What Is a Narcissistic Family?

B. Miller

The narcissistic family is a relatively recent development in psychology, when researchers realized that children raised in narcissistic families turned out very much like those children raised by abusive or substance-addicted parents, even if the children were never abused or technically mistreated. In this type of family, the interactions among family members are characterized by selfishness and competition; parents are generally more concerned about their own happiness and well being than that of their children, and will often pit siblings against each other to spur competition. Communication in a narcissistic family is often very poor, and the unspoken goal is to keep up a happy appearance, and make sure that from the outside, everything looks perfect.

Compromise is hard to achieve in a narcissistic family.
Compromise is hard to achieve in a narcissistic family.

Each narcissistic family can be slightly different, but these key principles are generally found in the interactions between family members. One of the most common aspects of this type of family, as discussed above, is the parental drive to keep up appearances. Emotions are not generally expressed at all in this type of family, and secrets are kept very close. If children are praised, it is generally for their successes that can be viewed by other people, not necessarily for the type of people they actually are. The message that children are not good enough is often given in this type of family.

Parents in a narcissistic family withhold affection from the child until the child learns to meet the needs of the parent.
Parents in a narcissistic family withhold affection from the child until the child learns to meet the needs of the parent.

The lack of boundaries is another common issue found in a narcissistic family. Parental roles might not be clearly defined, and privacy is not often respected. This is often because the parents genuinely do not care about the children's feelings. Some will actually withhold affection from the child until the child learns to meet the needs of the parent. These are just a few of the most common relationship dynamics found in a narcissistic family; often, other people cannot even tell this is going on, as it is so difficult to pinpoint and define, and because the family is so concerned with maintaining a positive image to show the rest of the world.

Interactions among children raised in a narcissistic family tend to be selfish and competitive.
Interactions among children raised in a narcissistic family tend to be selfish and competitive.

Children who come from narcissistic families often display similar traits themselves, and eventually pass it on to their own children. They may have difficulty with intimate relationships and display selfishness and poor communication abilities in interactions with other people; some suffer from anger issues, low self-esteem, and depression. Without psychological treatment, it is very difficult to break these habits once they become so deeply ingrained after being raised in this environment.

People raised in narcissistic families often adapt poor communication skills and narcissistic behavior throughout adulthood.
People raised in narcissistic families often adapt poor communication skills and narcissistic behavior throughout adulthood.
Competition can be a problem in narcissistic families.
Competition can be a problem in narcissistic families.
Children of narcissistic families frequently experience relationship problems as they grow into adults.
Children of narcissistic families frequently experience relationship problems as they grow into adults.

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Discussion Comments


My father is a narcissist. I was his target as soon as I was born, until I left the house at 18. My siblings didn't experience the full glare of his narcissistic rages, and when they moved out, my parents stopped pretending to be the happy nuclear family. I lived with the total chaos and dysfunctional breakdown of the family until I escaped.

My father is gay. I can't say he has come out, as he hasn't come out. He just kicked my mother out of the house a year ago and moved his longterm boyfriend in, instead. My siblings are in shock that their perfect father is gay and are in complete denial of the horrific and callous way he's treated my mother. And of course, nobody gives a crap about how he treated me.

My mother only realized/cared that he was a narcissistic sociopath after she was kicked out, even though she knows how much he abused me. My sister adores my father and accuses me of trying to ruin her relationship with him if I mention any bad (true) things like how he sunbathes naked all the time or gave my mother pubic lice.

My father turned my entire family against me growing up by scapegoating me for everything. I was always the weak, stupid runt of the litter. Away from my family I am strong, but around them I become the runt again, and those feelings of worthlessness make me want to kill myself. I have to remember that my family's denial and delusions do not define me and that I am bigger than their dysfunction.


In my family, my father's NPD bonded my siblings and me and our mother. We have an unbreakable bond. Nothing was ever good enough, but it had the opposite effect on us. We are completely lacking in ambition, and have confidence issues. We find solace in our love and closeness and hate attention.

My father had a fifth child who despises us and his previous life. She is more narcissistic than he ever was and has several other issues, but to the world, she is the perfect child. He cannot see it, even though in private she is violent, verbally abusive and maybe downright evil.


My Mother's family, (I do not consider them mine) was highly narcissistic. There was a great deal of bullying that went on, shaming, public humiliation, ridicule and verbal abuse.

My mother was incapable of praising or any sort of positive reinforcement for her children, and flatly refused to teach us anything, although her family was highly educated, and in some instances even brilliant. There was also sexual abuse. And children were pitted against each other.

When I was growing up, I was seldom fed, and had to learn how to find and prepare food myself from a young age. No one cared whether I went to school, so I seldom went, and was chronically ill due to neglect, including cold. The above description fits quite well, however. It is the best description I have seen of their means of interaction and parenting.

In January I called my mother to tell her of my diagnosis of breast cancer. She has not called back.


I was raised in a narcissistic family with my brother and sister. It was an absolute disgrace what my parents were doing to us physically, sexually and emotionally.

On the outside, nobody knew what was going on because they were devious, manipulating bullies. We all carried on the pretense, as if none of it happened to us, and tried to keep a relationship going with them both as adults.

They are now nearly in their 80's and are as horrible now as they were then, and if society didn't punish them, well, I really hope that they will both have to answer to God one day for what they did and are still doing to us with mental abuse!


In my opinion, I think a lot more families are affected by a narcissistic family environment than is generally recognized. There are the extreme cases, where no affection or positive attention is given to children unless the parent's needs are being met.

Then there are lesser degrees of this behavior in many families. Too much attention is paid to the high achievers in the family, and others are not accepted for who they are. Parents are over critical and encourage too much competition.This behavior may ebb and flow, but is not healthy for children.


Narcissistic behavior in a family can be very subtle. It usually isn't recognized by people on the outside and the narcissistic parents probably don't realize what they are doing to their children. It's behavior that is passed down from generation to generation.

People who are affected by this need to get therapy to stop the cycle. It really is hurtful to the personality development of children. They grow up with few genuine emotions - especially empathy for others. They strive for top status at all costs.

More research needs to be done on this behavioral problem so treatment can be available.


I grew up in a narcissistic family, and I never really desired affection. I don't know if I was born this way, but I didn't have what are considered regular emotions.

I was very competitive with my sister, and my parents egged us on. They would lavish praise and money on whoever got the best scores on tests or took home any sort of award. They also would ground whoever came up short.

This motivated me to always be the best, even if I had to step on people to do it. I have an excellent job with a high salary, and that is because I was raised narcissistic.

Most people think I'm terrible, but I literally don't care. I have what I want out of life, and I don't need to please anyone else to make myself happy.


@wavy58 – I guess there's no law against being narcissistic, but I think there should be one to protect children from parents like this. I also think that any adults who witness parents behaving this way toward their children have a moral responsibility to report it.

Child protective services will whisk children away from a physically abusive parent in a heartbeat, but they rarely do anything about emotional abuse, which a narcissistic family is guilty of. I realize it's hard to prove, but if an agent were to spend any time at all with the family, he or she would witness warning signs, because it's impossible to disguise a selfish heart for long.

Yes, the children may be narcissistic as well, but it's only because they learned it from their parents. They could be retrained if the behavior is caught at a young age and they are freed from the tyrannical reign of their parents.


Narcissistic families are often wealthy and high ranked in society. They have a family name to uphold, and they will do anything to make sure that their children don't soil the family's reputation.

A guy from a narcissistic family asked me out once. I had to meet his mother before she would allow him to be seen with me. She told me that I was neither pretty enough nor graceful enough for her son, and we didn't get to go out.

I was actually glad, because I would have hated to wind up with her for a mother-in-law. I just hate that he had to be affected by his family's brainwashing.

He always seemed shy and quiet, and that's probably because his mother criticized whatever he said around the home. He ended up going to some elite college, and I heard that he has become like his parents. He could have been the sweetest person if he hadn't been raised in that environment.


I took ballet classes with a young girl from a narcissistic family. She was highly competitive, and she let everyone know up front that she was not interested in making friends. She simply wanted to win trophies and be the best in the class.

After about a month, I got to meet her mother when she came to watch practice. The girl ran up to her mother afterward, excited that she got to witness her great performance.

The mother broke the girl's heart. She told her that her form was pitiful and that she would have to do better than that on stage, or she would bring shame to the family.

The girl burst into tears, and we all understood why she acted the way she did. We still didn't want to befriend her, but we felt less disgust for her after seeing this.

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