Realizing that your family is narcissistic is destabilizing and traumatizing. This realization will likely cause you to question your sense of self, rethink your direction in life, and scrutinize the relationships that you have with the members of your narcissistic family. It is for this reason that it is really important to understand whether or not a family can be full of narcissists.
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.
This article is going to guide you through the different ways that an entire family can actually be, or appear to be, full of narcissists to give you a better understanding of the consequences of having a narcissistic family of origin.
We’ve also created a short video below that outlines certain parts of our articles What Are the Signs of a Narcissistic Mother, What Are the Signs of a Narcissistic Father, and How to Narcissists Treat Their Siblings so that you can get as much information as possible from this article that will help you determine whether or not your family is narcissistic but we highly recommend you read those articles for all of the information that you need.
A Short Video About How Narcissistic Parents and Siblings Act
A Family Can Be Full of Narcissists Because Narcissism Can Be Passed Down to Children
In our articles How Are Narcissists Made and Can Narcissism Be Passed Down to Children it is believed that narcissism originates from an unhealthy/abusive upbringing with primary caregivers who are unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent. These types of caregivers are unable to mirror their child’s emotions, thoughts, feelings, and needs so the child doesn’t get the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they need to develop a realistic sense of self.
Even though there are many different roles in a narcissistic family structure that children are often forced into, the scapegoat, the golden child, the truth teller, the invisible child, and the handmaiden, nobody gets the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they need to develop a realistic sense of self.
What this does is it forces the child to search their external environment for the validation, admiration, and reassurance that their primary caregivers can’t provide them so that they can develop a realistic sense of self. A simple example of this would be a child of unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers building their sense of self out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get for being the most popular kid in their class.
Aside from the emotional inadequacy and immaturity that a child is going to develop if they build their sense of self like this, it is also a very dangerous because it teaches the child that their true identity isn’t good enough to be acknowledged or loved by others.
Which leads to them developing a belief that the negative emotions that they feel make them even more unloveable and unwanted. But because of the emotional inadequacy and immaturity that they’ve developed from a childhood of neglect, they’re incapable of using healthy forms of emotional regulation to manage all of the negative emotions that they have about themselves.
What ends up happening is the child builds a falsified identity out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get from their external environment and use it to suppress all of their negative emotions deep within their psyche.
When this inadequate approach to building a sense of self is combined with the unhealthy cognitive development that narcissistic parents cause, and the grandiosity that children naturally have, it’s very common for children to develop a narcissistic personality themselves because of the narcissistic environment that they’ve been exposed to.
The Narcissistic Parent’s Behavior Manipulates Other Family Members Into Developing Narcissistic Traits
One of the biggest challenges that families face when they have a narcissist in a position of power in the family structure is triangulation. It is a manipulative technique that narcissists use to make one-on-one situations into two or more-on-one situations.
Three Examples of Triangulation in Narcissistic Family Settings
- I bought your sister a new dress for the dance because she has a date and she looks really good in it! If you were more like your sister I would consider buying you a dress for the dance but you’re not so I’m done talking about it.
- Boys, come eat this food that your mom probably messed up. I’m sorry you guys have to eat this slop every single night, my girlfriend in high school was a much better cook… maybe I should have married her instead!
- We are so proud of your brother Timmy. He has worked so hard over the past few years. The other day he called and told us that he has an interview with a huge tech company in NYC. If you work hard enough you might be able to be like him one day. I doubt it but hey, never say never right?
Triangulation in a narcissistic family setting causes a tremendous amount of paranoia, trust issues, self-doubt for the victim, backstabbing, and low self-esteem. It also forces family members to choose between supporting the main narcissist, usually a narcissistic parent, or risk becoming the target of their wrath. It is a horrible form of abuse that is very common to see in narcissistic families and it is one of the clearest manifestation of a narcissist’s need for power and control.
When dealing with a family full of narcissists it is really important to understand the role each family member is in and how they got there. The reason this is important is because many victims of narcissistic abuse in family settings are manipulated into siding with the narcissist and participating in the abuse of their victim, which can make the whole family seem like it is full of narcissists.
We spoke about this in our article Why Do Some People Become Flying Monkeys but there are three types of narcissistic family members when it comes to those who’ve been manipulated into helping the narcissist abuse the victim.
First, there are those who’ve been forced into the role. We hinted at this before but in narcissistic family settings the rage of the narcissist often forces those who witness it to get on board with the abuse or risk being abused themselves.
Second, there are those who have been manipulated into the role. These types of narcissistic family members are very common to see within narcissistic families where there isn’t a lot of narcissistic rage but there is a lot of emotional abuse. A simple example of this would be what we mentioned earlier, triangulation, a narcissist making one-on-one situations into two or more-on-one situations.
Under these circumstances it is very common for the narcissist to manipulate others into believing that their victim is to blame for everything so it is very possible that the family members who’ve been manipulated into the role actually believe that abusing the victim is the right thing to do.
Third, there are those who’ve volunteered for the role. These types of family members are very narcissistic themselves and there is no hope of any reconciliation down the line. They are manipulative, malicious, arrogant, grandiose, and extensions of the narcissistic parent. It is very common for these types of family members to be the “golden child” of the narcissist and have a lot of sadistic tendencies.
It is really important to be aware of these three types of family members in a narcissistic family system because there will hopefully come a day were the family structure casts the narcissist out of their lives. When this happens it is important to be able to tell the difference between a family member who has been manipulated or forced into becoming narcissistic and a family member who is a narcissist themselves if you want to rebuild a relationship with one of your family members.
What Should You Take Away From This Article?
The level of manipulation, invalidation, devaluation, and dehumanization that occurs in a narcissistic family has the potential to keep the victims of abuse oppressed for generations. If nobody realizes how toxic the family structure is and why, the likelihood of narcissism being passed down from generation to generation is extremely high.
One thing we will say though is that it is important to remember that narcissism is on a continuum, a continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are not perceptibly different from each other, but the extremes are quite distinct.
Meaning that narcissists who are considered to be on the extreme end of covert narcissism are clearly different from narcissists who are considered to be on the extreme end of malignant, communal, and grandiose narcissism and vice versa. However, there tends to be a lot of overlap among narcissists who display milder traits of the different narcissistic personalities.
What this means for you is that there are going to be different levels of narcissism within a narcissistic family. Some family members might show milder traits of a narcissistic personality and others might be full blown narcissists wreaking havoc on the family structure.
The best thing that you can do in this situation is to learn as much about narcissism, narcissistic personalities, and narcissistic abuse that you can so that you can spot and avoid narcissistic behavior before it destroys your emotional stability.
This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.
THIS INFORMATION IS FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND IS NOT INTENDED TO BE A SUBSTITUTE FOR CLINICAL CARE.
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