Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Narcissistic Family

1. inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity.
2. being a normal condition at the infantile level of personality development.

From Psychology Marisa Mauro, Psy.D. reviews the book, The Narcissistic Family: Diagnosis and Treatment by Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman and Robert M. Pressman.

"In narcissistic families, this basic goal becomes skewed and the meeting of parental needs becomes of primary importance for the family."

Sound familiar?

The book reveals that children from narcissistic families tend to grow up with traits that mimic those of Adult Children Of Alcoholics. It comes as no surprise that there is some overlap between the two. Narcissism and parental dysfunction, whether it's addiction, abuse or neglect, go hand in hand. The patients studied reported no parental substance addiction or overt abuse. But the emotional needs of their parents took precedence over their own.

This normal developmental process is difficult for parents who are most concerned with fulfilling their own needs... to compensate, the parents fight back, ignoring the child's needs and at the same time forcing the child to respond to their own by withholding attention and affection until they do so.

From the article: "The children's emotional needs go unattended while they learn to wait to see what their parents expect and then react, negatively or positively, to those expectations. They learn to ignore their feelings or become completely detached from them altogether. As a result of having no emotions on which to direct their actions, the children become dependent upon others for guidance. This is the process of becoming what the authors term a reactive and reflective individual."

Or to put it another way, We become reactors rather than actors, waiting for others to take the initiative.

More from the article: "In adulthood... they become distressed by their own pervasive need to please others, chronic need to seek external validation, and difficulty identifying their own feelings wants and needs. They tend to suffer from a myriad of emotional stressors including anger that lies just below the surface, depression, chronic dissatisfaction, and poor self-confidence."

"Many also struggle with indecisiveness as they have learned to make decisions on the basis of other's needs and expectations. Interpersonally, they tend to share a history of failed romances and have difficulty trusting in others... at work they are overachievers, workaholics even, that are never satisfied with their success."

It is striking how this correlates so closely with ACOA traits. As I've heard in meetings, "ACOA" is an umbrella term that encompasses just about any type of chronic family dysfunction (including narcissism) leading to emotional or physical trauma. I believe narcissism is deeply intertwined in most, if not all, dysfunctional families.

The opposite of the narcissistic family is one where parents assume responsibility for their children's emotional and physical needs. The children learn to be independent as they slowly take responsibility for meeting their own needs in a developmentally appropriate manner, eventually becoming independent adults.

Children grow up learning to identify and act on their feelings, wants and needs. Parents take care of their own needs or seek help from other adults. In this way, the children have also learned how to be good parents through the process of observational learning.

The book includes strategies and tips on healing for survivors.

Read the original article at:

Thanks for listening,


Check out the Orange County ACA website at: Orange County Adult Children


Warren Baldwin said...

Very helpful post. A lot of good information is usable form for those of us not professional in this field. Thanks.

sparky said...


"The book reveals that children from narcissistic families tend to grow up with traits that mimic those of Adult Children Of Alcoholics."

I think it was in the mid 80's that the Adult Children of Alcoholics organization voted to include "Dysfunctional Families" in the name.

I personally think a completely separate "Narcissists Anonymous" may be in order. Maybe the narcissists could all help each other out. I certainly think most rate thier own groups, sadly most of them want to run the other groups. LOL

I am certainly not "promoting" that ACA WSO-organization I suspect I have met a few narcissists there in the current rebuilding of ACA, which I hear meeting narcissists in 12 step recovery is to be expected.

Actually that is not funny at all. Many think Bill W. that started Alcoholics Anonymous was a narcissist. I agree from the studying I have done.

He says in his own words in the book Pass It on,"If I got pat's on the back I was fine, if not I slipped back into depression."

Unfortunately one of my biggest Adult Child of an Alcoholic/dysfunctional family traits is fear of confronting an "authority figure" narcissist. I have heard many discussing this subject.

These people are dangerous! Certainly has been dangerous for me even as an adult. I think understanding how serious this is for then helps some with my own resentments..yet, presently and in the recent past I am dealing with more than one narcissist and certainly could leanr a few tools to be assertive around one.

My divorce lawyer studied psychology and in regards to my narcissitic ex-wife he recommended I just "Take the bull by the horn" sort of approach and it actually worked.

I also understand the importance of Tony A.'s Step Four:

4. We made a searching and blameless inventory of our parents because, in essence, we had become them.

If I spot it I got it sort of thing. My parents were narcissistic to some degree. I think it is actually a normal developmental stage that possibly many just never out grow.

I have met a few very,very dangerous narcissists completely insensitive to thier feelings and so dissociated from thier feelings they don't seem to care who they Step on.

I hope this subject is discussed more understood in the general population to reach "mass consciousness".

I am also told narcissists are dangerous people. In light of a very serious disorder:one girl joking told me I can spot a narcissist;

"It usually looks as though they are walking so straight and tall as though thier is something so far stuck up thier rear ends that thier brains have been scrambled.

NPD it is such a sad disorder. Perhaps one of the worst,many just blame on "ego problems."

A very misunderstood problem with alot of serious underlying feelings of inferiority,fear and depression. That is so far covered up, dissociated and sadly I think most run off anyone willing to tell them the truth and they are perhaps just unable to listen.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing your views and knowledge on the matter - very very interesting points you put there. I was married to a psycopath and can see some of the same traits in him. I am still scared of him - we have a common child. My life is still influenced by his moods even though I have escaped 'the prison' I was in. I go to ACA meetings - they help understand myself better. I want to live a life without fear! Again thank you so much... Yours Bettina.

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