The Narcissistic Family

by Leta Herrington, LPC

612.332.7743 ext. 221 

Do you feel a constant need to please others? Not often sure what you're feeling, want, or need? Are you constantly seeking reassurance or validation? Do you find it difficult to be assertive? Do you often feel dissatisfied? Empty?

In their book, The Narcissistic Family, authors Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman and Robert M. Pressman suggest that persons with the above characteristics were likely raised in a family system in which the needs of the parent(s) took precedence over the needs of the children; a family in which the children's needs were not considered or recognized and therefore not met; a "narcissistic family." The authors describe a healthy family situation as one in which parents accept the responsibility to meet their children's needs; parents get their own needs met by themselves, each other, and/or other suitable adults; and the family operates out of an intrinsic belief that children are not responsible for meeting the needs of their parents.

In a narcissistic family, however, the parents for whatever reason (job stress, alcoholism, drug abuse, mental illness, physical disability, lack of parenting skills, immaturity) operate out of a primary concern of getting their own needs met, with little to no regard for the needs and wants of their children. The children of such parents generally try to get their parents' attention and approval by tending to their parents' needs. The children are not encouraged to and therefore rarely develop their own "voice"—that is, the ability to recognize and value their own wants and needs. In a narcissistic family the responsibility for the meeting of emotional needs becomes skewed; instead of resting with the parents, the responsibility is shifted to the children. The children become inappropriately responsible for meeting their parents' needs and in so doing they are deprived of opportunities for self-discovery and growth.

Growing up in a narcissistic family generally results in the children believing that they or what they think, feel, want, or need is not important; that their sole function in life is to tend to the needs of others; that they are responsible for other people's happiness or sense of well-being. Such persons are often dissatisfied in that they're tending to others' want and needs rather than their own; they are exhausted working hard to accomplish something that is impossible; and discouraged or depressed in that they don't know of any other way for life to be lived.

I concur with the authors when they state that the means to recovering from being raised in a dysfunctional or narcissistic family is:

• An honest recognition of how things were in our family of origin;

• An acknowledgement and appreciation of the effects of that experience on our development;

• A realization that as children we were not responsible for what happened to us then; that recovery and healing is possible; and that as adults we are responsible (perhaps with professional help) for our health. Though affected by our family-of-origin experiences, we need not be determined by them.

Please call the Westminster Counseling Center, 612.332.7743, if we can be of help to you in your recovery. 

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