NM: I can’t believe [recently-deceased spouse] NF would have spoken against me…
There are five “roles” within a Narcissistic Family structure:
The head parent/spouse – Will be an overt N with a virtual God-complex within the home, or a covert N who controls the family using an overt N spouse as a shield. Usually a Malignant Narcissist who may take extreme measures to maintain the status quo.
- The secondary parent/spouse – A weaker-willed enabler/codependent of the overt N, or the overt N thug and scapegoat of a covert N who will set up the secondary as the public head of the family. The Overt N may also be a Malignant Narcissist, though not as consistently malicious as the Head N.
- The Golden Child – A common term referring to the preferred child within a family. Anointed as such by the head of The Family.
- The Scapegoat – The child who bears the brunt of any family turmoil. Will often have the most expectations placed upon him/her.
- Other children – In families with more than two children, the non-GC/SG children can usually move up and down the spectrum between GC/SG. If a GC(less likely) or SG separates from The Family, one of the other children will be placed in that role.
These roles are present in a variety of family configurations, whether they are one- or two-parent families. A single-parent household could have an overt or covert N in the parental role. SOs can fill the secondary parental role as needed. Within two-parent families either partner is capable of occupying the head role as an overt N, while the mother is more likely to fill the covert N head role due to society making it easier to hide behind the roles of mother/wife as opposed to father/husband. This leads into an important point: Malignant Narcissists will publicly work within societal customs and roles to achieve and maintain control over their families and others close to them. Ever heard “I don’t believe a mother would be capable of that,” “You know, you’re supposed to honor your parents,” “How could you separate from your mother,” and so on? Societal customs empower parental abusers.
The golden child(or GC) will often be the offspring with whom one or both parents have a codependent relationship. The parents will often live vicariously through the GC. Any perceived wrong done to the GC outside The Family is seen as an outrage and any perceived accomplishment–no matter the significance–will be promoted as an outstanding achievement to be admired by all. The GC is the most likely of the offspring to become a full-blown Narcissist because they’re used to having faults excused or ignored, claiming the majority of attention and having wants indulged at the expense of others’ needs within The Family.
The role of GC isn’t necessarily determined from birth. It can be, as is seen in traditionally sexist families where the first-born son is automatically the GC. Sometimes the head of The Family tests the children to identify the most conformist and aggressive personality amongst them. This child is most likely to be groomed as they mature. Aggressive conformity within The Family structure while outwardly submitting to the head N is the most desirable quality in a potential GC. In situations where the GC is the opposite gender of the head N, the child may be gradually placed into the secondary position, displacing the same-gender parent in the family hierarchy set by the Malignant Narcissist. This may raise some questions from perceptive observers, but many on the outside may see the GC as simply being “a good son” or “a good daughter.”
The GC is not exempt from the abuse doled out in a Narcissistic Family. From an early age, the child may be abused physically and mentally to effect conformity and to instill a punishment/reward mindset connected to conformity and controlling the other children. This control can range from acting as a covert N and telling lies about the other children, especially the scapegoat, to destroying and stealing possessions to outright physical domination. The GC’s loyalty is also constantly tested along with that of the other children.
The role of scapegoat is largely self-explanatory. This is the child everyone dumps on, yet is expected to look out for and be responsible for everyone else in The Family. Blame for the actions of other family members will often be shifted onto the SG in some way. Everything about this child is critiqued and frequently criticized. If the SG is praised or given a position of greater power within The Family it is usually for a manipulative purpose and can be revoked at any time. They are usually the people-pleasers inside and outside of The Family. Submission to authority is often linked to forestalling conflict in a SG’s mind, so they will often tolerate unhealthy environments for lengthy periods at work and in public out of fear of retaliation. Fortunately SGs are also usually the first to recognize the dysfunction of The Family and are more likely to get out after much stress and conflict.
The Narcissistic Family is a hierarchy beginning with the Head Malignant Narcissist at the top and running through the secondary parental figure to the GC, other children and finally the SG at the bottom. The GC may eventually take the #2 position, especially if the GC is the opposite gender of the Head N. The worst conflicts will come as a result of two changes to this order: 1. The death or separation of the enabler or shield parent, and/or 2. The attempted separation of the SG. These create the most serious Narcissistic Injury to the Head Malignant N, as the partner and SG are the two main focuses of the N’s efforts. This comes from the dual high of dominating a peer and dominating a child in the way only a parent can as a societal superior.