I needed to leave. You talk about anger, I stay in my bedroom 3 days with so much anger it scared my wife so bad she would not leave the house. She said I displayed anger she had never seen and she was afraid I was going to hurt myself. My current problem is looking back, I see so many occasions where I should have drawn a boundary line a mile wide and walked out. I had one occasion to tell her that I had her number and the jig was over. She is now in a nursing home and am having to taking care of all her busines she keep hidden from me until being being admitted. I wish I new then what I learned 4 years I could be totally different person. My survival skill had made be think I was just like her, this was one of the reason I needed help. Thank for all the posts it to know there a lot of survivors of DNP.

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Rubies March 16, 2017 at 8:28 am

I was the youngest and only girl of five children. My mother always made it seem as though I was the special one, being the girl, but what that really meant was that I would be held to completely different standards for the rest of my life. Somehow I always knew deep inside there was something not right about her. She even started her smear campaign against me when I was only two. I remember repeatedly hearing her tell anyone she spoke with about how much she did for me, how pretty she made my room, how she bought me special dolls, and made me clothes. Then she would tell the story of how I refused to even try on the shoes she had wanted to buy me, when I was two. (She was clearly making me out to be both spoiled and ungrateful. The added bonus, was that she was a poor suffering sacrificial mother having to deal with such a difficult child.) I remember thinking when I heard this as a young child that I would show my mommy every day that I was both grateful and good. When she would scream at all of us for one reason or another (because she didn’t know who had broken something or made a mess) I always knew that I didn’t do whatever it was that had upset her.

Things changed when I became a teenager. Three of my brothers had left home by then and the other one was gone most of the time. I had also come to the realization that it didn’t matter how hard I tried to be good and grateful, it would never be enough to get her to stop talking about me like I was trouble. So I gave up. My mother started coming to my room often and screaming at me for one reason or another. I really wasn’t a bad kid at all, but my room would get messy and my grades weren’t good enough. (I had made the honor roll a couple times, but they was like blips that were barely noticed.) I now think coming to my room to scream was how she vented her frustrations, that her life wasn’t perfect. And she always strove for perfection. Her closets were perfect, her house was perfect, her gardens were perfect, but that daughter, is not. I started defending myself when she would come to my room for these venting sessions, arguing and even screaming back at her. Thus proving to her I really was difficult, just like she’d always made me out to be. (Can anyone say self fulfilling prophesy.) She would revert to the silent treatment after these arguments, but I didn’t care. In fact I barely noticed as I pretty much stayed in my room most of the time. A few days would pass and then she’d come back for round twenty three. After a couple years of this, she started leaving me alone.

I won’t go into my life story here or tell of the unbeleivable drama which has occurred in the last six years simply because my husband and I offered to have her live with us in her old age. However I can say I tried as hard as I could to be there for her every day, and it was NEVER enough. I tried to show her that I really was the good daughter she’d alway wanted, and she tried to see whether we would still be there for her no matter how horrible she treated us, or how much trouble she caused us. She’s in an assisted living facility now. We have extremely limited contact that I make sure stays in writing, as she cannot be trusted. Her golden children have made sure that I’ve been cut from the will, and caused her to attack me so viciously that I don’t want to bridge the gap between us. And of course she is far too “important” to put herself out but so much for me(the spoiled and ungrateful one). I really feel bad for her in some ways, but you can’t continuously lie about people, treat them like trash repeatedly, and then expect them to stick around with love in their hearts.

I still love her, by my definition of love, wanting the best for another. I’ve been studying narcissism in families and seeking solace from this site and many others for almost two years now. I’ve learned that we all have different ideas of what love is, and some people see love as a hook they put into your heart, to own you, control you, and hurt you whenever they want. All they have to do is pull that line and you have no choice but to come, or suffer the pain until you do. They see you and I as stupid for having feelings and allowing ourselves to be hooked, to be controlled by emotions, they can only pretend to have. Removing a hook from a heart can not only be quite painful, it can cause even more damage. It can even be life threatening. My heart is still bleeding from the extraction, and I know a peice of it will always be missing, but I still have a heart and it’s growing stronger everyday.

We all have to learn to love ourselves more, to want the best for ourselves. We need to face head on, the fear, anger, all the pain, and loss, so we can put it behind us. I so want to put it behind me. We need to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and hold our heads up, knowing we are not the ones who should be ashamed. There truly is a battle between good and evil on this earth as the Bible states. I pray God binds our hearts, and leads us all to understand why things had to be this way.

Kudos Michelle for this welcoming site and all your insightful writing. Thank you!!!

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Rubies March 20, 2017 at 2:31 pm

I feel the need to make two corrections to the above comment I made. The first one being that I would have used the word were instead of was in “they was like blips”. And the second one being that I misspelled the word piece. I know those are inconsequential mistakes, but as many of you know, we must “always strive for perfection”.

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