Did you grow up with a narcissist?

A clinical narcissist goes far beyond self-absorbed. A person with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) has no ability to empathize with others. They don’t have an awareness of the impact of their behavior and can be needy, indifferent, hostile and even cruel.

How do you begin to heal from the invisible wounds of being raised by someone like that?

I’ve been diving deep into family systems, roles and dysfunctional behavior patterns for a few weeks now on the blog, because getting clear and gaining understanding about your family of origin is one of the most important things you can do to transform your life.

So much of the time, this stuff is unconscious and covert. How do you know what’s normal if what you’ve experienced is all you’ve known?

I want to give you some hope…because as difficult as your childhood may have been, you can recover from growing up in a dysfunctional or narcissistic family system.

That’s why in this week’s episode, I’m sharing the common traits and roles within a narcissistic family system so that you can start to identify, understand and honor your own experience…because that’s the first step to healing.


Family “Rules” in a Narcissistic Family System


All dysfunctional families have an unspoken set of rules that drives behaviors and interactions. Narcissistic family systems are a really specific type of dysfunction, and so there are some common traits or “rules” that usually apply.

Here is a list of some of the patterns at work in a narcissistic family dynamic:



Within a narc family system, there is pressure for things to look “good”. There is more interest in how the family is perceived by the outside world than what is happening inside. This requires secrecy around anything negative or “shameful,” so no one is allowed to talk about what is actually going on to outsiders.

Compare and Despair Mindset

There’s often negative messaging given to the children about who they are and what they are. The narcissist might continuously compare them to other people or to each other and give the kids the feeling that they will never measure up.  This is all about the deep insecurity of the narcissist because the underbelly of someone with this personality disorder is an extremely fragile sense of self and low self-esteem. This insecurity gets projected onto the other family members.

Lack of Empathy

The narc parent is incapable of having empathy or sympathy in any real way, and growing up in this system means not getting emotional needs met because a narcissist cannot understand the nuances of their children or others. Children do not feel and are not important within this system. Their role is to provide the narcissist with what they need (narcissistic supply), as in they are there to be used and to draw validation from.

Communication Issues

There is often no direct communication. No one is allowed to talk about what is real or about feelings that don’t align with the narc’s ego or agenda. Narcissists are often characterized by exaggeration or aggrandizement of themselves, and all the other family members must dial into that reality (or else). There’s usually all kinds of passive aggression and triangulating of family members. Siblings are often pitted against one another.

Blurred Boundaries

In a narc family, there is no right to privacy. The narcissist feels entitled and like they have a right to everything and everyone. Example: If they want to know something, they feel like they have every right to read your journal or listen in on a phone call or search your room. Identity is often blurred as well because a narc parent will claim any success or accomplishment their children have as their own.

Now that we’ve established what can go on within the narcissistic home, let’s move into…


The Roles and The Players in The Narcissistic Family System


As Julia Hall, author and mentor for sufferers of narcissistic abuse, says

“The narcissistic family can be understood as a play with characters that serve the lead – the narcissist (usually a parent)…Narcissistic families have uncannily similar patterns from one to the next, with the actors playing pretty much the same roles.”


I find her analogy particularly useful and potentially even freeing for those who are unaware that these roles were or are in place.

The Narcissist

This person is the center of the system, with everything and everyone else revolving around him or her. The narcissist could be considered the tyrant of the family and they hold onto that position with dysfunctional, manipulative and hurtful behavior. They blame, shame, guilt, compete and criticize. They tend to gaslight or deny the reality of others.

Drama, pain, and suffering of others, sadly, is often what they need to fulfill their distorted perception of themselves and get their narcissistic supply met.

The Enabler

This person is killing themselves to support the narcissist’s belief of who they are. It can be the spouse or other parent, but sometimes could be one of the children. The enabler accepts the narc’s reality without question and perpetuates the cycle by making excuses for them and/or apologizing for them. Unfortunately, this behavior can be fueled by a codependent cycle of abuse and can be addictive, as the narcissist often manipulates this person with special treatment or rewards.

Flying Monkeys

These are the kids in the family system who are carrying out the needs and the wants of the narcissist. This can include bullying of other family members to stay in line with the narc. They are usually the easiest for the narcissist to manipulate in the system. Often they can grow up to display narcissistic behavior themselves.

The Golden Child

This person is seen as an extension of the narcissistic parent and it is their role (much like the Hero Child I talked about in last week’s episode here) to succeed and bring positive attention to the family. The narcissistic parent chooses a child to be the favorite and may give them special status, attention, and praise, yet will also take credit in some way for their accomplishments. The cost to the child in this role can be overfunctioning, compulsive overachieving, loss of identity, perfectionism and low self-esteem.

The Scapegoat

This is the person whom the narc has chosen to basically be the punching bag of the family. They are the target for abuse. All the family problems or anything that is incongruent with the “reality” of the narcissist is blamed on this person.

The Scapegoat can turn out to be the most vocal in the system. They tend to be the ones who are telling the truth about what’s actually going on…which in turn makes them even more of a target. Just like the same role within an addicted family system, the Scapegoat acts out the veiled frustration, anger, and feelings of the entire group.

Again, I don’t want you to lose hope that if this was (or is) your experience, that there is a way to recover and heal from this. But you have to take the first step.

What’s that step? Self-awareness. The good news is if you’re here and you’re reading this, you are already on your way;). I created a little cheat sheet for you with a checklist with this information, and you can download it right here.

Everything I teach is based on my 5 Pillars of Transformation, and the first pillar is self-awareness. It all starts with you learning and understanding what your experience actually was. Only then can you start the healing process.

I hope this episode helped you take that first step to raise your awareness. If you got value from this, and you think it could help someone else in your world, please share it.

Remember, if there’s a topic you want me to cover, please comment below and let me know! Everything I create is for YOU because you are it for me, and I read everything you send me so that I can best serve your needs and keep on my mission to help as many people as I can create better, healthier and more vibrant lives through improved mental health!

I hope you have an amazing week deep diving into this topic and as always take care of you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Hello Terri,

    Thank you for writing such a great article. Growing up, I was the golden child in our home and as I got older, I became the scapegoat as I began to asset my own ideas and independence.

    While I know once of the commenters addressed it above, would it be possible for you to cover the unique dynamics that come with being an only child of a narcissistic parent?

    Thank you for all of the necessary work that you are doing!

  2. These are great episodes and information. I wish I would have found you sooner. I have found it very difficult to find quality therapists with any real experience with true narcissism. Are there any resources that are ONLY for these specific personality issues? I am in a high conflict divorce from a covert narc and I suppose I have been an enabler and scapegoat. Two of my sons will no longer have a relationship with me after the narc projected his views on them and proceeded to burden them via alienation (lot of false claims/ lies by the narc). What feedback can you share with estrangement of young adults and how to try to reconcile? This is a situation where the true facts of my kids childhoods are that the family dynamic was dysfunctional but I am being blamed because the covert narc has controlled the narrative and is relentless to hide behind a facade (I thought taking the high road as advised by attorneys in a divorce was the way to go…big mistake with an aggressive covert narc)
    Thanks in advance

    1. I am witnessing you with compassion and sending you strength. Taking the high road also takes time. You are setting an example for your children about true self love and what it means to take care of yourself. It may take some time for them to watch and learn for themselves, and as adults that is what they also will learn for themselves. Stay true to yourself and your healing.

  3. Hi Terri – Thank you so much for this series. My one question for you … what about those who grew up as an only child of a narcissistic parent? Obviously there isn’t a particular system in play or role, as you’ve listed above, yet the impacts and dysfunction are still as insidious. Can you elaborate?


    1. Paula,
      Thank you for your question as I am sure there are others out there wondering the same thing. The roles in all family systems can change so I imagine that in a narc family system with one child there is a lot of triangulation among the 3 players. Meaning the narc gets each of the other players against the remaining player as a means of controlling both. I also believe that as the only child your role could shift from golden child to scapegoat and back again. Also, the tendency for the narc parent to parentify the child and make the child responsible for their (the narcs) happiness or to satisfy their needs was also a part of your experience. I am sending so much strength and courage on your healing journey.

  4. Hi Terri! Your Work is Needed and Appreciated! ThankYou. Will You please address PTSD=Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (as a result of Assault w grievous injury) in the near future?! ThankYou.

  5. I really enjoyed this video Terri and I would love it too if you could delve deeper into this whole topic, especially regarding recovery. I was a Golden Child – I still am to some degree but as I have begun to establish boundaries with my narcissist father I can see I’m becoming something of a scapegoat. Thanks for helping me on my journey to healing ?

    1. It’s my honor to be here and helping you on your journey. I am cheering you on as you set boundaries that feel safe to you and helpful!

  6. It took me until I was 35 to have my eyes opened to this as my family of origin. I have been working for 2 years to understand this and see everything for what it really is. Dances have been changed and I have changed more than I thought possible. Thank you for being key to this discovery. It has changed my life and my children’s life immeasurably. No one in my family of origin can see this going on so it is difficult to watch the toxicity patterns continue. I am sad to see this but grateful for myself and my family for being liberated. I just hope I can heal enough to end this cycle in every way so my children won’t deal with this pain. I would love if you did an episode on what a truly healthy family system should/can look like after Narcissistic abuse so I can look now focus on the mother I hope to be that I never had. Thanks for all you do!

    1. You are welcome! I am so glad to hear you are making the changes towards a healthy family system for you and your family. And thank you for the suggestion!

  7. The topic Adult Narcisstic Children.. I have 2 children I finally accepted are narcisstic, just like dear ole Alcoholic Dad and they are high functioning alcoholics with good jobs. I love them but it is painful. Their grandma always abused presc drugs, she is narcisstic also.

  8. Terri, your you-tube videos and emails are such life savers for me. I am committed to healing from this. I have now disconnected from both my parents with only limited contact with my Golden child brother. Very limited. I do know that talk therapy is the most effective vs only courses. It’s a different energy and I have experienced a visceral, although, temporary shift from just one session with a ‘love’ coach. Do you offer these?

    I’m interested in the 5 pillars of healing. Thank you, again

    1. I am so happy to hear that the videos are helpful to you. Yes, talk therapy is very different from a course because you can have that one on one attention and can go much deeper. I do not offer one on one sessions any longer. I don’t know where you are located, but if you are in the US you can start looking for a therapist here https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists
      Sending you strength and I am cheering you on!!

  9. Hey Terri! This has been an enlightening post. I’d love to see you expand on the long term effects on those kids, as in, who is most likely to suffer from what? My partner is everything you wrote above about a narcissist (not according to him of course!) Ironically, he hates his mother and describes HER exactly as you have described the narc above. He is the youngest of 4 boys and given his descriptions of childhood, he was CLEARLY the scapegoat…the one that was the mouthpiece saying things that “no one else dared to say, they just put up with mom’s behavior”. He also felt she was unduly unfair to him compared to the 3 brothers before him (1 or 2 of them were def golden children who “got away with everything”)… so how likely is it that the scapegoat grows up to be a narcissist? More or less common than the golden child? Interested to see this story line developed…is the scapegoat more likely to be selected based on behavior? My partner was definitely the one that pushed boundaries and likely “bucked the system”…sadly, their is no “identification” between his behavior now and his mother’s then :(. Though ironically, now she seems to try to win his affection (maybe cause its the only one she doesn’t have?) and he seems to still seek her approval. Thank you for a very enlightening and enriching post.

    1. Thank you for sharing here. And you ask some great questions. This is Julia Hall, the resource I mentioned in the video. You might find it useful for what you’re going through with your partner and find more of the information that you’re seeking. https://narcissistfamilyfiles.com And thank you for your suggestion to expand this topic!

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}