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  • Writer's pictureElmbrook Psychiatry

Understanding Narcissistic Families and How to Cope with Them

Growing up in a family where one or both parents exhibit narcissistic traits can be extremely difficult and can have long-lasting effects on an individual's mental health. Narcissistic families are characterized by a lack of empathy, emotional neglect, and often the need for control. It's important to understand that this type of behavior is not normal, and there are healthy ways to cope with the effects of growing up in a narcissistic family. This blog post aims to provide a comprehensive overview of narcissistic families and tips for coping with them.

Narcissistic Family

What is a Narcissistic Family?

Narcissistic families are characterized by self-centered parents who prioritize their own needs over their children's. Children of narcissistic parents may feel unimportant, unworthy, or unloved due to emotional neglect and a lack of validation. In these types of families, the child's role is to serve the parent's needs. Narcissistic parents may use:

• Emotional manipulation

• Gaslighting

• Verbal abuse

• Belittlement

The other family members may adopt various roles as a coping mechanism to survive within this dysfunctional system. Some common roles include:

The Golden Child: This is the favored child who is often praised and put on a pedestal by the narcissistic parent. They may be showered with attention and positive reinforcement, but this can lead to pressure and emotional burden as they are expected to fulfill the parent's unmet needs and ambitions.

The Scapegoat: The scapegoat is the family member who is often blamed for any problems or tensions within the household. They may be subjected to constant criticism, punishment, and ridicule, regardless of their actual behavior.

The Lost Child: This role is adopted by a family member who withdraws from the conflicts and drama of the household. They tend to isolate themselves and avoid confrontation, seeking refuge in their own world to escape the emotional turmoil.

The Enabler: The enabler is typically the other parent or a family member who, knowingly or unknowingly, supports and enables the narcissistic parent's behavior. They may downplay or excuse the narcissist's actions and serve as a buffer between the narcissistic parent and other family members.

The dynamics within a narcissistic family can be incredibly damaging to the emotional and psychological well-being of its members. The children often grow up with deep-seated emotional wounds, such as low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, and difficulties in forming healthy relationships. Breaking free from the cycle of a narcissistic family can be a challenging process that requires therapy, setting boundaries, and seeking support from healthy individuals outside the family system.

It's crucial for individuals who have grown up in narcissistic families to recognize the patterns of dysfunction and seek professional help to heal from the emotional scars and develop healthier coping mechanisms for their own lives.

Coping Mechanisms

If you grew up in a family with narcissistic traits, it's important to understand that the impact of emotional neglect and abuse can stay with you in adulthood. Some common coping mechanisms include:

Seeking therapy

• Establishing healthy boundaries

• Self-care practices

• Surround yourself with supportive and understanding people

• Stay in touch with reality


It's essential to take a closer look at yourself and examine the impact of growing up in a narcissistic family. Some questions to ask yourself may include:

• Do I often feel guilty for putting myself first?

• Am I afraid to set boundaries?

• Do I seek validation from others?

• Do I struggle with low self-esteem?

Recognizing these patterns and acknowledging their effects can be a significant step toward healing and growth.

Therapy for Narcissistic Families

An experienced therapist can help you understand the impact of growing up in a narcissistic family and provide guidance on how to cope with its effects. Through therapy, individuals can develop new coping mechanisms and behaviors to break free from the patterns of emotional neglect and abuse that often accompany narcissistic families. Some common techniques used in therapy include:

• Cognitive-behavioral therapy

• Dialectical behavior therapy

• Trauma-focused therapy

• Mindfulness-based therapy

Growing up in a narcissistic family can be incredibly challenging and lead to long-term effects on an individual's mental health. However, understanding the traits of narcissistic families, coping mechanisms, and seeking therapy can help individuals break free from the patterns of emotional neglect and abuse. Remember, healing is a journey, and with the right support and resources, it's possible to overcome the effects of growing up in a narcissistic family.


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