Scapegoat, Golden Child & More: How to Identify & Heal from Narcissistic Family Roles

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 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. Click HERE to see my video on this episode.

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:

Secrets

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.

Terri Cole is a licensed psychotherapist, transformation coach, and an expert at turning fear into freedom. Sign up for Terri’s weekly Newsletter, check out her blog and follow her on Twitter.

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