We recently held a live therapist-led Q&A session about narcissistic families, and one of the questions was, “How do narcissists treat their siblings?”
Narcissists are typically competitive with and unempathetic toward their siblings; they use manipulation tactics like stonewalling, projection, and triangulation to control their siblings, they don’t respect their siblings’ boundaries, and they oscillate between idealizing and devaluing them.
In this article, I will guide you through the different ways that narcissists treat their siblings so you can better understand narcissistic family dynamics.
1.) They Are Competitive with Their Siblings
Narcissists have an insecure need for validation, admiration, reassurance, power, and control, also known as narcissistic supply.
Within a family system, this need can, and often does, manifest as competitiveness with their siblings.
Because of this, it is common for narcissists to strive to be the best in everything and constantly look for ways to “outperform” their siblings.
This might include academics, sports, professional accomplishments, or even gaining their parents’ or social circles’ attention and praise.
For example, imagine that you are at a family gathering.
You say, “I’ve been enjoying gardening lately. It’s so therapeutic.”
Your narcissistic sibling responds, “Oh, you should see my garden. It’s twice as big as yours and full of rare plants from around the world. You’re a novice compared to me.”
This is the type of competitiveness that I’m talking about.
Narcissistic siblings tend to view everything as an opportunity to “win.”
Regularly having these types of interactions can be emotionally exhausting and mentally debilitating for the non-narcissistic sibling.
Each conversation and gathering becomes a battlefield where they are measured against a yardstick they never agreed to.
The constant overshadowing and one-upmanship can make them feel like they’re perpetually falling short, leaving them questioning their worth.
2.) They Are Unempathetic Toward Their Siblings
According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), lack of empathy is one of the defining characteristics of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
The term “empathy” refers to understanding and sharing the feelings of others, and it is a crucial component of emotional intelligence.
Because narcissists typically lack empathy, it makes it difficult for them to understand the perspectives, needs, and feelings of others, including their siblings.
For example, imagine that you share with your narcissistic sibling that you’re struggling with the illness of a close family member.
You say, “I’ve been having such a hard time coping with all this.”
Instead of offering support, your narcissistic sibling responds, “You should hear about the problems I’m dealing with at work…”
This lack of empathy almost always results in cold, dismissive, and invalidating interactions, causing feelings of loneliness and alienation in the non-narcissistic sibling.
3.) They Manipulate Their Siblings
Another defining characteristic of NPD is interpersonally exploitative behavior. This refers to using or taking advantage of others for personal gain.
It is very common for narcissists to use manipulative tactics such as gaslighting, guilt-tripping, or coercion to get their way with their siblings.
For example, imagine that you arrive at a family event.
Your narcissistic sibling immediately confronts you in front of everyone: “I can’t believe you forgot the extra chairs! You promised you’d bring them.”
The room falls silent as everyone turns to look at you.
You’re caught off guard, trying to remember such a conversation. You’re certain it never happened, but their conviction makes you question your memory.
In this example, your sibling is employing a few different manipulative tactics:
This manipulative technique is where the manipulator tries to make you question your perception of reality. Your sibling is doing this by asserting that you had a conversation about chairs that never actually took place. This can lead to confusion and self-doubt.
Suggested Reading: Why Do Narcissists Gaslight?
2.) Public embarrassment:
Your sibling puts you on the spot by bringing up the alleged forgetting of the chairs in front of the whole family. This increases the pressure you feel to accept their version of events and puts you in a defensive position.
By expressing disappointment in your supposed forgetfulness, your sibling is trying to make you feel guilty for causing an inconvenience, even though you’re not to blame.
This is very manipulative and can make you more likely to go along with their demands in the future to avoid feeling this guilt again.
The manipulation tactics that narcissists use can leave their siblings feeling isolated, misunderstood, confused, and hurt.
4.) They Use Stonewalling on Their Siblings
The term “stonewalling” refers to when someone refuses to participate in the communication and connection of their relationship with someone else.
When a narcissist doesn’t feel that they are getting the attention or admiration they need from a sibling, they commonly resort to stonewalling their sibling.
They may refuse to engage with them, withhold affection, or act as if they don’t exist.
For example, imagine you’re trying to express your feelings to your narcissistic sibling.
You say, “We need to talk about how we’ve been treating each other recently.”
Instead of engaging, they start ignoring you, avoiding you at family dinners, and not responding to your attempts to communicate.
This is stonewalling.
Generally speaking, narcissists use stonewalling to prevent others from holding them accountable or setting boundaries.
Stonewalling can leave the siblings of narcissists feeling very hurt, invalidated, and confused.
5.) They Idealize and Devalue Their Siblings
Narcissists often oscillate between idealizing and devaluing their siblings.
For example, imagine that while planning a family event, your narcissistic sibling praises you, saying, “You’re so good at these things. I could never do it without you!”
But once the event ends, they start criticizing you, saying, “The decorations were so tacky, and the food could have been better. Maybe I should plan next time.”
This is the oscillation between idealizing and devaluing that I was talking about.
Suggested Reading: What Is the Narcissistic Abuse Cycle?
Experiencing this can create a roller coaster of emotions for the non-narcissistic sibling, who may feel adored one moment and then rejected and belittled the next.
6.) They Don’t Respect the Boundaries of Their Siblings
I mentioned this earlier in the article, but narcissists have an insecure need for validation, admiration, and reassurance.
This is known as narcissistic supply; narcissists need a consistent flow of it to feel emotionally stable.
Because of this, narcissists often disregard the boundaries of others because healthy boundaries prevent them from getting narcissistic supply.
Suggested Reading: Why Do Narcissists Disrespect Boundaries?
In a family setting, they may do this by demanding excessive attention, invading their sibling’s privacy, or making unreasonable demands on their sibling’s time or energy.
For example, imagine your narcissistic sibling asking a question about your personal life, “Are you and your partner having problems?”
When you express discomfort discussing this topic with them, they dismiss you by saying, “We’re family; we’re supposed to share these things.”
This is a simple example of a narcissist disregarding the boundaries of others, and it can leave the non-narcissistic sibling feeling helpless and powerless.
Suggested Reading: How to Set Boundaries with a Narcissist (6 Steps)
7.) They Project Their Faults onto Their Siblings
Projection is the process by which one attributes one’s own individual positive or negative characteristics, affects, and impulses to another person or group.
This is often a defense mechanism in which unpleasant or unacceptable impulses, stressors, ideas, affects, or responsibilities are attributed to others.
It is common for narcissists to project their faults onto their siblings.
This could mean blaming their sibling for their own mistakes or failures or accusing their sibling of having negative traits that they themselves possess.
Suggested Reading: How Do You Know When a Narcissist Is Projecting?
For example, imagine that you are at a family event.
Your narcissistic sibling starts an argument with your parents by bringing up some political stuff.
You’re not involved in this argument, but your sibling points at you and says, “This is your fault. You’re always causing trouble. You can’t get along with anyone.”
This is projection.
The narcissist started an argument, then projected the blame onto you.
Over time, these types of interactions can leave you feeling to blame for the conflict, even though you had nothing to do with it.
8.) They Triangulate Their Siblings with Others
The term “triangulation” refers to a manipulation tactic that occurs when someone turns a one-on-one situation into a two-on-one situation by involving a third party.
In a family setting, a narcissist will use this tactic to create divisions or conflict among family members by spreading rumors and lies and pitting family members against each other so that they can maintain control and feel superior.
For example, imagine that you and your narcissistic sibling are discussing who should plan your father’s surprise birthday party.
Your sibling says, “Mom always thought I was more responsible. She told me the other day that she trusts me more with these things.”
The room grows quiet. You’re taken aback, not just by the allegation, but by your mother being brought into the dispute despite her absence.
You feel a wave of doubt and resentment creeping in. You ask yourself, “Is she really saying these things about me?”
This is triangulation, and it can lead to significant family dysfunction and can be very damaging to your relationship with your family members.
What Should You Take Away from This Article?
Having a narcissistic sibling can be tough. They are competitive, unempathetic, manipulative, confusing, and they don’t respect the boundaries others set.
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This information is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for clinical care. Please consult a healthcare provider for guidance specific to your case. This article discusses narcissism in general.