Circling back to our article, What Effect Does Having A Narcissistic Parent Have On A Child?, having primary caregivers who are narcissistic, influence an individual’s life from a very young age is detrimental to one’s cognitive development, and having narcissistic siblings is no different. Keep in mind that we can never speak in absolutes when covering narcissistic behavior, however this article will breakdown how narcissists treat their siblings, and other helpful tips.
Childhood to Adulthood: Growing Up with A Narcissistic Sibling
While researching for this article, we worked closely with thirteen participants who grew up with narcissistic siblings, to grasp a comprehensive understanding of the personality traits their siblings have shown throughout their lives. We’re excited to share our findings with readers because it offers yet another avenue into the complexity of narcissism, specifically the origins of a narcissist.
The Golden Child
In our article, How to Co-Parent with A Grandiose Narcissist, we touched on the golden child. The golden child is the child who is favored by their narcissistic parent. I’m sure non-narcissistic families naturally have similar dynamics. However, with a narcissistic parent, it’s much more malicious.
The golden child will receive privileges the other members of the family couldn’t even dream of like validation, admiration, and empathy. A common misconception is that being the golden child is harmless because their narcissistic parent is treating them well. Unfortunately, this is all but true. The title of the “golden child” is very conditional because they’re only the golden child if they’re a sufficient source of narcissistic supply.
Let me explain.
Narcissistic parents have a sickening ability to maneuver themselves in the limelight of their children’s success. Meaning that the admiration, validation, and glory the child brings upon the family through qualities along the lines of academic, athletic, or musical excellence, serves as a source of narcissistic supply. If the child were to lose these attributes for any reason, their narcissistic parent would discard them immediately, just like they do with their partners in the narcissistic abuse cycle.
What’s the Correlation Between a Golden Child and Narcissistic Siblings?
One of the more malicious parts of the relationship between a golden child and their narcissistic parent is the bullying of others. Oftentimes a narcissist will encourage the golden child to bully, taunt, and harass the other members of the family, just as the narcissist would. If you combine the normalization of this behavior, with the sense of superiority and entitlement the golden child will naturally accumulate from their position of conditional power, the potential of being a narcissist themselves is very high.
Seven of our participants used in this article reported that their narcissistic sibling was the golden child of the family and here are the personality traits most commonly seen among them.
The important thing to remember about narcissistic siblings is that not all of them grew up in the golden child role. If you notice above, only seven of the thirteen participants we are using for this article reported that their narcissistic sibling was a golden child.
How Does an Unhealthy Parent-Child Relationship Align with Narcissistic Siblings?
This is the part of the article that allows us to dive deeper into the complexity of narcissism, specifically the origins of a narcissist. So, in our previous blog How Are Narcissists Made? we combed through the work of numerous researchers pertaining to the creation of narcissistic personality disorder in people. What we found was that most of the time, emphasis on most of the time, narcissistic people originate from an unhealthy parent-child relationship.
We touched on a few different theories but it all boils down to an unhealthy parent-child relationship, and subsequently, an emotionally unstable environment. Where this research intersects with narcissistic siblings, lies within a follow up question for the 6 participants who claimed their sibling’s narcissistic behavior emerged in adulthood.
We asked the six participants, “Did your primary caregivers provide an emotionally stable environment during your childhood?” to which all six of them answered no, and depicted very abusive households. To get a better understanding of the significance of their answers, I suggest you check out our article How Are Narcissists Made? but their responses really enforced the beliefs of the numerous researchers we covered in the article, meaning that it’s quite possible that the emotionally unstable environment they grew up in had a much more severe impact on their sibling’s cognitive development than it did on them as not all children who grew up in abusive environments, turn into abusers themselves.
How Do Narcissists Treat Their Siblings?
Regardless of the role any given narcissist has in someone’s life, the behavioral patterns are the same. Narcissists are some of the most self-loathing people on the planet. They have an arsenal of manipulative tactics designed to maintain their fragile ego, project their hatred for themselves onto others, and accumulate as much narcissistic supply as they can.
To provide an inside look into the behavioral patterns of narcissistic siblings, we asked our participants to provide us with a memory they had of their narcissistic siblings’ abuse. Below are a handful of their responses as some of them overlapped.
Gaslighting is when someone manipulates, doubts, and questions one’s reality and/or ability so often, that the person in question becomes consumed with self-doubt and can’t trust their own perception of reality.
“So, in my family I had a medically diagnosed narcissistic father and now looking back at it, a narcissistic brother who hasn’t been diagnosed. The most abusive memory I have would have to be when my brother and father convinced me that I was adopted. For years they kept the joke going, and my mother didn’t do much to stop it. I felt so isolated already, and there’s nothing wrong with being adopted… but as a ten-year-old kid… that was really hard to process – Justin
Eventually, victims of narcissistic abuse learn that if they don’t engage with the narcissist, their emotional stability is far better off, and that by engaging with a narcissist, they’re providing their much-needed narcissistic supply. They’ll begin to use techniques designed to achieve this like no contact, gray rocking, or setting boundaries. This will cause a narcissist to try to provoke the victim into a confrontation, this is called baiting.
“When I was 17, I had a girlfriend who saw my brother’s behavior once… and immediately knew there was something wrong. Eventually we were able to figure out that my brother was really narcissistic. Because I couldn’t go no contact, I started to use the gray rock method. I wouldn’t engage in significant conversations; I wouldn’t respond to his passive aggressive behavior… Eventually he did try to bait me. Part of it was the passive aggressive behavior I ignored, but the other things he would try to catch me with was destroying my stuff, physically abusing me, making up lies and telling my parents, and hitting on my girlfriend. IT DIDN’T WORK THOUGH!!”-Mike
Scapegoating & Projection
Scapegoating and projection go hand-in-hand with each other because scapegoating is really just a form of projection, and like the manipulative behavioral patterns listed above, they’re both guaranteed to play a huge role in narcissistic relationships. A scapegoat is someone a narcissist will blame for anything and everything. They are the polar opposites of a golden child. Narcissists need scapegoats because they are unable to regulate their emotions themselves, therefore they target others.
Projection is one of ten defense mechanisms outlined by the work of Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna Freud back in the 1900’s. Keep in mind that we all use defense mechanisms, however the usage of them becomes unhealthy when one over relies on them, like narcissists do. Projection is when someone takes qualities that they despise about themselves and project them onto another person. A simple example of this would be someone being angry that they didn’t get the job they wanted, but instead of looking at their own shortcomings, they go home and tell their partner that they’re a failure.
“I was definitely the family scapegoat, no doubt about it. Both of my parents were very narcissistic, and it was horrible. My sister Jackie was the golden child on steroids… She could do no wrong because it always became my fault. One time she cheated on her math test and got suspended from school, right before the big basketball game, so my parents told the teachers that I was the one who convinced her to cheat. They basically made it sound like she didn’t know what she was doing, and I had manipulated her into cheating on the exam. I ended up getting suspended instead of her and missed my drama club training.”
What Effect Does a Narcissistic Sibling Have On Your Mental Health?
Being in an environment where narcissistic behavior is normalized will always come with a long list of hurdles to overcome. Victims of narcissistic abuse often experience high levels of anxiety, self-doubt, grief, fear, and self-blame. With narcissistic siblings, there’s a more common set of consequences because of the unique relationship siblings tend to have.
The hard part about having narcissistic family members is that they can’t be replaced. They aren’t a narcissistic co-worker who can be cut off, they aren’t a narcissistic friend you can drop, they aren’t a narcissistic partner you can leave. No, they are your family, and for many, the belief that family is all we have is true.
What is most commonly seen among victims of a narcissistic sibling, who don’t have a useful amount of knowledge about narcissism, is the formation of a trauma bond because the victim is constantly trying to win the narcissistic sibling over, help them out, strengthen the relationship and so on.
“I had a trauma bond with my brother for sure. I wanted to have a great relationship with him so badly. I completely neglected my responsibilities in my own family as a father, my personal well-being, and financial stability in pursuit of the relationship.” Justin
Another commonly seen pattern among victims of narcissistic siblings are feelings along the lines of shame, grief, and guilt. This is more common for those who had a tight relationship with their sibling throughout their childhood, but lost them once the full effect of growing up in an unhealthy environment kicked in. The shame, guilt, and/or grief could come because the relationship isn’t what it used to be, guilt from cutting the sibling out of their lives, or shame for having to acknowledge to others that while yes, they have a sibling, they no longer speak anymore.
How Do Parents Enable Narcissistic Siblings?
A narcissist enabler is simply someone who enables narcissistic behavior because they have a significant lack of knowledge about narcissism. Narcissist enablers are notorious for minimizing abusive behavior one may be experiencing. They will tell the victim that they’re being too sensitive, too arrogant, that the situation isn’t as bad as it looks and so on.
Where this dynamic of a parent backing and enabling a narcissistic sibling manifest, is when the victim of narcissistic abuse decides it’s time to completely cut ties with the narcissistic sibling. You can almost guarantee that they will be criticized, shamed, and ultimately cut off from the rest of the family for their decision.
It’s really hard to imagine someone’s personality being so horrible that it would push another from walking away from their family, but it happens all the time. Aside from the infidelity, narcissistic relationships between siblings and between intimate partners, co-workers, and friends are identical. There is an unbearable amount of manipulation, but a dynamic I’d like to zero in on is triangulation.
Triangulation in narcissistic abuse is when the narcissist will drag other people into their shenanigans to help manipulate the victim even more. Sadly, narcissistic siblings do this all the time.
“My sister would use triangulation all the time. Any time we had an argument she would drag one of our parents into it and because she made sure to maintain her superficial innocence for my parents, I always got the short end of the stick… One time she had stolen 300 dollars out of my wallet and when I confronted her, she ran to our mother and said that I was the one who stole it, and she was just taking it back. Somehow my mother felt like it was appropriate to side with her because I had stolen money out of her purse when I was 11, so she assumed I was just being the terrible thief I once was again…” Amy
How to Handle a Narcissistic Sibling
When it comes to handling a narcissistic sibling, the same advice that we’d give those in a narcissistic intimate relationship, friendship, or work environment applies. The first step would be to set boundaries. This could manifest in leaving unhealthy situations by going for a walk or reading a book. The next step would be to go gray rock which is when you don’t engage in any significant conversations, don’t share personal information that would be weaponized against you, and don’t engage when they try to bait you into a conflict.
The most effective step would be to go no contact. No contact is self-explanatory, you completely cut off the narcissist from your life. With that being said, this is not always an option, especially when it comes to a narcissistic sibling. Writing the no contact method off is nothing to be ashamed of, if you feel like setting boundaries and using the gray rock method will be sufficient and keep you safe, then by all means do it. I would suggest that you check out Living With A Narcissist When Leaving Isn’t An Option to get a complete guide on the other techniques I listed above.
For those of you who are not the victim of a narcissistic sibling, but are in the position to intervene, read this next section carefully.
It is crucial that you ensure that you do not enable narcissistic abuse by invalidating the victim’s perception of the situation. Read How to Support Someone In A Narcissistic Relationship for a complete guide on how to be a supporter, but here are the essentials.
Your sole purpose is to be a safe place where the victim of narcissistic abuse will feel heard and validated. It is not your job to try to fix the situation, it is not your job to throw resources and therapeutic suggestions at the victim, and it is certainly not your place to decide whether or not their reality is valid. Your only job is to be a safe haven for the victim of narcissistic abuse, hear their reality, and offer as much empathy as you can.
With that being said, parents of narcissistic children have a slightly different responsibility. I mentioned above that it isn’t our place to try to fix the relationship however, it is for a parent. Before we dive into this, 99.99% times when confronted, a narcissist will deny, project, and gaslight their way out of taking responsibility for their actions. Which is why it’s important to focus on the behavior instead of labeling them as a narcissist.
What Should You Take Away from This Article?
Having a narcissistic sibling can be incredibly sad. A sibling is supposed to be someone who has your back no matter what. However, it is imperative that readers, especially victims of narcissistic abuse, understand that this ideology of unbreakable bond between family members or even intimate partners only applies in healthy relationships.
Failing to recognize that your emotions are being invalidated, your well-being is being ignored, and you’re being manipulated on a daily basis can be detrimental to your emotional and physical stability. THIS IS NOT AN EASY TASK!
Listen, my siblings will always have a place in my life regardless of what personalities they grow into. I can’t imagine ever rationalizing cutting them out of my life, which contradicts everything I’ve stated in this article, but that is entirely my choice and I’ll have to accept the consequences should they arise.
So, as with everything in the narcissistic realm, once provided actionable information on narcissistic behavior, it’s up to the individuals to do something about it. It’s not as easy as it sounds, and it often requires intense therapeutic guidance but overtime we all are capable of regaining control over our own lives.
Get a Free Healing Bundle Every Week!
Get a Free Healing Bundle Every Week!
All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.
Ricky Finzi-Dottan & Orna Cohen (2010) Young Adult Sibling Relations: The Effects of Perceived Parental Favoritism and Narcissism, The Journal of Psychology, 145:1, 1-22, DOI: 10.1080/00223980.2010.528073