By | March 10, 2016 8 Comments

Weak Boundaries, Needing To Be Nice And Being Vulnerable To A Sociopath

Weak Boundaries

Although almost anyone can be targeted by a sociopath, like most people, sociopaths are more apt to spend their energy where they have a higher likelihood of success. Sociopaths test boundaries early in relationships to find individuals, like me, whose boundaries may be weaker and, therefore, easier to violate.  Of course, for lots of reasons, once small boundaries have been crossed, it is easier to cross medium boundaries and crossing those makes violating larger ones all the easier.

Trained To Be Nice

It has taken me a painstakingly long time to understand this about myself and to admit the truth of it, but looking back, I can now see that as a child, teenager and young adult, I was encouraged to place the needs of others in front of mine and to place a high value on being nice. Did I understand this about myself? Not really. It was just the air I breathed. It was just the way things were. This drive to be “nice” simply became part of me and created a vulnerability.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale is a metaphor for a being targeted by a sociopath. Clearly, Little Red Riding Hood was trained to be very nice to others, and she had not learned that not all people are deserving of her kindness.

The Original Dialog Went Something Like This

Wolf:  Where are you going?

Little Red Riding Hood: I’m going to my grandmother’s.

Wolf:  Where does she live?

Little Red Riding Hood: At the first house in the village.

Someone trained to be “nice” like me, like Little Red Riding Hood, and like many of us would answer these questions automatically, without even considering the potentially nefarious motive of the questioner or the risk to themselves of answering.  They would do it because perhaps they had been conditioned by their own family that being nice and giving someone else what that person wanted is simply what is expected of them and failing to do so would feel profoundly and uncomfortably wrong.  Their own needs and safety would not factor into the equation. It would be painful for them not to answer.

A Better Response

Think about it, there would not have been much to the Little Red Riding Hood story if she had been taught by her family to have stronger personal boundaries. Instead the dialog might have gone something like this.

Wolf: Where are you going?  (testing a boundary)

Little Red Riding Hood: That’s my business.

Wolf: So you think you’re too good to talk to a poor lost wolf like me (pity play and “typecasting—”labeling someone in an unflattering way to motivate them to lower a boundary and act in a way to prove this is not true. These are manipulative tactics described by Gavin de Becker in his book The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence.  They were among the tactics my ex-husband “Paul” used on me.

Little Red Riding Hood: I don’t want to talk to you.

Wolf: I bet we’ve got to deliver that basket of goodies someplace. Let’s be sure we get it there on time. Which way are we going? (By using the word, we, notice how the wolf is trying to make Little Red Riding Hood think she and the wolf are part of a team. This is a technique used to weaken defenses, because if you really are part of the same team it implies similarity and shared goals, both of which would make someone seem safe.) Paul would often engage me in a “team” project when he felt his hold on me was slipping.  Feeling we were working toward shared goals always made me feel more connected to Paul and less likely to entertain my concerns about what was happening to me in the context of our marriage.

Little Red Riding Hood: I’m not going anywhere with you.

Wolf: Your red cap is so beautiful. Did someone make it for you? (Here, the wolf pays a compliment in order for Little Red Riding Hood to feel in the wolf’s debt and do something nice for the wolf in return, like answering the wolf’s questions. Hmmm”¦what could the wolf possibly really want?)

Little Red Riding Hood: Leave me alone, I don’t want to talk to you. (Spoken loudly to get the attention of the nearby wood cutters, as Little Red Riding Hood realizes something is amiss and walks in their direction for safety.)


“No” Is Your Friend And Being “Nice” Is Not Mandatory

If you are like me and have been conditioned to be “nice” (having a hard time telling someone “no” is a symptom of being too nice), there are plenty of wolves out there who will use your niceness against you. Even after the horrific experience of being married to a sociopath for almost 20 years and living through profound, post-divorce aftershocks, and chronic post traumatic stress disorder; the need to be “nice” is still way too strong.  But, I have gotten a lot better at keeping it in check and making sure that one of the key people I am being nice to by keeping her safe is”¦…me.


My own cautionary tale of unwittingly investing almost twenty years of my life into a relationship with a sociopath and sometimes diverting from the best path, is chronicled in my book Husband, Liar, Sociopath: How He Lied, Why I Fell For It & The Painful Lessons Learned (available via, just click on title above). As I don’t get a “do over,” hopefully some of my painful lessons can help others impacted by these toxic people.

 Identifying names, places, events, characteristics, etc. that I discuss here and in my book have been altered to protect the identity of everyone involved.


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Hope Springs

There are many women like this. It seems that we are taught from a young age to be ‘nice’ and agreeable. To go with the flow and not make waves.

To not rock the boat.

Thus, opening us up to predatory people of any sort.

Great post Donna. Thank you 🙂

Dear friends,

Here’s some food for thought:
Many “victims” of narcissists and sociopaths have been raised by the aforementioned. Perhaps they are grooming us as children (and their supply source) to be nice, lower our expectations of reciprocity and weaken our boundaries so that we are more easily manipulatable, for THEM. The social behavior we are taught in school only serves to expoentialize our potential victimology.
I know I can certainly speak of myself in this regard. I was raised by a narcissist, and that has caused me to literally cling to my person, love and the ancillary ideology, for dear life, which, in turn, has made me an easy target.
Unfortunately, it took the adult relationships I have had to realize that I am far too forgiving bad behavior. I was trained that way.
Now I find myself struggling to find balance somewhere between love and hate, nice and mean, trust and suspicion. Things are very black and white with me. Because of the narcissistic father, I’m still trying to train my brain the RIGHT way.
It’s a very exhausting cycle.




and thanks to guest poster O.N. Ward, too.


This article and the previous article about “soul destroying” resonate with me. I have experienced the same resurgence of resiliency whenever the narcissist was away as you talked about in the soul article. I also have begun to face that the relationship with him was never real. That truly obliterates my version of the entire time with him. So challenging and I so need to have the example of those here who have survived and eventually thrived. Thank you for that.

This article shows me the idea of his pulling me into shared goals and projects as a way to keep me distracted from paying attention to what is happening to me. The comment above also applies to me since I am now aware I had a narcissistic parent. I need to check in with myself every day to see how I am doing until I become a true priority in my life.


Coming from a large family, I was raised to to put myself second, not be selfish, and not expect too much attention for my contributions. I was expected help take care of my younger siblings, help my mother, be pleasant and not expect too much attention. I thought these were good qualities and still do, in the right setting and with the right people. Fast forward in time, these qualities became weaknesses. Though I didn’t expect a proverbial pat on the back for my efforts, it was a shock to be denegrated for my giving nature and deeds. This led to depression and frustration on my part. I found myself continually singing for my soup, trying to change his mind that I wasn’t a worthless human being, and when I neared the end of my rope he would suggest “we” take a trip. My youngest daughter, has it right. She knows how to deal with sociopaths. She would play by herself quietly when the spath was around. Rarely did she throw a fit in front of him (she reserved that behavior for me). When he would “hone” by trying to engage her in conversation, overtures to take her to buy something , she would nearly always decline and cut the conversation short. When he would persist she would walk away. I thought this behavior on her part was “rude” and “disrespectful”. I tried to correct her then. A few months ago I arranged for all the children to visit him. Half way there, my daughter threw a fit of proportions that the car had to be pulled over off the highway. This screaming fit that she didn’t want to visit him went on for an hour. I was so awful and she was so upset I told her she didn’t have to go and she returned home while the other kids went off for their visit. This episode was a lightbulb moment for me. I realized my daughter had saved herself by throwing that fit. She never went to visit him again. I thought about how she had dealt with the spath during her young life-greyrock, and if that didn’t work a full on fit. I no longer tell my daughter to be pleasant, nice…. I don’t want her to lose her instinct. I realize the flip side to this as it isn’t socially acceptable behavior but in the long run it will protect her for spaths.


It can be helpful to recognize that saying no is not necessarily ‘not nice,’ and that one can say no, disagree, have an opinion, express one’s needs, etc., without the context of hostility. If someone becomes hostile or characterizes the interaction as hostile when one says no, that is a red flag.

A technique for managing inappropriate or simply unwanted questions, is to answer the question with a question. For example when the wolf asks, ‘where are you going?’ RRH might have pleasantly answered, “why do you ask?” or “why do you need to know?” Wolves/spaths may use a similar technique to avoid answering legitimate and appropriate questions posed by victims; but this is for the purpose of manipulation.


O. N. Ward-
You are onto something important! Boundaries and the way we keep our position in the sematics game are very important tools. None of us are taught to deflect or equivocate to keep from divulging information to people that haven’t earned the right to it. In fact, no one teaches how to determine when a person has “earned” a position in our lives. It’s not just the schools, even if some schools help tear down self protection. Our culture in general doesn’t teach any of us to figure out who we are or what we want, or how to live in a safe world. This is something that our experience and PPaths seem to be giving to us to figure out and then deliver back to the world. As much as I hate to give credit to a ppath for anything, THIS (learning to center ourselves and learning to expell them) is something that is necessary and it is something that can and will empower us and others who have had our experience. Keep up the good work! I look forward to more about this subject from you.


Good advice.

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