There’s virtually no such thing as a healthy, functional family that has one narcissist in it. Pathological narcissism is a family affair…
Social scientists know that narcissism runs in families. They haven’t quite figured out all the ins and outs of precisely why and how yet, but it does. When the typical relative of a narcissist finally realizes what’s wrong with their distressing family member, a nearly inescapable realization soon follows – there is actually more than one narcissist, often several.
Narcissists are neither cooperative nor considerate. They want things their way, and they tolerate little else. This means that the behavior of the entire narcissistic family is shaped and controlled by the constant presence of its narcissists and all of their unhealthy narcissistic demands. Neglected and engulfed children dance fearfully around their impetuous, controlling and self-centered parents, siblings struggle with boundaries and power balances, never having learned their true worth, and non-narcissistic parents are distraught by the obvious narcissism they see in one of their children but not the other. Genuine apologies in narcissistic families are rare to non-existent, children are mistreated according to what pleases the narcissists best, and the family culture is typically one of looking good on the outside while hiding the uglier reality of the distorted inside at all cost.
Because the narcissistic family’s structure is controlled by those family members who are narcissistic and wish to make all the others satisfy their wishes and unhealthy needs, deviations from the narcissistic desires present aren’t tolerated — boundaries aren’t respected, and unreasonable responses are the norm. I have often described the narcissistic family as a “tiny cult” whose non-narcissistic members are expected to believe, do, have and be only what the narcissistic family members in power want them to believe, do have and be. Other thoughts and actions are not rewarded – or worse, harshly condemned.
Relying heavily on standard dysfunctional family roles such as scapegoat and golden child, the typical narcissistic family rarely produces anything else other than narcissists and co-narcissists. Members of narcissistic families must be carefully kept from recognizing important things such as their own worth, true identities and deepest wishes. When these things are recognized, felt, honored and understood, they empower people and make them impervious to narcissistic abuse. Consequently, narcissists must work diligently to prevent the ones they know from coming into contact with these concepts in order to protect their established sources of the most convenient narcissistic supply – friends and family.
The most commonly recommended course of action for dealing with narcissistic abuse is reduction or elimination of contact; however, members of the narcissistic family who manage to accept that there’s something wrong and take action are in the minority by far. This is because all members of a narcissistic family were given the same message thousands, if not millions of times since birth…
“…you have to put up with this; you have no choice, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
The few who break free and heal themselves are the ones who somehow come to recognize the above for what it truly is – nothing more than a mere lie.