Understanding the Volatile Dynamics Of the Narcissistic Family (2022)

Once you see the patterns, you can make a plan to protect yourself.

Understanding the Volatile Dynamics Of the Narcissistic Family (1)

by E.B. Johnson

I was thirty-years-old before I truly understood the twisted dynamics of my narcissistic family. Controlled in many ways by my mother — a covert, or vulnerable narcissist — we were a miserable group of people who could neither trust nor connect with one another.

Anger is the only emotion I really remember being expressed growing up…that and grief.

We were a household drenched in extremes, and I often felt like I was lost in the middle of it. Volatile doesn’t even seem like the right word to describe the experience. And for those who grew up in narcissistic families, you will know the experience well.

There’s no one clear, straight path in this kind of dysfunctional clan. Quite the opposite. The extremes are apparent, and the punishments are severe. You never know what side of the aisle you’re going to land on in the narcissistic family. That’s why it takes decades of recovery to get yourself into a stable place of peace.

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Narcissistic families are different animals. Far more than simply “toxic” or “dysfunctional”, these families are marked by distinctive dynamics that leave members marked with unhappiness, low self-esteem, and twisted beliefs about self, the world, and relationships.

Sibling triangulation

One of the most prominent damaged dynamics of the narcissistic family usually exists between the siblings. Thanks to the power structures and inherent nature of narcissistic families, siblings are often positioned against one another in tragic games of triangulation. All is done to prevent unity and, therefore, a disruption of power in the current family setup.

Major secret-keeping

Secrets are a must in the narcissistic family. Toxic emotional dynamics means mental and emotional abuse become common. Walking on eggshells, families get convinced to keep secrets — all in the name of protecting the wrong behaviors being perpetrated behind closed doors. Secret-keeping is one of the primary mechanisms through which we can identify the narcissist’s knowledge of their wrongdoing, too.

Zero communication

Healthy and effective communication cannot exist in the narcissistic family. For that to exist, there must be a foundation of empathy, emotional integrity, and a general willingness to lift one another up. In narcissistic families, that’s not how dynamics work. No one is emotionally honest, and no one can be accountable. Meaningful communication is non-existent.

Strange arrangements

One of the markedly different dynamics in a narcissistic family is that of the abuser-enabler. Most families find themselves topped by at least one all-powerful narcissist and their enabler (the person who makes all the excuses and does all the gaslighting). In many cases, these role players can also switch places — with the enabler becoming an abuser and the primary narcissist becoming the person who empowers them.

Intense enmeshment

Narcissistic families are also defined by their intense enmeshment. There are no boundaries in the narcissistic family other than the ones the narcissist chooses to set for themselves. Everyone else is expected to be an open book and is expected to expose themselves (emotionally) whenever commanded. To the narcissist, everyone around them is an accessory. They don’t get privacy or boundary lines.

No emotional closeness

Because there is no emotional trust or integrity in a narcissistic family, there is very little emotional closeness. The abusers on top triangulate family members against one another. Isolation from the rest of the family (or even friends and coworkers) makes sure that everyone involved is even more shut off and shut down from one another — always fearing punishment and retribution.

This is how narcissistic families hide their abuseEver wondered why it’s so hard to understand your abusive upbringing? The answer maybe pseudomutuality.medium.com
(Video) The Hero Role In The Narcissistic Family

Total dysfunction

Dysfunction is the general rule of a narcissistic family. Nothing works as it should. No one is able to communicate openly. Needs go ignored. Everyone but the narcissist is forced to deny themselves, and conflict is the primary channel through which emotions are expressed. Roles are cast and acting outside of those roles (even if they don’t fit) will get you punished or alienated.

Constant demeaning

Secrets aren’t the only way a narcissist keeps their victims in line. They also demean those around them in order to keep self-esteem low. Your narcissistic parent or partner needs you to gaslight yourself as much as they gaslight you, and doing that means you have to doubt the very core of who you are as a person. That’s why narcissistic families work hard to break their offspring down.

Paranoid messaging

Paranoia is also rampant in the narcissistic family, and it becomes a dynamic that is passed down through the generations. Narcissists know what they’re doing is wrong, and they are also terrified of being publicly exposed. With already low bases of self-esteem, they see everyone around them as competition or a threat. That pessimism becomes a part of messaging in every aspect of the family system.

Perfection obsession

So many narcissistic parents build their family around a superficial image. They want to project a specific image in order to be accepted, loved, whatever the goal is. A family created by a narcissist is done so to feed their ego and their need for external validation. They have an obsession with projection, and it can turn into pseudomutuality (a projection of closeness with a reality of alienation behind closed doors).

The majority of my clients come to me in various stages of recovery from narcissistic abuse. Some have cut ties with their family and run. Others are still finding their feet or making sense of their new realizations. In all cases, however, they want answers. Namely, they want to know how to protect themselves from narcissistic abuse in the future.

Surface answer: it’s a process. You were conditioned (over a long period) by your narcissistic family to deny yourself and your experiences. It can take just as long to come to a place of self-acceptance.

Recovering yourself from narcissistic family abuse is no small thing. You must break the cycle by:

  • Building self-esteem
  • Creating new boundaries
  • Identifying core needs
  • Designing authentic reactions
  • Increasing emotional intelligence

You may be someone who can only undergo that process by going no-contact. Maybe not. Everyone’s journey through the above steps is different, but they are a necessary part of recovering ourselves from narcissistic abuse. It’s how we uncover the strength to be resilient against narcissistic family in future.

Families aren’t always sunshine and rainbows. No relationships are really like that. They are complex and dynamic, and that’s certainly true for the narcissistic family — who is more broken and twisted than most can even imagine.

Recovering from the lessons you were taught by a narcissistic parent isn’t easy. Their emotional immaturity creates scars that run deep, and can leave us reeling through our adulthood in relationships, success, and wellbeing.

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All the same, finding a path to stable ground is a must. Breaking ourselves out of survival mode, finding the courage to love ourselves, that is how we get back on track and away from the paranoia and the self-doubt we’ve been conditioned to create and accept.

Know that you deserve more than the toxic legacy your narcissistic family left you. Understand that there is a better way to live, and that you can learn how to break out of the cycles of pain you inherited. It takes a major commitment, though, not only to yourself but to a better way of living.

It’s time for you to learn how to be yourself…wildly and unapologetically. Step out of your family’s shadow. A whole wide world of opportunity is waiting to love you.

© E.B. Johnson 2022

E.B. Johnson - Medium

(Video) How to Establish a Proper Relationship with your Dysfunctional Family - Jordan Peterson

Read writing from E.B. Johnson on Medium. Trauma informed & certified NLPMP. 8x top writer. Host Practical Growth Pod…

www.eb-johnson.com

FAQs

What does a narcissistic family look like? ›

In simple terms, a narcissistic family is one in which the needs of the parents are the focus and the children are expected in various ways to meet those needs. The healthy family model is turned on its head to support the parents rather than foster the children's development.

How do you go no contact with a narcissistic family? ›

How to cut ties
  1. Grey rock technique. If you decide to take some time before ceasing contact, the grey rock technique can get things started, says Cummin. ...
  2. Strengthen your boundaries. ...
  3. Slowly reduce contact. ...
  4. Write them a letter. ...
  5. Protect yourself.

Is a narcissistic parent abusive? ›

A narcissistic parent will often abuse the normal parental role of guiding their children and being the primary decision maker in the child's life, becoming overly possessive and controlling. This possessiveness and excessive control disempowers the child; the parent sees the child simply as an extension of themselves.

What happens when the scapegoat leaves the narcissistic family? ›

When the scapegoat leaves their family of origin, the abuser doesn't have anyone to project all of their suppressed negative emotions onto. Instead, they're forced to deal with them on their own which is quite literally impossible for them.

What happens to the golden child of a narcissist? ›

Golden children cannot explore their identities because they spend all their time obeying their narcissistic parents. Since narcissists can only provide conditional love, golden children feel a severe amount of pressure to please their parents to be accepted and loved.

What is narcissistic triangulation? ›

People with narcissistic personality disorder or narcissistic tendencies might also use triangulation, usually to maintain control over situations by manipulating others. With narcissistic triangulation, one-on-one conversations or disagreements might quickly become two-against-one situations.

What happens to a narcissist mother? ›

A mother with narcissistic personality disorder cannot give their children adequate attention and nurturing. Their entitlement often results in them mistreating their children. Additionally, a narcissistic mother will tend to use her children as a prop or device to meet her own needs.

How do narcissists treat their siblings? ›

Siblings As Narcissistic Supply

As such, your sibling may go to great lengths to assert their superiority over you and damage your sense of self to fortify their own; you may be subjected to verbal abuse, belittling, ridicule, and humiliation, both public and private.

What is a narcissistic collapse? ›

Narcissistic collapse is an intense emotional reaction experienced by a narcissistic person when they sense a setback. It can lead to withdrawal or vindictive behaviors. The signs of narcissistic collapse may vary from person to person.

What happens to the family when the scapegoat goes no contact? ›

Without the common chaos of “dealing with the scapegoat,” the narcissist's partner may decide that enough is enough. In other words, a scapegoat going no-contact tends induce chaos. The family has become so used to pinpointing issues onto one person that they now feel completely off-guard.

Can you get PTSD from narcissistic parent? ›

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The more abusive narcissistic parents become, the more likely they are to traumatize their children. That can lead to a fearful approach to life and to PTSD.

What triggers shame in a narcissist? ›

Narcissists rarely if ever feel guilt but are deeply tormented by shame. Because as children they do not develop normative empathy for others, narcissists lack the compassion and sense of responsibility for their behavior that triggers guilt.

What kind of childhood does a narcissist have? ›

The development of narcissistic traits is in many cases, a consequence of neglect or excessive appraisal. In some cases, this pathological self-structure arises under childhood conditions of inadequate warmth, approval and excessive idealization, where parents do not see or accept the child as they are.

What happens to the scapegoat in adulthood? ›

More specifically: Scapegoated adults often feel debilitated by self-doubt and 'imposter syndrome' in their relationships and in the work-place, and blame themselves for their difficulties. They often will develop 'fawning' behaviors, whereby they seek to please others and avoid conflict at any cost.

How does the scapegoat heal? ›

Healing the scapegoat role in community means learning how to forge new relationships of repair and effective emotional communication. Sometimes it involves closing certain connections for protection, for a period of time.

Who has it worse golden child or scapegoat? ›

Indoctrinated into the worldview of the damaged parent, the chosen one absorbs emotional damage alongside the attention. Despite what most scapegoats will tell you, golden children are usually the more severely traumatised in narcissistic families.

How do you tell if you are a scapegoat? ›

8 Signs That You're the Family Scapegoat
  1. You get blamed for everything that goes wrong. ...
  2. Your abuser projects their own behaviors onto you. ...
  3. The verbal abuse never stops. ...
  4. Your successes and achievements are downplayed. ...
  5. The abuse is ignored by others. ...
  6. The abuse might go beyond the family. ...
  7. You often play the role of savior.
8 Jun 2022

What is narcissistic enmeshment? ›

It is a psychological term used to describe a relationship in which two or more people are overly close and intertwined. Enmeshment can occur in any type of relationship, but it is particularly common in families with a narcissistic parent.

What is a flying monkey to a narcissist? ›

When the narcissist wants to evoke some punishment on a target they dispatch their henchmen (aka flying monkeys) to do their bidding. Unfortunately, this can and often does include abusive behavior such as guilt-tripping, twisting the truth, gaslighting, assaults, threats, and violence.

What is narcissist word salad? ›

The narcissistic word salad is a verbal assassination. What is this? Report Ad. The term “word salad” refers to a circular language tactic used by one individual to ensure that talks never end positively for the other.

Can a narcissist be a good mother? ›

Recent studies confirm that narcissistic parents are incapable of truly loving others, even their own children.

What does a narcissistic mother say? ›

You're always so busy with your own life that you don't even think about me.” “I'm so tired of doing everything for you.” “You're gaining weight and won't be able to fit your new clothes soon.” “I'm going to have to punish you if you don't do exactly what I say.”

What it's like being raised by a narcissistic mother? ›

Effects of Being Raised by Narcissists

Brunell says, “The child typically suffers from low psychological well-being, such as low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. They tend to try to please others and have poor ability to set boundaries or to say no to people's requests.

What kind of childhood trauma causes narcissism? ›

Narcissism tends to emerge as a psychological defence in response to excessive levels of parental criticism, abuse or neglect in early life. Narcissistic personalities tend to be formed by emotional injury as a result of overwhelming shame, loss or deprivation during childhood.

What is gray rocking method? ›

What is the grey rock method? Grey rocking is a technique used to divert a toxic person's behavior by acting as unresponsive as possible when you're interacting with them. For example, using the grey rock method involves deliberate actions like avoiding eye contact or not showing emotions during a conversation.

What should you not say to a narcissist? ›

8 Things You Should Never Say to a Narcissist
  • Don't say, "It's not about you." ...
  • Don't say, "You're not listening." ...
  • Don't say, "Ina Garten did not get her lasagna recipe from you." ...
  • Don't say, "Do you think it might be your fault?" ...
  • Don't say, "You're being a bully." ...
  • Don't say, "Stop playing the victim."
15 Dec 2017

How do you dominate a narcissist? ›

Take these steps to handle a narcissist:
  1. Educateyourself. Find out more about the disorder. It can help you understand the narcissist's strengths and weaknesses and learn how to handle them better. ...
  2. Create boundaries. Be clear about your boundaries. ...
  3. Speak up for yourself. When you need something, be clear and concise.

What happens to narcissists in old age? ›

According to Julie L. Hall, author of “The Narcissist in Your Life: Recognizing the Patterns and Learning to Break Free,” narcissists become more extreme versions of their worst selves as they age, which includes becoming more desperate, deluded, paranoid, angry, abusive, and isolated.

What does narcissistic rage look like? ›

Examples of narcissistic rage range from intense outbursts and sudden fits of anger, to passive-aggressive acts such as simmering resentment, icy silence, deliberate neglect, or cutting sarcasm.

What does a narcissist breakdown look like? ›

MD. Narcissistic collapse happens when someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) can no longer uphold their grandiose, confident image. When this occurs, they feel profoundly threatened. As a result, they tend to become enraged, resulting in impulsive behavior, intense lashing out, or hurting other people.

Is the narcissist jealous of the scapegoat? ›

A narcissist will decide who their scapegoat is based on their own fears, feelings of jealousy, sense of inadequacy and insecurities. From a narcissist's perspective, a scapegoat is someone who somehow triggers their fears, feelings of jealousy, sense of inadequacy and insecurities.

What do people gain from scapegoating? ›

For individuals, scapegoating is a psychological defense mechanism of denial through projecting responsibility and blame on others. [2] It allows the perpetrator to eliminate negative feelings about him or herself and provides a sense of gratification.

How do narcissists turn people against you? ›

Manipulative narcissists can turn people against you by bringing one or more additional people into an argument, spat, or disagreement that was originally just between you and the narcissist.

Can an entire family be narcissistic? ›

A family can be full of narcissists when a narcissistic parent passes their narcissism down to their children or when a narcissistic parent's behavior manipulates other members of the narcissistic family structure into developing narcissistic traits to protect themselves.

How do narcissists treat their siblings? ›

Siblings As Narcissistic Supply

As such, your sibling may go to great lengths to assert their superiority over you and damage your sense of self to fortify their own; you may be subjected to verbal abuse, belittling, ridicule, and humiliation, both public and private.

How do narcissists turn people against you? ›

Manipulative narcissists can turn people against you by bringing one or more additional people into an argument, spat, or disagreement that was originally just between you and the narcissist.

What does a narcissistic mother say? ›

You're always so busy with your own life that you don't even think about me.” “I'm so tired of doing everything for you.” “You're gaining weight and won't be able to fit your new clothes soon.” “I'm going to have to punish you if you don't do exactly what I say.”

What does a narcissistic mother do? ›

A narcissistic mother may feel entitled or self-important, seek admiration from others, believe she is above others, lack empathy, exploit her children, put others down, experience hypersensitivity to criticism, believe she deserves special treatment, and worst of all, maybe naïve to the damage she is causing.

What happens to a narcissist mother? ›

A mother with narcissistic personality disorder cannot give their children adequate attention and nurturing. Their entitlement often results in them mistreating their children. Additionally, a narcissistic mother will tend to use her children as a prop or device to meet her own needs.

What is narcissistic triangulation? ›

People with narcissistic personality disorder or narcissistic tendencies might also use triangulation, usually to maintain control over situations by manipulating others. With narcissistic triangulation, one-on-one conversations or disagreements might quickly become two-against-one situations.

What kind of parents raise a narcissist? ›

Cramer (2011) showed that children raised by authoritative and permissive parents (high responsiveness) exhibited more adaptive narcissistic tendencies, such as superiority and grandiosity, whereas children raised by authoritarian parents (low responsiveness) were less likely to exhibit such traits.

What is gray rocking method? ›

What is the grey rock method? Grey rocking is a technique used to divert a toxic person's behavior by acting as unresponsive as possible when you're interacting with them. For example, using the grey rock method involves deliberate actions like avoiding eye contact or not showing emotions during a conversation.

What is a high functioning narcissist? ›

High-functioning: This characterizes people who are able to garner enough admiration to fulfill their narcissistic needs. They are often highly successful and admired.

What turns a narcissist off? ›

The best way to shut down a narcissist is to not engage with them at all and to go no contact. People that are narcissistic want things from you – they want your attention and your emotional reaction.

Do narcissists turn you against your family? ›

Narcissistic Abuse Isolates You From Family Members

Another go-to tactic of the narcissist is to divide and conquer. Within families, narcissists ruthlessly set members against another. One method they use is to treat children inequitably, favoring one and targeting others.

How do narcissists lie? ›

Narcissists also lie by withholding and selecting information. They lie as a form of gaslighting to extend their control over targets by making them constantly question and doubt themselves. They often frequently claim that they value and even love their targets. In doing so, they have little to no inhibitions.

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