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Dealing with Narcissism in a Family


Does anyone in your family have several or all of these characteristics?


  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (for example, exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).

  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.

  • Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).

  • Requires excessive admiration.

  • Has a sense of entitlement.

  • Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.

  • Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.

  • Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.

  • Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

Per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders these are signs of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Of course, there are varying degrees of narcissism, and some are exhibited overtly, while others are more covert. Some may be so covert that they take a while to recognize.


Narcissists often find and target a victim. One might be a victim of narcissist behavior at work or in other contexts; this article addresses narcissism in families. As a member of a family in which someone is a narcissist, you might wonder, “Is something wrong with me” because narcissists direct blame and shame away from themselves. They do not think they ever do anything wrong and therefore, do not apologize for anything.


Narcissist Family Dynamics


Family dynamics revolve around the narcissist member, such as a parent, who needs a constant supply of admiration and praise. As a result, family members take on roles, often unconsciously. One such role is the scapegoat, who gets and takes the blame for everything. A narcissist parent may turn the rest of the family against that person and often insults and puts that person down. This parent might even pit people in the family against each other. Narcissists thrive on control, which involves making one child the scapegoat. Due to insecurity, a narcissist parent projects the weaker side of themselves on the scapegoat child.


This behavior erodes trust and steals the scapegoat child’s sense of belonging in the family. A scapegoat child may also exhibit signs of low self-esteem and depression. After enduring years of abuse, this child may internalize and believe the criticisms cast on them. This can wreak havoc on the scapegoat’s mental well-being and stress levels.


Another child is usually the “golden” child, who receives the praise and adoration of the parent. The parent celebrates the golden child’s successes as if they are their own. If this child tests boundaries with the parent, the praise can be withdrawn easily. The golden child is often the one who brings some status to the family as perceived by the narcissist parent, maybe by being a star athlete or academic achiever or the one who is more attentive to the parent’s needs. It is usually something that meets a need of the parent in feeling good about themselves.


The impact of a narcissist parent on the golden child is less direct. While they get more attention and praise, these are conditional. They are manipulated as well, which is a form of abuse. The golden child’s purpose is to uphold and make the parent feel good, often at the expense of their own needs. Unlike the scapegoat, the golden child may find it harder to leave the unhealthy situation because the dynamic is confusing and not as obvious. A narcissist parent is also possessive and controlling and often feels threatened by children developing independence.


Sometimes the narcissist parent’s abuse of the scapegoat child is indirect through the golden child, such as through favoritism and preference. The golden child may join in with abusing the scapegoat sibling to please the parent and uphold status or from fear that they will become the scapegoat.


If there is a third child, she or he may get left behind, and thus might actually be freer from the parent’s manipulation. On the other hand, she or he may be neglected. This child usually does not receive blame or praise from the narcissist parent.


Due to their dependency on others to fulfill the narcissist’s needs, the other parent or sometimes a sibling assumes the role of enabler. This person supports the narcissist’s behavior and buys into or does not question the narcissist’s view of reality. The enabler parent often upholds the outward image of a wonderful family. That parent might even downplay the abuse targeted at the scapegoat. As such, they perpetuate the unhealthy behavior and are ultimately controlled by the narcissist partner.


Signs of Narcissist Parents


A few of the signs of narcissist parent include:

  • Always needing the conversation to be about them

  • Immature and selfish behavior

  • Bragging about your achievements to others, but rarely acknowledging you or supporting you emotionally

  • Blaming others for any problems you may have that actually stem from their own behavior

  • Making you feel guilty by boasting about how much they have done for you

  • Harshly opinionated at home but putting up a front for other people

  • Being ruthless and unforgiving, doing anything to be on top

  • Making you feel anxious and often lowering your confidence

  • Being absent for your life events

  • Using you for personal gain

What You Can Do


If you have a narcissist parent or other family member, here are some things you can do to ease the interaction with them and to take care of yourself:

  • Educate yourself about narcissism. Read books and talk to people. Recognize the signs of narcissism, so that you can be aware of what is happening.

  • Realize and understand that you are not alone. Seek help from a coach or therapist with whom you are comfortable to manage feelings.

  • Resist calling them a narcissist and arguing with them. Narcissists don’t reflect on their own behavior; don’t accept they have a problem; and are adamant that you or someone else has the problem. It also does not help to argue with a narcissist, as they will not gain insight from your feedback. Arguing only makes them defensive and will not change anything. Trying to change a narcissist is nearly impossible.

  • Remember that you have choices. It is normal to feel emotionally drained when being around a narcissist. While it may be harder for young children, as an older family member, you can choose to avoid them, limit your time together, or have someone else with you when you are with them. It can feel less stressful when you consider that you have choices.

  • Set boundaries and limits. While you cannot control a narcissist’s behavior, you can control your own behavior. You do not have to participate in the narcissist’s actions toward others in the family. Avoid certain interactions or discussing certain topics. You can simply say, “I need to go now; talk to you later.”

  • Use affirmations and self-talk strategies. These can help you maintain perspective. Repeat them throughout the day. Working on your self-esteem and confidence is very important, as narcissists will try to make you feel wrong or inadequate in many cases.

  • Develop and practice self-care, such as exercise, meditation, self-compassion, yoga, breathing techniques, and taking time for yourself. These can help reduce negative impact and stress from dealing with a narcissist family member.

  • If necessary, walk away. Sometimes this may be a temporary pause or separation from the family member; other times it may mean pulling away from the person altogether. It depends upon the degree of strain and how well other methods of coping work for you.

What to do TODAY?


Karen Natasha Coaching helps many people access awareness about themselves. We help people shift their energy, so that they can move forward with assurance, confidence, and renewed energy to achieve their goals and bring their best selves to work. We can help you address and manage the stress you experience dealing with a narcissist. Contact Karen Natasha Coaching for a consultation to experience how we can help.



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