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

13 thoughts on “The Narcissistic Family Tree: 12 Common Dynamics of a Dysfunctional Family”

  1. I am the lost child, my siblings were much older, 13 yrs difference to the nearest. Then my brother and other sister were 2 yrs apart from her. I read this and just wow it all makes so much since now. I was the baby or what was said constantly “your just a baby”. The siblings ghostlighted each other all their lives and mine. They’d go two or 3 yrs not talking then maybe a year talking just back and forth our whole lives. Our grandmother was an extremely narcissistic. My father was to a point. My mom suffered so much abuse from all of them it was unreal. But you were right about comparing us! That and the you’re not good enough to do that or that doesn’t make enough money when I said I wanted to be a photographer. So yes, it all makes so much sense now at 52. Just sad that I’ve spent most of my life with depression then finally bipolar 2. But have it under control now. My childhood was great but they all enabled me. Took me almost 47 yrs to realize. Just kept thinking it was all me but not anymore.
    Thank you so much

  2. And when their kids grow up indifferent or actually hostile to their parents, it just proves to the parents how unfortunate they were to be saddled with such defective children. “After all we did for those little ingrates!!!”

    1. I have a narssistic boyfriend who won’t even let me read what the dictionary says that a narssistic person is he defines EVERYTHING that is said about narssistic People and families

  3. Trellony R Nixon

    omg! Im adapting a man who family is just like this and sadly my mom side victimized her like this as well. Unfortunately the guy im dating has some of his parents narcissitic tendencies and he is also a victim the “lost child” to their narc ways as well.. Thank god I saw this because it explains why hes treating me the way.

  4. All of these roles are a product of enforcing Collectivism, to sacrifice themselves for the family thinking it’s the right thing to do. It’s not.

  5. Accurate to my family! I wish there was advice on how to repair it with grown children

  6. First off, could you please repost the image as it’s still illegible but obviously insightful! Thanks! This article is very interesting… I’m currently the parent orbiting the narcissistic while our two children are the victims of our triangulated conversations and pretense that all is ok. Well, not anymore — the divorce papers have been filed, hooray! I don’t necessarily see my husband as being quite as indifferent to our kids as is portrayed here. He seems quite caring and attentive, even tuned in to one child’s feelings. Maybe because he’s the more covert narcissist? Thanks, Karyl, for your work and books — Will I Ever Be Free of You was the first one I read when exploring this topic and it was very insightful! Fingers crossed I make it through this divorce relatively unscathed….

  7. I’m interested to know if you have any information on being the only child of a narcissist. I find I’m usually the scapegoat but alternate between that and the other types, because there is only one of me and it depends on my mother’s mood as to what I am.

  8. Please link to a larger version of the Narcissistic Family Tree cartoon. It’s not legible when enlarged, nor is the copyright info. Thanks!

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