A Narcissistic Family: Lies, Lies, and More Lies

Meet the Valour family, (names changed to protect the victims). There is the Narcissistic Mother, aka the martyr, the chameleon, the adaptor over the years as it suits her. There is the Father or the placator (someone who gives in to the demands of the Narcissist to keep the peace). He, however, is the one who doled out the physical punishment to his stepchildren. There are five children total, one son from a previous marriage who was rarely in the home. There are two daughters (Jenny and Joan) who are stepchildren to the father and then came two sons (Ronny and Frankie) from the Narcissistic Mother.

Jenny was the oldest and ended up being abused the most. She suffered physical abuse from the stepfather and emotional abuse from the mother. She never knew whether she was coming or going, with so many mixed messages growing up. She was beautiful but not as smart as other people’s children, which she was often told. She was old enough to hear “TMI” that her mother enjoyed confiding in her but not old enough to make decisions for herself. She ended up with Severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and got pregnant as a teenager. She married an abusive male from the wrong side of the tracks and got divorced a couple of years later. Her child was given to her Narcissistic mother to raise, because the father of the child disappeared and the courts determined Jenny would end up on welfare.  Jenny’s story is the most compelling here because she became the proverbial “black sheep” of the family and it is her life that will be betrayed to others as the decades went on.

Joan was Special Needs or Borderline Intellectual Functioning. She wasn’t abused as much because the family felt sorry for her. She would become the placator (child) and spent most of her life living with her parents – because she was told by her mother that she couldn’t live in the world by herself. She ended up with a child out of wedlock because she was desperate to have a baby. That baby grew up to have a child out of wedlock as well. As the placator, Joan tells lies to suit her mother or herself and this deflects any responsibility onto herself. She presents as a narcissist because she has no self-awareness.

Ronny ended up the family hero and went on to retire from the military. He exhibits in narcissistic ways because he was entitled as a child. Nothing he can do is wrong in the family’s eyes so he is unable to empathize or take criticism from others.  He is perfect and assumes the world revolves around him when people are with him. That is what he learned growing up. He is a very caring person but very detached from the family. He raised several children but his wife sought to compete for his attention and thus kept the children from Jenny and keeps tight rings around all of them now so that they are one great big enmeshed family. Joan is allowed entrance but only because she continues to elicit sympathy from everyone. Jenny lived most of the time in another state, as well, so the children did not see her much and gifts were given to them (as far as she knows) but there was never acknowledgement so she ceased to send them. She is not sure if the gift giving ever attempted to create a relationship or not.

Frankie died early on as a child so he is the saint in the family. No one ever talks about him because it is too uncomfortable to confront one’s emotions. It is as if he never existed. Jenny tries to create a space for him but the family changes the subject. The father died a decade after his son, and when this happened, the high standards that were expected in the family ceased to exist. This is because the Narcissistic mother focuses too much attention on getting attention from her descendants. Rather than being the mother she once was, who also expected these standards, as it might make her look bad, she allows lowered standards to appear cool and modern.

Thus the family has become like every other family in America with very low standards. The second generation of girls have tattoos all over their bodies. At family events, people show up in whatever they feel like wearing. The third generation toddlers have mohawks and pink hair. One family is raised in filthy conditions. Their parents feed them  daily amounts of sugar through soda and candy to pacify them. This is because their parents raise them like toys and are afraid to set standards. The latter family is Jenny’s child and grandchildren, whom Jenny’s mother raised.

The mother enjoys taking comfort in harming her daughter Jenny. She loves to hear negative things said about her and Jenny’s bitterness and anger have become much darker and deeper over the years. While Jenny has tried to do therapy and create a better life for herself, she feels she has never really found happiness. Her child (whom her mother raised) became a drug addict like his father. He had multiple children from various women, two of which he never sees or has anything to do with.  While he finally did become a “dry drunk,” which means clean but without a mental health support system, his life continues to be a mess.

The lies are the denial that goes requited generation after generation. The matriarch or the Narcissist, who perpetuates the lies, with gossip and tales to feed to the others about her favorite target: Jenny. This has trained the others to feel it is acceptable to lie about Jenny or create stories about what she is like. As they see this anger and frustration coming from Jenny whenever she is at family events, she continues to feed into their beliefs about her created by the Narcissist. Jenny was the scapegoat from the time she began to find her sense of self, as a teenager, and this coat of arms has never been removed. This web of deception in this family will never change unless the descendants begin to question things. Why should they though when the Narcissist adores them and praises their every move.

Family gatherings in the Valour family consist of everyone, but Jenny, adoring themselves and being adored by the Narcissist. No one is honest, is allowed to have opinions, but generally they don’t speak up about their beliefs – if they have one – because they have learned to appease one another.

The Valour family has no courage, no self-awareness, and no empathy. They have empathy for others in their desire to look like good people but not amongst their own kin. They have all ceased to individuate from the mother, with the exception of Jenny who has been outcast. In order to keep her sanity, she continues to try and develop a stronger sense of self but struggles with this daily. She made the mistake of returning home, assuming she was stronger and more prepared but ultimately finds herself collapsing each time she tries to develop some connection with her nieces and nephews or grandchildren. Every attempt she makes is thwarted by their mothers who have developed a bond with the Narcissist in order to be accepted by their own partners.

This type of family is not an exception. I learn about very similar stories of families like this month after month in my office. Either it is the mother or the father who can be the Narcissistic parent. I am often surprised to hear just how far the Narcissists will go, as I learn different ploys these parents will use to take advantage of their children. Some go as far as sexually abusing their children, because they can. I have heard of a parent who put their kids in another house down the street, so they could have their own life (without a parent in the other house and often without enough money to live on). Anything they can get away with, the Narcissistic parent will. Social services have been called out in many of these stories I have heard about. However, as Narcissism is not well understood and many social services staff are not clinically trained (at the master’s level), they are fooled by the Narcissist and close the case. In Jenny’s child’s story, the house is not filthy enough to remove and the unhealthy food is not a reason to remove either. As long as a child eats (even if it is McDonalds everyday), they are eating. As long as the house does not have feces on the floor, needles lying around, and maggots in the food, it is not considered a reason to remove. Having worked in social services for eight years, I know that my standards and the standards of most of us are not a reason to judge others for their stupidity.

There are always the same roles within the Narcissistic family. The spouse placates his/her spouse to keep the peace and generally is the most miserable emotionally (because they have no spouse).  Often the placating spouse stays with the Narcissistic partner because they become too weak from the emotional entrapment. Next there is the prime scapegoat (there can be more than one), the hero (often the opposite sex of the Narcissistic parent), and the child who placates the parent who is the Narcissist and is generally the sidekick of the placating parent.

If you were raised like Jenny, in this type of family, it is important to get support from a therapist who understands Narcissism. Unfortunately, not many do because there are not many trainings on this topic. Most people assume the Narcissist is the CEO or the egotistical person. There is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for the Narcissist but why would they go into therapy when there is nothing wrong with them – the fault lies with the scapegoat. I have known people who went to family therapy with the Narcissist and the therapist became fooled as well and the children were blamed. I have also known where the Narcissist was brought into the room – so the therapist could meet them and became emotionally trapped by this person causing them to deflect from their own client.

It is a tricky situation to be in when you are a therapist. You have to be able to know it, smell it, hear it, taste it, (metaphorically) when you see it. Narcissists have a similar language that they use (I hear certain phrases over and over again). It is always emotional abuse to the victim and as I mentioned earlier can sometimes include physical and sexual abuse and even torture. Thus there needs to be more trainings available to social workers and therapist who are practicing in social services, the medical field, in private practice or for counseling centers (both at the academic and community level). The client will often present as bewildered and confused; who know something wasn’t quite right with their parent. With their Narcissistic partner they will think that they (the client) was at fault and will constantly be apologizing when explaining their relationship. We, as clinicians, must always listen and believe and trust the path the client is walking down. We have to look for the things they cannot see and ask questions to understand more. Most of all, we have to normalize their pain. It isn’t important that you meet the Narcissist. If you can feel (your instincts are saying) that this looks like one, it probably is. Never diagnose the person who is not in the room but you can state “This sounds like…” and help the person to get resources to better understand what you are seeing. If the person is a Narcissist, the client will identify with this when they read articles on this topic. They will also be able to better explain to you, as the clinician, their symptoms from learning more about it.

A terribly misunderstood topic, that needs to be more widely understood; so that we can help to identify and bring healing to our clients.

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