Childhood Roles Developed in a Narcissistic Family
You were raised in an environment where the needs of one or both parents always came first. You learned at an early age how to comfort, appease, and cater to your parent. You always felt compared to and pitted against your sibling(s) and there never seemed to be enough love to go around. If any of this sounds familiar, you may have grown up in a dysfunctional, narcissistic family.
What is a Narcissistic Family?
A narcissistic family describes a family where one or both parents exhibit narcissistic personality traits which significantly impacts the family dynamics. The parent(s) are absorbed with their own needs and dismissive of the needs of their child(ren). Family members are often forced to adapt specific roles and functions to please the narcissistic parent and survive amongst this dysfunction.
Common Roles in the Narcissistic Family
Below are some roles that children tend to adapt to cope with a narcissistic parent(s). Keep in mind that roles can vary based on the traits of each individual and family.
Scapegoat: The child who is frequently blamed by the narcissist for the problems of the family. The narcissistic parent uses the scapegoat to deflect blame and avoid accountability for their actions. Other family members may antagonize the scapegoat to win the narcissist’s favor or avoid the narcissist’s wrath.
Golden Child: The narcissistic parent views this child as an extension of themselves. The narcissist assigns favorable traits to this child to inflate their own ego and self-worth. The golden child begins to believe they are only worthy when excelling in activities approved by the narcissist. The narcissistic parent tends to pit the golden child and scapegoat against each other causing an unfortunate rift in the sibling relationship.
See-er/Truth Teller: The one “who gets it.” Often there is a child or family member that recognizes toxic patterns in the family and is aware of unhealthy and inappropriate behaviors. They question the dynamics of the family and will occasionally give push back to the narcissist. Truth Tellers can end up feeling lonely and frustrated since many family members will enable and support the narcissist out of fear or psychological manipulation. The narcissistic parent is threatened by the Truth Teller’s awareness and will attempt to gaslight or ostracize the Truth Teller.
Adults can also adapt roles in response to the family dynamics set by a narcissist. Below are common roles frequently reported in families where at least one parent exhibits narcissistic traits:
Narcissist: Parent/adult who exhibits narcissistic traits or has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This person places their needs above others and employs manipulative tactics to get these needs met.
Enabler: An individual who condones and encourages the behavior of the narcissist. Often the enabler has learned that they can avoid the narcissist’s wrath by enabling narcissistic abuse and giving into manipulation.
Narcissist by Proxy: A victim of narcissistic abuse who adapts the traits of the narcissistic abuser. This is often due to a phenomenon in which victims begin to identify and sympathize with their abuser which creates a bond, and subsequently, the illusion of control for the victim.
Impact of Growing Up in a Narcissistic Family
Growing up in a narcissistic family feels like you’re always waiting for the next explosion. Adults who experienced these dynamics as children are more prone to the following:
Depression and hopelessness – Trauma Responses – Anxiety and fear – Low self-esteem – Difficulty with trust and intimate relationships – Co-dependency – Indecisiveness – People-pleasing behaviors – Perfectionism – Confusion – Criticism of others
How to Cope with a Narcissistic Family?
Set Boundaries: Therapy can help you learn to set healthy boundaries within your family. This can include limiting phone calls, visits, and conversations. This can also include setting emotional boundaries within yourself.
Go No Contact: Therapy can help you explore if going no contact with a family member is the healthiest option for you. This can be a difficult choice to make which is why counseling is an important part of the process to help guide you through this decision.
Validate Yourself: Individuals raised in a narcissistic family rarely received validation. It’s important to provide yourself that validation now. Remember your feelings are valid and appropriate. Give yourself a pep talk before and after engaging with a narcissistic family member.
Get Connected With a Therapist: You don’t have to struggle through this process alone. Breaking away from a narcissistic family dynamic can be confusing and scary. Working with a therapist can help you sort through your feelings and increase your self-worth.
Get Started with Therapy for Narcissistic Abuse
I offer therapy for people who have experienced narcissistic abuse in Tennessee and Georgia. Contact me today to make an appointment!
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