How to survive a narcissistic family

Updated April 17, 2017

Narcissistic personality disorder is characterised by an inflated and unrealistic sense of self-importance and a constant need for praise and admiration. Narcissists are so convinced that they are better than everyone else that they disregard the feelings and opinions of others. They believe that they are always right, and exaggerate their accomplishments and make up stories to make themselves appear better than they are. Coming from a family of people like this can be tough, as your needs are ignored and you are bullied into being the person the narcissists need you to be to make themselves look good.

Remember that your narcissistic family members see things as they do because of a mental illness, and that their opinions are not necessarily indicative of reality.

If your family tends to belittle you, remind yourself of your accomplishments and the family and friends you have who support you. Narcissists need to tear others down as they build themselves up; this makes their perceived accomplishments even greater in their minds.

Don't compromise your morals or standards to make them happy. Narcissists will not truly be happy until everyone does exactly what they think he should. They will manipulate you to get you to do what they want, and if you give in a little bit, they'll see it as proof of their power and increase their attempts to control you.

If your parents are narcissists and you have children of your own, keep a file containing paperwork from the kids' doctor visits and dental visits. If they are in day care, keep the receipts from the payments to the centre as proof that the kids aren't being left home alone. Narcissistic grandparents often believe that their children are unfit parents because they do not raise their own children in the "right" religion, school or general lifestyle, even when the children are happy and healthy. Even small things like the grandchildren's hairstyles or extra-curricular activities can make a narcissistic grandparent accuse her child of abuse or neglect. Having records and proof of your children's care can help nip any false allegations in the bud.

Build a family of supportive friends and relatives. You need people in your life who appreciate and support you and will give you realistic feedback about things you do. Having a good support system will help counteract your narcissistic family members' negative behaviour and comments.

Make plans and stick to them. If your family gets together at holidays or for other occasions, the narcissists may habitually change the plans to suit their own needs or those of a favoured family member. If you plan an event, don't be pressured into changing the time unless it's for a valid reason. If you have plans to attend an event at the narcissists' home and they tell you at the last minute that the time or date have changed for no significant reason, you have no obligation to attend. If you allow them to control your time in this way, they will continue to take advantage of you.

Keep your distance. This can be very hard; most people wish for a family that gets along and enjoys each other, and this hope can make you continue to try to make the family work. However, if your narcissistic family members are consistently causing you nothing but stress, or their behaviours are disrupting your life, you must limit contact. In some cases the only way to eliminate their toxic effects is to cut all ties with them.


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About the Author

April Fox has published articles about homeschooling, children with special needs, music, parenting, mental health and education. She has been a guest on Irish radio, discussing the benefits of punk rock on child development, and currently writes for several websites including Carolina Pediatric Therapy.