The Narcissist and your Family

It’s Narcissist Friday!

For this post, I want to define “family” in a broad way.  Not trying to be politically correct, just aware that those who have the position of family in our lives may not necessarily be related to us by blood or law.  So, feel free to include your close friends, your extended family, and others you respect and/or love in this definition.

The narcissist sees your family, other people important in your life, in the same way he sees everyone: as tools, toys, or obstacles.  It doesn’t really matter if the narcissist is your spouse, your boss, your pastor, or your friend.  Your narcissist will use or treat the people in your life in much the same way as she treats you.

Many victims of narcissism dread the holidays.  Narcissist boss will probably assign more work over the holiday.  N friend will probably call “just to talk” while you are trying to get things ready for your family.  N spouse will either dominate the time or refuse to participate, whatever works to put the focus on him.  The narcissist cannot abide the idea that your attention would go to someone else.  It doesn’t matter that your kids are home from college.  It doesn’t matter that you haven’t seen your parents in a long time.  It doesn’t matter who has died or who is dying.  It isn’t about them.

Remember, the narcissist does not see people in the same way the rest of us do.  To him people are simply part of the environment.  Some are resources; some are in the way; some are just there.  The only real thing the narcissist wants from people is their admiration.  Your family should fall down at his feet and worship.

If they do not worship him, then they are competition for your worship of him.  He may actively seek to stop you from gathering with them.  He may be cruel or obnoxious so they will stay away.  He may become the victim himself to keep your attention on him.  Whatever it takes.

As I write this, the Dear Abby column for the day (4-4-12) has a letter from a woman who is torn between her friend and her husband.  Both are graduating on the same day and far enough apart so she can’t attend both ceremonies.  Her friend wants her to skip out on her husband’s graduation.  This is narcissistic behavior.  The friend wants to be more important, wants her day to be recognized above that of the husband.  Never mind that this is the husband!  Family is just in the way.

Many narcissists mock the family of their victims.  They make fun of your family in order to remind you that they are superior to your family.  You would be better off paying attention to your narcissist.  They mock the love and loyalty of family.

But, to be fair, many narcissists feel the same way about their own families.  In fact, some narcissists are cruel toward and distant from their family members.  They hate being reminded that there are people who know some of their secrets, their failings and fears.  They hate the assumption of relationship and rights that family has.  They hate the fact that some people refuse to be twisted by their manipulations.

So what do you do?  The answer again lies in boundaries and the necessity of maintaining a distance between the narcissist and your identity.  Maybe he doesn’t want to go to your parents’ for the holiday.  Go without him.  Maybe your friend does call during the event.  Don’t answer the phone.  Maybe your boss does assign more work that weekend.  Do what you can and don’t do what you can’t.  Stay in charge of who you are.  Don’t even do what I say, just do what you want or need to do.

And accept the fact that you will pay a price.  The price to maintain close relationships with family and friends will be the narcissist’s anger and manipulations.  Yes, it will hurt sometimes, but you must keep those relationships active.  It is classic behavior for narcissists to separate their victims from the support in their lives.  Your family, however you define it, is your support.  Don’t lose it or you may lose yourself.


Filed under Narcissism

9 responses to “The Narcissist and your Family

  1. One Thanksgiving, my mom’s dog was in heat. She asked that we not bring the N’s dog on this particular visit (for obvious reasons). She gave us a week to look for a kennel or a friend to take care of the N’s dog. Unfortunately, the N refused to look. So, I looked and found a great place for his dog. He was infuriated. He refused to hand his dog over to strangers for the day (even though they were perfectly qualified and had web cams in all of the rooms). He said we just weren’t going to go to my mom’s. I told the N that he can stay home if he’d like but I wasn’t going to miss Thanksgiving with my family because of a dog. He said I had to make a choice: my family or him. I chose my family. I had the best Thanksgiving that year and turned off my phone. 🙂

    • What a great example! It shows the self-centered and controlling nature of the narcissist – and – the right way to handle him. It is harder when it is your spouse and kids are involved, etc., but this is still the right idea. Find a way to hold your head up and be yourself.

      And stay tied to family and friends – it may save your life. Really!

  2. Samantha

    Your ongoing descriptions of narcissists and how to try dealing with them has been enormously helpful to me. I am learning (in my 60s) to create a healthy mental and emotional distance from my sister. However, each time I redirect the conversation or create a positive distance, she seems to fold into herself, gets off the phone quickly and I still feel guilty. I guess she’s not happy with the changes, but I am tired of being her foil. Do you have any suggestions for em to feel less panic/guilt and more freedom?
    Thank you.

    • Samantha,

      It is helpful, isn’t it, to have at least a partial explanation for the strangeness of the relationship? I know there is a tendency to see narcissists everywhere and give labels to some who probably do not deserve them, but it is still helpful to say that a certain behavior is narcissistic. What your sister is doing is narcissistic. She is trying to control your feelings and, it appears, is doing it successfully. If you don’t do what she wants, you suffer.

      So here are some ideas:
      1. Be in charge of the phone call. Only answer when you are able to sit down with a cup of cocoa and the television or a magazine for a distraction while she goes on. If you don’t have caller ID, get it. That’s the only way you will know it’s her. If you are not ready to talk, let your machine take the call and you call her back when you are ready. This only works if you actually do call her back in a reasonable time, but it makes it your phone call and you will feel much more free to hang up when you are done.
      2. If you want to keep the relationship, then you have to give her some of what she wants. You will need to listen sometimes. But you don’t have to give her all that she wants. In fact, you can control the relationship by giving her only what you want to give. Be prepared for the crisis. Remember that there is always a crisis. Crisis is how many narcissists manipulate.
      3. Be in charge of your feelings. You know that she is trying to manipulate you by making you feel guilty. Change the label on those feelings. Since there is no reason for you to feel guilty, call those feelings the cost of your relationship with her. When you feel bad for hanging up, it isn’t guilt – it’s just the price you pay for talking with her. If you go to visit friends in Northern Minnesota in the winter, the cold is part of the price you will pay for the visit. If you talk with your sister on the phone, the negative end of the call is just part of the normal relationship.
      4. Be sure that you have given up trying to fix her or her life. Chances are that her issues are well-ingrained and you will never really help in the way you would like. And, besides, she may not really want them fixed if they get her the attention she wants.

      You and I both have many things that we do that we only do because we have to or ought to. Your relationship with your sister sounds like one of those things. There is nothing really wrong with that. Nor is it likely to change. So you shrug your shoulders and give her that call, listen, and hang up when you are done. You have done what you ought and you have probably done it as well as it could be done. There is no reason for guilt.

      Please feel free to contact me again. I do care.

      • Samantha

        Thank for the thoughtful reply. I didn’t go into details about my sister because of so many reasons, but she and her husband really are extreme narcissists. I find solace from my husband and brother and when she calls or leaves messages, I was already beginning to follow your advice. I wait until I feel strong enough for the 24/7 news of herself (mememe) and adult child. Her behavior has gone on for so long that I had just adapted. I am younger than her and always looked up to her. It is strangely liberating to push back/set limits; yet, as I said, I begin to feel some panic. My family of origin “punishes” by shutting me out for years if I stand up for myself. However, since the death of our parents, I wonder if they don’t also worry about the existential loneliness we will all face? Your advice is good; it is the cost of dealing with her. Too bad, as I want to find my dear sister again, but she’s changed too much. I worry that if I give, even to talk, am I not still being used? Or are we only used when the other person controls the entire situation?
        Your Friday columns have helped a lot.

  3. “I worry that if I give, even to talk, am I not still being used? Or are we only used when the other person controls the entire situation?”

    Yes, you are still being used, but a certain amount of using each other is why we have relationships. When we say that we need each other, we mean, at least in a small way, we need to use each other. But it works both ways. The struggle in your situation, it seems to me, is that you get little back. The narcissist only knows one side of a relationship. He or she only takes. (This usually is not realized until long into the relationship, because the narcissist is good at feeding his victims for a while.)

    The point is not to avoid being used. The point is to control how much you are used. If you want this relationship to continue, you have to accept that there will be only her side. You may receive a tiny bit. Your side may only be the positive you receive from doing your duty as a sister. When you hang up the phone, you don’t have to talk with her for a while. That is something positive. Take the very little you get as enough, since you receive from other sources. Then decide how much you are willing to give to her. In a sense, it isn’t being used if you agree to it and control it.

    When I respond to a comment, I am limited by knowledge and space. Generally, I try to toss out a couple of ideas that might help you or others who read this in the future. Forgive me if I miss your point. However, I do care and I am willing to communicate privately.

    I pray that you and your family will have a blessed Easter!

  4. Thank you so much. I was in a N relationship and he was critical of my family mkg me feel guilty for seeing them,talking to them, telling me how stupid they were and they used me,etc.It is to the point I wound up in theropy for years blaming myself because it was my fault for not managing “them”. He did this with friends also. He wd put number of days I could go to see family. I have searched thinking it was all in my head.Reading the above has helped where maybe I am not nuts.Thank you

  5. Still Angry

    At my dad’s memorial service my oldest son asked me if he and his wife could take my youngest son who was about twelve to an amusement park the following day. I said yes.

    When my N husband found out I agreed he put up such a tantrum that I asked him to discuss it with me in the parking lot. Had he been my child I might have threatened him with a spanking if he didn’t straighten up. There was no talking him down. He was having a very childish breakdown. I had apparently overstepped my authority and wildly disrespected him. I didn’t back down. My sons spent the next day together. And I felt like killing my husband.

    My father was sick for two years with end stage renal failure. Not once did he visit him in the hospital. Not once did he offer me any sort of emotional or spiritual support. I was at my dad’s funeral and wasn’t allowed to mourn. My job was to keep the peace and pour all my attention onto a certfied creep that desperately needed to be the center of attention, not just mine, EVERYONE’S.

    We are divorced now. But I will NEVER forgive him for that stunt. Nor will I forget it. I wasn’t married to a man. I was married to a defiant, deviant, manipulative, unsympathetic, illogical, shameful, incorrigible, inconsolable, bullying, naughty, spiteful child.

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