A narcissistic family is one in which at least one of the parents is excessively preoccupied with their own needs and desires, to the exclusion of their children’s needs and development. In some cases, they are so wrapped up in their own lives that they have little time or energy for their children, who end us seriously neglected. Alternatively, they may be so controlling and demanding that the children feel constantly stressed and anxious.
In a narcissistic family, the children learn to put the needs of their parents before their own, and they may develop distorted views of themselves and others as a result.
There are Four Main Roles in a Narcissistic Family:
The Narcissist. Usually a parent, this individual often dominates conversations and decisions, disregards the feelings or needs of others, and expects special treatment.
The Enabler. Typically another parent who enables the narcissist’s behavior by shielding them from criticism and not challenging their choices.
The Golden Child. Usually one of the children in the family who is favored by the narcissist and given special attention.
The Scapegoat. Also one of the children in the family who is targeted with blame for any problems within the family dynamic and used as an excuse for anything that goes wrong.
In this blog post, I will discuss what each of these narcissistic family roles entail. I will also consider the impact on the person who is forced into each role and the long term outlook for each member of the narcissistic family.
Narcissistic Family Roles
Narcissistic families invariably have one member who is the centre of attention and who demands constant admiration and approval. This is the narcissist, who uses the other members of the family, including the children, to meet their own needs for admiration and approval, while being emotionally unavailable and never giving anything back.
The narcissist is usually the parent, but on occasion it can also be an older sibling.
The narcissist might have overt narcissistic characteristics, such as grandiosity or lack of empathy. They could also display covert characteristics, such as perfectionism or hypersensitivity. In some cases they might even exhibit a mix of both.
The Four Main Narcissistic Family Roles – The Narcissist
The narcissist is the dominant figure in a narcissistic family and they control everyone’s actions. They crave attention and validation, and will resort to belittling, criticising or humiliating other family members if they don’t get it.
This can be emotionally damaging to the other members of the family, who often feel unheard and powerless in the face of this behaviour. It can also cause further issues, such as low self-esteem, anxiety and depression.
The Four Main Narcissistic Family Roles – The Enabler
The enabler is usually the other parent in a narcissistic family. Their role is to assist the narcissist in maintaining control over other family members. They will do whatever it takes to please the narcissist, even if it means accepting or justifying their bad behaviour.
The enabler desperately tries to keep the peace in the family dynamic, often at the expense of the children, who end up as collateral damage in the havoc wreaked by their narcissistic parent.
Enablers are often codependent on the narcissist. They find it difficult, if not impossible, to stand up to them as they have been conditioned to acquiesce. As a result, they may feel locked in a cycle of enabling bad behaviour by the Narcissist and being unable to break free. This can lead to feelings of guilt and shame, as well as an inability to put their own needs first.
The Four Main Narcissistic Family Roles – The Golden Child
The golden child is the narcissist’s favourite child. He or she is often given special treatment and privileges that other family members don’t have. The golden child is expected to meet the high standards that the narcissist sets, and they often feel that they cannot ever live up to their parents’ expectations, which can lead to anxiety and depression.
As the golden child grows older, they often come to resent living in the shadow of the narcissist and may develop their own narcissistic tendencies.
The Four Main Narcissistic Family Roles – The Scapegoat
The scapegoat is the family member who absorbs all of the narcissist’s anger and blame. This child is the one who is made to absorb all of the narcissist’s anger and blame. They may be held to impossibly high standards, criticized or belittled, and never given any credit for their accomplishments.
As a result, they may grow up feeling isolated, misunderstood and resentful. Unfortunately this can set them up for a life of unhappiness, since it makes it hard for them to trust people or form meaningful relationships.
Other Less Common Narcissistic Family Roles
The narcissistic family roles I described above are the most common. However there are other less common roles that can occur in a narcissistic family.
The lost child is a family member who retreats from the dysfunction of their environment in order to survive. They may choose to focus on personal interests as a way of coping and finding solace during challenging times. While this can be an effective way of dealing with trauma, these children ultimately still need to process what they are going through.
The invisible child is often a forgotten member of the family. They are ignored by the narcissist and have no option but to fend for themselves in order to survive.
Loving parents encourage their children to be kind and close to one another. Narcissistic parents, on the other hand, pit their children against each other and try to turn them into enemies. This is why siblings living in a narcissistic family seldom develop any emotional bonds with one another.
The Unspoken Rules and Secrets of Narcissistic Families
In narcissistic families each family member is walking through a minefield of unspoken rules dictated by the narcissistic parent. Children must adhere to the family legends and mandates issued by the narcissist in order to be accepted.
The narcissistic parent will make the life of any child who does not conform a living hell. They can either do this directly or through triangulation or abuse by proxy. In other words they use other family members as their flying monkeys to do their dirty work for them.
Everyone is required to submit to the narcissist’s command, no matter how ignorant, capricious, unpleasant, or abusive it may be.
A Constant Blame Game
If something goes wrong, the narcissist will immediately point their finger at anyone other than themselves. Obviously that someone can never be the narcissist or the golden child. Typically, it is the family scapegoat who bears the main burden of the family’s issues, frustration, and unhappiness, as well as the dominant narcissist’s projected self-loathing.
Unfortunately, the scapegoat often experiences this shaming treatment for years, and the impact on their self-esteem can be crippling. Despite the fact that the scapegoat is the one who is subject to the most abuse, everyone is on edge since no one is safe from blame and rage.
Children frequently have to make a decision between their parents, siblings, and other family members. Consequently, there are always multiple battlefronts, and if you are not on the narcissist’s side, you will be in the line of fire.
Family members have to uncomplainingly tolerate the narcissistic parent’s deranged, explosive, and potentially violent fury, which might be amplified by various forms of mental illness or addiction.
What is the Outlook for each of These Narcissistic Family Roles?
The outlook for each of these narcissistic family roles is highly dependent on the individual. Some people are able to break free from the narcissistic family dynamic and the roles assigned to them by the narcissist, and lead healthy, happy lives. Others might struggle for many years and end up developing their own narcissistic tendencies.
If you are the narcissist:
The first step is to recognise that you have a problem and that your behaviour is impacting negatively on your family members. Once you have done this, you can start to work on changing your behaviour. This will be a difficult process, but it is possible with dedication and hard work.
If you are the enabler:
The enabler believes that they are the only one who can help the narcissist and they feel responsible for them. In addition, the narcissist has usually brainwashed the enabler into a state of learned helplessness. As a result they simply do not have the strength to stand up to the narcissist or to walk away.
That said, it is not impossible to break free from the stranglehold of the narcissist. Working on co-dependency issues is a good place to start. This will help you to break free from the toxic relationship with the narcissist and learn how to set boundaries. It is also important to learn how to communicate effectively with the narcissist so that you can start to express your needs and wants.
If you are the golden child:
It is important to recognise that you are not responsible for meeting the narcissist’s high standards. You are your own person and you should live your life in a way that makes you happy. Work on developing healthy relationships with other family members so you don’t become yet another weapon in the narcissist’s arsenal.
If you are the scapegoat:
There is not much a scapegoat can do to change the role their narcissistic parent has cast them in. Unfortunately the only solution for many scapegoats when they grow up is to distance themselves as much as possible from the toxicity of their family of origin.
It is important to recognise that the narcissist’s behaviour is not your fault. You are not responsible for their anger or their need to control others. It is also important to build a support network of family and friends who understand what you are going through. These people can provide you with the love and support that you need to heal from the narcissistic family dynamic.
If you are the lost child:
The impact on the lost child can be lessened by maintaining outside interests and hobbies. It is also important to build strong relationships with people who understand and support you. These relationships can provide you with a sense of belonging and help you to feel less isolated from the world.
If you are the invisible child:
It is important to focus on your own needs and wants. The narcissist has likely been ignoring you for many years, so it is time to start putting yourself first. It is also important to develop healthy relationships outside of the family so that you have people to turn to for support. You might also want to consider therapy as a way of dealing with the pain of being ignored by the narcissist.
No matter what role you play in a narcissistic family, it is important to remember that you are not responsible for the narcissist’s behaviour. The abuse and bad behaviour is a choice that the narcissist makes and you are not responsible for their choices. You can, however, take steps to improve your own wellbeing and create a better life for yourself. Seek out support from family and friends, or consider therapy as a way of dealing with the pain of being in a narcissistic family.
It’s important to ask for help
The pathological dynamics in narcissistic families are incredibly destructive and damaging to all members involved. Furthermore, the secretive nature of these relationships often means that those involved are unable to speak out or seek help, leading to further toxic cycles of emotional and psychological abuse.
It is vital for family members who have experienced or are experiencing narcissistic abuse to take steps towards getting the support they need in order to break free from the destructive cycle and create positive change in their lives. It requires strength and courage, but professional guidance and understanding can help provide a safe space to unpack feelings, rebuild self-esteem, and develop healthy coping mechanisms. With the right support system in place, it is possible to move forward in life feeling empowered rather than requiring secrecy or isolation.
Posts about Toxic Parents
The Negative Impact of Growing Up with a Narcissistic Parent
How to Recognize and Respond to Emotional Abuse from Parents
Co-Parenting with a Narcissist – Challenges, Strategies and How to Support Your Children
Homophobic Parents And The Effects On Their LGBTIQ+ Child
Parental Alienation – The Destructive Impact on Parents and Children
The Tangled Web of Narcissism and Parenting – Unravelling the Effects on Children
Narcissistic Family Roles – The Complicated Dynamics of Narcissistic Families
Is the Golden Child Destined to Become a Narcissist?
Surviving Narcissistic Parenting – My Journey to Reclaiming my Voice and Identity
Not Just a Difficult Parent – Recognizing the Signs of a Narcissistic Parent