Coming from an emotionally healthy family might be one of your most valuable assets. It will have profoundly positive implications for the rest of your life, and more than likely that of your children’s and children’s children as well. In contrast coming from a highly dysfunctional family maybe one of the biggest challenges you, and possibly your descendants will ever face. From the outside, the normal range healthy family, and the narcissistically run family may seem identical, and both picture perfect to the untrained observer, but the realities of these two families are actually in stark contrast to one another.
Dysfunction in families is caused by many different issues. Alcohol, drug abuse, poor financial situations, and religious fundamentalism maybe relatively simple to identify as causes of troubled families. However, there is a type of family dysfunction that is not easily identified. Insidious in nature. Little understood in society, and more prevalent than you would suppose. At the heart of this type of family dysfunction is narcissism. In these families, at least one of the core caregivers is narcissistic and the whole family is taken hostage around this parent’s veiled and insidious pathology.
In a healthy family, the parents nurture their children and take pleasure in looking out for the child’s emotional health, and long-term well-being, regardless as to how that affects the parent personally. Healthier parents rely on openness, and have an acceptance of their own infallibilities. They have the ability to modify their behaviors and expectations to align with being a positive influence in their children’s upbringing. Healthy parents use honest communication to establish order in the home and refrain from an authoritarian rule, or using emotionally manipulative techniques with their children.
On the other hand, in a family run by a narcissistic parent, the family becomes a vehicle for the narcissist’s pathology. These families often seen to be picture-perfect in every respect, but this is an illusion. The narcissistic parent themselves might look like the pillar stone of good society, but this too is an illusion. The priority in these families is not the children but the personality disordered parent. The children’s emotional needs are not being met. The family is nothing more than an apparatus used to help the narcissistic parent get their fix. The narcissist’s family is used to bolster their ego, quench their thirst for control, satiate their fear of abandonment, and help rid them of any intolerable imperfections or shame they may experience.
What should be a nurturing and loving environment for the raising of children is hijacked. The narcissistic parent redirects this vital family energy into untold numbers of charades. The goal being to harvest applause, adulation, and many other emotions from a handpicked audience. This is done in order to feed their insatiable pathology. The needs of the children or spouse in such families must never impede on this parent’s plans, or threaten their false image. Rather than planning how to nurture each child on their individual paths the narcissistic parent will ponder what roles these children can play in bolstering their personal grandiose visions, with absolutely no regard to the impact this may have on the child. The narcissistic parent will often hinder the proper emotional development and independence of children in order to keep them in the dysfunctional orbit around this parent. Sometimes children may be pushed to succeed on a very high level so the narcissistic parent can live vicariously through their glory, or the jealous personality disordered parent may adopt a strategy to sabotage the child’s ability to be more successful than this parent themselves. Sibling rivalry is usually a given when dealing with these types of families as the narcissistic parent will employ favoritism, forcing children into feuds, and often subtly pitting them against each other.
The Roles Played by Members of a Narcissistic Family
In the narcissistically run family, all family members will orbit around the narcissist in a dysfunctional dance and will be assigned certain rolls. The most important of these roles are the enabler, the golden child, and the scapegoat. These rolls maybe static for life or can be reassigned at certain stages by the narcissist. The enabler parent may also a sign their own personal scapegoat or golden child. Each of these roles has a job to play in making the dysfunctional family functional.
The Role of the Enabler
The enabler is usually the narcissist’s spouse or the other parent but in certain situations it can be a child. This parent often has come from a dysfunctional family, or some previous trauma. They may be naïve, brainwashed from being gaslighted over many years, dependent or codependent in nature. Not all narcissist’s spouses become enablers. Those spouses that stay with the narcissist for life in a fairly congenial manner, are the strongest enablers, and are usually inverted narcissists, or are narcissists themselves. The role of the enabler is to tend to the narcissist needs. Be the narcissist’s marketing department. Manipulating the family’s perceptions of the narcissistic parent in a more positive way. The enabler makes excuses for the narcissistic parent’s bad behaviors, and is often the mouthpiece for the personality disordered parent. The enabler parent often plays the go-between in the well documented triangulated communications so prevalent in these types of families. The enabler parent also neglects their duties towards the children as their overwhelming major concern is their narcissistic spouse. The enabler parent will except even out rages acts perpetrated by their narcissistic spouse towards their own children, and on some occasions, will actually join forces with the narcissistic parent in attacking the scapegoated child, or may choose to attack the scapegoat on their own at will. Sometimes this behavior will be interspersed with random acts of kindness causing much confusion. The enabler will often downplay any good characteristics they (the enabler) has, thus reframing from clashing with their narcissistic spouses supreme and grandiose pathology. It is the enabler parent’s job to hide the true nature of the narcissist, constantly work on damage control, allow the dysfunctional family behaviors to continue unchecked, and keep the narcissistic parent’s inflated false image intact at all times.
An additional note: – At certain times the narcissist may scapegoat their enabler spouse as well, but the enabler refuses to see this and always goes back for more.
The Role of the Golden Child
The role of the golden child is to be a vessel that the narcissist can live vicariously through. The golden child is seen by the narcissistic parent as the fruit of their loins, and therefore an added glorious projection of the parent themselves. Any accomplishments this child produces are therefore perceived by the personality disordered parent as coming directly from this parent themselves. The narcissistic parent also projects good things onto the golden child. This child will be treated better than all the other children, and will be seen by the family, no matter what the reality is, as wonderful, intelligent, good looking, hard-working, or whatever is important to this particular narcissist. The golden child is the most likely to grow up and become a narcissist like their parent. Due to innate survival instincts in the other children including the golden child, they will blind themselves to any injustices that take place within the narcissistic family. The exceptions being those perceived to be perpetrated by the scapegoat, or against the narcissistic parent. It is the job of the golden child to be the fake poster board for the perfect family, and an added extension through which their cluster B parent can harvest their narcissistic supply, this being adoration attention and many other emotions from others.
The Role of The Scapegoat
The narcissistic parent need somebody in the family to dump their rage on. To project their undesirable negative traits upon. Pathological narcissists are unable to acknowledge faults or flaws in themselves or what they have created, therefore they require a scapegoat to download all their unacceptable faults on. The role of scapegoat is usually assigned to the most sensitive outspoken, or different child. Sometimes a child that is impaired in some way is picked as they are shameful to the cluster B parent. The scapegoat is mistreated by the whole family no matter what they do, or how hard they try. The scapegoat endures a lifetime of blame, shame, ostracizing, neglect and emotional abuse by the entire family. This behavior, like an infection can be spread to future generations who are in contact with the infected members. The scapegoat takes on the blame, shame and failures in the narcissistic family. It is the scapegoats job to be the sacrifice, so the narcissistic parent’s warped unbending personality can function unhindered by any flaws, and to allow the dysfunctional family to blind themselves to the terrible and traumatic truth, that is, that their entire life is actually a lie.
Children coming out of narcissistically run families have received severe emotional scarring. Depending on the roles they played and the severity of the situation these implications will impact the remainder of their, their spouses and their children’s lives. It’s good to remember when it comes to families, that, “All that glitters is not gold,” and therein lies the real danger of narcissistically run families. The dysfunction and abuse is so insidious and hidden due to the way these families operate. The family members orbit around the narcissist in their casted rolls. keeping the pathology hidden while holding up the façade of a perfectly healthy family. Due to this behavior, the emotional damage can continue for many years undetected. Many times, not even seen by the victims themselves. This resulting in untold pain and suffering to the direct victims, plus now also impacting society, as these children unknowingly spread the pathology as possible narcissists, dependence, codependence, inverted narcissists, and enablers.
Greater public knowledge of narcissism, its insidious nature, and the many implications of this amongst the general population is by far our best defense in curbing this very destructive, and ever-growing epidemic in our society.