When Narcissism Runs in the Family

Guest Post by Jenn

I never knew anything about narcissism until I married into a family with three narcissists.  It was years before I made this discovery, and in those early years, I felt like I was losing my mind.  The particular family I had married into managed to turn narcissism into a generational art, and so every single member of this family (including the one I married) thought that type of behavior was normal. (Quick note: my husband is not a narcissist.  He has his own issues, but narcissism isn’t one of them.)  And because I didn’t agree with it, fought against it, and generally rattled the glass on their pristine cage… well, let’s just say it didn’t really end well.

For many reasons, at least one of these narcissists is still involved in my personal life.  Because of this, survival skills are a must.  Something I have learned from spending 12.5 years with a dysfunctional family full of narcissists is they will eat you alive and spit you out with a smile on their collective faces if you let them.  Am I angry?  Yes.  Yes, I am.  But most of the time, I’m able to move past that to the aforementioned survival skills which (along with about a year of counseling from a wonderful therapist) have helped me to keep my sense of self when the world felt like it was falling apart all around me.

Listen to your body.  This sounds silly, but when I sat down and thought about how North American society teaches us to take medication and ignore our body’s reaction to something, it made much more sense to me.  If being in a certain situation or around a certain person (or people), habitually makes you fell ill, uncomfortable, or like you need to be on Xanax, chances are your body is screaming at you to get away from whatever it is.

Educate yourself.  Once you’ve made the discovery that something is really, REALLY bothering you, it might be a good idea to see what you can find out about it.  I found that reading about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) was very helpful in that it gave me an explanation for the behaviors I was seeing.

Get yourself some resources.  Jesse’s blog was like a warming balm on a spasming muscle when I found it.  There are other resources online, as well as books you can check out (or purchase, if you love highlighting as much as I do) that will give tons of information on NPD.  Another recent blog post that is very helpful can be found on TalkTherapyBiz.com.

Build healthy boundaries.  In my particular case, since I was unable to cut the narcissist(s) completely out of my life, I developed boundaries to keep my sanity.  For example:  I talk to the N in my life about my children.  That’s it.  Nothing else because this is not a person I want to have any sort of relationship with.  Because I enjoy being married to my husband, that’s not an option.  I’ve learned to end conversations quickly when the N starts them on any other topic and just walk away.  It’s not passive aggressive, it’s setting a limit because the word No being told to this particular N is like speaking Martian to a human.

Keep physical distance.  If at all possible, just stay away from narcissists.  If that is not an option, keep them as far from you as possible.  I routinely make sure I’m on the other side of the room from the N in my life, and if my husband is home, I will just leave the room.  This goes hand in hand with listening to your body – it really does make a difference.

I also keep a personal blog where, on occasion, I will vent – with full-fledged anger and gusto – on events that happened during my time with the narcissists.  It has been very cathartic for me, but I’ve been careful to keep much personal information off the blog because a narcissist’s anger is like a forest fire on steroids, and more drama is definitely NOT what I’m going for.

Thanks so much to Jesse for inviting me to write a guest post.

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  1. Excellent post! Even though I find narcissistic families to be a phenomenon of epic proportions, I can’t help but wonder first how they all tolerate each other in the same room? Then I wonder how one managed to escape?

  2. Z,

    With their lack of empathy and focus on self, the narcissists aren’t paying attention to the others in the room.

    Escape – if they are lucky enough – might be in physical form only. I’d loved to hear from one who has managed to escape from them mentally.

  3. Wonderful, poignant take on NPD, Jenn. I couldn’t agree more about the tendency to think that narcissistic behavior is normal when you grow up with it.

    It sounds like you’ve developed a healthy repertoire of coping skills. And you have a right to be angry. Narcissism is preventable. Sounds like your husband escaped, and I imagine marrying you was not so, coincidental…

    Off to share this informative post.

    Oh, and thanks for the mention :)

    (I was so caught up with the way that narcissism weaves the “this family is normal” thread, I forgot the gratitude.)

  4. Wasn’t going to comment on this one for obvious reasons, but I just found the very first website that ever helped me to deal with NPD. It’s been several years since I tried to find this site and in that span of time the lady who put it all together has transitioned. She put her site together anonymously as many of us who comment here have done, and what she wrote helped me to not lose my mind during the worst of the NPD stuff. I’d like to thank Joanna Ashmun for having the courage to educate others as to the danger a Narcissist can cause in others’ lives. Her website can be found here: http://www.halcyon.com/jmashmun/npd/

  5. Jenn,

    Thank you so much.

    I remember that site. In fact, I have printed pages from the site in my Read This Stuff Again When You Think You Are Losing It – File.

    It was a life-saver.

  6. Thank you Jenn! I am going to share some of that site with my Parenting Coordinator. She needs to hear the N word…

  7. Beautifully stated and excellent skill tips. I especially like the part about how you communicate with a narcissist; limit the conversation and don’t expect a relationship. I think this piece of advice is most difficult for children of narcissists (or relationships where we love that sick person and have some expectation or hope for reciprocity) because it means at some point we must mourn the loss of the relationship we expected or hoped to have with that person. It’s a fantastic way to preserve our energy once we can truly let go of those hopes or needs…it’s actually helped me to love my parents more deeply because I was able to shift my expectations and protect my needs.
    Although, sometimes I wonder if I have gotten too good at not feeling or needing or expecting anything from most people…I stick to my safe little pockets.

  8. HOPE I thought I was going mad and something was wrong with me this post has giving me the insight I’ve always had but after 20 years was almost lost

  9. Megan,

    That’s how I felt – like I was losing my mind. Then I figured out what I was dealing with.

    Thanks for reading.

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