Is there a “typical” relationship between the narcissist and his family?
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 behavior 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. Often, he inculcates in them a competitive team spirit, a xenophobic we-ness, a cultish and defensive, or even paranoid stance.
He may single out one of his children and encourage the “golden” or “sunshine” child 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. The remains of the litter – the chosen one’s brothers and sisters – are ignored, neglected, left to fend off for themselves, or worse: relegated to the role of much-maligned, ridiculed, thwarted, stunted, and hated scapegoats (watch the video HERE).
Sometimes, the narcissistic parent uses the scapegoated offspring as a “coin” to bribe the golden child with: by humiliating and mocking the one, the parent secures the affection, bonding, and allegiance of the other. The black sheep is made to serve the golden child, to cater to his/her every need or whim, and to surrender his/her possessions and income to his/her preferred, privileged sibling.
Such discriminatory conduct emanates from the narcissistic parent’s projected splitting: a confluence of two psychological defense mechanisms (projection and splitting).
Splitting is a “primitive” defense mechanism. It involves the inability to integrate contradictory qualities, behaviors, and attributes of the same object into a coherent picture. The narcissist regards people around him as either all bad or all good, irredeemably black or lustrously white, implacable foes or undying friends. Splitting results in cycles of idealization followed by devaluation.
But, splitting can also be applied to one’s self. Patients with personality disorders often idealize themselves fantastically and grandiosely, only to harshly devalue, hate, and even harm themselves when they fail or are otherwise frustrated.