Note: It is estimated that more than 90% of adults come from a dysfunctional family, and this is true in my clientele as well. To become more specific, 30%-40% of my clients, at any given time, come from a specific type of a dysfunctional family: a narcissistic family
Although it is a hard statistic to measure, it is estimated that 1-2 out of 20 people have narcissistic tendencies. (Note: tendencies are not the same as diagnosed NPD).
If you experienced a dysfunctional childhood where your parent(s) were disconnected and lacked empathy towards you and your siblings, know that you’re not broken, you’re not alone, and what you experienced is ABSOLUTELY common.
No matter how badly your family of origin hurt you, you can move forward and discover how to find happiness within yourself and even how to love yourself as a woman or a man.
The Perils of a Dysfunctional Family Upbringing
Most of my clients are not aware that their dysfunctional family has been narcissistic, and that many of their adult life problems were set up by this upbringing.
Dead or alive, your parents continue to have immense power over you, even if you aren’t consciously aware of this fact.
They were the first to condition you and program all your patterns. They knew how to push your buttons because they ‘installed’ them.
They massively influence your personality development. They have power over patterns that have to do with your self-esteem, your deserving of love, what possibilities are meant for you, what success level you deserve, how intelligent and capable you are… your parents were the ones who told you who you are from the moment you arrived.
You want to be true to yourself but who even knows what that means?
When you arrived, you were a blank canvas, then you were ‘painted on’ by your parents until you believed that this is how you ‘always were.’
No matter how old you are, if you are a child of one or more narcissistic parent(s), (including step parents in blended families), you need to listen up, because success is not a simple straight line, especially for you.
You have strong old patterns that still rule your thought process, decision making, and relationships. This is why you haven’t had the career and relationship success you’ve been searching for.
Sure, you might be accomplished, but down deep, you know this isn’t what you want. You want to know how to reinvent yourself, and that starts with diving into your childhood.
Your dysfunctional family childhood is not something that you’re done and over with. It’s not something that you’ve grown out of and moved away from.
Your childhood is where all the patterns are set. Your adult life is where you play them out.
Your sense of self, how you show up in all your relationships, how you make choices, why you judge… are an entanglement of the past so far back that you can’t even recall where it all began.
There is a lot more to your past that affects your current state of affairs than you bother to give credit to.
The Importance Of Forgiveness
We all like to think that we’re strong. You know you have great will power, you’re intelligent, you can follow your dreams and you get over things. You have already “forgiven” your parents.
However, the thing experts don’t tell you is that forgiving doesn’t extract who you’ve had to be to survive your childhood.
Forgiving, in most cases, is lip service, and a conscious thought wanting to make peace with your inner demons. This is not real forgiveness, and without real forgiveness, you can’t move on or control your mind power.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a VP, a C-suite level executive, or even a stay-at-home mom, the signs of your past family dysfunctions are very obvious for someone like me trained to look for them.
- Being overly responsible or dedicated
- Unexpected triggers and reactions for simple topics.
- No strong relationships (even if married, you might feel alone.)
Basically, no matter how successful you may be in your career, you can be completely underdeveloped in knowing how to keep your power, and how to foster and maintain healthy relationships.
Sure, you may know a lot of people, but the relationships are not reciprocal. You give more than you receive. You are emotionally blocked and don’t let people in. You sacrifice your needs to satisfy someone else who doesn’t deserve you. You breach your values to be liked.
Where Your Relationship Patterns Come From
A dysfunctional family is a family where parents do not meet the needs of the children, and other people in the family are forced to accommodate their physical or emotional absence. This is also often paired with different forms of abuse. In typical cases, children raise themselves with minimal support, while meeting high expectations of the parents.
Or maybe your parents swang the other way on the dysfunction spectrum. Maybe they were overprotective or overbearing with parental presence, while micromanaged everything.
During the formative years of 0-7, much of our relationship patterns form. Growing up in this environment, it becomes impossible to know how to be in a healthy tribe, feel safe to take healthy risks, and be open to trying new things.
You don’t grow out of patterns, unless you relentlessly work on changing them. In fact, as you age, the old, dysfunctional patterns, become even more ingrained.
You grow up, physically becoming adults, but your emotions stay in childhood. It’s strange to think that so many adults are emotionally children. Solving big adult problems requires similar strategies used to help children, but really, this is the truth.
That’s why in adulthood, you go through massive crises, making life-altering decisions in career, marriage, even ruling a country, using child-like underdeveloped decision making.
Remnants of childhood emotions include:
- Feeling frozen
- Overpowering domination
These are all common for people who grew up in dysfunctional families. And they all have the same root cause: a lack of skills in self management.
“It’s been said that all happy families are the same, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Anton Chekhov
So now, let’s explore how each of the children’s role in a narcissistic household continues to limit your happiness and fulfilment potential as an adult.
How Your Childhood Role In A Dysfunctional Family Determines The Type Of Adult You’ll Be
- THE GOLDEN CHILD (THE GOOD ONE)
Every narcissistic family needs a Golden Child. Usually the first born, the first born male, or the much hoped for baby. The Golden Child is the child that has the talent that the narcissistic parent highly values. If they have other talents that the narcissistic parent doesn’t value, they are deemed “useless.” This is true no matter how talented the child is.
The Golden Child is pushed to excel in school, or in sports, dance, or something very competitive. The Golden Child is a trophy.
And let’s’ say it’s you.
You cannot escape being really good at this particular area. You are also not required to develop other areas that are important for success, such as healthy interpersonal skills, empathy, and exploring and developing other parts of yourselves. This makes it hard to figure out how to be an authentic person.
All you have to do be rewarded, admired, and validated as the Star is excel in this one particular area, even if you don’t learn anything else.
As The Golden Child, you are treated better than other siblings. You were given a better living space and more gifts. There are more photos of you in the house. The family schedule revolves around you, and the rest of the siblings are obviously chopped liver. And as long as you continue to excel in this one thing, you are deemed ‘wonderful’.
The Golden Child can’t do anything outside of being good at this one thing, and you feel immense guilt around changing your life course, exploring what you may really like, and voicing opinions that might cause others to disagree with you. You want to make sure you feel safe, yet, you have no idea what you really want to build in your life.
You don’t even know how to be happy with yourself. You live conflicted, dissociated, and have trouble in relationships. You are image focused. You tend to think you are popular and know a lot of people, but none of those are deep friendships, because you don’t let people in to have the required level for true friendships.
If you, The Golden Child does ‘wake up’ and decides to go against the prescribed roles set for you, no matter what the age; as a child or adult, you can be turned into a Scapegoat, and are severely rejected and punished.
2. THE SCAPEGOAT / BLACK SHEEP (THE BAD ONE)
The Scapegoat is usually the ‘other’ child. Narcissistic and dysfunctional families work in black and white terms. They love telling their kids what they are. If there is a “good one” (Golden Child), there has to be a “bad one” (Scapegoat).
Let’s say this was you.
No matter what went wrong and how, it is always the Scapegoat’s (your) fault. You are the wrong one, the black sheep, the one who is the failure, insignificant, and bears all the problems of the family, including the parent’s marital problems, family deaths, illnesses, and any inconveniences.
As the Scapegoat, you are the one that has to take it all, because you are the one who sees their family for what it is. You noticed the dysfunction very early, because you noticed that the Golden Child is clearly favoured, and it’s not fair. You are the one that speaks the truth, and are severely punished for it.
You suffer the most obvious forms of abuse, such as being yelled at, blamed, physically hurt, given the silent treatment, and even kicked out of the house.
Narcissistic parents have major anger issues, and the Scapegoat is the main punching bag.
The punishments are magnified and out of the scope for how small the actual problem is.
As an adult, you struggle with trust, and feel triggered and blamed when things go wrong at work, and even in your new family. You have trouble with conflict resolution.
However, you are also the one who was more motivated to break out of the family dynamic, because you were the one who saw the truth of the dysfunction from very early on.
You venture out and try to build a life doing something different and far from what the narcissistic parent valued, but will still have a hard time succeeding on your own terms, because just like the other siblings, you suffer from voicing your opinions from the deeply conditioned fear of rejection and punishment.
3. THE INVISIBLE CHILD
Not every narcissistic family has an Invisible Child, but many children of alcoholics, mentally ill, and drug addicts do.
Maybe this was you.
You are literally not seen. Not taken care of. You were not fed, not clothed, not washed properly. You raised yourself. You even took care of the Narcissistic Parent, and tiptoed around their well-being. The Narcissistic Parent will applaud the Invisible Child for not having needs, and you, as the Invisible Child becomes very attached showing that you don’t have needs.
You are the one who silently suffers, trying to make peace and caregiving, while everyone else is fighting in a chaotic gong show.
Being invisible is your way of being helpful and significant. You take pride in not needing help and handling everything. You are the one who keeps harmony and peace, and wants to make sure that everyone else is well, without ever checking in on yourself. No matter how much you need to hurt yourself, you want to keep the family together.
How These Roles Play Out In Adulthood
The consequences of this dynamic and the programming are powerful. The same programming plays out in the workplace. The commonalities are that all three types, as adults, respond to new relationships and work environments in exactly the same way that you did as they played a role in your family of origin.
As you repeat these childhood patterns, they fortify. You invite the right counterparts, find the exact relationships, so you can play the familiar role again.
As adults, you unconsciously seek work environments, spouses, and friends who will help you repeat the same patterns of the former dysfunction you experienced as a child.
It shows up three major ways.
- Lack of healthy coping skills
- Inability to connect
- Lack of resilience when expectations are not met
These are important skills that are never taught at school, and in most homes, never even addressed. This is why you work so hard to invite the ‘right’ counterparts into your life, find the exact relationships and workforce culture, so you can play the familiar role again.
If you’ve ever had multiple toxic friendships, relationships or workforce culture, you actually sought that experience out.
The Golden Child
You can be a big fish in a small pond, too afraid to venture out and take a risk beyond what you know you can succeed in. You do only what pleases the narcissistic parent, even once they are gone. You still have the pattern of doing really well in one thing, but other areas of your life are neglected, and are a big huge mess. You believe you are brilliant, but secretly suffer from massive self-doubt and indecisiveness. Your self-worth is strictly tied to your vocational success, and you have no idea how to find your purpose in life.
You can become too rebellious and feel hard done by, which becomes harmful. You secretly want the popularity and validation that you never had growing up. You also have a hard time with the deep subconscious belief that in no way can you surpass and be better than the Golden Child, and sometimes, the parent as well. This often turns to self-sabotage and losing your ability to be an authentic person.
The Invisible Child
You seek to serve others to feel validated, and also needs other people to admire and serve, like the Golden Child, another narcissistic type. You often come out suffering the most from the three roles of the children, and have the hardest time with recovering, and letting go of your assigned role as an adult. You are prone to codependence. You often find yourself in the role of the caregiver in your workplace, taking on more than your responsibility calls for, and if you don’t, you feel like you are not enough, like you are not contributing. You feel the need to struggle to be satisfied. You will do the same in your new family as well. You don’t know how to outsource and delegate, and suffer all by yourself, thinking that you don’t have support available.
All three have a pattern of struggle around needing to fight for love, approval, and validation, and you feel you can only rely on external validation to feel good about yourself.
You have an extremely hard time with vulnerability, connecting honestly and deeply with others, feeling at peace with who you are, and admitting what you really need. You feel a deeply running sense of shame, and are afraid that someone might find out about the messy aspects of your past and judge you negatively for it. They find success on your terms is the hardest, because you constantly feel judged, and have an immensely deep sense of not being good enough, no matter how much they achieve. You have a habit of needing to manipulate yourself to gain validation, and will betray your needs, integrity, and values, to get a quick dose of dopamine of validation.
Do you see yourself in any of these dynamics?
If you’re currently struggling with dissatisfaction and validation, unable to follow your dream, develop personal goals or how to find happiness within yourself, know that you’ve been living immersed in an old pattern, and with awareness and work, your patterns are yours to change, and you can start living and succeeding, being your greatest potential.
Healing these patterns in your personal life and relationships will heal who you are at work, how you align with the career that you love, succeed in it, and create a life of true success on your terms. In short, you need to know how to be happy with yourself.
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