When we are part of a narcissist family, it can be hard to tell that what we are experiencing isn’t normal. Narcissist parents create a family structure that keeps us helpless and feeling like we are the problem. Here is what defines a narcissistic family structure.
Narcissist family structures tend to be manipulative, judgmental, and divisive. Most common is the narcissist parent, with a codependent spouse, and children who focus on the narcissist’s needs first. Narcissistic families are two faced, with a false image they portray for everyone outside which seems close, but masks the dysfunctional reality within.
These are nine signs that you are part of narcissistic family
The Parent Who Is the Center of the Universe
Generally, in narcissistic families one of the parents is the narcissist. A narcissistic parent —
- Makes everything about them
- Trains you to walk on eggshells around them
- Is emotionally unavailable
- Creates unnecessary drama
- Is endlessly manipulative
I’ve written extensively on how to identify and deal with narcissistic mothers and fathers —
The Golden Child
A key character in the narcissistic family is the golden child.
Narcissistic parents tend to choose one or two of their children as a symbol of their personal success. This child can do no wrong. Everything about them is perfect and beyond reproach.
The golden child is often choose because they are the most dependent on the narcissistic parent, having a weak or easily impressionable personality that the narcissist can easily control.
A counter point to the golden child is the family scapegoat. This is usually another, more strong willed, child. But, can also be the other parent or extended family member.
The scapegoat is the cause of all ills, can do almost nothing right, and is selfish or petty tyrant who victimizes the poor narcissist. At least in their own mind.
Narcissistic parents love to play on the dynamic of the scapegoat and golden child to develop conflict between family members. This prevents close bonding which the narcissist fears may usurp their rightful role as the center of attention.
The Codependent Parent
Narcissistic spouses tend to prefer significant others who can be easily manipulated. They do everything in their power to make the other parent cover for them, be dependent on their approval, and attentive to their every wish.
Having a codependent parent is a strong sign of a Narcissistic family structure.
For more information on how narcissists manipulate their romantic partners, see my previous article —
The Forgotten Child
In the dynamic between scapegoat, golden child, and codependent spouses, middle children of larger families tend to get lost.
This poor child may be ignored, forgotten, cut out, and even completely isolated from the family.
Sometimes, the child is left out by accident. Other times, the narcissist parent is giving this child the silent treatment as a form of narcissistic abuse. The cycle of narcissistic abuse is described here —
The Inner Circle Mentality
Narcissistic family structures almost always develop in to an us verses them mentality. This manifests itself in two ways:
The first is the internal inner circle mentality. Within the narcissistic family itself, there will be a division between the in crowd, and the. If there is a certain group in the family that is contently being “forgotten about,” ignored, but in separated tables at family events, talked down upon, or otherwise cut out, then they are probably the ones currently designated as outside the inner circle.
The second form is the in the family verse outside the family dichotomy. Narcissistic families are constantly putting on face for guests that exceeds normal courtesy or good manners. Leaders of toxic families are constantly afraid that their dirty laundry might get out, and will constantly caution their children against showing their true self in public.
Narcissistic family structures tend to develop an extreme over competitiveness that stems from the narcissist’s desired to be better than everyone else and to be the center of attention.
Narcissist will foster a competitive and entrusting attitude between siblings.
They also often feel threatened by their own children, and may be indirectly competing with them. This often takes the form of subtle jabs about how good the narcissist was at that age, and how successful they were in school, etc. In extreme cases narcissist parents may attempt to date or attract their children’s the romantic partners or love interest in order to one-up them.
The Instigating Party
Because of the cycle of abuse that exists in narcissistic families, there generally is one or more family members that try to stir up trouble. While this may primarily be the narcissist in some families, on others siblings or event the other parent will pitch in a cause trouble.
For more information on how this works, see my article on triangulation in narcissistic families —
The Adult Child (Parentifying)
Lastly, narcissistic parents tend to reverse the roles of parent and child (which is sometimes called parentifying).
When this happens, a narcissist parent expects their children to take care of them, make them feel good, and support them. Rather than the other way around.
This can take the form of —
- Financial support
- Children taking on more than normal responsibility in the family
- Guilt trips aimed from parent to child
- Putting the parent’s desires before everyone else’s
What is a narcissistic family system?
A narcissistic family system is one where a narcissist has manipulated the family to 1) put the narcissist before everyone else, 2) stimulate drama for the excitement of it 3) divide the family so it can’t unite against the narcissist