Every family has unspoken rules like: don’t wake-up mom when she is taking a nap, no matter what it tastes like say dad’s cooking is good, or always clean before grandma comes to the house. These guidelines are followed without question to keep the family running smoothly.
However, when a narcissist is added to the mix, the rules take on more intensity. The consequences for not following the guidelines are severe such as giving a person the silent treatment for days, withholding financial resources for groceries, verbal assaults, or hour-long anger rants. No one is immune from the effects, the spouse and children are expected to adhere to the standards without question. Here are a couple of examples:
- Only their perspective matters. A narcissistic spouse was keeping track of his wife’s menstrual cycle, so he could manage her “crazy mood swings”. Knowing that he did this, his wife even spoke to her doctor to see if she had a menstrual disorder and the response was no. Still, he continued to point out her cycles and blame any discontent that she expressed on them. When her husband was asked if he ever took the time to understand why his wife was deeply offended by this, his response was, “No, why does that matter.” Narcissists view the world from their perspective only. Any attempt to get them to view things from another point of view is met with intense resistance.
- Appearance is everything. The whole purpose of narcissism is to cover up deep-rooted insecurity, so it stands to reason that the same principle will be followed in their home. A narcissistic female spent hours cleaning the house, making food, and ordering the family around in preparation for an after-funeral party. She was so obsessed with what everyone would think about her house, that she missed some of her mother’s funeral just to make sure that everything was in order. Before the guests arrived, she was yelling over some spilled wine but as soon as they entered, she put on her happy face. To her guests, she appeared to have it all together as not a tear was shed for her mother.
- There are a lot of “family secrets”. The irony about “family secrets” is that the narcissist does not honor other’s secrets but demands compliance with theirs. A beautiful young woman spent years in middle school going through her self-identified “ugly phase”. However, her narcissistic mother still liked to carry a picture of her daughter during that time calling her “my ugly duckling”. She had a habit of bringing out the picture whenever others would complement her daughter on her good looks. One day, after finding a terrible old picture of her mother, the daughter likewise shared her photo. The mother flew into a rage and refused to speak to the daughter for several years accusing the daughter of embarrassing her in front of friends.
- Sex is expected on demand. The birth of their first baby was a bit traumatic resulting in several tears and stitches. The doctor gave strict instructions not to have sex for at least 6 weeks due to the damage. About two weeks after the birth, the narcissistic father began insisting that his wife have intercourse with him. His persistence was unrelenting and finally she gave in despite the pain. This caused her to bleed and her stitches to be re-opened. The husband blamed the doctor for not doing an adequate job. Sex is not about the narcissist’s partner wants or needs; rather it is about their needs being met on demand and they will say or do whatever it takes to have sex.
- There is constant comparing. In order to maintain superiority status, narcissists constantly compare themselves to others. However, it doesn’t stop there. Spouses, children, houses, cars, and bank accounts are also continually evaluated. A narcissistic spouse looks at another woman and comments to their spouse, “why can’t you look more like her.” A narcissistic parent sees another kid performing well on the football field and begins to berate their child for not doing as well. A new college narcissistic graduate turns down several good jobs because “they are beneath me and I deserve better”.
- It’s never their fault. No matter what the circumstance, a narcissist will not accept responsibility for any failure. Instead, things will be twisted and blamed on others. A narcissistic parent was asked to pick their child up after soccer practice. All the other parents had come and gone before the child texted their parent. The narcissist’s response was filled with anger saying that the child was being impatient, demanding, and uncaring about the work issue that delayed the parent an hour and a half. There was, even more, enrage upon discovering that the child also texted their other parent letting them know about the incident. The narcissistic parent then accused the child of creating problems in the marriage.
- There is unnecessary drama. One of the tell-mark signs of a narcissistic relationship is the generation of unnecessary drama. Often this is done to stir up the confusion so the narcissistic spouse can look like the hero. During a night out with friends, a spouse makes a casual comment about their income being a bit less this month due to the economy. Immediately, the narcissistic spouse gives them the “stare” which is a silent “shut-up now”. On the way home and in the house, the narcissistic spouse rants for hours about how the comment embarrassed them and was completely disrespectful. Then the narcissist demands that their spouse retract the comment with the friends and replace it with gratitude for the bonus that was earned last year.
While there are more unspoken rules that narcissistic family have, these points highlight the most predominant ones. To recover from such a family, it is useful to write out your own unspoken rules so they can be properly evaluated and discarded.