In healthy families, children are encouraged to formulate strong bonds with their siblings. Unfortunately, that's not so in families where parents display characteristics of narcissism, according to therapist Karyl McBride. Parental narcissism can wreak havoc on sibling relationships and can create lasting effects on how children develop relationships later in life. Understanding this can help adults who were raised by narcissistic parents learn how to develop strong, healthy interpersonal relationships.
Individuals can have some narcissistic traits or a more extreme form of narcissism called Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The differences between these two are in the degree of symptoms and can only be diagnosed by a licensed mental health practitioner. According to Mayo Clinic, the signs of narcissism include a grandiose view of self, an exaggeration of talents, an intense need for constant admiration, lack of empathy and setting unrealistic expectations. The presence of narcissism can be attributed to both biological and environmental factors, such as genetics and dysfunctional childhood experiences.
Narcissistic Family Dynamics
Relationships in the narcissistic family system are strained in numerous ways. According to McBride, narcissistic parents lack the skills to model effective communication, set clear personal boundaries or help build close sibling relations. Children in these environments learn to communicate indirectly, do not feel emotionally or physically safe due to not having their own emotional needs met, and are put in constant competition with one another. As a result, McBride has found that children in raised in these environments often learn that it is not acceptable to show vulnerability and lose the ability to be empathic to others' needs.
The All-Good Child vs. The All-Bad Child
A challenge among siblings growing up in a narcissistic household is the inability to effectively develop strong sibling relationships. The interference of the narcissistic parent makes it difficult for a bond to develop. According to McBride, parents' preferential treatment for one child over another creates an unhealthy dynamic. The all-good child reaps the benefits of being on the good side of the parent, whereas the all-bad child pays for not living up to parental expectations. This situation imbeds guilt and resentment inside the sibling relationship, destructively coming in between sibling bonds.
Adult Children of Narcissists
According to the National Library of Medicine, narcissistic personality disorder creates familial and relational issues. Seeking professional help by visiting a licensed Marriage and Family therapist can help adults raised in these environments work through their own relationship issues. Therapists can guide in the healing process to repair the broken bonds that exists among siblings who are a product of parental narcissism.