Kourtney Kardashian isn’t dramatic, she’s yet another victim of eldest daughter syndrome

By Phoebe Snedker

Published Oct 10, 2023 at 09:30 AM

Reading time: 5 minutes

Season 4’s debut episode of The Kardashians opens with another bang, as Kim and Kourtney are seen battling it out over the phone. Kourtney tells Kim that she’s a “witch” and she hates her, as Kim shares that the rest of the family have a secret group chat to “funnel information” and discuss Kourtney’s new independence, even inferring that Kourtney’s children are unhappy with her.

Despite Kourtney insisting that her main issue lies with Kim, the SKIMS CEO defended herself by bringing up Kourtney’s friends, a family group chat, and her children in a clear manipulation tactic. Kourtney even recognises this, speaking through tears: “Is that helpful? You’re adding it into a fight to have a side.”

The penultimate point of the argument sees Kourtney as the villain, as she breaks and tells Kim, “It’s you and my friends and my kids and everyone against me. You’re just a f*cking witch and I f*cking hate you.”

As fans continue to take sides in the Kim versus Kourtney drama, it seems many are missing just how manipulative public—and seemingly private—conversations are becoming about Kourtney. Sure, the ‘not Kourtney’ group chat and other digs might be seen as little more than a plotline, but perhaps it should open a wider conversation about eldest daughter syndrome, which we’ll get to in a second.

Kourtney has been vocal about distancing herself from her family for years now, and it is hard to blame her when you take a look at the Kardashians’ track record. Despite his consistently poor treatment of her, ex-partner Scott Disick is still present in the reality TV show because it is beneficial to the show’s popularity and success. Earlier seasons have even painted Disick as a victim, having to watch “the one that got away” as Kourtney shares her loving and affectionate life with new husband Travis Barker.

Kourtney is gaslighted, guilted and manipulated into “knowing her place” as the eldest daughter, and consistently has her boundaries criticised and mocked, which is a reality for many women who take the position of eldest daughter in their families. On the show, we often see Kourtney at her breaking point—think of the infamous slap fight, for example—and other instances of her lashing out, but what is often missed is the build-up to these reactions. She is constantly bullied into being the villain on the show. Again, a very common characterisation of an eldest daughter rebelling against the control installed upon her.

What is eldest daughter syndrome?

So, what is eldest daughter syndrome about? And why is such obvious gaslighting being normalised on an internationally recognised level?

Eldest daughter syndrome refers to the influence of the unique childhood experience of the eldest daughter, causing them to feel burdened with additional family responsibilities before they are ready. This phenomenon can have a plethora of impacts, including feeling overwhelmingly overburdened, anxious, and can result in people-pleasing tendencies later on in life. Individuals may have trouble setting boundaries, and in many cases, are also victims of parentification.

Member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (MBACP) Georgina Sturmer expands on this, sharing that: “[Eldest daughter syndrome] isn’t just about gender, birth order, or family composition. It’s about being the oldest girl in the family and feeling as if you were told (explicitly or implicitly) that your role was to look after everybody else. That your wishes or needs weren’t relevant or valid, and that your energy should be expended in making sure that everybody else was okay.”

This phenomenon can be triggered in many ways, ranging from household chores and behavioural expectations that differ from other siblings, having parental responsibilities, or becoming a mediator in the relationship of one’s parents.

Sturmer continued on the impact of eldest daughter syndrome, emphasising that while it can often manifest in extreme people-pleasing, as they “become used to ignoring their own needs and prioritising the needs of others,” it may also result in rebellion, based on the frustration and anger the individual feels towards the situation.

We have seen this time and time again with Kourtney. When she refused to change her schedule for a Christmas photoshoot as she wanted to be home with her kids, she was branded lazy, “the least interesting to look at” and told that “no one f*cking wants you there” by Kim. This was swiftly backed by Kris Jenner, who told her she was being “annoying” merely for standing firm in her own boundaries.

There are many theories regarding Kris Jenner’s narcissistic parenting style, but one thing that is for sure is that she has no issues with taking sides and even pitting her children against one another, as they battle it out for her approval. In calling Kourtney “annoying” for setting boundaries and consistently taking sides against her, we see once again how eldest daughter syndrome is in full swing for Kourtney, thanks to her mother’s enforcement. In the automatic assumption that Kourtney should alter her schedule for her younger sister, we see that it is a normal occurrence for Kourtney to be expected to consider her family’s wants and needs before her own.

When it comes to the influence of this family, it soon becomes problematic for this consistent disrespect of boundaries to be aired. Presenting the Kim versus Kourtney situation as ‘drama’ minimises the impact of boundaries being crossed in families, and portrays Kourtney as a villain for not ‘doing as she’s told’. Villainising the firm setting of boundaries and consistently airing the breaking points when those boundaries are not respected sends a problematic message to viewers, potentially making individuals who can relate to these double standards feel that they are being dramatic, or that their feelings are not valid.

What are the impacts of eldest daughter syndrome?

Sturmer speaks of the impact of eldest daughter syndrome on mental health and cognitive development, sharing that the added pressures and burdens associated can hinder an individual’s ability to make choices, create healthy boundaries, and understand how you should be treated by others. This encourages the urge to suppress individual needs and feelings. Sturmer emphasises that “if our needs are unmet when we are growing up, then this can be a contributing factor towards unhealthy coping strategies in adulthood, including addiction.”

The are you okay or are you an eldest daughter? trend united eldest daughters as they vouched for this universal experience, resulting in viral tweets such as “Being an eldest daughter is like an unpaid internship for the rest of your life,” to which one user responded: “At least interns get credit.” The conversation online ranges from relatable jokes to genuine frustration at just how exhausting this dynamic is for young women. For this treatment of eldest daughters to be so normalised and universally recognised that it has an actual name, it begs the question: why are we still so okay with this?

https://www.tiktok.com/@leahashlie/video/7012642022628576517

Sturmer explains that multiple factors can influence family environments, and therefore have a knock-on effect when it comes to eldest daughter syndrome. Financial limitations can result in parents working long hours, making it feel acceptable to ask the oldest child to ‘step up’ into a parenting role. Illness and other personal circumstances may also require this.

Sturmer continues that, when it comes to gender, “there’s definitely a social expectation at play. An expectation that a girl, a daughter, will most likely step into the nurturing, caring selflessness that might be expected of them.”

How can someone ‘fix’ their eldest daughter syndrome?

In other words, and more importantly, how can we change this narrative? Sturmer shares that finding ways to understand your own needs is crucial, and emphasises that mindfulness and therapy can be beneficial for this. “Connect with your younger self in therapy, explore how you felt and what you need.”

She also emphasises that it may feel tempting to confront your family about this, especially when anger and frustration has been pent up inside for so long, but to consider how productive this anger will be. “It’s worth asking yourself: what are you likely to achieve, and will it offer what you need?”

Kourtney is a perfect example of being pushed to breaking point with expectations and pressure and then being villainised for lashing out. Visiting your feelings, frustrations and boundaries in a productive way through mindfulness and therapy first may make it easier to confront others, especially in the case of people-pleasers.

Whether we like it or not, the Kardashians and Jenners don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. But hopefully, with acknowledgement and persistence, eldest daughter syndrome will become a thing of the past, sinking into a sea of nothingness, alongside Kim’s diamond earring.

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