4. Daughters of narcissistic fathers (as well as mothers) tend to become people-pleasers with porous boundaries in adulthood.
As a result of the neglect and abuse, daughters of narcissistic parents can suffer from boundaries that are too porous or severely rigid, either shutting out the outside world completely due to distrust or catering to everyone else’s needs while excluding their own.
For those who turn to people-pleasing, consider that daughters of narcissists witnessed their charismatic father constantly search for external validation from society and his local communities while abandoning any attempts at authentic familial connections. As a result, they developed a core belief system that validation is best found in the external world rather than from within, fearing the vulnerability it takes to be their true selves in the world.
Due to this, daughters of narcissistic parents might be prone to modeling that same behavior and chasing after external validation – whether it be through wealth, status, prestige, or emotionally shallow relationships.
These people-pleasing habits also stem from their relationship dynamic with their narcissistic fathers; they may have constantly tried to please him and meet his arbitrary standards in an effort to gain affection, love or approval, to no avail.
In households with extreme abuse, the struggle to please the narcissistic parent may have been in an effort to survive. The narcissistic rage of this type of toxic parent “trains” and conditions their children to meet the needs of others to avoid anger, disappointment or verbal, emotional or even physical abuse. Thus, daughters of narcissistic fathers (or any type of narcissistic caretaker for that matter) are accustomed to walking perpetually on eggshells to keep the peace and to to have their basic needs (such as physical safety, food, shelter, clothing) met.
In his discussion of the four F types that arise from trauma, trauma therapist Pete Walker (2013) notes that people-pleasing tendencies tend to be associated with the ‘Fawn’ type of defensive structure, where for the trauma survivor, “the price of admission to any relationship is the forfeiture of all their needs, rights, preferences and boundaries.”
This ‘fawning’ trauma type can lend itself to self-sabotage and self-harm. In “25 Things You Do When You’ve Experienced Childhood Emotional Abuse,” survivors open up about how these self-defeating behaviors in childhood translate to betrayal of one’s own needs in adulthood – ranging from apologizing when we’ve done nothing wrong to demonstrating excessive levels of perfectionism.
It doesn’t help that the very traits of people-pleasing can also be exacerbated by gender roles and stereotypes. As Sharon Martin, LCSW (2016), notes in her article, “How Women Can Overcome People-Pleasing and Perfectionism,” women in society are more likely to be socialized as caretakers and to be more passive about their own needs. Social and cultural influences, combined with the abuse of a narcissistic parent, can be a lethal combination for cultivating boundaries and authenticity.
How to break the spell:
Identify your people-pleasing habits as well as your authentic desires. Getting in touch with what we really need, think and desire is a very basic but essential step to getting closer to honoring our authentic selves. Brainstorm the ways in which you’ve been people-pleasing, whether it be in friendships, relationships, the workplace or every day life. In what ways have you been silencing who you really are, whether in the personality you projected to the outside world or the dreams you’re currently pursuing? What are some steps you can to take to cultivate the parts of yourself you’ve been hiding from the world because you feel they wouldn’t meet society’s approval?
Engage in alternate or positive rebellion on a daily basis to challenge your fears of breaking the mold. You may have been ‘acting out’ your trauma in ways you did not realize – through passive-aggressive methods to get your needs met (such as people-pleasing or being overly sweet to dangerous people) or repressing your anger towards others and directing it back to yourself through negative self-talk and toxic shame.
It’s time to turn the tables and find constructive ways to ‘rebel’ against what you’ve been through. See this list of tips for alternate rebellion, which can help you to reconnect to the sides of yourself that you may have been stifling.
Work on your boundaries in every area of your life. As the child of a narcissist, your boundaries may have been trampled upon and eroded on a daily basis. Our lack of boundaries, combined with our empathy and compassion for others, can signify to predators that we will cater to their needs at the expense of our own and break our own boundaries to win their validation.
Check out this worksheet on how to create personal boundaries. If you’re struggling with envisioning what your boundaries might look like, you may also want to read author Natalie Lue’s list of 12 Core Boundaries to Live By in Life, Dating and Relationships.
Look within – often. Get in touch with your inner voice, the one you might have neglected or pushed aside as you struggled to validate yourself through others.
Great ways to do so are through: (1) meditations geared to help you hone in on your intuition such as this one by Joe Treacy to connect with your higher self, (2) journaling about your authentic feelings, desires and beginning a dialogue with what Elisabeth Corey, MSW, calls the inner ‘parts’ of yourself in an uncensored way and (3) learning to love and accept the aspects of yourself you may have devalued due to the opinions of others.
Find ways to validate yourself as a human being worthy of the same love and consideration as anyone else, regardless of any flaws or shortcomings. It is in fact those same things that you decry about yourself that make you an interesting and well-rounded person; don’t sacrifice your true attributes to become a replica of who you think you should be.
Becoming who you truly are and leaning in to the power of your own vulnerability and authenticity, will help you to build more meaningful relationships, as well as more intimate ones that your narcissistic father wasn’t capable of building.
Brown, B. (2010, June). The power of vulnerability. Speech presented at TEDxHouston, Houston. Retrieved June 10, 2017, from https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability
Corey, E. (2017, June 08). Beating Trauma by working through our Inner Parts, with Elisabeth Corey. Retrieved from https://www.survivingmypast.net/beating-trauma-by-working-through-our-inner-parts-with-elisabeth-corey/
Martin, S. (2016, November 24). How women can overcome perfectionism and people-pleasing. Retrieved June 10, 2017, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/imperfect/2016/11/overcoming-people-pleasing-perfectionism/
Virzi, J. (2017, June 8). 25 Things You Do as an Adult When You’ve Experienced Childhood Emotional Abuse. Retrieved June 10, 2017, from https://themighty.com/2017/06/childhood-emotional-abuse-adult-habits/
Walker, P. (2013). The 4Fs: A trauma typology in Complex Ptsd. Retrieved June 10, 2017, from http://www.pete-walker.com/fourFs_TraumaTypologyComplexPTSD.htm