Book Review: Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers by Karyl McBride
A guidebook for adult women raised by a mother with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Dr. McBride is a therapist with many years of experience treating daughters of NPD mothers and also with treating people with NPD. Additionally, she herself is the daughter of a woman with NPD. The book is divided into three sections to help the daughters of mothers with NPD to heal and take charge of their lives. The first section “Recognizing the Problem,” explains what maternal NPD looks like. The second section, “How Narcissistic Mothering Affects Your Entire Life,” explains the impact NPD mothers have on their daughters, both as children and as adults. The third section, “Ending the Legacy” is all about healing from the NPD mothering and breaking the cycle of Narcissism. Dr. McBride offers clinical examples from her practice as well as detailed, clearly explained exercises to aid with healing.
It’s not easy to find a book addressing healing from abuse that manages to walk the fine line of understanding for all involved and absolute condemnation of the abusive actions and that simultaneously encourages agency and healing without making the survivor become stuck in a victim’s mentality. Dr. McBride strikes this balance eloquently.
The three sections of the book work perfectly for guiding the reader through understanding precisely what happened in her childhood, how it impacts her adulthood, and how to regain agency of herself and her life. NPD is not a mental illness that is well-understood or recognized. The first section thus must explain NPD and how NPD leads to abusive mothering without demonizing the mother suffering from NPD. It is incredibly difficult not to demonize people with NPD. People with NPD tend to be self-centered, manipulative, and resistant to treatment. McBride manages to simultaneously describe the person with NPD in a sympathetic light and condemn their behavior. This section also serves to provide an aha moment for the reader. It will immediately be clear if your mother has/had NPD or not, and if she does/did, it will shine a light on the daughter’s childhood, proving she is not crazy or ungrateful. Some of the signs of a mother with NPD include: the mother demanding praise for everything she’s ever done for the daughter, a lack of compassion or empathy for the daughter, approval for who the mother wants the daughter to be instead of who she is, the mother perceives of the daughter as a threat, the mother is jealous of the daughter for various reasons, the mother is overly critical or judgmental, the mother uses the daughter as a scapegoat for her bad feelings, the mother treats the daughter like a friend, no boundaries or privacy, the mother involves the daughter prematurely in the adult world, and more.
This section also explains why the book is only about daughters of mothers with NPD and not for her sons as well.
A mother, however, is her daughter’s primary role model for developing as an individual, lover, wife, mother, and friend, and aspects of maternal narcissism tend to damage daughters in particularly insidious ways. Because the mother-daughter dynamic is distinctive, the daughter of a narcissistic mother faces unique struggles that her brothers don’t share….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. (6-7)
The next section looks at what impact being raised by a mother with NPD has on the daughter’s adult life. McBride factually explains where some of the daughter’s less healthy behaviors and thought processes may come from without falling into the trap many childhood healing books fall into of repeatedly directing negative energy toward the parent. Some of the issues that may be present in an adult daughter raised by a mother with NPD include: high-achieving or self-sabotaging or waffling between the two, difficulty understanding and processing feelings, inappropriate love relationships that are dependent or codependent or giving up on relationships entirely, fear of becoming a mother herself, unconsciously mimicking her mother’s parenting with her own children or doing the exact opposite of what her mother did.
The final section is all about the daughter healing, overcoming, and taking agency for herself. McBride encourages therapy, but also offers at-home tips and exercises for those who cannot afford it. An example of one of these is the “internal mother” exercise. This exercise involves many steps, but it essentially seeks to replace the internal negative messages the daughter has from her own mother with more positive messages that are the type the daughter wanted from her real mother. The daughter grieves the mother she never got to have and learns to parent herself. Much of the work in this section involves grieving the mother and childhood the daughter never got to have, accepting it for what it is, giving herself the encouragement and mothering she needs, learning to set boundaries, and the daughter coming to be in charge of her own life. The exercises are not simple and may seem a bit overwhelming to the reader at first, but they do serve to mimic the real therapy process, encouraging introspection, journaling, grieving, and behavioral changes.
One thing I really appreciate about McBride’s approach is how she handles the adult relationship between daughter and mother. She 100% encourages the daughter to make the choice that is right for her own emotional health and that simultaneously does not expect miracles from her mother. Since most people with NPD don’t receive successful treatment, McBride carefully admonishes the daughter to base her decision based on her mother’s proven behavior. She encourages setting clear boundaries, and individuating oneself from mother. But she also acknowledges that having a relationship at all with a mother with severe NPD might not be possible.
We have to acknowledge that a narcissistic mother may be too toxic to be around. In many situations, daughters have to make the choice to disconnect completely from their mothers because the toxicity damages their emotional well-being. While others around you may not understand it, this is a decision that you get to make for your own mental health. (184)
Refusing to give one-size-fits-all advice on the relationship between a narcissistic mother and her adult daughter is just one example of the many positives of this book. McBride offers insight, advice, and isn’t afraid to say what might be painful to hear. She has done an excellent job putting the therapy process into book format, as much as possible.
Overall, this book tackles an incredibly difficult topic in an even-handed, clear manner. Its focus on just daughters of mothers with NPD allows Dr. McBride to give targeted examples and advice to the reader. It never excuses the mother’s behavior, firmly condemning it, but still exhibits compassion for the mother suffering from NPD. Any woman who thinks she may have been raised by a woman with NPD should read this book and see if any of it rings true for her. Additionally recommended to anyone interested in how NPD impacts parenting and the next generation.
5 out of 5 stars
Miriam Black is an early 20-something drifter with bleach blonde hair and a surprising ability to hold her own in a fight. She also knows when and precisely how you’re going to die. Only if you touch her skin-on-skin though. And it’s because of this skill that Miriam became a drifter. You try dealing with seeing that every time you touch someone. But when a kind trucker gives her a lift and in her vision of his death she hears him speak her name, her entire crazy life takes an even crazier turn.
This is one of those books that is very difficult to categorize. I want to call it urban fantasy, but it doesn’t have much supernatural about it, except for the ability to see deaths. The world isn’t swimming in vampires or werewolves of goblins. I also want to call it a thriller what with the whole try to stop the trucker from dying bit but it’s so much more than chills and whodunit (or in this case, who will do it). Its dark, gritty style reminds me of Palahniuk, so I suppose what might come the closest would be a Palahniuk-esque urban fantasy lite thriller. What I think sums it up best, though, is a quote from Miriam herself:
It starts with my mother….Boys get fucked up by their fathers, right? That’s why so many tales are really Daddy Issue stories at their core, because men run the world, and men get to tell their stories first. If women told most of the stories, though, then all the best stories would be about Mommy Problems. (location 1656)
So, yes, it is all of those things, but it’s also a Mommy Problems story, and that is just a really nice change of pace. Mommy Problems wrapped in violence and questioning of fate.
The tone of the entire book is spot on for the type of story it’s telling. Dark and raw with a definite dead-pan, tongue-in-cheek style sense of humor. For instance, each chapter has an actual title, and these give you a hint of what is to come within that chapter, yet you will still somehow manage to be surprised. The story is broken up by an interview with Miriam at some other point in time, and how this comes into play with the rest of the storyline is incredibly well-handled. It’s some of the best story structuring I’ve seen in a while, and it’s also a breath of fresh air.
Miriam is also delightful because she is unapologetically ribald and violent. This is so rare to find in heroines.
We’re not talking zombie sex; he didn’t come lurching out of the grave dirt to fill my living body with his undead baby batter. (location 2195)
As a female reader who loves this style, it was just delightful to read something featuring a character of this style who is also a woman. It’s hard to find them, and I like that Wendig went there.
While I enjoyed the plot structure, tone, and characters, the extreme focus on fate was a bit iffy to me. There were passages discussing fate that just fell flat for me. I’m also not sure of how I feel about the resolution. However, I’m also well aware that this is the beginning of a series, so perhaps it’s just that the overarching world rules are still a bit too unclear for me to really appreciate precisely what it is that Miriam is dealing with. This is definitely the first book in the series in that while some plot lines are resolved, the main one is not. If I’d had the second book to jump right into I would have. I certainly hope that the series ultimately addresses the fate question in a satisfactory way, but at this point it is still unclear if it will.
Overall, this is a dark, gritty tale that literally takes urban fantasy on a hitchhiking trip down the American highway. Readers who enjoy a ribald sense of humor and violence will quickly latch on to this new series. Particularly recommended to readers looking for strong, realistic female leads.
4 out of 5 stars
Alaric lives in the crumbling Withern Rise house with his widowed father. Nothing has been the same since his mother’s death in a train accident two years ago. Now his dad is off helping his girlfriend get ready to move in with them, and his crazy Aunt Liney is there to keep an eye on him. Miserable, he touches a carving his mother made of the house from wood from the family tree years ago and finds himself transported to a parallel universe where a girl, Naia, is living his life–only with their mother still alive.
This may be one of those YA books that only someone in the midst of teen angst can truly appreciate, or perhaps an adult with a strong fear of losing their mother.
Alaric is an angsty teen, perhaps with good reason, but he’s annoying nonetheless. Thankfully, his Aunt Liney is present, and she is a breath of fresh air. The long-suffering, quirky aunt who was almost aborted and does not exist in the alternate reality is clearly important, but we never find out why. Probably this is key later in the trilogy, but I doubt I’ll struggle through simply to find out just how she’s a key factor. I also must admit that I find the obvious pro-life slant in Aunt Liney’s storyline annoying.
Although Alaric’s motivation for coming to and continually returning to the Naia’s parallel universe is clear, her motivations are not. Her world seems quite ideal, and Alaric is an unwelcome intrusion into it. She does not seem to possess a naturally curious or quizzical nature. This leaves half of the plot, Naia’s part in it, unclear.
The parallel worlds are interesting, but not nearly as creative as, say, Stephen King’s. The differences are all incredibly minor, based off of decisions and chances playing out in two different scenarios. A baby could be a boy or a girl. A mother could live or die. A sister could be aborted or kept. Yet how Lawrence draws the line on what counts as a chance or a decision is very unclear. Is every single choice and instance a decision? That would make the universes go on forever, which just seems highly illogical and improbable. I simply could not sustain my disbelief quite enough to get into it.
All of that said, I could see a teenager enjoying this story. Particularly one upset with his parents or wishing his life was minutely different in some way. I thus recommend it to a teen into fantasy and the concept of parallel universes.
3 out of 5 stars
Spoiler Warning: If you have yet to see Lost Season 6 Episode 15 “Across the Sea” and wish to remain spoiler-free, skip this entire post!
I’ve had it. I’m fed-up with my fellow Losties whining about this week’s episode, and I am frankly starting to doubt their mental capacities or ability to appreciate anything beyond “ooo Sawyer’s got his shirt off” or “Hah! Hurley said ‘dude’ again!”
This week we got treated to entire episode revolving around the history of the island. We found out where Jacob and the MIB came from, as well as some other things we’ve encountered on the island previously, such as the donkey wheel and the skeletons in the cave. After watching this episode I engaged in a lengthy, intellectually-stimulating, philosophical discussion about various aspects of not just the Lost story and mythos but in life in general. I then awoke the next day to my fellow Losties whining on the internet and tv. I am going to now respond to their criticisms in turn.
- “Omg why are they focusing on minor characters this late in the game? wahhhhh”
If you think that Jacob and MIB are minor characters, you are a total idiot. The entire reason Flight 815 crashed on the island is because Jacob needed a replacement. The reason they’re still battling it out is that MIB needs to kill all the candidates to get off the island. Let me repeat: THE ENTIRE REASON YOUR PRECIOUS FLIGHT 815 CHARACTERS ARE ON THE ISLAND IS BECAUSE OF JACOB AND MIB. They are not minor characters. They are the central characters that the entire plot revolves around! I’d be pretty pissed-off if we’d never found out anything further about them.
- “Fine, have a Jacob/MIB episode, but it should have been earlier in the season.”
Think about how many things you got to speculate or were surprised about because you didn’t totally understand the rivalry between Jacob/MIB or Smocke’s motivations. The 815 folks weren’t sure what the motivations behind everything were and neither were you. If this episode had come earlier, it would have removed all that suspense, and Lost is a show that is all about the suspense.
- “It should have switched between this flashback and the current storyline or at least the sidewaysflash.”
Do you seriously think that, given where we left off last week, it would have made for a smooth episode or even an enjoyable one to switch between Jacob/MIB and the current story? We are clearly just about at epic battle in the present/sidewaysflash. It would have been just plain awkward storytelling to switch between the two, not to mention that I’m betting a bunch of the information we found out this week is critical to the next step in the current story, and we needed to know it before they could move on.
- “Why the hell doesn’t MIB have a name?!”
Ok. Obviously Mother named him. It would be insanely impossible to raise a child without a name to be able to use to call them, etc… The writers obviously purposefully wrote hiding his name. Clearly we aren’t supposed to know it yet. It’s probably symbolic or at least super-important to something else, and we can’t know it yet. Seriously, people, he has a name. The writers are using obvious writing techniques to work around having to say it for a reason.
- “Various whinings about typical myth elements such as the twins, sibling rivalry, and the glowing light in a particular place that needs to be protected and I signed up for a scifi show, dammit.”
Actually, if you started in Season One Episode One, you signed up for a deserted island show, but anywho. Science versus faith has been a core theme in Lost from part-way through Season One. The appearance of the light doesn’t mean science has been thrown out the window. Even the mythology that Jacob/MIB learned as kids doesn’t throw science out the window. Humanity explains mysteries in the best way that they can with the materials that they have. That’s why people used to explain thunder and lightning as gods fighting with each other instead of the rapid expansion of air and electrical discharge we now know caused them. Jacob/MIB were born in a far less scientific time, and it is quite possible that Mother was just working with what she had to explain things. While it’s obvious that there’s some super-natural stuff going on (hello, immortality), that doesn’t mean that all science is going to go poof. It is entirely possible that the glowing light is actually some nuclear energy or some such. Additionally, I have the distinct feeling that we’re going to be left to decide for ourselves in the end whether to believe a scientific or supernatural explanation for the island, so they need to put the backing in place for the supernatural end of it.
Really, fellow Losties, when you whine about these things, you’re just showing that you understand next to nothing about the art of storytelling and that you really just tune in week to week to ogle Kate’s boobs or Sawyer’s chest (depending on your particular sexual preference) with the occasional garnish of something blowing up. Fine, whatever, you tuning in helped keep the show on the air for those of us who can appreciate the actual story. However, can you please keep your confused whinings to a low roar so the rest of us can enjoy the series finale?
I had a bad childhood. By that I mean bad in the sense that I’m having to deal with the repercussions of it today. It’s given me challenges that I have to overcome in order to have a healthy life today. I know, I know, a lot of people have to do this, but that fact doesn’t mean I shouldn’t talk about it ever. In fact, I think if people talked about it more, the world would be a healthier place. But I digress. Since I first became aware that I needed to unlearn some thought processes and behaviors and learn new ones, I consider each lesson I learn a victory. This is one more way in which I won’t repeat the mistakes of my elders. I will break the cycle. Of course I also always wish that I had learned it sooner, but one should focus on the positives. Something that it kind of astounds me it took this long for me to learn is how not to have a disagreement with people you care about.
People model how they fight primarily based on two things: how their parents fought with each other and how their parents responded when the child disagreed with or felt hurt by them. My mother was the model of the “I’m angry at you but I’m not going to tell you and simultaneously make your life miserable until you figure it out” woman with my father. My father, who I love dearly, has the classic Irish temper (although it’s mellowed with age).
Here’s a sample scenario that got played out over and over. My mother wanted my father to help her with the dishes, but she didn’t ask him to, because he should just know that. (This is a mistake psychiatrists call “mind reading” and normal people call “ask for what you want, doofus, your husband can’t read minds”). My father, being unable to read minds and working full-time while my mother stayed at home so probably figured her doing the dishes was probably part of the deal, didn’t help with the dishes. My mother got angry and instead of calmly telling my father that she was hurt he didn’t offer to help with the dishes, she went on full-on attack mode. One thing couples know, it’s how to push each other’s buttons, so my mom would set out to do exactly that. My dad would take it and take it and then suddenly, randomly explode. Then yelling and screaming occurred, and also sometimes throwing of things by my mother. (A long-running “funny” family tale was how she threw dishes at his head in their first year of marriage). This generally revolved around bringing up old wounds, yelling insults, and more until finally the actual original incident might possibly be brought up. This was followed by more yelling and screaming at which point my dad would vacate to the garage where he would “fix things” aka throw tools around. Eventually my mother, after ranting to us about our father for a while, would follow him to the garage where I’m assuming they made up as they came back in happy.
The above scenario wasn’t a rare occurrence. This was how my parents fought, almost each and every time they had a disagreement. At least to my knowledge. Maybe they calmly worked some things out by talking to each other, but they certainly didn’t do that in front of us.
Now, couple that with how my mother would react to me disagreeing with her. Kids don’t always agree with their parents, and sometimes parents do make a mistake and the kid has every right to be upset, yes? Not in my mother’s world. In my mother’s mind she was the adult so she was always right and disagreeing was synonymous with disobeying. For instance, we’d be driving someplace and my brother would tell my mother he was pretty sure we got there by taking the left turn back there, and my mom would tell him she’s the adult. She knows what she’s doing, and is he implying that she’s stupid?! Then there were the few times I dared to tell my mother, for instance, that it hurt me that she called me that name she called me. My mother’s reaction was always “that never happened,” followed by her entirely made up version of what happened and me being punished for lying.
Put these two things together, and it’s not exactly in my nature to calmly say “hey, when you did this, it upset me.” Why? Subconsciously I think my feelings won’t be calmly listened to or validated. Also it’s just instinctual at this point to get upset and just act upset until the other person asks what’s wrong. For some reason, it’s only recently that I realized healthy people don’t interact this way! It’s normal when relating with people to sometimes have a disagreement or feel irritated or hurt by something they did, but if they’re a good person and you bring it up calmly and rationally, you can talk about it, forgive each other, and move on. Novel concept, eh?
Honestly though, I think that a lot of people had bad disagreements and fighting modeled for them as kids. Maybe they do realize it, not everyone is as slow as me to realize being mean to the people you care about is not the way to handle things. But maybe they don’t. So, internet-world, there is such a thing as the good way to disagree versus the bad way to disagree. Talk to each other. Really listen to what the other person is saying. Try to see their perspective. Validate their feelings. Accept and give forgiveness gracefully. Your life will be better, and maybe the world will be a slightly better place.