Narcissistic Abuse and The Dynamics Between a Narcissist and a Pleaser

Let's look into narcissistic abuse and the challenges that go with it.

A resolved emotion is an emotion that has been able to run its full course without the interference of thought, regardless of the outcome of the circumstances.

In other words; it means that you can endure a potentially traumatic situation and go through it unscathed.

A resolved emotion is an emotion that has been able to run its full course without the interference of thought, regardless of the outcome of the circumstances.

Those that do are often people who have sufficient resilience, containment, a healthy emotional foundation and a support system that has given them an advantage, and hence can rebound quicker.

Starting with a Disadvantage: Narcissistic Abuse and Childhood Trauma

When life’s adversities begin when young, this can turn the tables on you drastically.

If your emotional foundation is shaky to start with because there never was any support or nurturing, it becomes tougher to face new challenges, and this often leads to retraumatization through recurring experiences.

What happens is that there will be emotional responses that are unfinished and that have become patterns.

It is with these emotional patterns that we deal with life, circumstances, and people, and thereby recreate some of our old situations that relate to our history.

Narcissism and Complex Trauma: When Things Don’t Go as Planned

Projection and Reenactment go hand in hand. It is a process that happens simultaneously, and there may be various layers of it at play.

Let us explore this through an example to clarify:

Anna grows up with a narcissistic mother who is more concerned about her ambitions than taking care of her children. Anna copes with her by "pleasing," as a means of getting some form of approval and a sense of identity. Her mother, however, has turned this against her, through using guilt, and oversteps Anna’s boundaries on a regular basis.

Both identities, the ‘pleasing’ type, which is Anna, and the overbearing, narcissistic mother, who uses control to cover her wounds and insecurity, keep each other in their place.

Seeking any confrontation, for Anna, regarding setting healthy boundaries for having her needs met is overshadowed by crippling anxiety. Her mother plays on that by using guilt.

The Wound of Wanting to be Loved, and How that Relates to a Lack of Boundaries

Partly, that anxiety relates to her still wanting to be validated and the looming fear of rejection; not being good enough, and being a failure.

Anxiety, depression and an inability to move forward in life, are some of her symptomatic expressions.

From the above example, you can see that Anna has difficulty with setting boundaries, and that relates directly to wanting to avoid rejection and failure, which rests on her fundamental need of wanting to be loved, nourished and validated.

Reenactment and Addressing the Complexity of Trauma to Heal Narcissistic Abuse

Besides a complicated relationship with her mother, Anna has difficulties in other areas of her life.

At work, or in her relationships, she often gives too much of herself because of a need to feel validated. In turn, people either abuse or shun her because there is that undercurrent of wanting emotional compensation.

Anna moves between giving too much of herself, followed by feeling hurt and frustrated as a result of being used, or through not feeling validated, isolating and withdrawing into herself.

Facing What Is and Acting on it Through Therapeutic Guidance

What Anna needs to address, is to learn to openly express her needs, boundaries, and possibly, even anger.

While learning to express her boundaries, anxiety, and guilt will present themselves, which relate directly to her more profound emotional hurt of wanting to be loved and validated, and the lack of which she has experienced.

Once she can allow herself to feel the hurt from childhood neglect, and total lack of love; to not descend further into her usual default position of pleasing, and steps up to assert her boundaries, and feeling empowered by it, she will start to move in the right direction and heal her childhood complex trauma.

The New Course 'Healing from Narcissistic Abuse'  is now available.

This course gives you the know how and tools to work towards more independence, away from the codependency attachment to a narcissist. As a byproduct of the above, you will, in time, be able to be more financially and emotionally independent.

This course will help you give you the insights of why you please-appease, how that ties in with the need for belonging and how that creates symptoms of attachment, anxiety, and depression. Furthermore, you will be guided through the somatic meditations and techniques to rewire those survival responses and bring them to more healthy balanced-out levels.

This course will go into how to gradually set boundaries, through accessing anger constructively, and how that will help you to reduce anxiety and dependence and how thereby you will give more validation to yourself.    

  • Irena says:

    To be honest, I read a lot of articles online, mainly psychology ones, most of which relate to childhood trauma and anxiety. However, what you’ve mentioned here has really encapsulated my story and my journey thus far. You’ve put things that I’ve always felt and thought into words, and have actually provides practical and logical advice on how to create new, healthier patterns, ones that aren’t rooted in insecurity. Thank you very, very much for this. I’ll be sure to be purchasing all of your books.

  • Gina says:

    Goodness, this is me – and my childhood. I was the pleaser and I never spoke up. The few times that I did, I basically got shut down by my entire family, My trauma was my mother – I grew up with her narcissism (and goodness knows what else). I did have sort of a mental breakdown at age 21 – and I was a full-blown addict by 18. There were so many issues involved, abandonment, betrayal, emotional blackmail, etc. There was so much that most of it is blocked out. I still to this day – struggle with boundaries. I have had to work exceedingly hard to find my voice, and believe what I had to say was of any inherent value. I am so much better now than I have ever been – but there is still residue left on other issues that hinder me. However, I do not live in fear any longer like I did. This is huge considering where I came from.

    • Roland says:

      Hi Gina. That’s great to hear you are seeing some positive results.

    • Heidi Lundie says:

      Maybe she was struggling with her own trauma from her “childhood”? We all carry our albatrosses around our neck. Time to realise that our problems will have an impact on our children too. Let’s rather try to do better than blame.

      • Subie says:

        Yes, I think so too. People who some would label as ‘narcissists’, I would describe as under-resourced, brave, emotionally injured individuals, who have had to focus on their own survival at the expense of their relationships.

      • Emmy says:

        Yes, this a good point as simply blaming others doesn’t help anyone. However, it is important for those who have experienced and been traumatised by narcissistic parents to stop blaming themselves (as children do) and realise that what happened to them wasn’t in anyway their fault or because they are flawed or undeserving of love. For them to be able to do this they need to be able to see that the responsibility lay with the parent and their issues.

    • Kelly says:

      Your story relates so much to mine!

  • Benine says:

    Its like reading my life story through your messages. I am not doing too good. Your insights help me identify the problems, but I still feel trapped and like every decision I make just leads to more pain. The only thing that keeps me fighting is my son. But I feel like he slipping out of my grasp as I struggle to gain control. I can’t give up, but feel like Im trying to swim up the Niagra falls and Im drowning. I have never felt more alone in my life. To make things worse, I have no job, no money and I am miles away from my son. I am tired. I can’t remember the last time I felt even slightly ok. But somehow I keep trying, keep fighting and keep hoping that all this pain and suffering will lead to something amazing, to some semblance of peace and where I can heal. I don’t want to fail myself nor my son, but I feel like I am. Im planning on making tomorrow a better day. Wish me luck.

    • Roland says:

      Thanks for being here and keep going!

    • Linda says:

      When I was feeling trapped, I realized I was feeling that because fear and guilt were holding me back. My mother was a martyr and I felt responsible for her pain. I also felt I was not allowed to be any happier than she was. When I realized that I could not do anythibg to help her except just love her for the good things she did for me and thank her, I began to build boundaries as I gave myself permission to look after myself first.

    • Janine says:

      I am so sorry you are struggling so much. Schools are desperate to hire substitute teachers. Have you thought about doing that?

  • Sherry says:

    Wow, this was a great revelation for what I’ve been navigating through the past few weeks! And recognizing my anxiety and guilt that were present by my asserting better boundaries.
    As I’ve pulled back from the pleasing, and let myself do what is best for me, I feel less anxiety, anger, and physical symptoms of Cptsd. I am more at peace.
    The way you word this and explain it is easy to understand and internalize and remember in the future as I progress in healing. There is hope.

    • Roland says:

      Hi Sherry. Great to hear!

      • Terry Wall says:

        I had to play the adult and rescuer to my addicted mother. I have become aware now of how I get attracted to and attract people who are a bit of a mess to put it bluntly. So I can re enact the rescuer role. Such people are very energy draining when I have so little for my self. I am learning about how to let go of such relationships and now I am aware I will be able to see it coming in future

  • Cd says:

    Wow! Makes sense. I know that I am supposed to grieve my childhood but wow! I see the patterns I have been reenacting. Now to figure out how to stop it. 🙁 But I have DID too, so easier said then done.

  • JOHN says:

    Interesting! But NEVER any support or nurturing? Surely everybody gets SOME of both, however little?

    • Roland says:

      There are some that don’t, or at least in their experience.

    • Alex says:

      I can see that this can be somewhat disagreeable. I sometimes look at my own experiences and ask myself “was there really no-one back then I could rely on?” And I end up with a sad answer “No”.
      Having narcistic mother, father who never took ‘no’ for an answer, quite uninterested older brother (who got interested only at the time he started being interested in sex, and I was too young to understand what’s going on), grandmother with her own problems focused on troubles of my aunt, grandfather usually absent, but ‘checking’ me out how I am growing up (even though my mum once saw him, she just told him not to do it again, but never talked to me about this matter). Then school bullying with ‘friends’ who moved away after the bullying started. I wonder if the teachers knew – I didn’t speak up (after all I was taught that everything is consequences of me, so I believed I was at fault and deserved it), but if they knew, they didn’t move a finger to help me. Then my boyfriend (8 years older than me), who pretty much abused and exploited me every day. The only person that maybe could have been some help was his mother. She was a lovely warm woman, but she carried her own weight, always quiet, sad, with head down, but then always trying to explain my mother’s behaviours that she (my mum) didn’t mean to hurt me.

      So no, unfortunately I can say, there was no adult to lean on in my early life. And I know I am not the only one. And I would even say, there are probably heaps who had it even worse than I.

      And it really saddens me when someone puts such doubts in hearts of people who had it really harsh. It does not help the healing at all.

  • Chantelle says:

    Thank you very much for this article. I have been suffering from severe anxiety for the past few years and I think this hit the nail on the head. I definitely am a pleaser and I still search for validation from the people that hurt me in the past. Good luck to everyone on their journey to healing.

  • Karin says:

    A narcissistic mother leaves one totally disempowered. What has helped me a lot in bad times is to ask the question ‘how do I empower myself now?’ In that way one feels more empowered even if it is something simple like making yourself a cup of coffee or sitting in the garden for a minute. It is about taking back control over yourself.

  • j says:

    Wow, I have this lump in my throat. Sounds like me, and my long history. I just don’t know what to do. No matter what I do, I’m still at zero. Two steps forward, two steps backward. Sometimes three steps backward, sometimes one. Very difficult. Of course with money and housing too. First chakra issues. Survival, tribe, parents.

  • Tania says:

    I wish people who weren’t raised in bad environments would read what you write. Perhaps they’d understand us better

  • Petra says:

    I never before thought much about these things ..
    Your meditations help me .. just starting to see .. thank you

  • Maria says:

    Strange and difficult for me to admit but seeing some of myself in the mother role here but have also been Anna in my past. I feel my own childhood has caused me so much damage and affects all my relationships. I do get controlling at times and feel my daughter tries to please me so much as she knows I’ve had a difficult time, but as a child she was neglected so maybe could be needing validation. I want to be a better mother and allow her to grow and spread her wings, what help should I get to deal with my own trauma, I’ve also been in a relationship with a narcissistic man that has caused me a lot of pain.

  • Kathleen says:

    Not only do I relate very, very much to each hypothetical woman in the article, but also to each of the comments offered so far! What a brilliant and clear ‘deconstruction of the constructs’ happening. Helpful too (as someone else mentioned) insofar as helping one challenge and move through such very painful patterned responses by taking concrete action in the world …. I might also recommend soothing anxiety with unconditional compassion for one’s frailties, along the way. Learn to recognize and honour YOUR own voice. Not tired old bullshit that keeps a gal down (or dude).

  • Munna says:

    Reading your bespoke style of writing is therapy itself. Keep up the good work Roland.

  • Sally says:

    Thanks for this interesting article. It has taken me 55 years to learn how to create boundaries! Like you say, as a child, boundaries can be very difficult to instigate without feeling guilty. Without them, we become overwhelmed and enmeshed in the personalities of our caregivers. I was a parentified child and, even as an adult, struggled for many years to overcome developmental trauma.

  • Tessa says:

    Yes it did speak to me having been married to a narcissist man. And recognising that I have always been a pleaser altho never knew it. My not being able to set boundaries led to my children and I being victim to parental alienation. Not Learning this leasson sooner in life has cost me dearly. a tough but necessary lesson to learn later in life. thank you

  • Lisa-Marie says:

    It’s my birthday today and usually my mom calls and sings me happy birthday. She’s mad at me because of circumstances out of my control and me honoring myself by putting up healthy boundaries. She doesn’t like it and well she hasn’t called me yet. I was going to call her but I don’t want her to think she still has the upper hand of me. Love this read. Thank you

  • jaymez says:

    I’ve just recently gone & faced my mother about the love I never got from her & dad. How much of a bastard he was. It was very hard on me. I broke down before we got somewhere we could speak. But I let it all out. She got both barrels. When I walked out I was shaking. But now she doesn’t have a hold on me. When she dies I won’t go to the funeral & I don’t have to sit in the church and listen to the dribbly nice stuff people will say about her. One counselor told me years ago ” the child always knows “. From jaymez

  • Jane says:

    I only wish this article was a little better written, as I would like to curate some information like this to send to my Dad to explain about my mother’s narcissism, plus the scape goating and gaslighting that went on (from both of them).

    By the way, the predominate emotion used to control in our family was shame, not guilt and I think you’ll find that that to be more true than being guilted into behaving the way the narc wants you to. Shame is much more powerful as it’s so personal.

  • Angela says:

    Thank you. This has been helpful. I have always had and still continue to have issues with knowing and managing my boundaries. Neglect is one of the big four abuses which most people don’t realize can cause a lot of issues. I think there is a lot of debate to be had on neglect, ignorance, and healthy alone time for the different individuals that make a complex world. I don’t really like debating but i enjoy a deeper understanding that gives me peace and steps me away from trauma to a better quality of life. Thank you again.

  • M says:

    I would like to know an example of what the anger looks like when a pleaser has had enough. Is it scattered, is it overly emotional, is it unreasonable and how can a person explain it and regulate while in this syaye?

  • Sylvie says:

    Hi, I relate to most of your comments on the child being rejected (for real or not, no difference). I also want to add my two cents: being an empath is also a state that brings out the need to save and to push the oh so pooooor roadkill to walk again. I did that too many times, (still pissed at myself), I can feel the needy vamps surrounding me. I had to cry a lot and to show a good tantrum to my relatives that were not so happy to receive an “ENOUGH” signal from their endless supply. Still working on it !

  • Moira says:

    Yes we can recognising ourselves in this and otger articles. But recognising it and healing from it are 2 different things. If you don’t have a loving relationship then you just remsin stuck imo

  • Jenny says:

    I always spoke up and set boundaries. I got angry when no one else would. I got told I was “crazy” or “a monster” for speaking out. And, to be clear, when I got mad, I was still clear in my speech. I said what I felt angry and frustrated about. I didn’t just freak out. Anyhow, despite speaking up and setting boundaries, I still ended up a real mess and acted out in all sorts of ways. If your family is messed up and hurts you, setting boundaries does not necessarily do anything to protect you from that pain. All it does is allow you to live authentically and know that you spoke your mind.

  • Jamie says:

    I am Anna, minus the feeling of giving too much of myself. Thank you for writing this, it’s a real eye opener.

  • Gareth says:

    I found this article very helpful in enlightening some of my own patterns. I would add that one of the most painful feelings to come out of this kind of childhood is ‘confusion’. My parents mostly appeared loving in their actions though as a child and adult I became increasingly aware of their own injuries and consequent damage to my sense of self. It’s been hard to find the safety needed as an adult to navigate and contain these feelings when just managing to pay the rent has been at the forefront of my awareness for as long as I can remember. This is really a misunderstood condition.

  • Merry says:

    This resonates with me on so many levels. The anxiety and guilt, doubting oneself is keeping me trapped in a situation I need to get out of for the sake of my happiness and not everybody else’s. With the help my therapist I am moving into the light slowly one day at a time.

  • Angela says:

    My husband has Asperger’s, undiagnosed, but my daughter has been diagnosed. I have struggled with being heard by him, his controlling behavior and non existent emotional support. I am at a point where I just can’t deal with all this, his insensitive statements and inability to hear me trigger me I guess. He says the reason he married me was because I told his I am loyal. That hurts. Just shows you how unknowingly living to please people can bring you pain.

  • Emma says:

    So true, and I don’t know what to do!

  • Patrick says:

    Wow, this was really clear and concise! Many thanks Roland.

  • Lori says:

    I am Anna, through and through

  • Toni says:

    Thank you, the way your write gives such clarity of what otherwise seems such a complex topic.
    I’ve had the opportunity to experience many re-dos these past few months.
    Each time a situation occurs that triggers me into a panic/anxious/PTSD/back pain freak out I’ve been looking at it as a chance to choose differently. To re-do what I did in the past and react differently, with boundaries!
    Im slowly being able to stay more present, and disassociate less when this happens.
    I’ve only recently came across you and am extreamly grateful for the clarity and understanding you have around this 🙂

  • Cheryl says:

    That is totally me, I give too much and the feel hurt when there is no equal reciprocity. I am still unable to enforce boundaries without feeling horrible anxiety. Only recently, I became aware of this innate dysfunction due to my abusive and neglectful childhood. I really feel helpless when boundaries are crossed and I freeze. I hate myself for not standing up. I find ghosting easier than trying to ask what I need.

  • Angela says:

    Thank you Roland. This post also incapsulated a lot of what I have resinated with. Thank you for helping me slowly put pieces together and maybe one day heal my soul with the highest love there is. Sincere gratitude.

  • Sue says:

    Wow, just had this problem this morning. Driving my daughter to work in morning traffic,fog & ice.
    Trigger; Driving – my parents told everyone I wouldn’t be able to drive as I am to erratic & stupid.
    I was trying to explain to my daughter my anxiety & she shut down & refused to engage with me. Eaxctly why I was anxious in the first place.
    Now I can show her this.
    Thanks Roland.

  • Kim Wallace says:

    acceptance is tough,ive been struggling with acceptance for decades and cant figure it out in my head i accept,but in my heart,i cant stop grieving,theres so much sadness there for all involved…

  • Sophie says:

    I am like Anna…. The problem is… when you set bounderies to a narcissist, they don’t respect it, they neglect it or react with agression and traumatize you again. I still have to deal with it in my family. When I set bounderies, they neglect it, blame me for trying to speak up for myself and my rights and needs and they use agression to shut me down.

    • Patrick says:

      Even when there’s only one narcissist in a group it’s often likely that everyone else in the group will enable and support the narcissistic behaviour. In which case, how can someone who is bullied protect themselves?

      • Sophie says:

        That is a very good remark and question. In my family everybody supports the 2 narcissists and I am completely unsafe and unprotected. It feels unfair and lonely. Narcissists manipulate soo well. How can I protect myself? Go to the police or hire a bodyguard ;-)’s very sad.

      • Sophie says:

        I am an adult now and I can think about solutions, one of them is minimizing or breaking all contact to protect myself or go to the police, but as a child you can not do that ! That is the big trauma. I feel soo sorry for all the children that are now traumatized by their narcississic parents and are stuck there. I really want to do something for them in the future. This problem must get known. These children must be protected.

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