A narcissistic family is one in which at least one of the parents is narcissistically preoccupied with their own needs and desires, to the exclusion of their children’s needs and development. Within this toxic dynamic, various narcissistic family roles emerge, each playing a crucial part in how the family operates.
These roles are not merely titles.
They reflect patterns of behavior, expectations, and interactions within the family structure.
From the ‘golden child,’ who can do no wrong in the eyes of the narcissistic parent, to the ‘scapegoat,’ who bears the brunt of all family issues, these roles significantly impact the mental and emotional health of the individuals involved.
These ‘narcissistic family roles’ serve as a coping mechanism for the family to function around the narcissist’s needs.
However, they contribute to a highly damaging environment where empathy, mutual respect, and healthy communication are lacking.
Understanding these roles provides a clearer lens to view and navigate the complexities of a narcissistic family, offering a path towards healing and healthier relationships.
There are Four Main Roles in a Narcissistic Family
Expanding on the roles in a narcissistic family, we can identify four main characters: the narcissist, the enabler, the scapegoat, and the lost child.
The Narcissist: This person is the central figure around which the entire family orbits. They need constant attention and validation, becoming hostile if they do not get the narcissistic supply they so desparately crave.
The Enabler: Usually a spouse or partner, the enabler often strives to maintain a semblance of normalcy within the family. They may justify or deny the narcissist’s behavior, inadvertently supporting and perpetuating the toxic environment.
The Scapegoat: The scapegoat is typically a child who is blamed for the family’s problems. They bear the brunt of the narcissist’s anger and are often subjected to emotional and sometimes physical abuse.
In addition to these roles, narcissistic families occasionally have a “caretaker/placater,” and a “mascot/clown”. These roles highlight the various coping mechanisms children in such families may adopt to survive the toxic environment.
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 Narcissistic Parent
In a narcissistic family structure, the narcissist is the pivotal figure whose needs, desires, and whims dictate the dynamics of the entire family.
Here are some salient characteristics and behaviors of a narcissist in such a family setting:
A narcissist’s world revolves around themselves; their needs and wants always take precedence over others’.
In a family situation, this can mean that they expect their demands to be met without question.
They often disregard the feelings or needs of other family members, creating an environment where everyone else’s needs become secondary.
Excessive Need for Admiration
Narcissists have an insatiable need for constant attention and admiration. They constantly seek validation from their family members.
Any failure to provide this admiration or attention can trigger anger or resentment.
This excessive need for admiration can put undue pressure on family members, who may find themselves constantly trying to appease the narcissist.
Lack of Empathy
One of the most distinctive traits of narcissists is their inability or unwillingness to empathize with others.
They will often not even consider the emotions and needs of their family members.
This lack of empathy can make it difficult for family members to form meaningful emotional connections with the narcissist, leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
This manipulation can create a toxic family environment where family members feel constantly under pressure to meet the narcissist’s expectations.
Aggression and Abuse
Narcissists can be verbally, emotionally, and sometimes physically abusive. They often resort to belittling, criticizing, or even humiliating other family members to assert their dominance.
This aggressive behavior can cause significant emotional distress and can damage the self-esteem and mental health of family members.
Unreliability and Dishonesty
Narcissists are fundamentally untrustworthy due to their willingness to do whatever it takes in order to come out on top.
They will lie or distort the truth to maintain their image or control over the family.
This dishonesty creates an environment of distrust within the family, making it impossible for family members to rely on the narcissist.
Denial of Responsibility
Narcissists often refuse to take accountability for their actions. Instead, they tend to blame others, especially their scapegoat, for any problems or failures.
This denial of responsibility can further fuel the toxic dynamics within the family, as the narcissist never acknowledges their role in creating issues.
The Four Main Narcissistic Family Roles – The Enabling Parent
In a narcissistic family, the enabling parent plays a crucial role in maintaining the unhealthy dynamics.
Either consciously or unconsciously, they allow the narcissist to continue their destructive behaviors.
Here are some key characteristics and behaviors of an enabling parent:
Denial and Minimization
One of the most common traits of an enabler is denial.
They often refuse to acknowledge the narcissist’s harmful behavior or its impact on the family.
This can extend to minimizing the severity of the narcissist’s actions, downplaying them as normal or not as bad as they seem.
This denial serves as a protective mechanism that helps the enabler cope with the situation.
Avoidance of Conflict
Enablers typically avoid conflict at all costs.
They tend to placate the narcissist in order to keep the peace, even if it means ignoring the needs or feelings of others in the family.
This avoidance can lead to further harm as it allows the narcissist’s damaging behavior to continue unchecked.
Justification of the Narcissist’s Actions
Often, the enabler justifies the narcissist’s behavior in order to rationalize what’s happening.
They might make excuses for the narcissist, attributing their actions to stress, work pressure, or even past traumas.
By doing so, they inadvertently support the narcissist’s behavior and propagate the toxic environment.
Lack of Boundaries
Enablers often struggle with setting and maintaining boundaries.
They may allow the narcissist to overstep limits without consequences, further encouraging their destructive behavior.
This lack of boundaries often results in the enabler and other family members feeling disrespected or violated.
Sacrifice of Self and Others
The enabling parent frequently sacrifices their own needs and desires to cater to the narcissist.
They may also sacrifice the well-being of their children by not protecting them from the narcissist’s harmful actions.
This self-sacrifice often leads to feelings of resentment and emotional exhaustion.
Enablers often exhibit codependent behavior.
They may feel responsible for the narcissist’s emotions or actions and work tirelessly to manage these, often at the expense of their own well-being.
This codependency can create an unhealthy cycle where the enabler becomes reliant on the narcissist’s approval or affection.
The Four Main Narcissistic Family Roles – The Golden Child
In a narcissistic family the “Golden Child” is a specific child who is excessively favored or idealized by the narcissistic parent.
This status can lead to distinct behaviors and characteristics, which are both a result of the narcissist’s influence and the child’s coping mechanisms.
The golden child is often expected to excel in various areas such as academics, arts, sports, or any other field that the narcissistic parent values.
The parent projects their own aspirations onto the child, who then feels immense pressure to achieve and maintain this high standard.
The golden child usually enjoys a privileged status within the family.
They receive more attention, praise, and resources from the narcissistic parent.
However, this privilege often comes with strings attached, as the child is expected to comply with the narcissist’s demands and expectations.
Lack of Authenticity
Given their role, the golden child often struggles to develop an authentic sense of self.
They may suppress their own desires, opinions, and feelings to conform to the image that the narcissistic parent has created for them.
This can lead to identity issues later in life.
Sense of Entitlement
Being constantly placed on a pedestal can lead to a sense of entitlement.
The golden child might start to believe they are superior to their siblings or peers.
This can result in arrogance, lack of empathy, and difficulty in forming equal, respectful relationships.
Guilt and Confusion
Despite the seemingly preferential treatment, the golden child often experiences guilt and confusion.
They may feel guilty for the unfair treatment of their siblings and confused about their role in the family.
They may also feel trapped, unable to express discontent or dissatisfaction for fear of losing their golden child status.
Golden children may become emotionally dependent on the narcissistic parent.
Their self-worth is tied to the narcissist’s approval, and they may constantly seek validation from the parent.
This dependence can make it challenging for them to form healthy, independent relationships in adulthood.
The Four Main Narcissistic Family Roles – The Scapegoat
In a narcissistic family, the “Scapegoat” is a term used to describe a family member who is habitually blamed and criticized by the narcissistic parent.
The scapegoat often bears the brunt of the narcissist’s aggression and disappointment.
This role can lead to a variety of distinct behaviors and characteristics.
Frequent Criticism and Blame
The scapegoat is frequently subjected to criticism and blame, even for incidents beyond their control.
They are often held responsible for the family’s problems or the narcissist’s unhappiness.
This continuous negative feedback can severely damage the scapegoat’s self-esteem and self-worth.
Resistance and Rebellion
As a result of the constant criticism, the scapegoat might develop a rebellious streak.
They may challenge the narcissistic parent’s authority and resist their toxic behavior more than other family members.
This resistance can be a healthy response, but it often leads to more punishment from the narcissist.
Despite the abuse, scapegoats often develop an emotional resilience and strength that sets them apart.
They learn to endure and cope with adversity, which can make them more capable of handling life’s challenges as they grow older.
Feelings of Isolation
The scapegoat often feels isolated and excluded from the family unit.
They may feel unloved or unwanted, leading to feelings of loneliness and rejection.
This isolation can have long-term impacts on their ability to form close relationships.
Self-Doubt and Insecurity
Continual blame and criticism can foster self-doubt and insecurity in the scapegoat.
They may constantly question their worth and capabilities, leading to anxiety and depression.
Seeking External Validation
Given the lack of validation at home, the scapegoat may seek approval and acceptance from outside the family.
They might work hard to excel in areas like academics, sports, or other social activities to gain positive recognition.
Strong Sense of Justice
Often, scapegoats develop a strong sense of justice and fairness due to their experiences.
They are likely to stand up against injustice and may be more empathetic towards others who are mistreated.
Less Common Narcissistic Family Roles – The Caretaker/Placater
In a narcissistic family, the “Caretaker” or “Placater” is a member who often takes on the role of appeasing the narcissist and maintaining peace within the family.
This role usually involves sacrificing personal needs to cater to the demands of the narcissist.
Here are some of the key characteristics and behaviors of the caretaker/placater:
The caretaker often serves as the peacemaker within the family.
They try to prevent conflicts and diffuse tense situations, often by placating the narcissist or mediating between the narcissist and other family members.
This constant need to maintain peace can be emotionally draining.
One of the defining traits of a caretaker is self-sacrifice.
They frequently put the needs and wants of the narcissist and other family members before their own.
While this might seem noble, it often leads to neglect of their own emotional and mental well-being.
Caretakers typically possess a high level of empathy.
They are sensitive to the moods and feelings of others, which allows them to anticipate and respond to the narcissist’s demands.
However, this heightened sensitivity can also make them more susceptible to emotional manipulation.
Suppression of Personal Feelings
Caretakers often suppress their own feelings to avoid triggering the narcissist.
They may hide their sadness, anger, or frustration, leading to an internal build-up of emotions.
Over time, this repression can result in anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues.
Need for Approval
The caretaker often seeks approval from the narcissist.
They may strive to meet the narcissist’s expectations, even if it means compromising their own values or desires.
This need for approval can stem from low self-esteem and a fear of rejection.
Difficulty Setting Boundaries
Caretakers often struggle to set and maintain boundaries.
They may allow the narcissist to overstep their limits without asserting themselves.
This lack of boundaries can lead to feelings of being disrespected or violated.
Caretaking in Other Relationships
The caretaker role often extends beyond the family.
Caretakers may find themselves drawn to relationships where they can continue their caretaking behaviors, in the process finding themselves in codependent relationships.
This could be in friendships, romantic relationships, or even professional settings.
Less Common Narcissistic Family Roles – The Mascot/Clown
In a narcissistic family, the “Mascot” or “Clown” is a family member who uses humor as a survival strategy amidst the toxic environment.
They often play the role of the entertainer, using humor to deflect tension and conflict within the family.
Here are some of the key characteristics and behaviors of the mascot/clown:
Use of Humor
The most defining trait of a mascot is their use of humor in stressful situations.
They often crack jokes, make funny faces, or perform antics to lighten the mood when tensions rise in the family.
This humor, however, can sometimes be a mask for their pain and discomfort.
The mascot often seeks attention from the family members, particularly the narcissistic parent.
They come to believe that being the center of attention through humor is the only way they can receive validation or approval.
The mascot’s humor serves as a distraction from the emotional turmoil within the family.
By making others laugh, they shift the focus away from the family’s problems, providing temporary relief for everyone, including themselves.
Difficulty Expressing Emotions
Despite their jovial exterior, mascots often struggle to express their true feelings.
They may hide their sadness, anger, or fear behind a smile or a joke.
This suppression of emotions can lead to internal stress and anxiety.
Mascots generally display high energy levels.
Their lively and animated nature often makes them the life of the party.
However, this constant need to entertain can be exhausting and emotionally draining.
Struggle with Seriousness
While humor can be a useful coping mechanism, mascots often struggle to deal with serious situations appropriately.
They may use humor to avoid confronting their feelings or dealing with difficult circumstances, which can hinder their ability to resolve problems effectively.
Risk of Substance Abuse
In some cases, the mascot may be at risk of substance abuse.
The constant pressure to entertain and hide their true feelings can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, including alcohol or drug use.
The Unspoken Rules and Secrets of Narcissistic Families
Living within a narcissistic family often involves navigating a complex labyrinth of unspoken rules, expectations, and secrets.
At the heart of this family dynamic is the narcissistic parent, who dictates these rules and expects unwavering compliance.
The Narcissist’s Command is Supreme
In a narcissistic family, the narcissist holds the ultimate authority.
Their word is law, and every family member is expected to conform, regardless of the irrationality or harm their commands may cause.
This authoritarian rule creates an environment where fear and obedience reign, suppressing any form of individuality or dissent.
Maintain the Family Image
One of the primary unspoken rules in a narcissistic family is the preservation of the family’s outward image.
The family is often portrayed as a picture-perfect unit, with the narcissist at its helm.
Any evidence to the contrary, such as conflicts, emotional distress, or abuse, must be carefully concealed from outsiders.
Triangulation and Abuse by Proxy
The narcissistic parent may employ tactics like triangulation or abuse by proxy to maintain control.
They could manipulate other family members, also known as ‘flying monkeys‘, to enforce their rules and punish those who defy them.
This strategy not only allows the narcissist to exert power indirectly but also creates division and mistrust within the family.
No Room for Individuality
In a narcissistic family, individuality is often suppressed.
Each family member is expected to fulfill a specific role that serves the narcissist’s needs.
Any attempts to deviate from these assigned roles or express personal desires can be met with severe consequences, leading to a loss of self-identity among the family members.
Silent compliance is another hallmark of a narcissistic family.
Questions, criticism, or open defiance against the narcissist’s rules are strictly forbidden.
Family members learn to suppress their feelings and agree with the narcissist to avoid conflict, further reinforcing the narcissist’s control.
The Narcissistic Blame Game: A Toxic Cycle
In a narcissistic family, blame becomes a toxic cycle that keeps everyone on edge.
The narcissist, with their inflated sense of self-importance and inability to recognize or acknowledge their own faults, perpetually plays the blame game, deflecting any responsibility onto others.
The Scapegoat’s Burden
The scapegoat is often the primary target in this blame game.
If anything goes wrong, regardless of the cause or circumstance, the narcissist will immediately shift the blame onto the scapegoat.
This relentless finger-pointing can be incredibly damaging, eroding the scapegoat’s self-esteem and triggering feelings of guilt and shame.
The Golden Child and the Narcissist
While the scapegoat bears the brunt of the blame, the narcissist and the ‘golden child’ remain unscathed.
The narcissist, due to their inability to accept their faults, and the golden child, due to their favored status, are exempt from blame.
This uneven distribution of responsibility creates a divisive and unfair family dynamic.
The Constant Fear of Blame
In this environment, no one is truly safe from the narcissist’s blame and rage.
The constant fear of becoming the next target fosters a state of anxiety and tension among the family members.
This fear also forces children to choose sides within the family, creating more divisions and conflicts.
Consequences of Enduring the Narcissist’s Wrath
Family members are often forced to endure the narcissist’s unpredictable, explosive, and potentially violent outbursts.
These episodes can be exacerbated by the narcissist’s mental health issues or substance abuse problems, escalating the fear and tension within the family.
The Battlefronts of the Blame Game
Navigating life in a narcissistic family involves constantly dodging multiple battlefronts.
If you’re not aligned with the narcissist, you’re likely to find yourself in their line of fire. This hostile environment can have long-term psychological impacts on the family members.
The narcissistic blame game is a destructive cycle that fosters fear, division, and emotional harm. Recognizing these patterns is the first step towards seeking help and breaking free from this toxic environment
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.
The Enabler – A Path to Empowerment
The enabler is the caregiver who, potentially inadvertently, supports and perpetuates the narcissist’s harmful behavior.
This person usually feels a misplaced sense of responsibility towards the narcissist, believing that they are the only ones capable of helping or understanding them.
The narcissist often manipulates the enabler into a state of learned helplessness, making them feel powerless and unable to stand up for themselves.
Over time, this manipulation erodes the enabler’s self-confidence and strength, making it difficult for them to resist the narcissist’s control or consider leaving the toxic environment.
Empowering oneself as an enabler in a narcissistic family involves recognizing the toxic dynamics, addressing co-dependency, setting boundaries, and learning effective communication.
It’s a challenging journey, but with persistence and professional support, it’s entirely possible to reclaim one’s autonomy and wellbeing
Breaking Free from the Narcissist’s Hold
Despite the challenges, escaping the narcissist’s grip is not impossible.
One effective starting point is addressing co-dependency issues.
This involves examining the dynamics of the relationship with the narcissist and understanding how the enabler’s actions may inadvertently support the narcissist’s harmful behavior.
Learning how to establish boundaries is an essential step towards breaking free from the toxic relationship.
Boundaries can safeguard the enabler’s emotional and mental health, preventing the narcissist from taking advantage of their kindness and empathy.
Developing effective communication skills is another crucial step on the path to empowerment.
Clear, assertive communication can help the enabler express their needs and wants without fear of reprisal.
It allows them to convey their feelings and thoughts without succumbing to the narcissist’s manipulations.
The Future of the Golden Child
If you were raised as the ‘golden child’ within a narcissistic family, it’s crucial to remember that you are not obligated to meet the impossibly high standards set by the narcissist.
Embrace Your Individuality
You are an individual, with your own dreams, aspirations, and values.
It is important to live your life in alignment with what brings you joy and fulfillment, rather than conforming to the narcissist’s expectations.
Building Healthy Relationships
It’s beneficial to cultivate healthy relationships with other family members.
These bonds can act as a buffer against the narcissist’s manipulation and can prevent you from being used as a pawn in their power games.
Avoid Becoming a Narcissist’s Tool
The narcissist will attempt to use the ‘golden child’ as a tool in their arsenal, manipulating them to enforce their control and sowing discord among family members.
By maintaining strong, healthy relationships with other family members, you can resist becoming another instrument in the narcissist’s manipulative strategies.
Seek Professional Help
Remember, acknowledging these dynamics and seeking professional help can be instrumental in navigating the complexities of living in a narcissistic family.
You have the power to define your own identity and build a life based on your own choices, independent of the narcissist’s expectations
The Outlook for the Narcissistic Family Scapegoat
The term ‘scapegoat’ originates from an ancient ritual described in the Bible, where a goat was symbolically burdened with the sins of the people and sent into the wilderness.
In a similar vein, the scapegoat in a narcissistic family is forced to bear the brunt of the blame for the family’s issues and the narcissist’s personal failings.
The Weight of the Scapegoat’s Burden
The scapegoat is often singled out and made to suffer in the place of others.
This treatment can be deeply damaging, leading to feelings of guilt, shame, and low self-esteem.
It’s important to remember that this blame is unjustified and is a reflection of the narcissist’s own issues, not any inherent faults in the scapegoat.
Breaking Free from the Scapegoat Role
Breaking free from the role of the scapegoat is challenging but possible.
This process involves recognizing the toxic dynamics, building supportive relationships outside the family, and seeking professional help to navigate the emotional turmoil.
Asserting Your Worth
Remember, you are not the person the narcissist has painted you to be.
You are deserving of respect, love, and fair treatment.
Asserting your worth and standing up against the unfair blame can be a powerful step towards healing and reclaiming your life.
Finding Strength in Adversity
Despite the challenges, many scapegoats demonstrate remarkable resilience and strength.
The adversity they face can foster a deep sense of empathy and a strong desire to create a healthier and happier life for themselves and others.
In the face of the narcissist’s blame game, remember that you are not alone. There are resources and support available to help you navigate this difficult journey and emerge stronger on the other side.
The Caretaker/Placater – Prioritizing Self-Care
Despite their outward display of strength and composure, the caretaker/placater often struggles with feelings of exhaustion, resentment, and a lack of self-worth.
They may feel trapped in their role and struggle to prioritize their own needs and happiness.
Stepping Out of the Caretaker/Placator Role
Escaping the role of the caretaker/placator involves acknowledging your own needs and setting boundaries within your relationships.
Seeking professional help can provide you with the necessary tools to manage your emotions and establish healthier dynamics within your family.
Remember, it’s not only okay but essential to take care of yourself.
You are not responsible for managing everyone else’s emotions or for keeping the peace at all costs.
Your feelings, needs, and desires are just as important and deserving of attention.
Finding Empowerment in Self-Advocacy
While the role of the caretaker/placater can be emotionally draining, it can also cultivate resilience and empathy.
By learning to advocate for yourself and set boundaries, you can transform this role from a position of self-sacrifice to one of empowerment and self-respect.
The Clown/Mascot – Taking Off the Mask
The ‘clown’ or ‘mascot’ is the narcissistic family member who uses humor as a defense mechanism to deflect attention from the family’s dysfunction and their own pain.
The Burden Behind the Laughter
Despite their seemingly cheerful exterior, the clown/mascot bears a heavy emotional burden.
The constant need to maintain a happy façade can lead to internalized stress and unexpressed emotions.
It’s important to remember that it’s okay to let this mask down and express your genuine feelings.
Breaking Free from the Clown/Mascot Role
Breaking free from the role of the clown/mascot involves acknowledging the underlying emotional turmoil and seeking professional help.
Therapy can provide a safe space to explore these suppressed emotions and develop healthier coping mechanisms.
Remember, you are more than just the comic relief in your family’s narrative.
You have the right to express your true emotions and to be seen for who you truly are, not just for the laughs you can provide.
Finding Strength in Vulnerability
While the role of the clown/mascot can be emotionally challenging, it can also foster resilience and a unique perspective on life.
By acknowledging and addressing your emotional needs, you can turn your role from a defense mechanism into a source of strength and authenticity.
Final Thoughts About Narcissistic Family Roles – 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.
Frequently Asked Questions about Narcissistic Family Roles
The enabler is often the other parent who allows or even facilitates the narcissist’s behavior. This person often denies the existence of any problems and may actively work to maintain the status quo, even at the expense of the children’s wellbeing.
The ‘Golden Child’ is typically favored and excessively praised by the narcissist. They’re often expected to reflect positively on the narcissist and uphold their inflated self-image. However, this favoritism can lead to unrealistic expectations and pressure.
The ‘Scapegoat’ is the family member who is blamed for the family’s problems and the narcissist’s shortcomings. They often bear the brunt of the narcissist’s rage and are treated unfairly.
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Carla Corelli is an author, advocate, and survivor of narcissistic abuse. Having grown up with a narcissistic father, Carla experienced firsthand the profound impact of psychological and emotional abuse. Fueled by her personal journey, she pursued a degree in psychology and has dedicated herself to shedding light on the complexities of narcissistic abuse.
With over fifteen years of experience in writing and advocating for survivors, Carla is deeply committed to providing support, education, and empowerment to those who have endured similar trauma. Through her insightful articles and resources, Carla endeavors to offer a compassionate space for healing and growth, while advocating for greater awareness and understanding of narcissistic abuse.
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