In a dysfunctional household there are some specific rules which are passed down from generation to generation. These rules are severe and uncompromising. If you have been raised in a narcissistic family you may find that you have been raised with some, if not all, of the following rules:
- Children are taught that someone must be blamed for the mistakes that occur. There needs to be a scapegoat.In a healthy family, ownership is taught. Apologies and amends are made. When an injustice occurs, the perpetrator makes it right.
- The narcissist always gets his or her way during decision-making. There is no cooperation, collaboration, or compromise (at least on the narcissist’s part.) Only the non-narcissistic family members are called to compromise their wants. In a healthy family you will find cooperation and even the type of compromise where each person must give a little.
- The narcissist is allowed to have his or her feelings and “dump” them on other family members. In healthy families every family member is free to experience their emotions; however, no one is allowed to dump their emotions on another family member. Rage attacks are not tolerated.
- Family members other than the narcissist must justify why they feel the way they do, and the narcissist will never validate anyone else’s emotions. In healthy families emotions are expressed in healthy ways; family members are allowed to talk about their feelings and other family members will listen to them.
- “Discipline” of children is harsh, shame-filled, destructive, inappropriately expressed, and hurtful. In healthy families, discipline is thoughtful, productive, intentional, and not a method for the parent to “work out” his or her own emotional issues. Discipline is meant to teach children, and is mainly expressed through role-modeling.
- Family members are conditioned to meet the needs of the narcissist. All family members learn this expectation. In healthy families, one’s needs are not always going to be met by others, but they can be properly articulated to others. Validation of emotions occurs.
- Children are taught, not to look within themselves, but to constantly scan the horizon in order to determine the narcissist’s mood prior to making a decision. This teaches children not to trust their own thoughts, feelings, or intuition; and to “walk on eggshells.”In healthy families each individual is allowed to experience his or her own reality. Even when people disagree, it does not mean that anyone is going to be punished for having an independent thought. Individuals learn to trust their intuition.
- Everyone in the family learns that making mistakes is shameful. On top of that, “mistakes” seem to be arbitrary, based on the narcissist’s state of mind. The culture of a healthy environment teaches that mistakes are how we learn. There is no shame involved.
- Narcissistic homes have rigid rules. Flexibility is not encouraged. Changing one’s mind is not permitted. In a healthy family, changing one’s mind is evidence that people can grow and rethink based on new information.
- Image is the highest priority. In healthy families, relationships are what matter.
Reference: Donaldson-Pressman, S., and Pressman, R.M. (1997). The Narcissistic Family – Diagnosis and Treatment. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
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