The Narcissistic Family Tree: 12 Common Dynamics of a Dysfunctional Family

The Narcissistic Family Tree: 12 Common Dynamics of a Dysfunctional Family

6. Lack of Effective Communication.

The most common means of communication in narcissistic families is triangulation. Information is not direct. It is told through one party about another in hopes it will get back to the other party.

Family members talk about each other to other members of the family but don’t confront each other directly. This creates passive-aggressive behavior, tension, and mistrust. When communication is direct, it is often in the form of anger or rage.

Looking to know more about how you can survive in a narcissistic family tree? Read 11 Ways To Cope With A Toxic And Estranged Family Relationship

7. Unclear Boundaries.

There are few boundaries in the narcissistic family. Children’s feelings are not considered important. Private diaries are read, physical boundaries are not kept, and emotional boundaries are not respected. The right to privacy is not typically a part of family history.

8. One Parent Narcissistic, the Other Orbiting.

If one parent is narcissistic, it is common for the other parent to have to revolve around the narcissist to keep the marriage intact. Often, this other parent has redeeming qualities to offer the children but is tied up meeting the needs of the narcissistic spouse, leaving the children’s needs unmet.

Who is there for them?

9. Siblings Not Encouraged to Be Close.

In healthy families, we encourage our children to be loving and close to each other. In narcissistic families, children are pitted against each other and taught competition. There is a constant comparison of who is doing better and who is not.

Some are favored or seen as “the golden child,” and others become the scapegoat for a parent’s projected negative feelings. Siblings in narcissistic families rarely grow up feeling emotionally connected to each other.

The Narcissistic Family Tree: 12 Common Dynamics of a Dysfunctional Family
Narcissistic Family Tree

10. Feelings.

Feelings are denied and not discussed. Children are not taught to embrace their emotions and process them in realistic ways. They are taught to stuff and repress them and are told their feelings don’t matter.

Narcissistic parents are typically not in touch with their own feelings and therefore project them onto others. This causes a lack of accountability and honesty, not to mention other psychological disorders. If we don’t process feelings, they do leak out in other unhealthy ways.

11. “Not Good Enough” Messages.

These messages come across loud and clear in the narcissistic family. Some parents actually speak this message in various ways; others just model it to the children.

Even if they display arrogant and boastful behavior, under the veneer of a narcissist is a self-loathing psyche—that gets passed to the child.

Want to know more about how a narcissistic family tree works? Read The Narcissist’s Family: The Roles Cast by the Narcissist

12. Dysfunction—Obvious or Covert.

In narcissist families, the dynamics can be seen or disguised. The dysfunction displayed in violent and abusive homes is usually obvious, but emotional and psychological abuse, as well as neglectful parenting, are often hidden. While the drama is not displayed as openly to the outside world, it is just as, if not, more damaging to the children.

Reviewing these dynamics, one can see how this kind of family can look pretty but be decaying at the same time. If you recognize your family in this description, know that there is hope and recovery. We can’t change the past, but we can take control of the now. We do not have to be defined by the wounds in our family systems.

As Mark Twain defines the optimist, I see the recovering adult child:

“A person who travels on nothing from nowhere to happiness.”

We can create a new life that will flow through us to the future and stop the legacy of distorted love learned in the narcissistic family. If we choose recovery, we can defy intergenerational statistics.

We Can!


Written By Dr. Karyl McBride, Ph.D., L.M.F.T.
Originally appeared on Psychology Today
Printed with Permission from the author

Just like an apple with a worm living inside, we may see how this family looks nice from outside but decaying inside. Adult children of narcissist parents spend years to recover. The legacy of distorted love in a narcissistic family tree needs to be put to a halt. We all need to wake up. We need to prevent it from happening on a serious note and work towards dismantling the narcissistic family tree for good.

The Narcissistic Family Tree
Narcissistic Family Tree
The Narcissistic Family Tree Pin
Narcissistic Family Tree
The Narcissistic Family Tree Pin
Narcissistic Family Tree
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Karyl Mc Bride PhD, LMFT

Karyl McBride, PhD, LMFT Author of: Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers and Will I Ever Be Free of You? How to Navigate a High-Conflict Divorce from a Narcissist and Heal Your Family. Karyl McBride, Ph.D., L.M.F.T., is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Denver, Colorado with over 28 years in public and private practice. She specializes in treating clients with dysfunctional family issues. For the past seventeen years, Dr. McBride has been involved in private research concerning children of narcissistic parents, with a primary focus on women raised by narcissistic mothers. She has treated many daughters of narcissistic mothers in her private practice.Dr. McBride also has extensive clinical experience in the fields of trauma, sexual abuse, domestic violence, divorce and step family therapy, marital and family therapy, specialized trauma treatment in Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), and individual adjustment issues related to anxiety, depression, and life transitions. Surveys “50 Ways to tell if you are in a Relationship with a Narcissist” Survey: “Do You Have a Narcissistic Parent?” Survey: “Is this your Mom?” Survey:View Author posts