On NPD and how it shows up in families

I’ve always found Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) to be one of the most fascinating disorders, especially how it plays out in family systems. I was digging through some of my old trainings from the DV work I did years ago and wanted to share some findings.

– In most families, people are viewed as individual people with unique traits, likes, dislikes, quirks, and habits. In families run by narcissists, children and anyone in the family system are viewed by their role. Only when they fulfill that role as is expected do they receive approval and love.

– The main purpose of everyone in the family system is to feed the narcissist’s need for adoration. This often leads to heightened levels of enmeshment and codependence in the family.

– Among siblings, each one also takes on a specific role. Because each child has experienced their own unique level of abuse at different ages, they each react differently as adults. You have the neutral child who will see the chaos and confusion but will choose to remain silent for fear of being further abused or shamed. They will pretend they don’t see what they see in order to play the role of “peacemaker.”

– The needy child will rely heavily on the parent who will further enable the dependency, continuing to feed the narcissists’ need for being adored. Whether based on real or manufactured needs, this creates a noticeable imbalance between siblings, causing jealousy and resentment.

– The flying monkey in a narcissistic family dynamic serves as the carrier pigeon. They report back everything they see among the siblings and stay loyal to the narcissistic parents even when it damages them well into adulthood.

– The scapegoat child will be the sounding board for most of the abuse as they will be seen as the one to blame for nearly any mishap in the family system. If they choose to be vocal about the toxicity within the family, they are berated, belittled, and love is withheld.

– Most people will view differences as just that – differences. But for narcissists, anyone being different from how they think or perceive the world will be viewed as an immediate threat. Conformity is rewarded and any other version of “being” is shamed. Children will often live alternate lives and show a certain face to parents who they know will disapprove of them if they are open about who they are. This creates a lack of safety for anyone in the system.

– Because the narcissist views their particular worldview as the gold standard, they consider themselves as the source of all that is good and correct. Anyone outside of themselves is not considered an authority on any matter. They view themselves as special and unique, which is used to support their sense of entitlement.

– This also leads to a pseudo-mutuality, where there is an appearance of closeness within the family, but when you look a bit closer, you see the manipulation and toxic patterns that are ingrained in how everyone relates to each other. You will often see unhealthy levels of hierarchy and titles used to promote the narcissists’ power structure.

– People with NPD are generally hyper-critical and cynical. Nothing will ever be good enough for them and they will avoid giving compliments or showing appreciation, curiosity or empathy towards others who are not like them.

– Narcissists within the larger family system may take ownership over an adult-childs’ personal space by coming over unannounced, inserting their opinions in order to get a reaction, excessive messaging, over-involvement, and overall neglect for boundaries (refer back to codependence and enmeshment, which leads to a shaky self-concept).

– When boundaries are being set, the narcissist will shun and shame. They may go to the extreme of cutting off relationships because boundaries feel like an affront to their sense of entitlement. This is because they have great difficulty accepting other perspectives, or validating another’s needs.

– Denial is a common tactic for narcissists such that they will deny any personal mistakes, become the victim if confronted, and invalidate any hardship. Their view of the world often falls within black and white thinking. Nuances are not considered.

– In most families, loved ones do things out of love but in these family systems, guilt-tripping is a common way to encourage an action. Unspoken norms are used as leverage for shaming and creating expectations without proper communication.

– They will feel threatened with any new change or shift and often respond in a disappointing way if a “big deal” is announced such as a move, a larger purchase, job, etc. They have a need for being the center of attention, even when it is not appropriate. This creates a lack of safety for those within the system to share their personal joys, knowing it can back-fire at any time.

– Add in unresolved traumas, patriarchy, misogyny, and other problematic world-views, and you have a serious set of problems that can impact a narcissists’ deen and dunya. The way to manage within such a system is to first seek Allahs’ help because He sees all, set boundaries, and be firm, neutral and kind.

2 Comments

  1. This was a very useful read. Though the last paragraph does say that seeking help from Allah is the way , did you conclude on human aspect of solution to such family problems as well as part of your studies?

    1. Mostly from my work with clients in a dense Muslim community through social work, along with trainings that supported what was showing up in the fieldwork. Thanks for reading.

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