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Narcissistic Families: Dysfunctional Dynamics

No family is perfect, and every family has areas they can improve upon. However, there are some key dysfunctional dynamics that exist in Narcissistic Families. If this is your family, you can expect to spot the following traits and dynamics:

Secrets among family members regarding the fact that children's needs aren't being met. Family secrets are especially strong if there is abuse going on within the family unit. The underlying message with these secrets is that everything is okay in the family and that all things are kept within the family unit.

Image is everything! Narcissistic families have a strong need to present that everything is good and perfect in their family to outsiders. There is a belief in narcissistic families that they are a perfect family with no problems making them better than others and, thus, needing to appear as such.

Negative messages, both spoken and unspoken, that usually revolve around family members never being quite good

Covering face with hand, only one eye exposed with a passage from the mental health blog saying, "Emotions lead out in unhealthy ways and harm others if we do not address and hold ourselves accountable for them. It doesn't matter how good we are at convincing ourselves otherwise."

enough. Family members are left with the understanding that they are valued for what they contribute to the family unit rather than simply for who they are.

Lack of parental hierarchy. In narcissistic families, children are there to serve and meet the parents' needs. Whereas in healthy families, parents are in charge, meet the children's needs and eventually teach the children how to meet their needs independently. Learn more about the contrast between healthy and narcissistic families in Part One of The Narcissistic Family Series.

Lack of effective communication. Instead, communication is usually indirect, and conflict is not addressed. This is often accompanied by passive and/or passive-aggressive behavior.

Boundaries are unclear and disrespected by the narcissistic parent, usually due to a lack of privacy and feelings of entitlement.

Siblings are not encouraged to be close as they are often pitted against or put in competition with one another. This can occur through the use of family roles, such as golden child and scapegoat. See Narcissistic Families: Family Roles and Characters for more.

Feelings are denied and not addressed. Children are not taught how to address their emotions in a healthy and effective way. Instead, they are taught to bottle up and repress their emotions. Children of narcissistic families often get the message that their emotions do not matter and are unimportant. This comes from the parents' lack of emotional insight and their own emotional disconnect. As humans, we cannot avoid emotions or turn them off. For narcissistic parents, they will project their own uncomfortable emotions onto others as a way to avoid addressing and taking

Photo of broken glass with a highlight of the key dysfunctional dynamics to expect from narcissistic families. If this is you, please seek mental health services to assist in the healing process.

responsibility for them. Unfortunately, emotions leak out in unhealthy ways and harm others if we do not address and hold ourselves accountable for them. It doesn't matter how good we are at convincing ourselves otherwise.

Further, there is a lack of emotional tune-in meaning that the parents are unable to feel or show unconditional love or empathy to their children. They are emotionally unavailable and can be critical and judgmental instead.

The dysfunction in the family unit may be overt or covert. Covert narcissism and family dysfunction is the most difficult to identify, expose and overcome.

Dynamics are the ways in which families interact on a broader scale. However, how do these dynamics come to be? How are they reinforced? Abusive traits of narcissistic families are what continue these dynamics in spite of the pain and disconnect they bring. Stick around for the next post where we will once again dive deeper into the depths of dysfunction to identify key abusive tactics implemented in narcissistic families.

While you wait, don't forget to read about the family roles and characteristics that exist in narcissistic families. If we can understand the family roles, dysfunctional dynamics and abusive tactics used we can begin to make intentional decisions on our role in the narcissistic family and how to heal from the abuse itself. Hang in there M.A.D. friends! Healing is possible and we're almost there.


For those who are or have experienced this type of abuse and toxic dynamics, please don't hesitate to seek help. You are not alone. Mental health services can be helpful in processing your experiences and developing tools to heal. Sometimes we need therapy to help us deal with the people who should be in therapy. If you're in the Quad Cities area, don't hesitate to reach out to schedule an appointment today to start your journey to healing.



  1. McBride, K., (May 1, 2011). The Narcissistic Family Tree. Retrieved from

  2. Knight, K., Nazario, M. R., (July 5, 2018). Hurtful Parenting: Identifying and Overcoming the Impact of Narcissistic Families. Retrieved from

  3. Inner Integrations. (July 1, 2018).Scapegoat and Golden Child: How and Why Narcissists Assign These Roles (and not just in the Family). Retrieved from

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