Narcissist Family Dynamics

by | Jun 11, 2017

If you grew up in a household with a narcissist parent, then you learned to cope in a dysfunctional family. Your narcissist parent believed she was the automatic ruler of the household, and there could be no breaching her in any way. She was in complete control and was not to be questioned. That’s because those with narcissist personality disorder have a distorted view of themselves and what their family should be.

In a narcissistic family:

  • Child and parent roles are reversed. The child exists to serve the needs of the parent. The child learns early that he is only valued for how well he supports the emotional needs of his parent. The child must reinforce the parent’s inflated self-image, which he does by being perfect, a reflection of the parent. And the parent has a built-in relationship with the child that confirms her superior self-image.
  • There is a golden child. The golden child is the one who does the job of being perfect best. If he is the son of a mother narcissist, he may fill in for a ‘failure’ in the father. For example, if the father isn’t buying the annoying superior act of the mother and refuses to be controlled by her, the golden boy son’s job is to give his mother undying devotion.
  • There may also be a scapegoat child. The scapegoat child is the one who is blamed for all the family problems because, of course, the narcissist parent can’t be to blame—that parent is superior and above any wrongdoing. So the problems of the family have to be someone else’s fault. These problems are never displayed outside the family, which is absolute taboo because a narcissist parent must appear perfect to the outside world.
  • There may be a forgotten child. The golden child and the scapegoat child serve a function. Other children are probably pretty much ignored. But every child of a narcissist learns that when he expresses who he is and exerts his unique personality, he will be rejected. Eventually he learns to suppress who he is and what he requires in life because it’s just too painful to be repeatedly rejected. The child learns not to share his feelings with his narcissist parent.
  • The child learns his needs don’t matter. The golden child learns this, but he is needed by the narcissist parent, so he gets attention, albeit negative. But even though he fills an important role, his own needs are not important. And the other children are not important either. They should “be seen and not heard.” And they are never good enough for the narcissist parent. Therefore their self-worth is severely damaged, sometimes permanently.
  • What about the other, healthier parent? He is usually very busy attending to the needs of the narcissist parent, keeping the marriage afloat and the household running with some semblance of normalcy. He may have redeeming qualities to offer the children, and he may be the sole reminder that they should feel self-worth. If he’s a breadwinner on top of all his other duties, he probably has little time left over for taking care of the kids. When one member of the family is a narcissist, the whole family suffers from dysfunction.

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here:


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