narcissism

The Narcissist And His Family


We are all members of a few families in our lifetime: the one we are born to and the one(s) that we create. We all transfer hurts, attitudes, fears, hopes, and desires – 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, idealized and over-valued) or do not fulfill this function (and, therefore, are valueless, devalued).

The narcissist gets all the love that he needs from himself. From the outside, he requires approval, affirmation, admiration, adoration, attention – in other words, externalized 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 great intellectual or physical capacities and achievements, or behavior patterns appreciated by the family members.

The Narcissist And His Family

When confronted with (younger) siblings or with his 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.

Then, when these reactions prove ineffective or counterproductive, 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 the introduction of new foci of attention to the family cell (even to a new pet!).

Whoever the narcissist perceives to compete 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 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 monopolize 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 uses in most of his relationships.

As siblings or progeny grow older, the narcissist begins to see their potential as informative, 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 idolize 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 Narcissist And His Family

At this stage, 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 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 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 can better put into context and perspective his actions, question his motives, and 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 had 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 complete 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 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 family members 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. The family he has created disintegrates to his great sorrow (due to the loss of the Narcissistic Space) and 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 the 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 behaviors – the narcissist devalues them – the narcissist feels stifled and trapped – the narcissist becomes paranoid – the narcissist rebels and the family disintegrates.

This cycle characterizes not only the family life of the narcissist. It is to be found in other realms of his life (his career, for instance).

The narcissist initially feels threatened at work (no one knows him, he is a nobody). Then, he develops a circle of admirers, cronies, and friends, which he “nurtures and cultivates” to obtain Narcissistic Supply from them.

He overvalues them (to him, they are the brightest, the most loyal, with the most significant changes to climb the corporate ladder and other superlatives).

But following some anti-narcissistic behaviors 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 series of self-defeating and self-destructive behaviors, 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 tragic life.

Appendix – Custody, and Visitation

A parent diagnosed with full-fledged Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) should be denied custody and granted only restricted visitation rights under supervision.

Narcissists accord the same treatment to children and adults. They regard both as sources of narcissistic supply, mere instruments of gratification – idealize them at first and then devalue them in favor of alternative, safer, and more subservient sources. Such treatment is traumatic and can have long-lasting emotional effects.

The narcissist’s inability to acknowledge and abide by the personal boundaries set by others puts the child at heightened risk of abuse – verbal, emotional, physical, and, often, sexual.

His possessiveness and panoply of indiscriminate negative emotions – transformations of aggression, such as rage and envy – hinder his ability to act as a “good enough” parent.

His propensities for reckless behavior, substance abuse, and sexual deviance endanger the child’s welfare or even his or her life.

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