Navigating toxic narcissistic family roles
Understanding narcissism and the inner workings of this character trait is becoming prevalent these days. It used to be that these traits were viewed as ‘normal’. In relationships, it was simply the man doing what a man does — ensuring his masculinity was intact. In ladies, narcissism was viewed more so as someone who prepped and preened at themselves more than the average woman.
No one really considers the family element to narcissism. Again the traditionalist view expected children to be seen and not heard and that the parents' opinion was final. Or, maybe that’s just the families that I came across?
The children from the era mentioned above are now finding that in some instances they have always been surrounded by narcissistic people and that can be dangerous.
Those who grew up in families of narcissistic structure typically end up in a relationship with the same traits. So, how do you escape narcissistic control?
The first step is always to educate yourself in doing so you will be far more in control of your own life and can see people’s traits far clearer. This will give you the ability to see it for yourself. If someone tells you that the ones you love are controlling or narcissistic or anything less than positive you are going to doubt it. Especially if you’re still in the control hold. After all the people you love are good and kind, aren’t they? Surely they would never lie or control you for their own benefit? Surely?
Those statements are common, many who are being controlled simply do not see the red signs or do not want to see them because the realisation can do so much harm to the person who is being controlled. Especially if it’s by someone they love and trusted. It takes a lot of work to regain your own mind and to trust that what you think, do and say is correct. Many doubt their own thoughts, many cannot give simple answers to simple questions — it’s a horrible situation to be in regardless of your age.
So what is a narcissist and what is a narcissistic family?
Firstly, most narcissists don’t realise they are one.
Many believe that their life has played out the way it has because of other people's downfalls and the positives in their life are their own doing — not taking ownership of their own actions and using the scapegoat is how a narcissist gets through life. Many look for sustenance in the form of attention or adoration from others to make them feel important unfortunately it comes at the expense of others' emotional wellbeing.
- An urge to feel superior through belittling or manipulation.
- Extremely jealous.
- Sensitive to criticism or implied criticism.
- Little or no empathy for others.
- Can fly off the handle with rage or shouting matches.
- Rarely admits when they are wrong.
- Conceited. Tells small lies to distort truths in order to fool others.
Some of the many roles within this structure include:
The narcissist — In any narcissistic family structure, the narcissist is king [not gendered]. What the narcissist wants, the narcissist gets and they will play those around them like a game of chess in order to facilitate those needs. What is scary about this disorder and this role specifically is that everyone within the structure is ‘fair game’ and that includes children. Narcissists will use any person to gain an advantage and when that loved one is not of any use, they will be discarded until they once again hold something valuable. This role is usually played by a parent.
Child roles can vary (depending on the number of children/siblings).
The flying monkey & the enabler— this child or sibling typically is as toxic as the narcissist parent and enables the behaviours. They may triangulate drama to cause the most harassment and hurt. They may be aware that one parent is narcissistic but also see the power that playing these games provides that person. This sibling may be close to the parents and align themselves to keep in good standing.
In order to become the golden child, the flying monkey will usually take on a false persona which can be detrimental in their future years as they struggle to understand ‘who’ they truly are.
The golden child — this role covers the favourite child. Usually, the flying monkey strives for the position but it can also be unwillingly taken by the withdrawn. This singles out the child causing other siblings [or adults] to feel malice towards them, life can be lonely for the golden child who is pushed into a role they’ve never asked for.
The withdrawn & the scapegoat — this child is not active in the structure and is not neutral. This child is typically the one trying to shield themselves from being drawn into the power struggle. Like the flying monkey, they may see what is happening with the narcissist but pulls away from the toxicity. In pulling away they no longer become useful to that parent and therefore are seen as a risk or pawn — they, therefore, become the scapegoat. Anyone who sides with the scapegoat also becomes a scapegoat.
You will typically find as the family unit gets older, the withdrawn child pulls away and either cuts ties with the family or minimises contact. For the untreated narcissist, they will find this frustrating and may attempt to ‘hoover’ the child [or now adult] back into their fold. Hoovering describes the tactics used to incite drama or situations which directly or indirectly pull in the withdrawn.
When a narcissist no longer has any power within the family unit they will typically move onto their work colleagues, associates, and friends. Unless a narcissistic personality becomes aware of their flaws and seeks help, it can be difficult for them to change and the only way to resolve this for you — especially if you are the scapegoat — is to remove yourself from the situation. It’s hard but worth it for your own frame of mind and to reclaim your own life.
I absolutely urge you to seek assistance through friends, partners, or therapy (GP or private). Understanding your childhood and the roles around you will help you understand that it was not your fault. Understanding this allows you to change your own life and that of your future family [if applicable].