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Did You Marry Into a Narcissistic Family?

Updated: Aug 29, 2021

It is overwhelming to realize the person of your dreams, the one you chose to be your life-long partner may have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. If your reading this and you are at that point, it is not a stretch to then look into your spouse's family dynamics and find it rife with narcissism as well. We can spend time and energy debating nature vs nurture when it comes to narcissism but at the end of the day when you are on the receiving end of narcissistic abuse, it is almost irrelevant. Let's remind ourselves of what constitutes Narcissistic Personality Disorder as defined in the In the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a cluster B personality disorder defined as comprising a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy as indicated by the presence of at least 5 of the following 9 criteria:

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance

  • A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

  • A belief that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions

  • A need for excessive admiration

  • A sense of entitlement

  • Interpersonally exploitive behavior

  • A lack of empathy

  • Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her

  • A demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes

Only a mental health professional can diagnose NPD. I am not a mental health professional so unless there is a diagnosis we can only speculate. Julie L. Hall is the author of "The Narcissist in Your Life" and founder of The Narcissist Family Files. She writes in an article for Psychology Today about the 12 Dysfunctional Rules of the Narcissistic Family. These families often have unrealistic expectations and no respect for boundaries. There is usually much secrecy along with constant conflict as well as neglect. Here are what Julie L. Hall calls the Unspoken Rules:

  1. Acceptance is Conditional

  2. Submission is Required

  3. Someone Must Be Blamed for Problems

  4. Vulnerability Is Dangerous

  5. You Must Take Sides

  6. There Is Never Enough Love and Respect To Go Around

  7. Feelings Are Wrong

  8. Competition, Not Cooperation, Rules the Day

  9. Appearances Are More Important Than Substance

  10. Rage Is Normalized

  11. Denial Is Rampant

  12. There is No Safety

The individuals that grow up in these families have a false sense of self and a need to portray themselves as perfect and surround themselves with only people who have an accepted level of status so they can feel special. As adults, narcissists become masters at using manipulative tactics on their victims to get what they want. Their behaviors can look similar to the tantrums and antics of a two year old but with adult level consequences. Marrying into these families can take a huge toll on a victim as there is a gang-mentality with the narcissistic behaviors of the group being forced on the victim as they use this one individual as their punching bag. If you are in this situation it is important to seek the help of a mental health professional that has experience with the trauma associated with NPD.

Breaking away from these individuals and their families is not easy. You can become prey to their roller-coaster of love-bombing interspersed with gaslighting and crazy-making and they will often deploy their flying monkeys to launch a smear campaign to protect themselves in the event that you dare share the outrageous stories that have occurred during your marriage. They will take turns in an almost good-cop, bad-cop manner as one family member wields abuse and another is your savior. The constant up and down between drama and joy and the yo-yo of emotions leaves you exhausted and confused. Gather a support group of friends and family and reach out to others that may be or have been in a similar situation. Research the disorder and patterns of abuse so that you can better understand what is happening. Knowledge is power and there are many of us out there that want to help.

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