The Narcissist and His Family

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The Narcissist and His Family

By: Sam Vaknin

We are all members of a few families in our lifetime: the one that we are born to and the one(s) that we create. We all transfer hurts, attitudes, fears, hopes and desires - a whole emotional baggage - from the former to the latter. The narcissist is no exception.

The narcissist has a dichotomous view of humanity: humans are either Sources of Narcissistic Supply (and, then, idealised and over-valued) or do not fulfil this function (and, therefore, are valueless, devalued). The narcissist gets all the love that he needs from himself. From the outside he needs approval, affirmation, admiration, adoration, attention - in other words, externalised Ego boundary functions.

He does not require - nor does he seek - his parents' or his siblings' love, or to be loved by his children. He casts them as the audience in the theatre of his inflated grandiosity. He wishes to impress them, shock them, threaten them, infuse them with awe, inspire them, attract their attention, subjugate them, or manipulate them.

He emulates and simulates an entire range of emotions and employs every means to achieve these effects. He lies (narcissists are pathological liars - their very self is a false one). He acts the pitiful, or, its opposite, the resilient and reliable. He stuns and shines with outstanding intellectual, or physical capacities and achievements, or behaviour patterns appreciated by the members of the family. When confronted with (younger) siblings or with his own children, the narcissist is likely to go through three phases:

At first, he perceives his offspring or siblings as a threat to his Narcissistic Supply, such as the attention of his spouse, or mother, as the case may be. They intrude on his turf and invade the Pathological Narcissistic Space. The narcissist does his best to belittle them, hurt (even physically) and humiliate them and then, when these reactions prove ineffective or counter productive, he retreats into an imaginary world of omnipotence. A period of emotional absence and detachment ensues.

His aggression having failed to elicit Narcissistic Supply, the narcissist proceeds to indulge himself in daydreaming, delusions of grandeur, planning of future coups, nostalgia and hurt (the Lost Paradise Syndrome). The narcissist reacts this way to the birth of his children or to the introduction of new foci of attention to the family cell (even to a new pet!).

Whoever the narcissist perceives to be in competition for scarce Narcissistic Supply is relegated to the role of the enemy. Where the uninhibited expression of the aggression and hostility aroused by this predicament is illegitimate or impossible - the narcissist prefers to stay away. Rather than attack his offspring or siblings, he sometimes immediately disconnects, detaches himself emotionally, becomes cold and uninterested, or directs transformed anger at his mate or at his parents (the more "legitimate" targets).

Other narcissists see the opportunity in the "mishap". They seek to manipulate their parents (or their mate) by "taking over" the newcomer. Such narcissists monopolise their siblings or their newborn children. This way, indirectly, they benefit from the attention directed at the infants. The sibling or offspring become vicarious sources of Narcissistic Supply and proxies for the narcissist.

An example: by being closely identified with his offspring, a narcissistic father secures the grateful admiration of the mother ("What an outstanding father/brother he is"). He also assumes part of or all the credit for baby's/sibling's achievements. This is a process of annexation and assimilation of the other, a strategy that the narcissist makes use of in most of his relationships.

As siblings or progeny grow older, the narcissist begins to see their potential to be edifying, reliable and satisfactory Sources of Narcissistic Supply. His attitude, then, is completely transformed. The former threats have now become promising potentials. He cultivates those whom he trusts to be the most rewarding. He encourages them to idolise him, to adore him, to be awed by him, to admire his deeds and capabilities, to learn to blindly trust and obey him, in short to surrender to his charisma and to become submerged in his follies-de-grandeur.

It is at this stage that the risk of child abuse - up to and including outright incest - is heightened. The narcissist is auto-erotic. He is the preferred object of his own sexual attraction. His siblings and his children share his genetic material. Molesting or having intercourse with them is as close as the narcissist gets to having sex with himself.

Moreover, the narcissist perceives sex in terms of annexation. The partner is "assimilated" and becomes an extension of the narcissist, a fully controlled and manipulated object. Sex, to the narcissist, is the ultimate act of depersonalization and objectification of the other. He actually masturbates with other people's bodies.

Minors pose little danger of criticizing the narcissist or confronting him. They are perfect, malleable and abundant sources of Narcissistic Supply. The narcissist derives gratification from having coital relations with adulating, physically and mentally inferior, inexperienced and dependent "bodies".

These roles - allocated to them explicitly and demandingly or implicitly and perniciously by the narcissist - are best fulfilled by ones whose mind is not yet fully formed and independent. The older the siblings or offspring, the more they become critical, even judgemental, of the narcissist. They are better able to put into context and perspective his actions, to question his motives, to anticipate his moves.

As they mature, they often refuse to continue to play the mindless pawns in his chess game. They hold grudges against him for what he has done to them in the past, when they were less capable of resistance. They can gauge his true stature, talents and achievements - which, usually, lag far behind the claims that he makes.

This brings the narcissist a full cycle back to the first phase. Again, he perceives his siblings or sons/daughters as threats. He quickly becomes disillusioned and devaluing. He loses all interest, becomes emotionally remote, absent and cold, rejects any effort to communicate with him, citing life pressures and the preciousness and scarceness of his time.

He feels burdened, cornered, besieged, suffocated, and claustrophobic. He wants to get away, to abandon his commitments to people who have become totally useless (or even damaging) to him. He does not understand why he has to support them, or to suffer their company and he believes himself to have been deliberately and ruthlessly trapped.

He rebels either passively-aggressively (by refusing to act or by intentionally sabotaging the relationships) or actively (by being overly critical, aggressive, unpleasant, verbally and psychologically abusive and so on). Slowly - to justify his acts to himself - he gets immersed in conspiracy theories with clear paranoid hues.

To his mind, the members of the family conspire against him, seek to belittle or humiliate or subordinate him, do not understand him, or stymie his growth. The narcissist usually finally gets what he wants and the family that he has created disintegrates to his great sorrow (due to the loss of the Narcissistic Space) - but also to his great relief and surprise (how could they have let go someone as unique as he?).

This is the cycle: the narcissist feels threatened by arrival of new family members - he tries to assimilate or annex of siblings or offspring - he obtains Narcissistic Supply from them - he overvalues and idealizes these newfound sources - as sources grow older and independent, they adopt anti narcissistic behaviours - the narcissist devalues them - the narcissist feels stifled and trapped - the narcissist becomes paranoid - the narcissist rebels and the family disintegrates.

This cycle characterises not only the family life of the narcissist. It is to be found in other realms of his life (his career, for instance). At work, the narcissist, initially, feels threatened (no one knows him, he is a nobody). Then, he develops a circle of admirers, cronies and friends which he "nurtures and cultivates" in order to obtain Narcissistic Supply from them. He overvalues them (to him, they are the brightest, the most loyal, with the biggest chances to climb the corporate ladder and other superlatives).

But following some anti-narcissistic behaviours on their part (a critical remark, a disagreement, a refusal, however polite) - the narcissist devalues all these previously idealized individuals. Now that they have dared oppose him - they are judged by him to be stupid, cowardly, lacking in ambition, skills and talents, common (the worst expletive in the narcissist's vocabulary), with an unspectacular career ahead of them.

The narcissist feels that he is misallocating his scarce and invaluable resources (for instance, his time). He feels besieged and suffocated. He rebels and erupts in a serious of self-defeating and self-destructive behaviours, which lead to the disintegration of his life.

Doomed to build and ruin, attach and detach, appreciate and depreciate, the narcissist is predictable in his "death wish". What sets him apart from other suicidal types is that his wish is granted to him in small, tormenting doses throughout his anguished life.

About The Author

Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, and eBookWeb , a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent, and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory Bellaonline, and Suite101 .

Until recently, he served as the Economic Advisor to the Government of Macedonia.

Visit Sam's Web site at


J P 26.11.2012. 11:58

Would you call the police on a narcissist family member who assaulted you? This has happened on several occasions and I've threatened to call the police but she just laughs at me or says I provoked her into lashing out. She got away with it as a child because we had parents who defended her no matter how badly she behaved. I really believe she thinks it doesn't matter what she does as long as nobody tries to make her accountable for her actions. She has other people outside of family who also defend her and think I'm being too harsh on her. I can see them blaming me if there was any kind of grief, as it's happened with family members. I'd still hate to see her get into serious trouble so I guess I'm asking if there's some kind of alternative than involving the law. How would you handle this?
Mandi: No, I'm definitely not a narcissist. Yes, narcissism runs in families, my mother was one also, could be the reason she always stuck up for my sister. Birds of a feather flock together. I'm glad I have empathy, but I'm not anyone's pushover, either. I highly doubt she'd get jail time for what would be a first offence and i wouldn't really want her to, but she does need to be taught a lesson.
unfailedsrry: Sorry if I'm misunderstanding your reply, I'm not sure if you were talking about me or my sister. If I had no empathy I'd be a narcissist and not care if she went to jail, i'd probably revel in seeing her punished, but that's not the case. I'm just not prepared to enable her even if she tries to punish me for standing up for myself.


Admin 26.11.2012. 11:58

If she has harmed you physically, it is time to call the police. She is laughing at you
because she is getting away with it. Everyone that defends her is enabling her behavior.


Mark 11.06.2013. 19:32

Why does the narcissist accuse my mother of exactly what he is? My mother is a good honest person, my father has pretty much all the narcissist traits. My family walks on egg shells to keep peace and avoid his narcissistic rage. I get most of the disorder what I don't understand is why he accuses people especially my mother (he devalues her and has created a smear campaign but fails because we know what he is). He says she's perverse when he'll twist everything and I mean everything the way he wants it even the smallest scenario, he calls her a liar when he is a pathological liar, he's always lying. He says she's manipulating/ me and my siblings when he's trying to do this. It goes on.... shes divorcing him hence the smear campaign...... any way back to my question - the title
I know it's projection, so is he aware he is all of these things?


Admin 11.06.2013. 19:32

Its called projection. Narcissists project their own flaws onto other people in order to protect their own false image. Your mother is in for a looong haul with this divorce, sweetie.


bulldoggergal 30.01.2009. 19:49

How do you handle a mother(in-law) that obviously has memory issues and is a total narcissist? My MIL has made enemies of her neighbors (small country town) and of her whole family...with the exception of my husband and I who live a few doors down from her. She often will not speak to us either. She is 78 years old and gets around physically, but should not be driving for hers and others safety and she forgets her purse at places, doctors appts., etc.

Do we try to intervene or wait until she hurts herself or someone else? How do you intervene?


Admin 30.01.2009. 19:49

What type of intervention are you talking about here? Talking to her? Getting her to talk to a doctor? Getting her to move into a retirement home?

Whatever course of action you think is best, keep in mind your husband should do a lot of the talking since she is probably more inclined to listen to him, while you offer him support and back him up. Keep in mind that she is still human no matter how irritating she may get, and will have her own opinion. It is common for people's memory to start to go as they get older, but if it is interfering with her life then it may be becoming an issue.

If you two are thinking of trying to get her into a retirement home, the one thing I can tell you is to be sure to call it a retirement home, not a nursing home! Most seniors I have encountered fear nursing homes that are filled with ill seniors dozing in wheelchairs. In a retirement home, they often have apartments or suite style rooms and the senior has the choice to cook for themselves or to eat meals in the common room with the other retirees. She will get to be around people her own age that are still capable, but they do have assistance available in the building in case anything should happen or if she needs something and you two are not around. Be sure she knows she can still live fairly independently in a nursing home.

You may want to get her to talk to her doctor; many seniors will follow their doctor's advice over their own family's advice. Talk to the doctor beforehand and let him know that you and your husband would like her to think about moving into a retirement home. Maybe the doctor can assess her memory loss and help convince her that moving into a retirement home is not a bad thing and it would be good for her.

You can also take her on a tour of a retirement home, most have daily tours, and then she can see it's not just a bunch of decrepit old people living off of oxygen tubes.

As for when you intervene, clearly you do not want anyone to get hurt before you have to intervene. If you have not talked to your husband about this, do so and see where he stands on the issue. Do not talk to your MIL without his support. It would be best to bring up the idea to her as soon as possible because she will probably reject it right away and may need some time getting used to the idea. Bring it up gently, make sure she knows she will still be a part of your lives, and bring her to the doctor and retirement home so she can see for herself what is going on.

Good luck.


Summerie*xo 16.01.2013. 00:33

How to accept love from others other than your crazy family when you're so used to them? I live at hoome and my mom is the only person I been closest too, but shes also hurt me the most, partly because of her aloofness. Daughter of a narcissist, and someone who used to be addicted to drugs, she never really developed psychologically, and her beliefs pretty much reflect on my grammas, which are just wrong. She is a narcissist and I do not wish to speak to her again, after her telling me Im stupid, threatening me, and putting down my looks for NO REASON. See, my mom has accepted this because she never got help and learned what a respectful person deserves. The fact that I'm in counselling, quit drinking and weed by the age of 22, I see things for what they are and so clear, I even read psychology books blah blah, point is I see through the BULLSH!T. The things I know and think are morally wrong, She accepts, which I can deal with because I know what she's been through and she isn't that bad....She doesn't put me down or call me stupid, she mostly disrespects me (like tells me to get a life, or says Im gonna be kicked out) lol, when she isn't getting her way or trying to prove a point. So it's like, I can handle that. PLUS it gives me a chance to save up money so I can get an appartment when I move out. Its not that bad where I have to leave now and get a room. I feel comfortable at home, and I know Im sensitive but thats because of my big heart. The problem is I want to be able to accept love with people who are on my level. I love my mom nd she loves me, but at the same time I feel like I could be closer to people more like me, te problem is I dont know HOW to get close to others because I have been through so much and Im so used to my "moms way" because shes pretty much all I've had my whole life. Any suggestions? I just feel so awkward and so much anxiety around others when the chance happens. THANKS!


Admin 16.01.2013. 00:33

I think that at some point, you have to put some emotional distance between you and your Mom. Stop looking for her constant approval, and concentrate on your own emotional growth. You said that you've stopped drinking and smoking weed, and that's a good start. Counseling is also a creative move on your part. I strongly suggest, that you consider AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) as an additional form of therapy. AA will help you with many areas of your life that counseling doesn't cover. Begin with an open mind and go to six AA meetings before you make up your mind. You sound very intelligent, Good Luck. Dr. Irwin


zzzzzzzzzzzzzz 24.06.2010. 20:28

What sort of damage can it do to live in a family of malignant narcissists? * 13 minutes ago
* - 4 days left to answer.

Additional Details
Also, what are the symptoms of a malignant narcissist?


Admin 24.06.2010. 20:28

I just dated a malignant narcissist. Big mistake. A narcissist will never love anyone but themselves.


Sandyann 07.04.2011. 05:37

Do narcissists often use eye color as a partial basis for a superiority complex? I have an extremely narcissistic family member who believes he is superior to those who do not have blue eyes (like him). How common is such a belief of being superior based on eye color?

Also, this person has a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Are there any links between narcissism and schizophrenia? If so, what is the theory behind what makes the two afflictions related?


Admin 07.04.2011. 05:37

what i believe is the voices not to be rude but they probably are telling him things that he believes is true and maybe encouraging him as-well. but dont hate when someone has that illness they dont know how odd they are


Marissa G 15.07.2009. 19:32

How "obvious" should it be that one of your family members is a narcissist? I've been doing a bit of research, and one of my family members seems to fit the description, but can there be different levels of severity for this personality disorder? I doubt anyone outside of my family has ever seen any of these specific traits.
And what can cause narcissism?

Thanks for any answers.
Great. Now I have to avoid my dad all the time. How am I supposed to do that when he immediately yells at me when he loses the remote?

Marissa G

Admin 15.07.2009. 19:32

Narcissistic personality disorder is 85% alcoholics and/or drug addicts, 15% they believe are children who were raised by alcoholics or drug addicts, or just simply put down by someone when they were small children. Someone hurt them when they were little and made them feel small, and that is why they do it to other people. They have to put others down in order to make themselves feel bigger. (Not that that is an excuse.) They think they are God like, Saints, with grand egos, I call them destroyers, they just destroy people. In their mind they are right and the world is all wrong, they don't have a problem, you do. They put others down because they are bullies, and cowards. They put others down because they have no self esteem. If they are putting you down, and pointing out your flaws, no one is noticing their flaws. In their mind they think it is their job to put others down, it is their duty. They are social, and the rest of the world is anti social, they are perfect and you are the one who is flawed. They cannot and do not take responsibility for their actions and behaviors, so they will never say they are sorry, because in their mind they have done no wrong, they have done nothing to be sorry for. They can go to therapy for years and have no change in their behavior or actions, because in their mind they are saints, and perfect, so they have nothing to change about themselves. I am not really sure if they even comprehend how they hurt other people. The best thing to do is to stay away from these people if possible. They cannot change and they will just bring you down. My in laws are this way, so I know how you feel. After 20 years of abuse they are now banned from my house. While they had the benefit of putting us down and hurting our feelings, they did pay a price. They are now retired and none of their children, their spouses, even their grand children, none of us want to be around them. They enjoyed abusing us all those years, and now they spend their holidays alone. They do pay a price.


Lou_ 28.06.2007. 08:11

How could you get someone who is a narcissist to recognise their behaviour? and admit that they have a personality disorder that was ruining their families lives?
(Given the fact that they are also irrational and perpetually telling lies).


Admin 28.06.2007. 08:11

A true narcassist cannot change take a look at this web site . I would suggest that you get a book from amazon called in sheeps clothing gives good advice.


Arthur 23.07.2013. 23:50

Is there any concrete relation between being a narcissist and being a psychopath? Second question is: Do narcissists occasionally care about someone more than themselves (a lover or a family member)? And do they usually have low emotional range like psychopaths? Thanks in advance!


Admin 23.07.2013. 23:50

1. You have this reversed. Part of the condition of psychopathy is being narcissistic, though the narcissism would likely manifest differently then in someone who just has the cluster b personality. Factor one traits on the PCL-R are considered "aggressive narcissism". Basically the psychopath is egocentric and callous towards others (lacking empathy/compassion), which by definition describes a part of narcissism.

2. Narcissists and psychopaths feed off of people--the narc would attempt to have people feed their ego and fulfill their emotional needs with little or no reciprocity; the psychopath may do this to a much lesser extent, but they're more about using people for what they're worth to them: money, status, material gain, amusement, etc---they're more concerned about running people over to get what they want. It's not impossible for them to never experience something deeper, just rare. It really depends on how they're wired--it may be impossible for some severely damaged or altered people to achieve what you're asking.

3. Narcissists tend to be normal people that had a stunted development from trauma or abuse. They're social emotions (mainly empathy) aren't present in the same capacity as other people, although they will still feel guilt, remorse, anxiety/stress, fear, embarrassment, and are highly vulnerable to their ego's being attacked. The psychopath generally doesn't have a vulnerable ego (often very strong or bold), and they don't seek approval from other people unless it benefits them.


Andre J 20.12.2008. 07:57

How do you cope with a crazy Borderline? I have a mother that is a borderline/narcissist and also deeply religious. She uses religion (Christianity) to justify her actions. What do you do with this type of person?

Andre J

Admin 20.12.2008. 07:57

Well, there is not much you can do to change a Borderline person, as that is their personality. Most individuals who are borderline respond well to medication and group therapy, as they are pervasive and have a history of unstable interpersonal relationships. Please encourage your mother to seek a psychiatrist for an evaluation if she has not had one. Remember, it is their personality! For you, see if there is a local (NAMI National Alliance on Mentall Illness) chapter in your area, as they have support groups for friends/family members dealing with loved ones mental illness. They also have an online forum/message board/discusson groups.


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