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A Narcissist in The Family

Updated on May 23, 2018
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The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.

Whether it is your spouse, your parent, your child, your sibling, a cousin or some other relative, having a pathologically narcissistic person in the family is very difficult. In most situations, the narcissistic person will work very hard to ensure that their needs are the only ones that matter or that are considered. If the focus shifts from them even momentarily, there will be a problem. All the other people in the family will be expected to take a backseat to this person and their needs, wants, desires and problems. There are no exceptions. Any deviation from this script will likely be met with rage, and the accusation that no one cares about the narcissistic person. The sad truth is that unless they are most important person in everyone's life and unless everyone around them puts them first, they feel others are being abusive and that they don't care.

This is of course not fair to anyone else in the family. In a healthy family structure, the burden shifts around as different people need support throughout everyone's lives. For example, one year the oldest child might need support as they go through a divorce, and then the next year a parent may need support as they battle a serious illness. Each person takes their turn as the one needing support and the others are the support. In narcissistic families, this does not happen. The pathologically narcissistic person generally does not leave their place as the needy family member or take their turn as part of the support. The rest of the family is simply expected to support them as well, no matter what else might be going on.

For instance, a family facing financial crisis or homelessness will still be expected to support a narcissistic person's endless need for money. According to the narcissistic person, their needs are more important. It does not matter to them that their incessant demands for money are making the family's problems worse, or that they themselves will also be homeless. All that matters is what they want right now. It isn't their problem how the rest of the family solves the other problem, nor do they care. It isn't their problem. It's the family's problem. Nothing is the narcissist's problem or responsibility. Like a small child, they simply rely on other people to take care of it - and of them.

If there were a motto for narcissistic people, it would probably be, "I have a problem and you need to do something about it." They have placed all the responsibility for themselves, their needs and their feelings on other people and they simply expect others to take care of it. They frequently blame others for the things they've not done, saying things like, "I can't do this until you do that" or claiming others somehow caused them to fail. They may engage in whataboutism, which is a logical fallacy where a person tries to discredit the point or argument being advanced by someone by accusing them of hypocrisy or otherwise saying, "What about you? You did this and this and this" instead of actually refuting the argument or proving it wrong. Like virtually all of the defensive communication tactics used by pathologically narcissistic individuals, whataboutism attacks the person instead of the point. In this way they deflect the attention onto the others and away from themselves. The conversation becomes a useless, pointless argument and nothing is ever resolved.

In a family situation with a pathologically narcissistic person, there is often no shared responsibility, no understanding that they have a part in anything that has to do with the family and no understanding of reciprocation. They seem to believe it is their job only to receive things from other people and any request that they give anything at all is treated as excessive and even abusive. How dare you demand things from them? How dare you insinuate that what they have done is not enough? How dare you ask them for anything when no one ever gives them anything, when they have so little? And that's really the crux of the issue. They just have nothing to give and they are not interested in any situation that requires they do so.

In the case of a narcissistic parent, the parent may neglect the children's needs in favor of their own, or single out one child that they most identify with as deserving of special treatment. In the case of a narcissistic spouse, the partner and children's needs may be neglected in order for the narcissist to focus on their own needs. In the case of narcissistic siblings, the parents may continuously put the narcissistic child's needs above those of their other children in the mistaken belief that this child needs or deserves more, or because they fear the rages and hysteria that will happen if they do not. Those in the family who believe in the narcissist's sob stories or who fear their wrath will often attempt to browbeat others into simply giving the narcissist what they want so that the situation can be over, in an attempt to "keep the peace" in the family. It's sadly ironic that this does not keep the peace. In fact, it reinforces that there can never be peace unless everyone in the whole family bends over backwards to give this person everything they want all the time, regardless of the cost to anyone else. This is unhealthy, unreasonable and unfair. In all cases, no one else in the family will be permitted to have needs unless the narcissist says it's OK, and only then for as long as they deem fit. At any time, this "permission" can be revoked. This is why living with narcissistic people is not advisable. It is extremely unlikely the environment will ever become fair or stop being abusive, especially because most situations involve at least one narcissist and at least one enabler - often numerous enablers. Narcissists have no reason to stop their behavior with so many people killing themselves to support them, and enablers have no reason to get tougher with the narcissist because they cannot get past their own guilt or pity.

If you are living in a situation with a pathologically narcissistic person in your family - or even more than one, it's not uncommon - then you don't need to be told how hard living with this is. The best thing to do is get out of the situation as soon as you possibly can. It is likely never going to be fair and it's extremely doubtful anything will change. Why would it? The narcissist's behavior works for them. They get what they want. They might have to fight to get it, but they are more than willing to do that, every day if necessary. The stress and upset this causes other people doesn't matter. It doesn't even occur to them. From the narcissistic person's point of view, it is the other person or people causing the problems because everything would be fine if people would just give the narcissist what they want.

If you are stuck in this situation, while you are working on being able to leave, it can help to become really clear on a few things. One of them is that the narcissistic person's feelings are not your responsibility. They can try to put this responsibility on you all day long, but you don't have to take it. It is not your job to make them happy, keep them calm or fulfill their needs. It's theirs. It's not your job to fix their problems or control their lives. If they can't do it themselves, that's really a shame. But it's their problem. You can't control other people, make them do right or force them to care. It's just not possible.

By this same token, the narcissist is not responsible for your happiness or your peace. You are. It's easy to say, "Well, they shouldn't act like that!" and it's true. They shouldn't. But they do, and they are obviously not going to stop regardless of how you feel about it. So now what? If you are going to be around this person or these people, you have to learn how to take the power back from them or your life will be absolutely miserable. The way you do that is by accepting the situation as it really is, by creating realistic expectations and by not reacting. These are the only weapons you have but luckily, they are the only ones you need.


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