Why Daughters of Narcissistic Fathers Sabotage Themselves (Daddy Issues, Part 5)

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(5) Daughters of narcissistic fathers tend to be subject to hypercriticism and high standards that they are rarely able to ‘fulfill’ no matter how hard they try. As a result, they can turn to self-sabotaging behaviors and struggle with a stable sense of identity and confidence.

Daughters of narcissistic fathers have their sense of self eroded and annihilated in childhood. The daughter of a narcissist can develop a fragmented identity made out of the very parts the narcissistic father strove to erase as well as the parts he ‘installed’ within her through cruel insults, belittling remarks and a hyperfocus on her flaws to make her doubt her abilities, assets and capacities.

She is taught to second-guess herself at every turn and to excessively scrutinize herself in her talents, her appearance, her potential, and her aspirations. She is also ‘programmed’ to self-destruct in relationships and sometimes even her own goals because she does not develop the sense of worthiness early on that prevents her from reenacting the same traumas she endured in childhood.

If you are the daughter of a narcissistic parent, you were rarely celebrated for who you truly were and what you could accomplish; instead, you were forced to meet impossible, arbitrary and ever-shifting goal posts that instilled in you a pervasive sense of worthlessness.

The hypercriticism and denigration of the narcissistic father has long-lasting effects. It is part of the larger dynamic of psychological maltreatment, which puts children at greater risk for depression, suicidality and PTSD, among other issues such as substance abuse problems, anxiety disorders and attachment problems (LaBier, 2014). A recent study (Spinazzola, 2014) showed that children who suffered psychological abuse showed similar and at times even worse mental health problems than those who suffered physical or sexual abuse.

Psychological violence overlaps with the covert, insidious tactics that narcissistic parents use to chronically shame, degrade and belittle their children. The critical voice of the narcissistic parent that the daughter grows up with as a child soon forms an automatic ‘Inner Critic’ that plays like a record in the back of her mind as that child transitions into adulthood (Walker, 2013). Daughters of narcissistic fathers are prone to blaming themselves and may even struggle with self-sabotage, negative self-talk, self-blame as well as various methods of self-harm in adulthood.

It is no surprise that narcissistic parents exploit the accomplishments of their children only to bolster their own egos; anything the narcissistic father praised about you, he tended to do in the presence of a witness. Yet in private, he may have been controlling and abusive towards you.

He may have trampled upon your dreams, your goals and aspirations, especially if they were not ones he wanted to see you achieving. Or, even if you did follow in his footsteps and expectations, he may have still made you felt as if you were falling short of his standards – never quite being ‘good enough’ to meet any arbitrary criteria he threw your way.

As a result, daughters of narcissistic fathers can fall into defeatist attitudes about accomplishing goals. They may even go the other route entirely and develop an excessive perfectionism that drives them to be number one at all cost.

Their drive towards an illusion of perfection can easily turn into an unhealthy obsession that affects their mental health as well as self-esteem.

How to thrive:

Get real with yourself about which dreams are yours and which ones are derived from the expectations of your narcissistic father. Did you go to medical school just to please your toxic parent, even though your heart, mind, body and soul ached to be a musician or artist? Did you abandon your dream of becoming a professional dancer just because your narcissistic father pushed you to go to law school? Make a list of aspirations you were never allowed to pursue due to the influence of your toxic parent, as well as any ideologies or beliefs they imposed upon you that you no longer wish to follow. It’s never too late to pursue your authentic calling, even if it means reengaging in your passions on the side.

Start to celebrate your accomplishments, instead of minimizing them. Daughters of any type of narcissistic parent are used to being criticized at every turn and subjected to moving goal posts that make pleasing their parents impossible. It’s time to start validating what you’ve accomplished so far in your life – whether it be success in your relationships, career, self-development or all three.

Start recalling the compliments others have given you and instead of dismissing them; begin to integrate them into your own self-perception. Maybe you really are a successful person as your friend says, even though your narcissistic father always berated you for not achieving this or that.

Maybe you really are deserving of a healthy relationship, like your counselor told you. Take pride in the beautiful things others celebrate in you and take note of what you are proud of as well! They all come together to cultivate a healthier self-image.

Release the idea that you have to be perfect in order to be good enough. Consider that there are children who grow up in nourishing and validating family environments where their imperfect selves are still unconditionally loved and respected. Just because we may have had the misfortune to be raised in a different environment does not mean we deserved anything less.

Cultivate a sense of being ‘enough’ just as you are: use positive affirmations, do self-love and self-compassion meditations such as these on a weekly basis, develop a healthy, accepting relationship with your inner child, engage in loving mirror work, and connect back to a sense of faith or sacred spirituality that reminds you of the divine human being you are.

You have a right to be cherished, loved, seen and heard just like any other imperfect human being in this world.

Never equate the narcissistic abuse of a parent with your level of self-worth. You are truly worthy, with or without the approval of anyone else. You not only survived narcissistic abuse – you can thrive after it.

This article is an excerpt from my new book for children of narcissistic parents, Healing the Adult Children of Narcissists: Essays on The Invisible War Zone.


A., & Spinazzola, J. (2014, October 8). Childhood psychological abuse as harmful as sexual or physical abuse. Retrieved June 18, 2017, from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2014/10/psychological-abuse.aspx

LaBier, D. (2014, December 15). Childhood psychological abuse has long-lasting impact. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/douglas-labier/childhood-psychological-a_b_6301538.html

Walker, P. (2013). Complex PTSD: From surviving to thriving: A guide and map for recovering from childhood trauma. Lafayette, CA: Azure Coyote.

This is a five-part series which featured five common obstacles daughters of narcissistic fathers encounter on their journey to healing and how to heal. This is part five of the series. Look for Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 and Part 4 here.

Why Daughters of Narcissistic Fathers Sabotage Themselves (Daddy Issues, Part 5)


  • Marc

    I am a narcissistic father and I am grateful I found your blog. I’ve been divorced for 12 years. My daughter is 15 and we recently had a devastating moment, which I caused. I’ve read through most of your blog, and shamefully realize that both my daughter and I fit many of the descriptions and feelings you listed. Thankfully, her mother is willing to work together with my daughter and I to move forward into the light. I am fearful we will not be able to fix my relationship with my daughter. I’m seeking advice on how to help my daughter through this horrible time, which I have now learned as been building. If there is a ‘how to fix it’ guide I’d love one, but most likely along with a magic wand, one does not exist. Do you have any advice or guidance? Thank you – m

  • H.W.

    The separation of your malevolent parent’s wishes from your own wishes is not a simple matter. There’s no clear border between the two, as was the case for the child himself: the parent had to make the child into a carbon copy of himself because for the child to not mirror back the parent’s own image would have been catastrophic for the parent.

  • Dee

    I couldnt sleep tonight, as my mind was processing personal work I’m doing as part of a training program. Interestingly enough, my therapist pointed out the life circumstances, which have suddenly appeared and that are certainly testing my fortitude to get through my training, are a good sign i have chosen this path right now. In True synchronicity form, while Googling effects of my absent yet controlling father and tormenting older brother throughout my childhood, i found this series. Reading from start to finish, I’m fairly certain you must have picked each aspect of what is written from my specific life—every single part resonates so deeply. I’ve wept, raged, disassociated, felt hope and everything in between. I can’t express to you my gratitude for this detailed breakdown of this legacy and also the many specific to-do’s and links to help heal and alter outlook on life and the world. I’m a bit overwhelmed right now, and it’s barely dawn, but I’ve bookmarked these 5 articles, and your blog. You have certainly left me feeling empowered in a way no other resource has ever done. You spoke directly to and about my personal life paradigm in a way that allows me to feel less alone and more hopeful, now, than ever before. Thank you so very much. ??

  • Ayola

    I’m glad I read this series. I lived with narcissistic parents and after a decade, realized that I didn’t want to be a nurse, but I’ve been living this lifestyle for a while now. I’ll be pursuing something else completely different from the medical field now. I keep limited contact with my mom, but no contact with my dad. While I realize I love them, I love myself more.

  • SM

    For many years I struggled with achieving what I truly wanted in life, be it career wise or physical fitness wise, I went into relationships with extremely abusive men- all without realising why. This continued till I couldnt bear it anymore. Till it began to break me into little pieces and I lost a sense who I really was and what I really wanted. I began to believe strongly that I was worthless and I was not capable of doing the smallest things and achieving the smallest goals. After I had my child was when I began to analyse my behaviour and introspect because I wanted to be a better role model for him. I also went to a counsellor. And after a few sessions we discovered that all my problems had their root in the constant criticism and body shaming my father subjected me to since I was a child. Its like a slow poison. Its been happening for so long its foolish to think it will leave my system so soon. But I am working on it. And atleast now I know what the disease is so I know exactly how to cure it.

  • joanna mikkelsen

    God, I hate my narcissistic father so much. I am shocked that he could look at an innocent, vulnerable child and coldly calculate how best to hurt her. It is truly an evil, sick person who would do that .

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