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Narcissistic Families: 21 Traits and How to Recognize Them

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No family is perfect. There is always something that prevents us from saying categorically that our childhood was completely happy since that some discussion, inappropriate comment or emotional tension clouded one or another day of our childhood.

This does not mean that all families are bad, but that they are human. It is not possible to have a perfect and happy family, and whoever says that is lying to himself and to others. However, this is not to say that there are not dysfunctional and toxic families.

There are several characteristics that we can identify in the narcissistic family. Throughout the following paragraphs, we are going to delve into the roles, the process, the structure and the way of understanding the intra-family relationships of this dysfunctional type of family.

  • It may interest you: "Narcissistic people: these are the 9 traits that define them"

Narcissistic families: common characteristics and how to recognize them

On more than one occasion our family has done or said something that we did not like. We all have a thorn in the tooth, something our parents did to us that prevents us from talking about our childhood as a completely happy period. Nobody is perfect and families are less so, a reality that does not mean that all of them are dysfunctional or bad, but that evidences the fact that good things and bad things happen in all families, overcoming adversity when it occurs.

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There is no family that lives happily and peacefully every day of its life, since there are ups and downs in life and families are influenced by them. However, there are better and worse families, and narcissists are an example of this. They are families where the damage is very deep and frequent that are characterized by rigidity, blame, emotional manipulation and ruthless criticism.

A narcissistic family is one in which the parents' needs are at the center and the children are expected to satisfy them, an inverse pattern to that of a healthy family. Instead of being the father or mother who acts as a healthy family role model and supports the children and fosters their development, it is the children themselves who play these roles. All of this results in an environment of neglect, abuse and denial, unrealistic expectations, lack of empathy, and constant conflict.

The characteristics of narcissistic families are varied and in the next sections we will see them delving into the roles, the training processes and silent rules present in them.

Roles in the narcissistic family

In the narcissistic family we can recognize various roles carried out by its members. Each family member contributes in their own way to endow the family with toxicity and dysfunctionBut what makes this a narcissistic family is undoubtedly the presence of a primary narcissist who makes the family revolve around him.

1. Main narcissist

This role is usually played by one of the parents, usually the father. The narcissist drags a deep emotional wound, whose origin dates back to childhood, which has led to the development of a great personality, perfectionist, intolerant of mistakes. Since his self-concept and self-esteem are very fragile, the main narcissist needs to highlight the misfortunes and weaknesses of others in order to keep his ego high.

Added to this, this character uses his own children and spouse as if they were a game board. chess, assigning roles at her convenience, and if they don't do what he or she wants, the conflict. That is why your children spend much of their time thinking about how to avoid such conflicts with their father or mother and avoid their ruthless and acid anger.

The main narcissist doesn't even wear this name. They take their own needs as a priority, after those of others if it involves any kind of benefit. From this type of thinking, he builds abusive, negligent and harmful behavior for life as a family and as a couple. If someone dares to confront him and rebels against him or her, he is unable to understand such ingratitude and unloads her rage and paranoia against the dissident.


2. Codependent

The codependent could also be the narcissist's accomplice. It is the one that facilitates the behavior of the main narcissist and usually falls on the figure of the spouse or one of the children, especially the oldest. They are those people who want to convey the message of "nothing happens", that all this is normal, denying the obvious fact that is in a family with toxic and abusive dynamics, on many occasions incurring verbal, psychological and physical.

The codependent has so little self-esteem that it leads him to accept a supposed smallness in the face of the grandeur that the main narcissist displays, even if it is no more than a facade. Codependents are treated manipulatively, alternating the kind way with abuse and harassment.

3. Flying monkeys

Flying monkeys are usually the children or other relatives. They are the relatives who take on the dirty work of the narcissistic family, consisting of one or more family members who actively seek criticism and conflict. They generate and maintain tension motivated by the principle of "divide and conquer".

They are experts in creating sides, generating situations of two or more against one. Those involved in these conflicts change over time and after each crisis, chosen by these flying monkeys both on their own and guided by the main narcissist. It could be said that they are little narcissists, apprentices of the master the main narcissist.

4. Golden child

His name says it all. The golden child is the favorite, the one idealized by the narcissistic parent, made in the image and likeness of the desires that his father has. He complies with everything that the narcissist asks of him, showing blind obedience, which supposes the isolation of the other members of the family, who see him as the spoiled little boy. However, he also carries a heavy burden on his shoulders, as the slightest failure, disappointment, or iota of critical thinking will turn him from favorite to scapegoat.

5. Scapegoat

In narcissistic families, the presence of someone who acts as a scapegoat is essential. The pathological system chooses who will exercise this role based on how different it is with respect to the group or how it moves away from what is seen as “the ideal member” of the family. He may be a rebellious person, critical of the family, or empathic towards those who are victims of the main narcissist. This causes them to be singled out as the culprits of the problems, also being victims of the narcissist and his flying monkeys.

6. Neutral child

The neutral child is intended to act as a retaining wall between pathological narcissists and the rest of the family. He wants to calm things down and chooses not to take sides with each other. Despite his neutrality, in a naturally pathological and dysfunctional environment such as that of a narcissistic family, not taking sides is unhealthy added in addition to the fact that you cannot enjoy good mental health trying to contain an unbearable reality such as psychological abuse family.

7. Lost son

The lost child is the invisible child, not seen or taken into account by his own parents. Your strategy for surviving family narcissism is not to make noise, not to be noticed, or to make demands. that despite being ignored, in this type of family it seems that it is more appropriate for them to ignore you than not for them to be primed with you.

But despite applying a defense to go unnoticed in front of their own parents and avoid being a victim of attacks of the main narcissist, this makes them also the ones who suffer the most from the drama of neglect emotional.

Formation and maintenance processes of the narcissistic family

Each family is a world and this also applies to narcissistic families, however, it is true that we can identify a series of processes shared between this type of groups that causes them to become pathological, in addition to maintaining pathological styles in relationships interpersonal.

1. Parentification

Parentification is the reversal of roles between parents and children. One of the sons, usually the oldest, is chosen to perform tasks that are not for his age., including taking care of siblings, cooking, being a confidante and even bringing money home.

Parentification represents a serious limitation of the freedoms and rights of children and adolescents that it brings with it a great damage on a psychological level, since the young person feels frustrated at not being able to behave like a child of his age. You may feel special or more important for a while, but when you grow up, you will suffer the consequences, including believing that love must be earned by working.

Gaslighting is a sadly common behavior. It consists of making another person doubt their own perceptions of reality, get you to think you have a mental disorder or some type of cognitive dysfunction, showing you a twisted or distorted reality based on what the main narcissist wants to get. It is, without a doubt, a sign of psychological abuse.

The projection consists of seeing in other people thoughts, feelings, attitudes and beliefs that are really of oneself, but that one is not willing to accept or recognize. The projection is typical in the narcissist, since there is nothing that distorts the perception of oneself than one's own vanity.

4. Defamation

Slander campaigns are common in narcissistic families, constants whose only variable is the victim and the reason for which they are defamed. Gossip, lies, pejorative comments... behaviors typical of a playground with spoiled adolescents but perpetrated by parents and children.

The reason behind can be very diverse, but Revenge for having been offended or fear that the victim will unmask a mistake made by the main narcissist is usually common and bring down its manipulative power.

5. Idealization and devaluation

In narcissistic families, situations of insane competition are common. Narcissistic parents or children seek to divide and confront their children, siblings, and other family members in order to better control them. One of the best strategies for this is to idealize some and devalue others, or what is the same, favor some and destroy others.

On the one hand we have to exaggerate the benefits of some children, showing off them in front of the other offspring, while on the other they apply devaluation tactics such as criticizing, blaming, humiliating and shaming those children who have taken a bite out of them and have become the goats expiatory. Be that as it may, in both cases the narcissist is unable to see objectively what the person they are idealizing is like and what they are devaluing.

How to recognize a narcissistic family?

Finally, we are going to see a series of rules and behaviors that regulate the functioning of the narcissistic family, which can help us to recognize this type of family nucleus.

The silent rules that follow are the result of the hard work done by educator and journalist Julie L. Hall, author of the book "The Narcissist in Your Life: Recognizing the Patterns and Learning to Break Free", a book that has helped thousands of people break free from their narcissistic family environments.

1. Conditional acceptance

To gain acceptance from their parents, children must comply with what adults order them, complying with the family narrative and value system. Any aspect that differs from what is expected of them, however trivial, is rejected and even pathologized.

2. Submission

Main narcissists expect the rest of the family to submit to their designs, regardless of whether your requests are totally arbitrary, cruel and derogatory towards the mental and physical health of the people you are asking for the favor.

3. There is always a scapegoat

All narcissistic families have a scapegoat. When the father loses his job, the mother burns the food, a little brother breaks a toy... whatever happened, someone must pay the price, even if it has nothing to do with it. remote. The scapegoat must bear the burden of others, their frustrations and unhappiness, as well as the projected self-loathing of the primary narcissist.

4. Accidents seen as weaknesses

The slightest mistake, however accidental and unconscious, is seen as a weakness that will cause the main narcissist treats the perpetrator in a shameful and humiliating way, even for several years.

5. Absolute partiality

In these families it is almost impossible to maintain a neutral position since all its members are immersed in dynamics of "either you are with me or you are against me". If you are not on the side of the dominant narcissist, he will always blame you.

Trying not to take sides as an adult in this type of family is complicated, but possible, which is not so much when you are a child and you have to take sides with one of the two parents, a brother or other members of the family.

6. There is never enough love and respect for everyone

Love and respect are limited resources in narcissistic families. Narcissistic parents only invest these types of resources in their favorite child or whom they consider worthy of love and respect. There is no middle ground: if they respect a child they disrespect others.

7. Repression of emotions

Emotions are seen as a sign of weakness and are repressed in narcissistic families. Despite the fact that feelings make us human, helping us to connect and adapt to the social context, in this type of family they are considered a sign of selfishness and self-centeredness.

This, however, is different when expressed by the main narcissist, the only person considered by himself. as worthy of expressing his concerns, emotions and opinions, even if this means disrespecting his relatives.

8. Outbursts of anger from the main narcissist

Family members have to swallow and endure the outbursts of anger from the main narcissist, characterized as irrational and unjustified. He behaves in a despotic way with his children, regardless of their age or their degree of understanding of what the narcissist attributes to them having done. These intense outbursts of disproportionate anger are worrisome, a possible symptom of mental disorder.

9. Constant denial of abuse

In narcissistic families, despite having a long history of stressful and abusive moments, these are systematically denied, especially by the dominant narcissist. It is common for him to even maintain that his family is really healthy and functional, the example of a perfect family, despite the obvious problems that exist in it materialized in:

  • Abusive incidents
  • Constant fear
  • Abuse of the scapegoat
  • Negligence

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