Narcissistic siblings

If you have grown up in a narcissistic family of origin, it is likely that you will have one or more narcissistic sibling.  The hallmark of a narcissistic sibling is that they will be a bully (they don’t have to be an older sibling), and they will do as much as they can to hurt you, make you feel unwelcome in the family home, ridicule and deride you whenever they can.  They do this because “love” and attention from emotionally unavailable parents is a limited/non-existent resource.  It can seem like “love” sometimes, (although it is never genuine love) and the narcissistic sibling will want to make sure that whatever is put out will be coming to them and not you.  Narcissistic siblings will work on making you feel like you are not entitled to be part of the family and that you do not deserve the same as they do.  Narcissistic parents are so self-absorbed that they might not notice the bullying, they might encourage it as it makes the victim of protracted bullying is much easier to control without having to do the “work” themselves, or they might notice it if you bring it to their attention and say something like “well what do you want ME to do about it”, “I don’t get involved with other people’s fights” or “you must have done something to deserve it”

What you can expect from your narcissistic sibling is:

  • They will betray you, whenever and how ever they can
  • They will abuse you emotionally, physically, verbally, financially and sometimes sexually
  • They will lie to you
  • The will keep family information that you are entitled to know about a secret from you
  • They will be extremely judgemental of you with little or no self-awareness
  • They will bristle with hostility around you within the family, but seem all nice to you around non family members
  • They will be singularly disinterested in what is going on in your life such as exams passed, your jobs and relationship status
  • They will correct almost everything that you say, so that very often you just converse in totally superficial topics

It is normal for all of us to want to feel like part of a family, but if you come from a narcissist family of origin and are the scapegoat in your family, they will not let you in, none of the off spring feel genuinely welcome but some are given more privileges than others and so the privileged siblings will fight to maintain their “special status”.  It does not matter how hard you try to conform, how nice, kind or generous you are to them, it won’t make any difference.  They will take whatever you offer them and will try to extract more from you than you want to give, but they will always keep you out in the cold.

If you come from a narcissistic family of origin, the best thing that you can do is drop the “Happy Families” myth, it doesn’t exist in your family.  They do not want what is best for you.  They want to feel “better than you” and will use some pretty cruel manipulation so that they can feel this way.  It is not about you, it never was and never will be.  They are just narcissists and that is what narcissists do.

To survive your siblings, you have to employ the same tactics as with any narcissist.

  • Set boundaries and stick to them rigidly
  • Communicate clearly (in writing if necessary)
  • Be aware that they will try to taunt you like they did when you were children
  • Only tell them things about yourself on a need to know basis. The more they know about you the more ammunition they will have to provoke a reaction from you.
  • Keep them away from your friends and colleagues, because they will come on all charming and lovely towards to them. This is a type of passive smear campaign to discredit anything negative that you might have said or will say about them in the future.
  • You are not obliged to them in any way, it is important to learn to say “no” to them.
  • Do not expect your sibling to change only you can change.
  • Detach from the need to be loved by them. It isn’t going to happen (pretend that they are someone else’s awkward brother or sister).
  • Remember that when they say “you are…” they are projecting what they feel about themselves on to you
  • Severing your attachment to them is not disloyal or an act of betrayal just because they are your sibling. Narcissists do not care about anybody but themselves.  To remain loyal to them will only set you up for more hurt and pain.

It is important to note that you may very well feel uncomfortable around your sibling(s), a bit edgy an unsafe.  This is because your body is probably experiencing an emotional flashback.  This is when your body still holds emotional fear from when you were abused by your sibling in childhood and didn’t have the emotional maturity to be able to understand why “those people” were being so completely mean and why they threatened and acted on genuinely trying to hurt you, by pushing you down a flight of stairs or throwing side plates at your neck (Frisbee style).  All of this trauma gets stuck or blocked, and held as a physical memory in your body.  You may not be conscious of it, but your body feels afraid and your mind will tell you to move away from this person, even if there is no immediate threat. You might well feel physically sick around them or just want to run out the nearest door, or at least busy yourself with the washing up at a family gathering. Your sibling in adulthood may try to behave in a more civilised way towards you but this is an act and will wreak with insincerity and total lack of authenticity.  This is a completely “normal” response to an encounter with an abuser (not just siblings).  It will feel like they have put a very thin veneer of civility over what was or felt like naked aggression and hatred when you were young.

The thing about all abusers is that they can get very aggressive again if you do not want to play their “nothing happened” or it certainly wasn’t anything more than a little horseplay game, they will accuse you of being “over sensitive” or unable to “take a joke/play a game”, however, to them it is a game but not for mutual enjoyment.  They play to win and their goal is to hurt, bully and demoralise.

It is natural for sibling relationships to have some level of rivalry because they are vying for the same limited resources such as toys, treats and the love, attention and affection of their parents. Narcissistic parent(s) will escalate this competition to the extent that one or more child in a family can be badly bullied by their sibling(s) and they can be pushed out of the family unit as much as possible while maintaining a gloss of family life.  For a lot of people this animosity can last a lifetime very often with the bullying siblings being oblivious to the fact that they are doing anything wrong because they were brought up to know that it was fine to pick on one of their siblings, in fact it pleased the narcissistic parent, it was a good thing for them to do and they were entitled to treat their brother or sister in any way they pleased.

The bullied child is the scapegoat and will be blamed for everything that goes wrong in the family dynamic.  The narcissistic parent(s) will actively promote this by comparing siblings, causing jealousy and hostility.  This comparison is done as a controlling manipulation and it works because the siblings don’t trust each other and because the parent(s) will let it be known that they are quite capable of demoting a golden child and withdraw privileges if the scapegoat is supported in any way.  As a result of this the siblings will self-police to make sure that the status quo is maintained.

As adult children the relationships tend to be competitive, rivalrous and they often seem to be on automatic pilot.  That is to say they act out their given role into adulthood without even thinking about it, it becomes an automatic reflex.  Since the narcissist parent likes to divide and conquer their children in later life the “children” will only see each other one at a time instead of opting for a family occasion.  This is because sibling’s behaviour will actively change depending on the company they are in.  The golden child could be nice to scapegoat child when they are alone, but will actively completely ignore or humiliate their sibling in the company of the rest of the family.  These siblings have been trained not to get along and employ tactics such as sneering, sarcasm, saying hurtful things, taking or breaking each other’s stuff, doing a smear campaign etc.  One of the reason why family gatherings are so stressful for many is because being together triggers these old roles and all the resentment and hurt from childhood come back into play.

It is important to note that if you are being picked on by your family, there is no point in looking for support from your siblings.  They simply will not give it, because to lend support to you could bring on the wrath of the narcissistic parent(s) (even dead ones) and that is just too dangerous to do in the mind of the programmed adult child.

Adult siblings tend to come up with a variety of coping strategies such as

  • “I don’t have to like them just because they are family”
  • “my real family are my friends and partner”
  • “They were all incredibly cruel and did everything they could to humiliate and defeat me, all egged on by my mother/father who seemed to be enjoying the show”
  • Some siblings go into analytical over drive and will say why they thought that the dynamic evolved, sighting possible abuse in the parent’s family of origin, poverty, addiction etc. This is a form of protection of the parent and makes little or no difference to how it made them feel.

There are so many factors that influence these relationships and siblings struggle to find a place in the family.  Since we are still living in a patriarchal society males tend to get preference over females, the narcissistic mother will tend to be softer and kinder to her sons defending them like a lioness and similarly a father can be much more flexible with his daughters than with his sons.  This in itself is a dysfunction because children get their sense of self-esteem from their same sex parent.

Children from about the age of one respond to disputes between their sibling by either supporting or punishing one of the antagonists, this will also be affected by how their mother responds to the situation.  The greater the difference in maternal affection and attention the more hostility and jealousy between the siblings, children from a very young age learn the tools to either comfort or inflict pain.  They get the dynamic instinctively and will use that “information” in relation to their role in the family and to try to meet their own needs.  An infant is very aware of how they are being treated in relation to their brothers and sisters.  When a parent shows favouritism towards one child or is unwilling to monitor inter sibling relationships the siblings will suffer from this inequality/bullying.  The action or inaction (support or lack of it) for a child have very long lasting implications and can cause CPTSD in later life when aggressive or violent behaviours are repeated for years at the hands of their siblings.

Narcissistic parent(s) are so self-obsessed and neglectful that the child can often feel like they are parentless.  This can create social anxiety in the child because they simply do not feel safe.  They are being parented by people who have the emotional maturity of a young child, they “are not allowed” to look to their brothers and sisters for support and they are also isolated from the rest of society which enables the narcissist to maintain control.

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